Eating Disturbance or Potential Eating Disorder?

Updated on August 30, 2012
C.K. asks from Los Angeles, CA
4 answers

We have 8 y.o. grand daughter. Dght and son-in-law punish by denying dessert. Father may eat dessert in front of child as further punishment. Son-in-law's mother had eating disorder. Our dght had no eating issues until after her marriage & exposure to hub's family. Dght (who developed multiple somatic complaints after a few years of marriage) constantly talks about "good" food and "bad" food & her health problems, dietary problems in front of our gdght. On occasion, son-in-law "steals" food from grandchild's plate--he acts like it's a game. Prior to onset of abd pain over a month ago, noted child gobbles down her food in a hurry, as if someone is going to take it away from her. Have noted on abt. 5 occasions that granddght self reports to her mother entire list of foods she eats when with us. Also, for abt. a month now, gdght reports epigastric/abdominal pain before meal times. They have taken child to pedi doc.--trying increased fiber and water intake for child. I personally think they are going to contribute to this child developing an eating disorder. She is an only child, smart, high achiever. Any advice? I have recently tactfully approached subject that health/diet issues may not be wise to discuss within child's hearing, but was told by dghtshe is 100% sure that THAT is not the problem. Thanks in advance for replies.

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answers from Washington DC on

Sounds like setting her up for an unhealthy relationship with food is part of what is going on. If meal time is a stress time, then it stands to reason that she has tummy problems. If my DD doesn't eat well, she doesn't get dessert (when we have it) and if she sees someone else eating, then maybe she'll be more motivated later. But it sounds like the father has weird food habits/weird ideas about food. If he is taking food from his daughter and basically harassing her all meal, then he's making her feel insecure about something very basic - eating. High achievers can also be perfectionists and if food is something the parents see as something to "perfect" it can lead to issues.

It can be very hard when you see behaviors that are harmful to a child you love, but do not parent. I would encourage the child to eat appropriately when she is with you. Talk to her about moderation but being able to enjoy even sometimes foods some of the time. Maybe get her cooking with you so she learns a different way to associate with food. You will likely get resistance from your daughter if she has problems of her own. You may need to encourage the granddaughter to talk to her pediatrician or school counselor.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

This sounds bad. What ever the child is around, with food, definitely impresses upon them. I originally wanted to keep sugar away from my kids, but then I heard about a study where 500 kids were let into a room with sweets, the ones who were denied sweets at home, ate so much more than the other kids. I now let my kids have sweets. They should be teaching about what is healthy, and what should be limited, but not cut out. That includes teaching about exercise and what is good for the body. What the parents do (like eat dessert in front of her), is a poor decision. What is that trying to teach her. If anyone will listen to you, you should show them studies or stories about children and food. Children grow up by example, and will copy what they are around. For her sake, don't give up.

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answers from Seattle on

Punishing by denying dessert won't lead to an eating disorder.

The other issues you mention are anecdotal and provide no potential for cause and effect.

For example, the child gets stomach-aches. That is pretty common, particularly for high stress kiddos. I had them throughout my childhood and now my daughter has them. I generally tell her to try and poop (gas related). This is in no way indicative of a likelihood of an eating disorder.

And while I think it's sad that the parents seem to have a less pleasurable relationship to food, calling some food "good" (maybe veggies?) and other food "bad" (candy bars) doesn't seem unreasonable. Frankly, most of our society does this.

The self-reportage of food is the oddest thing you've mentioned, but my daughter might even do that. (Normally she would just mention the food that she liked. So it would sound like all she ate was melon and cookies, for example, when she also might have eaten carrots, pasta, crackers, raisins, ... You get the idea).

So, with the information you've provided in your post, I think you might be overreacting a bit. I would, respectfully, suggest backing off a bit while keeping an eye out. The child might develop an unhealthy relationship food food while not having an actual eating disorder. Frankly, the vast majority of Americans seem to have an unhealthy relationship with food.



answers from Charlotte on

Well, you could call social services anonymously and tell them what is going on. The problem with this is that they will surely know that it is you who turned them in.

The other thing you can do is write a letter to the pediatrician and tell him or her what you are worried about. Take the letter to the office manager or head nurse and ask them to give it to the doctor to read. The doc cannot talk to you about this, but if it's a good doctor, can bring up the issue with your daughter.

By the way, it is very hard to read the text message writing here. Some people won't bother to read it, and then you miss their ideas.

Good luck,

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