Mom Sparks Online Feud Over Teaching 'Large' 12-Year-Old to Calorie Count

The internet has blasted a mother of four for creating an eating disorder in her youngest daughter by restricting her diet and teaching her to count calories.

In a post shared on Mumsnet, the mother, who goes by the username Wills, asked for advice to help her fourth child and youngest daughter, aged 12, who she perceives to have an unhealthy relationship with food, and is over eating.

She explains in the post that all of her four children, three of whom are on the autistic spectrum, have struggled with their weight including herself and her mother, but with guidance her older three have "sort of come round."

She wrote: "Once they're post 18 I feel its their decision to be who they want to be, but (and sometimes this is unasked of) try to guide their decisions to healthy eating—my point being that its fine for them to be 'large' but I always stress a balanced diet and healthy exercise routine."

Person checking weight on scales
Stock image: A person checking their weight on scales. Twenty-eight to 74 percent of risk for eating disorders is through genetic heritability. Getty Images

The woman explains that her youngest daughter, who she says is not autistic but potentially shows signs which could also be learned behavior, "has gone from an age 12/13 age child clothes to an adult size 14 and in certain skinnier shops 16. All my normal coping strategies have failed. She's like a heat seeking missile for sugar." She says that she's had to give up baking because "if I do bring in anything sugary she finds it—including under my bed."

She describes how during a difficult time in the family, when their grandad was dying with dementia, her youngest daughter had a "wonderful bonding experience with her granny...They put together a raspberry crumble including oats. As 'treats' come this seemed like something that was wonderful for her to learn.

"Fast forward—so I have stopped buying 'snacks,' biscuits, puddings—in fact anything that might represent a treat (feel like the grinch). But DD3 [dear daughter 3] is really intelligent/clever! For the last nine months I daren't have sugar or flour and butter in the house!

"If I do she gets up at 5:00 a.m. in the morning and puts together a crumble mix that would feed (with fruit) four people and then eats it for breakfast. I've stopped buying sugar and flour, which was fine when two of my kids where at Uni, but they've come home and bought the stuff themselves and get upset when its gone in the morning."

She goes on to say: "To give an example.... She ate three full fat sesame bagels for breakfast. How do I tell her this is unreasonable without her screeching at me that I'm calling her fat."

Eating Disorder Risk

The post, which was originally posted to the AIBU (Am I Being Unreasonable) forum, has attracted a mixed reaction from Mumsnet users, with many describing the daughter's behavior as a clear eating disorder, and some blaming the mother.

According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders:

  • Nine percent of the U.S population, or 28.8 million Americans, will have an eating disorder in their lifetime.
  • Less than six percent of people with eating disorders are medically diagnosed as "underweight."
  • Twenty-eight to 74 percent of risk for eating disorders is through genetic heritability.
  • Larger body size is both a risk factor for developing an eating disorder and a common outcome for people who struggle with bulimia and binge eating disorder.
  • People in larger bodies are half as likely as those at a "normal weight" or "underweight" to be diagnosed with an eating disorder.
Woman looking in fridge
Stock image: A young woman sneaks food from the fridge at night. Nine percent of the U.S population, or 28.8 million Americans, will have an eating disorder in their lifetime. Getty Images

User fUNNYfACE36 wrote: "You have literally created an eating disorder in your child. I think you need professional advice now."

RagazRebooted echoed these sentiments and suggested that the dietary restrictions have caused more bad than good: "It kind of sounds like you've taught her to be obsessed with food and now she has a binge eating disorder. Counting calories isn't going to help. Do you not provide any treats at all? It looks like you've tried to restrict too much so she is now obsessed.

"Normally kids are fine to have a treat/pudding every day as part of their balanced diet. I'd get her involved with baking/shopping and use the portioning up aspect to talk about healthy portion control. So make a batch of cookies and have one each a day or something, rather than her feeling like she needs to eat all her contraband at 5 a.m.!"

User Meadowbreeze also agreed, saying: "You've given your kid an eating disorder. It's not normal to not buy sugar or flour. You've not taught your child a healthy balance from pre birth, what makes you think they'll just wake up one day and know. They've had a lovely experience making something and now want to replicate it, I'm not surprised. Three bagels is not excessive for a growing teen. I want to give your daughter a hug and bake some bread with her."

Beastlyslumber offered some alternative advice: "It does sound like binge eating disorder, OP [original poster]. You mentioned autism—could she have ADHD? People with ADHD often have a lot of dopamine-seeking behaviors and are vulnerable to addiction. I think she probably needs some mental health support, maybe look into ADHD as well. But in the meantime, you could read up a bit on BED and see if you think it fits. Brain Over Binge is a really good resource and there are some good podcasts and videos on YouTube as well."