Jennifer Bell, The National, February 24, 2014 Updated: February 25, 2014 10:40:00
But it all came at a terrible cost.
Anna was slowly dying of starvation before everyone’s eyes, said Jared Alden, of the German Neuroscience Centre. The former patient is a perfect example of how greater parental expectations on the first born can lead to an eating disorder, Mr Alden said.
Anna began dieting at the age of 11, limiting her eating as a way to take control of her life.
“Anna is representative of so many young women I have met over the years,” Mr Alden, Counsellor in Dubai said. “From Anna’s point of view she was under a great deal of pressure. She was the oldest child in the family.
“That means she was the first one to confront her parents with each and every stage of her development. Anna was the first to walk, the first to talk and the first to go to school – the first to grow up.
“All of her family’s expectations were focused on her. It would be fair to say that by the time Anna’s younger sisters got to these stages, her parents were more relaxed.
“Anna benefited from all the attention of being the first but she also ended up holding a great deal of the family’s anxieties and expectations.”
Being the oldest, she had a tremendous responsibility to do things the right way, Mr Alden, Psychologist in Dubai, said. “After all, she had two siblings watching everything she did. Anna was also the first grandchild in the family. The result was she felt she lived her life in a public spotlight.”
Feeling responsible to do everything in the right way, get the perfect marks and never rebel, led to Anna taking control in the only way she felt she could – by counting calories and avoiding food. In the beginning, not eating made her feel mature and powerful, relaxed her and allowed her to focus on school, Mr Alden said.
But this quickly slipped into an obsession to become the thinnest girl in the class. “Anna’s caring parents were shocked that their high standards had hurt their daughter,” he said. “They never wanted to control their daughter. They only wanted to guide and provide for her. “Therapy for this family was much like most families with eating disorders. It was helping the parents see that they are not bad parents, that they can relax and let their daughter make some of her own choices and ultimately her own mistakes.
“It was helping Anna to see that much of the pressure she was under was self-imposed. Her parents did not really expect everything from her. She did not have to be the perfect child for her siblings and her parents.
“Anna also had to learn how to express normal human emotions of sadness and anger. Her parents had to learn to listen to their oldest daughter and not get frightened and overreact.”