National Eating Disorders Association

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Questions, Venting, And More Questions

I’m new to this forum which I found while searching for answers on internet. The situation is causing strain on my relationship with my spouse- I’m sure that’s common. Subject of the problem lives full time with natural mother and 2 half siblings, older. At this point I’m refusing to even listen to my spouse discuss anything regarding the child because it is so frustrating to me. I’m certain that’s not a good solution but I’m at my wits end.
The child is a lifelong picky eater whose Mother is overweight. One sibling has normal weight, the other sibling is also overweight. As a child siblings and parents offered less than healthy food. Processed food a mainstay along with fast food. A sweet drink the norm for a 3 year old. Child had problems with constipation that resulted in painful bowl movements. Nothing was done to address the issue.
Diet was limited to a few specific types of processed foods. Or some sweet drink. Again, I have some experience with a child refusing to eat anything but a specific food. Never made an issue of it, continued to offer other foods, and the fixation on one food passed. Mealtime consisted of child being the main focus with every one present literally BEGGING the child to eat! And the child refusing unless given the exact food, always a poor food choice. I’ve never seen anything like it in my life, nor has anyone else I’ve spoken to. I’m not talking about parents saying, “ if you eat your vegetables you can have dessert” type begging/bribery. No this took begging a child to eat to new levels. The child was the MAIN subject of meals. Constantly the child, asking is that enough, and eventually resorting to tears. I’m certain it was as stressful for the child also.
Grocery shopping and meal planning revolved around the child to an extreme, all within earshot of the child.
Mealtimes were a nightmare. Constantly the begging and whining. Enough to drive the sanest person crazy.
I’m no mental health expert, however in my non educated opinion this family trained this child that food was power. Food was attention getting. Food gave them control over everyone in the household.
The child had numerous cavities in first teeth and several extracted for that reason. The child did not brush his teeth, and was most likely not properly instructed . At 5 years of age needed assistance dressing and tying shoes, all due to lack of parental instructions.
As the child got older the behavior persisted. Pediatrician noted the child as , “failure to thrive”. Ensure drinks added to diet. That was the extent of it.
All of this was a far cry from the way I was raised, and the way I was striving to raise my own children. I raised my children without diets, nor was the term used in our household. We stressed healthy eating. I’m far from perfect and we ate our share of less than nutritional foods. I strived to avoid making any comments regarding food, consumption, weight, etc, because of the comments made to myself and siblings growing up that resulted in problems for at least 2 of my family members. Our philosophy was to eat healthy nutritious foods and keep active. Your body will take good care of you if you take good care of your body. Simplified yes, but for raising young children it needed to be simple.
My opinion, for what it was worth was to stop making this a big deal. Stop BEGGING & CAJOLING this child to take another bite. Stop making this child and what went into their mouth the central focus of everyone’s life, daily routine, and activities. My pediatrician told me eat,y on that I would never control what came out of their mouth or what went in. Very true.
But alas, nothing was done and the behavior became entrenched, the begging continued unabated and became even more dramatic.
Now the child is 20 and has become so constipated that their bowel has nearly ruptured twice. The begging to eat continues, the over focused grocery shopping to find food that they will eat, cooking catered to this person, and the refusal to eat has now reached the point of causing heart arrhythmia. Every one shops and cooks with the consumers in mind, but the efforts on behalf of this person have always been exaggerated and over emphasized.
Now my spouse has dropped everything and is rushing to see child in hospital. Normal response, right? Except they do not see each other very often, rarely text each other. Consider that at age 11 child drew pictures of his Father and Mother together as a family and spoke of them all ‘Snuggling together.” Inappropriate at age 11, (eight years into our relationship, 3 in marriage,) considering father never lived with their mother, and there was never any possibility of that happening, Yes, as children we might hope for that, but to draw it in several pictures and verbalize it, despite being told more than once not an option. In this person’s mind, at least subconsciously, they have learned when they don’t eat to point of hospitilization, dad drops everything and comes and sees him. And Mom is there too, one big happy family.
Yes this person has anxiety issues.
I know I sound uncaring, but I no longer care to hear about this child’s issues because NOTHING was ever done. And nor will it. The child was allowed to remain in the custody of the parent who obviously failed miserably to parent this child. On my spouse’s part it’s a one way conversation, always ending with, “I’ve got nothing more to say”, or “I’m not talking about it”. For me it’s frustrating because one, it makes me angry that no one took care of this child- the mother left the sibling, 4 years older, to do the parenting. A 7 year old raising a 3 year old. And two, to constantly hear the same phrases that have never resolved anything. Personally I don’t know what to do other than keep my mouth shut so as to avoid another argument. When I remarked that this person is going to need intensive therapy by an individual trained in eating disorders I was met with the same remarks I’ve heard numerous times. There is no discussing this with my spouse. Maybe the solution is for me to just sit there and listen, at which time I’m accused of not caring or disinterest. I know this is stressful for my spouse and yet here I am complaining.
To me it just seems like this person was neglected a long time ago, and despite the crisis of the moment nothing is going to change ,


Dear JustChecking,

You wrote : "Stop making this child and what went into their mouth the central focus of everyone’s life, daily routine, and activities."

While things may have reached a point where the damage is done, and many different things may have contributed to this, I think you may have hit the nail on the head with this comment.

One thing you might want to do is look up the term "enmeshment" and see if it seems to fit some of what you've observed. Because that sounds like a lot of what's been going on to me.

If this "child" is 20 now, at some point she may find herself making her getaway from all this, as she's probably reaching an age where being so wrapped up in her family's antics is starting to wear thin for her, whether she has an ED or not.

She may have to be the one to take matters into her own hands, is what I mean. While that may seem unlikely now, she may just surprise you. One can only hope, you know ?

NEDA Hotline

Hi JustChecking, I'm sorry to hear you're having a tough time with this. You don't sound uncaring; it sounds like you're frustrated with the situation and are having a hard time wrapping your head around what's going on and why your spouse is acting the way they are. If you need a helpful resource for yourself - or for your spouse - the NEDA Helpline is staffed with people who can provide great insight and support for these type of situations. The number is 800-931-2237, and their hours are M-TH 9AM-9PM EST and F 9AM-5PM EST. I hope you find the support you are looking for!