A mother was talking to the audience about putting her seven year old daughter on a diet because the doctor said she was obese. Seven years old! She said she was going to have to count calories all of her life.
The topic of the discussion was “extreme dieting for kids… when is it too much?”
Isn’t it the parents’ responsibility to provide their children with a healthy, balanced diet in the first place? If a child is truly obese at an early age, there may be medical reasons that contribute, but more than likely the child is using food to pacify emotional needs or boredom, and not being supervised or limited in what they eat.
“The Diet Mom” was featured on the show, now getting loads of publicity for putting her seven year old on a very strict diet to lose 15 pounds. Then she wrote a book about it. I’m still trying to figure out why a publisher dared to pick up the manuscript and put the book in print.
In the April issue of Vogue, Dara Lynn Weiss tells the story of putting her seven-year-old daughter, Bea on a strict diet, after her physician advised her to watcher daughter’s weight. The mother reports that her daughter was experiencing bullying at school when a boy called her “fat.” So, this mother decided that the way to fix this daughter was to put her on a calorie controlled, mother-monitored diet that freed the child of 15 pounds.
In her own words, Ms. Weiss stated, “I once reproachfully deprived Bea of her dinner after learning that her observation of French Heritage Day at school involved nearly 800 calories of Brie, filet mignon, baguette, and chocolate. I stopped letting her enjoy Pizza Fridays when she admitted to adding a corn salad as a side dish one week. I dressed down a Starbucks barista when he professed ignorance of the nutrition content of the kids’ hot chocolate whose calories are listed as “120-210″ on the menu board: Well, which is it? When he couldn’t provide an answer, I dramatically grabbed the drink out of my daughter’s hands, poured it into the garbage, and stormed out.”
An article recently appeared in a British newspaper about a mother with a weight problem who only let her two year old eat cereal and salad — hoping to save her from a lifetime of worrying about her weight. I personally consider this a form of emotional and psychological abuse, not to mention physical abuse of depriving the child of a balanced diet.
I know what weight struggles are like. When I was growing up, I had a horrible self-image. I suppose I was a chubby infant and toddler, but by the time I was a pre-teen, I had certainly grown out of the baby fat. However, the feelings of ugliness or “not good enough” have followed me like a plague all of my life. I wasn’t as thin as my beautiful cousins. I wasn’t as thin as my best friend who was about six feet tall and weighed in at around one hundred pounds. Comparing myself to all the skinny people around me just reinforced in my mind that I wasn’t pretty because I wasn’t skinny.
I don’t remember what our diets consisted of back in those days. I don’t know if I was allowed to eat the wrong kinds of food, or not. I suspect that most of my weight problem was genetic and the lack of exercise with which children in the city and living in apartments must contend. But I know that my size and my looks were a burden to me.
Now when I look back at photos, especially teen and young adult photos, I realize that there was absolutely nothing wrong with me. I was thin enough and quite curvaceous. At some point, the obsession with diets overtook me and I think I have literally starved myself into a weight problem.
How a child sees their own self is largely dependent on how the adults around them see them and the verbal cues and behaviors they demonstrate toward a child. If a person is the parent or caregiver of a fat child, constantly nagging the child about not eating the junk food around the house is not going to help them. It shouldn’t be there and available in the first place. Children don’t do the grocery shopping. Parents do.
So, if a child has a weight issue, where should a parent start to turn that problem around? I suggest visiting the pediatrician first of all and talking candidly without the child being subjected to the conversation. An increase in physical activities may be something that has to involve the parents and other siblings as well, but it would benefit all. Changing the grocery shopping list or the fast food drive-through frequency would also be a huge help. But never, ever, ever is belittling a child for their appearance, quarreling at them for being hungry, or criticizing their size or the way they look acceptable. These behaviors don’t create a thin child, but rather one who feels ugly, inadequate, a failure, not good enough, and who will most likely struggle with weight and self-esteem issues the rest of their life.
If a parent wants a child to behave in a certain way, it is the parent’s responsibility to model that good behavior for the child. Children imitate what they see. It is also the parent’s approval that a child craves most. If a child is making progress in changing bad eating habits and is losing weight, they deserved to be acknowledged and praised. Saying things like, “You will look really good after you lose another 25 pounds,” is like undoing all of the hard work and success the child may have already mastered. It again sends the message of “not good enough, never will be good enough.” The desired result seems so far out of reach, a child will usually give up and mark themselves as a failure.
Cereal and salad? Throwing your child’s drink in the trash because it might have too many calories? I personally think both of these mothers are nutty. Overweight children are becoming more and more common in our society, but bullying, starving, and criticizing them is not going to make the difference. Good nutrition, exercise, and support at home are the best weapons a parent has against childhood obesity.