Dr. Susan, Can My Daughter be Helped?

Dear Dr. Susan:

I have a 14-year-old daughter, Carol Anne, who self-satisfies with food and who has no concept of her body image.

When another student at her school asked her if she was pregnant, she went onto her Facebook site and wrote how “hurt her feelings were that someone would say that to her” and then she accepted the responses (most of which were aimed at assuaging her hurt feelings) as permission to continue her same eating habits. When asked why she thought someone might “mistake her appearance for someone who was pregnant”, her response was, they were just being mean. When asked, “are they mean to thin girls?”

she shrugs her shoulders and announces, “It’s what’s on the inside that’s important”. There is no argument to that statement, as that is true.

When I have taken her shopping for clothes, she looks at darling little sundresses meant for petite figures and actually thinks she can wear them. I let her take them into the dressing room so that she can visually see that in order to wear clothes like that she needs to be physically smaller.

She hasn’t gotten the message. She still asks to try on the same styles, ignoring the fact that she cannot come close to getting into them.

She chooses to ignore the facts that illustrate that she needs to lose weight. I don’t nag her. This is her body and I figure she should know she’s heavy……but maybe she doesn’t.

She continues to eat while verbally complaining about hurt feelings and the inability to wear cute clothes.

How can I help??????


Dear Debra,

I am sorry to hear about the situation with your daughter and know how difficult it is to watch someone you love be in pain. Eating disorders are complex and complicated and there is much to understand in one’s relationship to food and eating. But one thing is for certain: this is not about food. It sounds like Carol Anne uses denial to defend against how badly she really feels. And she “self-satisfies” with food, suggesting she is hungry, but not necessarily for food. I would try and explore with her where her pockets of pain are and see if there’s a way to bring them to the surface. What function does the food play in her life? What does it do for her? What is she longing for? For example, does she feel as if there’s not enough to go around and that taking more than you need is necessary for survival? Is food love and comfort for her? What is it a substitute for? Is it easier for her to depend on food rather than the people in her life to satisfy her needs?

Unlocking these areas may be difficult, if not impossible, for you as the mother to do; you might try seeking the aid of a professional.

Although eating disorders are serious, they are treatable. The soul has a wonderful rejuvenating capacity.

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