Isabelle Caro's Death Prompts Question of Family's Role in Anorexia Treament

Anorexia and Isabelle Caro photo

Family therapy for anorexia

As Carolyn reports today, news has spread that French actress and model Isabelle Caro — who suffered from anorexia and participated in a public campaign to raise awareness about the disorder — has died at the age of 28. Caro famously posed for an Italian ad campaign in 2007 that featured her emaciated body under the words “no anorexia.”

In interviews and in her French book “The Little Girl Who Didn’t Want to Get Fat,” Caro said she was in and out of hospital treatment programs throughout her life. But in an article yesterday, her death prompted the Los Angeles Times to bring up an unconventional form of treatment for youngsters suffering from anorexia.

We don’t know what form of therapy Caro — who weighed 59 lbs at the time the Italian ad was photographed (see link below) — received. But most programs involve the family distancing themselves from the patient. The lesser-known “Maudsley Approach” does the opposite:

According to the Chicago Tribune, which featured a story on this treatment program earlier this year, families following the Maudsley Approach start by strictly “re-feeding” their child — meals are not optional, and parents will guard their kid 24 hours a day if necessary to enforce sufficient eating. The Tribune article describes a family of a 12-year-old girl that enforced a 3 meals, 3 snacks a day policy. She threw things and became enraged, but eventually realized it was non-negotiable and started to eat.

With the Maudsley approach (backed by studies showing its effectiveness, and staffed by reputable doctors from well-known universities and hospitals) after the child is nourished enough to think more clearly, therapy is embarked on to get a the psychological roots of the disorder.

But the first step of this treatment is counter to the logic that most people employ with eating disorders — that parents should step back, not push the issue, and let the teen regain a sense of independence and control. According to this approach, families should do the opposite at the beginning — they should be more like food watchdogs until their child is out of danger.

What do you think about the role of families in treating anorexia?

See photos of Isabelle Caro’s “no anorexia” ad campaign here.

Image: flickr/pink stock

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