Recipe for Anorexia

1. Take one child and put her (rarely, but sometimes, a him) into an unpredictable family.

2. Add an emotionally distant parental unit or two, and encourage them to be overly controlling. The child learns that she has no control over her life, her choices, and most of all over her parents. The parents may be overtly dysfunctional: raging, alcoholic, critical and unkind or abusive to each other and/or the children. There may be an unprocessed divorce, or some other destructive situation. Or they may be covertly sending messages of unhappiness with themselves and others, their lives, and blaming their spouse, children, "the system" or something external for their finances, their work, and their "lot in life." Either way, they are not taking responsibility for themselves. The child then takes on that responsibility and blames herself for her parents' unhappiness. She fully embraces the sense that, "if I was only good enough, all would be well, and there is nothing I can do about it. I have NO control."

3. Keep the parents from making close and consistent emotional contact with the child. They may be physically absent many of her waking hours due to work and/or social life, or they may be physically present but preoccupied, intoxicated, or just focused on something other than the child. She gets the message loud and clear, "I am not worth their attention." She also has nobody safe and nonjudgmental to go to with her fears and concerns, much less anyone able to teach her emotionally and spiritually healthy ways to deal with life.

4. Teach the parents to attempt to control everything the child eats and doesn't eat. If she doesn't eat everything on her plate, which one of the parental units has served with what HE or SHE thinks the child SHOULD eat (don't ever "SHOULD" on ANYONE!!!), make her sit at the table until she does, or make her eat it for breakfast, or inflict some other very controlling inappropriate punishment. (Withholding dessert may be reasonable if a young child has not eaten an appropriate amount of a meal, but there are those who maintain, "dessert first, life is uncertain!"). When you go out to eat in a restaurant, pretend it is for family fun, get her excited about choosing her own dinner from the menu, but don't allow her to have any control over what she orders. Make comments like, "you don't want that," or "that's not good, why don't you get this?" "I'll just order for you." Take control and don't let her be treated like a person with preferences, valuable input, or a mind of her own. Above all, don't encourage independence or allow her to think you value her for being her and trust and accept her decisions about age appropriate issues (like choosing a meal in a restaurant on a special occasion). If you encourage this independence, you may loose some of your (pathological) control over her; she may grow up to have ideas and opinions of her own!

5. Add one parent, usually female type, who is obsessed with her own appearance. She criticizes herself for being: too fat, too thin, too much/little makeup, bad hair days, too old, wrong clothes, and so on. She makes it clear she does not like herself. This is the model for the girl-child: women do not like themselves; they are always too something, never OK, especially with weight. They are frequently "on a diet" and berate themselves for not "sticking with it."

6. Impose a high dose of media emphasis on overly thin girls and women. Consider looking at advertisements that use anorexic appearing models and commenting on how good they look.

7. Throw in another adult, either brand, and teach him to make derogatory comments about the child's appearance. As the child becomes an adolescent, instruct father to say things like: "you're getting a little chubby," "go to the gym, you need to get toned," "why can't you look like Susie-Q," "haven't you had enough to eat?" "don't eat that, you'll balloon up," "you don't need that ice cream." Apply overt and covert criticism to her as she becomes a teenager. Be derogatory about her appearance, behavior, friends, neatness of bedroom, and everything else. Contribute as much as possible to her self-hatred, already well established because she blames herself for your emotional absence and her mother's self criticism.

8. Start a therapy fund, not a college fund.

Dr. Obrecht is an M.D. addiction medicine specialist, the only one on the western slope of Colorado. She is a Fellow of the American Society of Addiction Medicine. Her office is in Steamboat Springs and she does consultations and referrals to anywhere in the country.

 

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