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Q: My 10-year-old stepdaughter is obsessed with food. She constantly asks what we'll be eating at mealtimes and rushes in to see what I bring home from the grocery store. She's considerably overweight, but doesn't seem to have any health problems. I think her behavior might be due to her biological mother's disinterest in her daughter's life. I'd like her to go to counseling to deal with any emotional problems she may have, but my husband doesn't want a counselor to "mess up her head." How should I deal with this?
A: Your stepdaughter's relationship with food is unhealthy. She may have been pronounced "healthy" at a recent physical, but it's not healthy for such a young child to be "considerably overweight." If you discussed her obsession with food and her eating habits with her doctor, I'm sure he'd be concerned.
Your stepdaughter's obsessive relationship with food is obviously not about food. I suggest, however, that you have her examined to rule out any medical reason for her incessant hunger. She may be using food in response to some significant inner torment, perhaps her sadness and confusion about her biological mom's lack of presence in her life. She should definitely be in counseling, not only for her obsessive-compulsive relationship with food, but also for what is causing her to be in such emotional pain. She needs more help than you and her father can give her, and she is sending out these warning signs to show you how much she needs professional help. Please try to help your husband get over his aversion to therapy so that his daughter can get the help she needs. Letting things continue as they are does this little girl a great disservice. Thanks for writing.
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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.