Like mother, like daughter: Eating disorders run in families

Deborah Belfatto worried that her daughter might have an eating disorder when the 12-year-old eliminated all fat from her diet and started getting very thin.

But she didn’t act on her suspicions until an older family friend commented on her daughter’s weight loss.

“The comment came from such an unlikely source that it gave me a jump-start into taking some real action,” Belfatto says.

A breast-cancer survivor, Belfatto considers herself someone who doesn’t shy away from hard truths. But she was not alone in her reluctance to confront her child’s anorexia. Many mothers resist acknowledging a child’s eating disorder, out of fear, guilt – and sometimes because they’re struggling with their own food issues.

Belfatto’s daughter fit the anorexic “profile,” in that she was a high achiever who rarely gave her parents cause to worry. Disordered eaters, particularly anorexics – who severely limit food intake — tend to be very successful in other areas, and Lindsay was an outstanding student and competitive ice skater.

“These high achieving, outgoing, activity-oriented girls are very perfectionist and anxious, and our perception is they respond differently to dieting than other kids do. They actually find caloric restriction calms their anxiety,” says Cynthia Bulik, M.D., author of “The Woman in the Mirror: How to Stop Confusing What You Look Like with Who You Are.”

Like mother, like daughter: Seeing her child with an eating disorder may hit too close to home for some moms. Research shows disorders run in families; a relative of a person with an eating disorder is ten times more likely to have the illness than someone without a family history of disorders. Read more on