By Judy Krasna, F.E.A.S.T. Executive Director
I used to be a very black and white thinker. I don’t know whether it’s a function of age, or life experience, or this job, but I see a lot of shades of grey these days. I understand that while I may have an answer, it isn’t necessarily the answer.
I see a lot of black and white thinking on the F.E.A.S.T. Around the Dinner Table Facebook forum, and it concerns me. If someone only sees the black, they effectively invalidate everyone who only sees the white, or who can see the grey. While their perspective will undoubtedly be helpful to some, it will leave others totally on the outside, feeling unseen and unvalued.
I also find some comments on that forum to be too directive. The idea of peer support is to use one’s experience to guide others; tell others what you did, don’t tell them what to do. While we know what worked for our own family, we don’t know what will and won’t work for someone else’s.
The only (very occasional) criticism that I have ever heard from providers about F.E.A.S.T. is related to how parents of their patients who used our Facebook forum have felt marginalized for expressing “unpopular” opinions or drowned out by louder, oppositional voices. These parents have left the group because they didn’t find it to be a safe space. As a result, they are far less informed and supported, rendering them less capable of helping their loved one. And that, my friends, is a tragedy.
By nature, we are a kind and passionate community. We want to share our experiences with others so they can be guided by what we did right—and by what we did wrong. Everyone’s intention is to help other parents succeed, to improve their journey, to make them feel less alone, and to try and positively sway the outcomes of other families. Our forums are a literal lifeline to thousands of families, and the embodiment of the generous peer support that is at the heart of F.E.A.S.T. But sometimes we fall short, and I think it’s important to acknowledge that so we can do better.
Many fortunate families in our community have found their path to recovery. And while there may be some commonalities between some of those paths, there is no one path. This journey would be so much easier if there was. At F.E.A.S.T., we strongly believe in evidence-based treatment, but let’s not be blind to the fact that even the most successful treatments are woefully inadequate in producing acceptable recovery rates.
For some families, full weight restoration is the key to their child’s recovery from anorexia. For others, sadly, it is not. There are comorbidities in play, or for whatever reason it’s not only about the weight. For my daughter, full weight restoration came with a shift from restrictive anorexia to binge/purge anorexia and brought with it the very unwelcome stowaway of suicidal ideation. I’m concerned that definitively and decisively linking weight restoration with recovery is not serving the needs of our community equitably. While it absolutely offers some parents very important guidance, it frustrates others who do not find this to be true, and it makes them feel like they are doing something wrong when they are in fact doing everything right.
It’s my job to see and serve the entire F.E.A.S.T. community, and to make sure that everyone within it feels valued. It’s also my job to make sure that parents and caregivers who use our services get good information. These two things are not always entirely compatible. Not all parents offering comments on our forums are equally wise or equally experienced or equally knowledgeable. But our forums should be a place where all parents feel equally comfortable posting so that they can get the information and support they need. The tone across the board should be kind and compassionate. There are polite and respectful ways to disagree with the opinions of others which don’t make them feel small or invalidated. And please, let’s keep the death card off limits. As someone who lost a child, I am horrified by the scare tactics used by some on the forums. They are not kind.
I’m also concerned that there may be more worth attached to the insight of those whose children have recovered than to those whose children have not. I want to categorically state that this is completely antithetical to F.E.A.S.T. values. I would offer myself as a case in point. I would never say that my insight has more value than anyone else’s because I don’t believe that. But I think to say that my insight has less value because my daughter didn’t recover is misguided. The exact same actions taken by different families can lead to divergent outcomes. That is part of what I believe makes eating disorder recovery so elusive.
The Around the Dinner Table forums are the crown jewels of F.E.A.S.T. They harness the power of peer support, lived experience, and community, and serve as a beacon of hope and a guiding light to thousands of parents around the world. I am genuinely grateful to the many parents who regularly contribute their wisdom to help others and to our dedicated moderators who keep the forums running day in and day out. F.E.A.S.T. is so lucky to have all of you.
Everyone has a seat at our table. Everyone has a voice. Everyone is valued. If you need to hear that again, let me know. I’ll say it as often as you need to hear it.