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Should we be concerned about niece's eating habits?

(6 Posts)
umbloon Mon 01-Oct-12 13:37:02

Namechanging regular here.
I've hummed and ah'd about posting about this for ages because this is quite sensitive, and my DH and others might not like the idea of it being discussed on an internet forum. But it is on my mind and I am concerned.

DH's niece is 16, and is obsessed by calorie counting, to the extent that it affects her social interaction when food is involved. To give two recent examples:
Recently, we all went for a lovely day out - me and DH and our 2 small DC, DSIL and her DH and her 2 teenage DC. Lovely, happy day. Towards the end of it, we decide to have our tea in a restaurant or cafe somewhere. Pizza is the first suggestion but DNiece protests "I can't eat that". We end up going to a Wetherspoons. There are lots of items on the menu that are marked as less than 700 calories, but DN spends ages trying to decide what to have, worrying about calorie content, afraid of trying something new in case she doesn't like it, but grumpy about resorting to jacket spud and beans because "that's all I ever have". I try to suggest nice things, e.g. Chicken caesar salad, describe what they are like etc. Her DPs begin to hassle her to choose as everyone else is waiting, my two are starving etc. Eventually she gets upset and runs off to the loos, where she refuses to come out. DSIL can't get her to move so I go and talk to her. When I coax her out I ask her to tell me honestly if thinking about food really upsets her, and she says no. I calm her down, mutter slightly crass platitudes about her DPs caring about her and how hard it is to be a teenager, and she comes back and eats her jacket spud and beans.

Second example:
DH, DC and I go over to stay with DSIL for DN's birthday. When we were first invited, initial plan was to go out to eat. Later this changed to getting a take-away. We arrive in the am, settle down etc, and after a bit take our DC to the park. When we get back, there is the smell of food in the house and DSIL says that DN decided she was too worried about calories to have a take-away and wanted to eat some rice and sweet and sour sauce. So DN, the birthday girl, has already eaten before all the guests. When we get our take-away, she spends the whole time in a different room playing on the Wii (which is normal behaviour for her, but it was her birthday). She comes out to blow out the candles on her birthday cake, but I don't know whether she actually ate a piece.

She is tall, slim, well-proportioned, no uneven puppy fat, just developing nicely in the right places. She is pretty, bright, quirky and sassy. She eats breakfast, dinner and tea and a snack supper, but always the same range of foods because she knows the calorie content.

DSIL says she doesn't know how to handle this food issue, she has tried and tried to talk to her. Just so you know how DSIL interacts with food, she is overweight (but not grossly), eats whatever she wants and gives the impression of not caring about her appearance. Her refrain to DN is "You only live once."

It upsets me to see DN worrying about food to the extent that she can't enjoy a social occasion around food. Am I worrying unnecessarily or should we be concerned?

ElephantsAndMiasmas Mon 01-Oct-12 14:12:28

I would keep an eye on her, but not worry too madly as long as she doesn't start to lose weight. She's obviously got a bee in her bonnet about calorie counting but at least she is eating. Do you know where she's got these ideas from? Does she go to a girls-only school or one where appearance would be classed as particularly important? Does she have friends who obsess over this stuff?

Other than the calorie counting I would say she sounds as if she is behaving rather young for her age. Do most 16 year olds spend their birthday at home with their siblings, aunt, uncle and little cousins? Perhaps she was playing on the Wii, fussing over food etc to annoy her parents because they've prevented her from doing things she'd rather do/with her own friends in favour of "family time"? Just a thought. Families can put a lot of pressure on about these kind of things.

umbloon Mon 01-Oct-12 15:09:11

Thanks for the reply. I don't know where she's got these ideas from. She goes to a mixed regular state comprehensive. I have no idea what her circle of friends is. For a while she found it hard to make friends when she started secondary school and I suspected this might be because she is clever, with quite a dry, sarky sense of humour. She is quite shy and introverted, and likes to spend ages on her own in her room on her laptop. (I once asked SIL and BIL if they know what she does on her laptop and was told "I think she just writes documents" hmm) so I don't know if she's getting strange ideas from the internet or social networks.

I also think she is quite a young 16, doesn't show much interest in boys/relationships, loves Harry Potter, Sponge Bob and Batman. So far, she hasn't come across to me as the type to want to spend her time with her mates rather than her family. I'm pretty certain DSIL would not stop her from having a friends-oriented birthday celebration rather than a family one. We were told this is what she had asked for.

ElephantsAndMiasmas Mon 01-Oct-12 17:21:13

A good friend of mine had what everyone assumed was anorexia, but in the end was diagnosed with OCD - the food was the element she sought to control but she wasn't actually motivated by the end result (wanting to be thin). She got some great counselling in the end but people tend to see thin anxious girl = anorexia when there are other explanations as well. Is she a perfectionist or very into routine in other ways?

umbloon Tue 02-Oct-12 08:47:46

You may have a point, Elephants. She is quite paranoid about germs. Also, she has to wipe her face every 2 hours with Pampers Sensitive baby wipes (only that brand) to ward off greasy skin.

ElephantsAndMiasmas Tue 02-Oct-12 12:33:52

Perhaps you could speak to your sister in law and maybe mention OCD behaviours (common misconception that they're always about hyiene which they aren't) so she can keep an eye out?

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