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Eating Disorders

I Think Daughter Might have Eating Disorder

11/30/2011

Question:

My daughter who is 36 is VERY thin. Let me just start out by saying that while there are lots of normal weight and more chunky people on both sides of her family, there is nobody -- nobody -- who is "naturally" really, really thin.

I know that for a while she has really prized her "size 0" body weight. I think that is silly, she is 5`4 and looks too thin at size 0. But she has been working at it for some time and likes being really thin (more about that in a minute). Recently she visited my Mom who was shocked at how thin she has become (thinner than at her "dieted-down-to-size-0" weight). My mom is extremely alarmed about this.

Okay - I`ve always taken the view that she is an adult and her weight is not my business. I simply don`t comment on it at all. Ever. She is an adult and lots of adult women diet to lose weight, and maybe later gain it, etc., etc. I don`t praise her (or anyone else) for losing weight nor do I make any remarks when they gain it. I basically hate participating in the social "thing" of always inspecting and commenting on womens` weight. I`d rather see women worrying about things like going to Harvard or running for President than about whether they`ve gained or lost a lb or what size dress they fit in.

ANYWAY, the complicating thing here is that my daughter is in a performing arts field. She is not a model nor is there any good reason (that I can tell) why her ability to get work should depend on how thin she is. BUT, the fact is that the thinner she is, the more (and better) jobs she gets. Its just a fact, although unfortunate. She is a very smart person and I`m sure this "fact" has not escaped her. I`m sure that part of her recent (last 5 years or so) love affair with being "size 0" is at least in part because she is doing what she needs to do to keep getting work in her field.

BUT ... she lately does seem to be a LOT thinner than even when she was constantly dieting to be "size 0."

She makes excuses. She told my Mom that the reason she was thinner was because she had been working at a location in the mountains (true) and that staying at that altitude "makes people lose their appetite" (umm, that sounds like phoney baloney to me).

So ... by now you can probably tell that I really do NOT want to get involved. BUT, if she is in trouble and needs help, I don`t just want to stand by and not help.

What is the right thing for the parent of an adult "possibly anorexic" person to do? Is there a right time to decide to speak up, and if so, what should be said or done?

Answer:

You appear to have a very healthy attitude about weight and staying outside the social obsession with weight and shape and the thinness competitions. 

However, trust what you fear. If your loved one is losing weight and you find yourself agast as the weight loss increases, treat it as you would any other illness.

Imagine your loved one came home limping.  You may say something like, "you're limping, have you had that checked out?"  If she tries to push it aside, by saying something like when she was "working in the mountains she tripped and it is no big deal." That may be fine, but you may probably come back with, "well if the swelling doesn't come down, will you agree with me it warrants being checked out?"  The same is true for weight loss. 

Where she checks it out can begin with a MD for a physical.  Or if she agrees she is losing her appetite and has decreased desire for food and it does not appear to be medical, then "having it checked out" can be a consult with a specialist such as an eating disorder specialist.

In central Ohio, The Center for Balanced Living is the specialized eating disorder clinic.

For more information:

Go to the Eating Disorders health topic, where you can:

Response by:

Laura  L Hill, PhD Laura L Hill, PhD
Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University