Dear Virginia,

I brought up my granddaughter from the age of 17 months. Her parents were rarely in touch and I'm the only constant in her life. She started to gain weight after my mother (who loved her dearly) died. She was bullied at school because of it and continued to gain weight at university. She's now aged 24, unemployed and size 22. She's intelligent and has integrity and a sense of humour. She used to ride, ski, and was a strong swimmer. She is a lovely girl whose potential is not being realised. But weight is a taboo subject with her. She needs help, but I where do I start?

Yours sincerely, Maggie

In trying to get control of an unhappy situation and, as a result, make it easier to bear, it's very common to construct a pattern in order to explain it. I suspect (and here, you'll notice, I'm constructing my own explanation for your problem, which may or may not be correct!) you feel that your granddaughter is over-eating because she was abandoned as a child, that the feelings were compounded when your mother died, and that these circumstances and, perhaps, your own substitute mothering, have all contributed to her problem.

This could well be the case. But it might not be the case. She might just be someone who over-eats, for no particular reason, or she may be someone who has a gene that means they have a tendency to put on weight, however hard they diet. And her unemployment may have nothing to do with her weight. Size 22 is large, but there are plenty of people who are size 22, who have jobs, and are full of beans and joie-de-vivre. Her unemployment may be simply because jobs are very difficult to come by, even for people who have figures like breadsticks.

So perhaps she's right in wanting to avoid the subject when you bring up her weight. Eating may be a symptom of her problem, but not the problem itself. As you say that she "used to ride, ski and swim" it sounds as if she's stopped all this now. Is it because she can't afford it? Or because she doesn't want to? And if weight is such a taboo subject with her, perhaps your best bet would be not to get her to address her weight, but to address what sounds like, perhaps, depression. She hasn't put any taboo on talking about that, has she? It's maddening to be lectured, even kindly, on one's addictive habits, whether they're drink, drugs, sex, shopping or cream buns. They're usually comforts that are terribly difficult to give up. But very few people can resist it when someone else stares them in the eyes and says: "I'm worried – perhaps I'm wrong, but you don't seem to be very happy..."

My suggestion is to ring her up more frequently, so she knows she's loved and needed and to keep off the subject of food, weight and dress sizes. Perhaps you could make her feel useful and wanted by asking her if she'd do something for you for a couple of days – helping you decorate your flat, or sort out the rubbish in your flat. You could even pay her.

But in the end, you have to remember that however hard you try, you can't control her feelings. She's an adult. And if you have to suffer a few years watching her flounder until her life takes another turn, then don't beat yourself up with the idea that you could help. Perhaps you can't.







Show her you love her

Your granddaughter is very lucky to have you as a constant in her life. You obviously have her best interests at heart, and have a compassionate but realistic view of the situation. It's possible that she is insecure because she worries about losing you, just as she has lost her mother and great-grandmother. It seems to me that your granddaughter has two related but separate issues: her weight and her self-esteem.

You say weight is a taboo subject with her. Is this because she lashes out at you when you raise the subject? I did the same when my well-meaning husband suggested that I should try and slim down a bit. Years of resentment just boiled over , and I felt his remark was yet another way to undermine my confidence. When I cooled down and thought about it, I decided that I needed to take charge rather hide behind my insecurity and negative feelings. I downsized my job so that I was working to my strengths rather than chasing impossible targets. I also got back in touch with many old friends, and took up new hobbies.

You have identified so many positive traits in your granddaughter. Do make sure she knows how highly you think of her. Once she feels better about herself, some of the weight will probably just drop off anyway. My BMI is still not ideal. But the extra 5kg no longer has the power to make me feel like a failure. Your granddaughter is young. She can look forward to many years of happiness.

Name and address supplied







She's just unhappy

Your letter focuses on your granddaughter's weight. But what comes across is that your granddaughter is extremely unhappy. It sounds to me as though her weight is not the cause of her problems but may possibly be a symptom of them. There are lots of reasons why people gain weight (you don't say if she is over-eating), but among them is a desire to fade into the background, to become unlovely and unlovable and thus somehow retreat from the world.

Forget about her body and focus on her mind. On some level, she probably senses your distress (disapproval?) about her weight. Put that problem completely to one side and offer to get her some help for what sounds like depression. She doesn't have to be thin to tackle the problems in her life.

Lou Frost

Cardiff







So what if she's fat?

Surely your granddaughter's weight is nothing to do with you? I think you're just showing a typical prejudice against larger people. Why should she conform to some size you consider a norm? Why don't you just reassure her you love her for herself instead of undermining her – it sounds as if she could do with some affection at the moment, seeing as she's unemployed. Just because she's fat doesn't mean she's not a perfectly capable young woman. Leave her alone, please! And stop worrying about things like weight that really don't matter.

Jo Greenberg

London NW6



Next week's dilemma

Dear Virginia,

An old friend of mine has just left her husband and children, and though I can understand her reasons, I still have some sympathy with the husband – and, of course, the children. I have always liked both partners very much and can understand why this happened. But now my old friend has said that if I see or contact the husband she will count me as having (in her words) "gone over to the enemy", and that she won't want to see me any more. I am really upset. I'm always seeing Alan at the school gates – our children are in the same class – and as I say, I feel so much sympathy for both partners. I feel that both of them need my friendship. I don't want to be forced to take sides. But what can I do?

Yours sincerely, Hilary

What would you advise Hilary to do? Email your dilemmas and comments to dilemmas@independent.co.uk, or go to www.independent.co.uk/dilemmas. Anyone whose advice is quoted will receive a £25 voucher from the wine website Fine Wine Sellers ( www.finewinesellers.co.uk)

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