Mothers and the Long-term Consequences of Eating Disorders


Mothers and the Long-term Consequences of Eating Disorders

Samantha Hicks, MA, LCPC, CADC,
Director of Individual and Family Therapy at Timberline Knolls

Although eating disorder symptoms may never manifest again in the life of a woman in recovery, research now indicates that recovering mothers are at a greater risk of experiencing depression.

A new UCL-led study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry revealedthat women who have had an eating disorder at any time in their lives prior to giving birth, are more likely to experience depressive symptoms during pregnancy and for years after giving birth.

The researchers used data from the ‘Children of the 90s’ cohort study, including 9,276 women.   The team discovered that women who had engaged in anorexia or bulimia experienced more depressive symptoms over an 18-year time frame than those who had never engaged in those behaviors.  It was thought that the two psychiatric diseases, depression and an eating disorder, probably occurred at the same time, but only the food-related illness was fully addressed.

These findings have implications not only for mothers, but for their offspring.  Depression in mothers’ has been linked to emotional and behavioral problems in their children–yet another reason why these illnesses must be identified and treated as soon as possible.

At Timberline Knolls, many of our residents admit with depression and an eating disorder. Both of these diagnoses are harmful to the woman or girl, which is why we treat them simultaneously. It simply makes no sense to address one and not the other. We want residents to leave our care well equipped to cope with the challenges of life on every possible level.

Moreover, we are extremely aware of the special concerns and needs of residents who have children of any age. This is why we offer the Moms in Recovery group. Our goal is to guide and empower mothers by applying the 12 steps to both their own recovery process as well as their individual parenting styles. We know how important it is for these women to have a safe, non-judgmental space where they can open up and discuss the consequences of their individual behaviors on their children.

This research demonstrates that early intervention is critical to the long-term emotional health of women and their children. Furthermore, additional care must be provided to any pregnant woman with a history of disordered eating or one who is actively engaged in anorexia or bulimia.