Small child

Eating disorders and emotional violence at the table

"It should be remembered that eating disorders are very often a consequence of the mother restricting the child's autonomy and meeting the child's needs (including the need for care and attachment). Such a child feels completely responsible for the degree of fulfillment of the mother's needs and thus feels constantly controlled by her. Any increase in autonomy on the part of the child is seen as a huge threat to the mother who is addictively using the child to fulfill her demands. The child lives as if "by order" of the mother to survive mentally. Such huge failures in attachment to the mother cause the child's inability to hear internal signals from the body. " If you were to mention the basic mistakes that parents make during meals, what would be on the top of the list?

MaƂgorzata Starzomska: In the first place I would mention cases of breaking a child's will by forcing him to eat when he does not feel like it, or punishing a child by refusing to eat. By using the pictorial metaphor, food then becomes a "torture tool."

In second place I would mention cases of pampering a child by feeding him sweets. A vicious circle then arises: the child is full and does not want to eat regular meals, e.g. dinner, then parents may force the child to eat. Spoiling and punishing as a consequence of the former is an "explosive mix." What are the consequences of forcing children to eat in various known ways: "for grandma, grandpa", "eat because we won't go to the zoo", "a little bit, the plate must be empty"?

M.S.: This parent's behavior must be named: it is emotional violence, just as dangerous as physical violence (although physical violence may also occur when forcing food, e.g., forcing the spoon with soup into the child's mouth, despite his protest). Forcing a child to eat is violence and one of the reasons for emotional difficulties in the future. Will it take the form of emotional blackmail (mentioned in the question "for grandmother, grandfather") or scaring ("eat because we will not go to the zoo") or constant reminding the child that he must eat ("a little bit, the plate must be empty "), nothing justifies such behavior. Forcing to eat can create unpleasant associations associated with food, which can result in disgust for food, and hence the only step to eating disorders.

Where is the tension in parents when they sit at the table with children? The meal is accompanied by anger, frustration, unfulfilled expectations ...

M.S. This question concerns the condition of the modern world, in which there is no place or time for a real listening to the other person, for empathy, determined by the drive for career, wealth and perfect appearance. These factors have an impact on the modern family.
Inexpressible regret, accumulated problems, unfulfilled ambitions - find an outlet during joint meals (if they are organized), which become a "battlefield" for family members. Of course, children suffer the most in such situations. Researchers often treat anorexia as a peculiar way, discovered by a child, to "cement" a conflicted family.

It seems that eating disorders are a big problem today ... bigger than in the past?

M.S.: The answer to this question is difficult. On the one hand, with the increase in the number of centers diagnosing and treating eating disorders, as well as with the increasing number of articles on these disorders and their increasing availability, the not entirely justified belief arises that we are dealing with an epidemic of anorexia or bulimia. Twenty years ago, people with these diseases, except for those who went to the few specialists at the time, had a negligible chance for a correct diagnosis, instead they were "diagnosed" with depression, anxiety disorders or ... schizophrenia. In addition, these diseases have undoubtedly become more known and less embarrassing because of the media, so many people who previously would not know they were sick or would not dare to go to a professional, now decide to seek help. Therefore, it is difficult to say how much the incidence has increased during this time period.

On the other hand, the importance of socio-cultural factors in the emergence of eating disorders has not been discussed for a long time. Thanks to the intensive development of women's media in the United States and Central and Western Europe, which for the most part promote a slim figure, young women have the opportunity to confront their own silhouette with sometimes very skinny models and celebrities, and in addition you can easily find slimming diet proposals in such media, which can be treated as a kind of training in anorexic behavior. So, perhaps, reports of the growing epidemic of eating disorders in recent years may be true.

I will end the answer to this question with two examples. The first example is that in the Fiji islands until 1996 there was not a single case of anorexia, but unfortunately many followed. What was the reason for this change? In 1996, in Fiji, she began broadcasting television programs promoting very slim heroines.
The second example concerns the results of a Waller and Matoba study from 1999 comparing women with eating disorders living in the UK (British and Japanese) and living in Japan (Japanese). These studies have revealed that only in UK residents emotions such as irritation, sadness, boredom, etc., can cause disturbed eating behavior. In the case of female residents of Japan, no positive relationship was found between negative emotions and eating disorders.

The authors explain this result as follows: the fact that the Japanese living in Great Britain resemble British people in terms of eating disorders more than Japanese living in Japan can be explained by the process of acculturation, which means the adoption of certain cultural norms characteristic of Western culture by Japanese culture.

Are eating disorders and irregularities hereditary?

M.S.: It is difficult to answer this question unequivocally. Indeed, there have been more and more reports recently about inheritance of leanness due to dysfunction of neuropeptide Y receptors, responsible for food intake and the tendency for food to persist in the stomach for longer. However, it seems that heredity of a eating disorder can be treated metaphorically as a reaction to a parent's eating disorder. Unfortunately, he may never recognize his illness and will unknowingly interfere with the child's development process.

Zerbe (1996) lists the following "floors" of the impact of a mother's eating disorder on the development of such a disorder in a child. First of all, pregnancy in the mother, which is accompanied by a change in figure, is the reason for her feeling that she is getting fatter. It can then unconsciously influence the behavior of an older child, because by reading the mother's emotions and wanting to help her, she is trying to lose weight herself.

Secondly, during the period when the child is an infant, the influence of a mother with a eating disorder may be that her negative feelings affect not only the child, but also the interaction between mother and child. The mother consciously limits the amount of food she gives her child. It has been shown that children growing in such conditions gain weight more slowly, and have problems with food and weight later in life.

In addition, the mother's eating disorder can affect her interpretation of the baby's signals. For example, he interprets his crying as an expression of hunger and feeds the child, while for his relief it would be enough to hug and calm him down. In the future, such a child may have difficulty distinguishing bodily sensations such as hunger and satiety from feelings of anger or loneliness.
Thirdly, while the child is in school age, a mother with eating disorder can influence the amount of food she consumes, expressing her desire for her child to be perfect. It does not necessarily directly affect a child's diet or weight management, while her expression of her desire for the child to be perfect in all respects is clearly perceived by her as a demand for weight loss.

The influence of a mother or father can become even more significant when, because of the desire for the child to be perfect, they enroll them in ballet school or artistic gymnastics, where often the development of an eating disorder is systematically supported by a strong requirement of low weight.

Fourth, during adolescence, seeing the rounding shapes of her own body, she begins to faithfully record her mother's fears and drastically changes her eating habits, which makes the previously latent eating disorder visible.