I’m Afraid My Fourth-grade Daughter is too Extreme in Her Dieting

Dear Troubleshooter:

I’m a female nurse in my 40s. My daughter, who is a fourth grader at elementary school, has been a bit overweight since she was a small child. After starting elementary school, she began spending more time alone at home than before and put on substantial weight. It seems she was eating sweets when I wasn’t around.

Around spring, she started menstruating and became aware of her body shape. She began to want to lose weight. At first, she tried to drop the pounds without pushing things too hard, but seeing her thinner self in the mirror seems to have given her confidence. She began exercising and restricting her diet, getting tips from online videos. She’s become extremely concerned about her weight and barely eats dinner.

Since April, she’s lost more than 10 kilograms over several months. I asked her to stop dieting, and we’ve discussed the matter repeatedly. When we talked to our family doctor, they said her weight was slightly below average but within the normal range. They also told me not to worry too much.

My daughter has since started eating more, but she’s not putting on as much weight as I thought she would. What should I do?

— J, Hiroshima Prefecture

Dear Ms. J:

Since you have talked to your family doctor, I assume you’re worried about something besides a medical problem.

A fourth grader’s inner life is going through great change ahead of puberty. As children at this age start to see themselves objectively, they also begin to experience negative feelings, such as from an excessive preoccupation with their appearance and from jealousy inspired by comparisons of themselves with others. Sometimes words fail to catch up with their feelings, and their hazy thoughts may be expressed in their actions. In your daughter’s case, she was probably expressing her feelings through dieting.

As you work in medicine, I’m sure you’re aware of this. If you just keep telling her to eat whenever you see your daughter, you’ll be setting up a one-way street.

I’m sure you’re busy, but why don’t you listen to what your daughter has to say, putting aside discussions on eating? What did she do today? If she was happy, share her joy. If she had a hard day, share her troubles and think over the problem together. You can also discuss a book she read or a TV show she watched. Don’t forget to praise her when you see some progress, even of the most trivial kind.

Your daughter cares what you think and is doing her very best. Her feelings are always in flux. Go out with her once in a while and try to find something she really wants. I hope the day will come when you ask her, “Why don’t we go to the sweets shop everybody is talking about?”

— Hazuki Saisho, writer