I have a very smart and intelligent daughter who just turned fourteen. She’s slender and unusually pretty, does well in school (straight As) and participates in sports such as gymnastics and rowing. She also has taken ballet since she was seven years old and is very serious about it. Her teacher says she has talent and encourages her to practice rigorously (several hours a day) and to set her sights on auditioning for a major corps de ballet when she’s ready. This teacher, Mme Barinova, who is from Moscow, is extremely possessive of my daughter, particularly in the areas of food, rest, homework (hours of study), and even my daughter’s social life. In the beginning she told us this was part of her role as a teacher, and that since Lydia, our daughter, showed such promise as a dancer, it was crucial that she monitor Lydia’s activities and scheduling. We went along with this, pleased to have found such a good champion for Lydia. Now it seems that Lydia is more bonded to Mme Barinova than she is to me, her own mother. If she wants to choose new clothing or is attracted to a boy, she goes to Mme Barinova for advice. My biggest concern, however, has to do with Lydia’s eating habits — she eats like a bird to keep her weight down for dance, no carbs, no sugars, no junk, which may sound healthy but isn’t when measuring food items that go in her mouth becomes obsessive. I fear that she will become anorexic and don’t know how to deal with this without making matters worse.
Can you help?
You are right to worry. This is a delicate problem, particularly with girls your daughter’s age. Excessive working out and obsessive habits around food are often signs of an eating disorder, and eating disorders, in my opinion, require professional help. Since dancers typically need to keep their weight down, ballet is a field where this particular disorder runs rampant. My suggestion is that you seek a therapist specializing in OCD and eating disorders before you even think of addressing your concerns with your daughter or her ballet teacher. Together with the therapist, work out a plan of action. Does your daughter disappear to the bathroom after meals? Many girls with anorexia or bulimia are very secretive about their habits, tending to purge furtively behind closed doors, or to try and act as if they’re normal eaters. This can become a life threatening condition and some girls (and occasionally boys) require rehab in the same way as addicts or alcoholics. Undereating or frequent purging over a longer period of time can seriously affect the heart and other organs, as well as tissues of the mouth and esophagus. There is much information online about obsessive disorders and I suggest you educate yourself as much as possible. I’m glad you contacted me regarding your daughter’s situation.
Good luck and all the best to you and your family,
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Disclaimer: CD Knowles is not a doctor or psychotherapist. Any opinions expressed on Knowles Knows are just that — opinions.