Caretakers Need Direction and Care Too!

On January 18th, 2011, the Britain’s Daily Mail announced the tragic suicide of Marie Caro, mother of internationally recognized French model Isabelle Caro who died from anorexia nervosa at age 28 on November 17th 2010.

Based on a quote from Isabel’s father, the press implied that Marie’s suicide was in response to the excessive guilt she experienced, stemming from whether she made the right decisions about her daughter’s treatment.

While we can’t say for certain whether Marie’s death was associated with guilt from her role in her daughter’s recovery, this devastating story touches on a salient issue. Parents are often unsure about what road to take in the treatment of their loved one. With so much of their time and energy devoted to caring for their child, they may not take time to process their own emotional reactions or engage in self-care. This may ultimately affect their personal health.

Parents need care too! Eating disorders are incredibly complex and just as many factors contribute to illness onset (genetic, biological, social, environmental), many factors are involved in treatment that require expert help and intensive family involvement. We know that being the parent of a child with an eating disorder can be incredibly challenging. As parents juggle caretaking with family, work, and life, self-care is often the first thing to go.

As the case of Marie Caro shows, parents need additional support just as much as the affected child in fighting this disease. UNC Eating Disorders Program and the Duke Center for Eating Disorders believe parental support is incredibly important throughout the treatment of a child’s illness. Along with UNC’s Interdisciplinary Health Communication Program, these programs have created a communication-based project –“Caring for Yourself is Caring for Your Child” – to address this very issue. This project united the UNC School of Journalism with UNC and Duke researchers and clinicians to compile top-of-the-line resources and evidence-informed information and support specifically for parents of children with eating disorders. The project aims to help parents practice self-care, defined as taking the time to engage in activities that decrease stress and facilitate relaxation.

We urge caretakers to take advantage of this program and to peruse other online resources (see and books on hand (see,

If you are the parent of a loved one with an eating disorder, you are not alone. It is important for you to continue your own personal self-care as you assume a caretaking role. As a community, we want to do all that we can to prevent other tragic stories from occurring, such as that of Marie Caro. Please contact either the UNC Eating Disorders Program or Duke Center for Eating Disorders if you have further information about parent resources and support groups.

Cristin Runfola, MS