Ask Dr. J. Archives
Dear Dr. J.
I am 16 years old and I think I think I have an eating disorder. My mom loves me very much and
she's always supported me in my dream to be a model. Ever since I can remember, my mom
has tried to help me find the right clothes, talk right, and get exercise and eat in a
healthy way. Up until this year, I really thought I wanted to be a model, but now I'm
in my junior year of high school and I think I want to go to college to be a teacher or
maybe join the Peace Corps. I've never had a boyfriend before and now I'm going with
Tim who thinks I'm beautiful whether I wear makeup or not. In fact, he says he
likes the "natural look". I've stopped wearing so much makeup and I've been eating
more when I go out with Tim.
It was Tim who noticed that I hardly eat anything when I'm out. He wonders if I have a
problem. His sister had anorexia and had to go away to a treatment place. He's worried
about me. I'm trying to show him that I don't have anorexia like his sister, but now I
feel terrible because I've been throwing up since I was 13. I feel like I should tell him,
but I don't want to lose him. My mom is mad because she says I look "terrible" and that
I'm "letting myself go". I have gained a little bit of weight and Tim thinks I look
pretty. My mom keeps asking me if I'm exercising. She made a deal with me that I could
go out more if I exercise and stop eating sweets. She had some chocolates hidden up in
the pantry and I got into them and ate some, and she found out and was really mad.
Tim is really nice and is popular and studies and is planning to go to college.
His parents go to our church and are really nice too. Now my mom says I'm spending
too much time with Tim and wants me to limit it to once every two weeks. I don't
understand why she's so mad.
I think I have bulimia. What should I do? I don't want to hurt anybody's feelings, especially my mom, but I think she's too much in my business. Everyday when I get home, she asks about what this girl said, or that girl said. She wants to know everything Tim says and then gets mad when I tell her. Maybe I should just break up with Tim so he doesn't get hurt.
Up until recently, your mother has been totally in charge of your decisions. She decides
what you should wear, eat, and do. She is way too involved and way too controlling.
Part of the clinical picture for a Bulimic is an overinvolved mother. Your mother needs
to get therapy to help her find a more healthy way of relating to a teenage daughter. Perhaps
she could be a part of your therapy at some point. It appears that your mother has revolved
her life around you and that isn't good. She
may even be trying to live her life vicariously through you. Because of this, if you don't
do as she expects, she becomes frustrated and angry, and tries anything to get you back
under her control. She is going to try to break up your relationship with Tim because he
has an influence on you that is running contrary to hers. I know this sounds harsh, but
somebody has to say it....your mother needs to back off and let you be who you want to be.
Hopefully, you will go away to college and at least create some physical distance with your
Because you have this enmeshed (too close) relationship with your mother, you have never
developed an internal guide to help you make your own decisions. Now that you have Tim
in your life, you're now trying to please him too. The stress of being caught between
the needs of these two powerful people in your life could make your eating disorder worse.
As strange as this seems, your eating disorder gives you a sense of control. Even though
you feel out of control when you're in it, it is the one thing you do have control over.
This does sound strange, and that's why you need to get into therapy with somebody who
understands the complexities of this condition. Even if you attach yourself to the
therapist for awhile and try to please her, at least you will have the influence of
somebody who has your best interests at heart. Eventually, however, the purpose of
the therapy is to help you find your own inner voice which tells you what you need and
want. My guess is that you have anxiety about being perfect and not making mistakes.
You mentioned that Tim is your first boyfriend and he's probably the first person outside
the family who has had a different opinion. This can throw you into quite a turmoil
on a very deep level. Depression and anxiety are probably part of what you are experiencing
right now. Check with your school and see if they can help get you a referral to a therapist
or eating disorder group facilitated by a professional. The school counselor could also be
a valuable mediator in approaching your mother about getting help. She will be very
threatened by your seeking therapy. She will be afraid the therapist will blame her and
I'm not sure her ego strength is that solid. Whatever you do, do not take responsibility
for the feelings of these loved ones. It is up to them to deal with their own feelings.
It's your job to focus on yourself so that you can begin to recover from this eating disorder.