I was a chubby child with a complicated love for fast food and disdain for physical exercise. My mother, in her best attempt, encouraged me to change my diet, asking that I stop eating fast food with my father and instead choose healthier meals that did not include processed food. My mother would cook healthy meals, and I would always eat, but I’d also be the first in line when my father frequently announced he was going to a burger joint, as I loved the grease and salt that came with every double cheeseburger and batch of fries.

During my childhood, my belly protruded well over my pants, which made some people speculate whether my virgin self was pregnant or not. Eventually, I started running track in middle school simply because all my friends were joining the team, and as a result, I started to shed all the pounds that had fixated themselves on my gut, and incorporate a healthier diet into my lifestyle, like my mother originally requested.

What I loved about the way my mom guided my health choices is that she was always encouraging, telling me I was doing a good job running, getting into shape, and changing my diet. She was never demeaning, condescending, or disempowering even though it was clear that her daughter could’ve been headed toward obesity. Rather, she was patient and simply knew that with the right amount of time, I’d have to make the choice myself: change my lifestyle or continue jeopardizing my health being fat.

In the April issue of Vogue, writer Dara-Lynn Weiss tells the story of putting her seven-year-old daughter, Bea, on a strict diet after her pediatrician recommended she be mindful of her daughter’s weight. Bea was 93 pounds and 4’4” tall, putting her at a 24.2 BMI, .8 away from being classified as overweight. Regardless of her weight not really being a true health issue, Bea was experiencing bullying at school, and came home crying one day after a boy called her “fat.” Weiss made a decision to “fix” her daughter, cutting out her indulgence in Pizza Fridays, reprimanding her for eating 800 calories of Brie, filet mignon, baguette, and chocolate at French Heritage Day, and snatched a hot chocolate out of her daughter’s hand in Starbucks when the barista couldn’t give her an exact calorie count for the product.

Weiss and her daughter, Bea

Weiss writes:

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.

I cringe when I recall the many times I had it out with Bea over a snack given to her by a friend’s parent or caregiver … rather than direct my irritation at the grown-up, I often derided Bea for not refusing the inappropriate snack. And there have been many awkward moments at parties, when Bea has wanted to eat, say, both cookies and cake, and I’ve engaged in a heated public discussion about why she can’t.

Of course, these measures strike many people as extreme, and are a direct contrast to the approach my mother took to my weight problem. My BMI actually was in the overweight classification unlike Bea’s. But both scenarios do beg the question on which approach to child nutrition is appropriate. I’m not going to lie. I might actually take Weiss’ approach if my child became morbidly obese. Sometimes, desperate health circumstances call for hard solutions. Maybe not in the case of Bea, but definitely for other children who have a real weight issue.

 

Do you think it’s appropriate for a mother to ever put a young child on a strict diet? Weigh in.

  • Rastaman

    I frankly don’t see a problem with this mother’s reaction to her daughter’s weight issues. While her methods may border on the extreme, she is responding to a pending health issue that my face her child in the near future if she continues along the path she is on. Americans have an unhealthy relationship with food and most of us need to stop kidding ourselves if we believe this not true. A large percentage of our population is literally eating themselves to death as rates of diabetes, HBP and many other poor nutrition related diseases rise. There are so many places in US you go where people are just corpulent masses of flesh and one cannot but stop and wonder how they make it through their days without much discomfort.

    Overeating and its related obesity is a health emergency in this country but we still react has if it’s only about looking fat, an aesthetic difference of opinion. Parents are responsible for teaching their children many of lessons of life that will hopefully make them healthy, well adjusted contributing members of society. Some times this requires them making hard choices for their children, choices which may not be popular with the child or onlookers. Should she wait until her daughter possibly develop early onset diabetes before she puts her on a strict diet or is it not true that prevention is better than the cure?

    I think people who understand that preserviing their children well being is far more important than wanting to being their friends don’t find these types of actions alarming. As a child I resisted eating fish, beans, peas and many vegetables but my parents never stopped preparing them and today I absolutely love them. I am thankful my parents did not desist and think they were being too tough or was hoping I would like them more if they stopped insisting I ate the right kind of nutrition.

  • Tricia

    Agreed. You should guide the child, in fact you should be eating healthy in the first place then the child would have an example. She trained the child to eat unhealthy in the first place then come to force the child to go the other way!!! If the child has a party to go to then let the child have the cake then don’t give her any for the rest of the week, she doesn’t need to embarrass the child in front of her friends.

  • SHANEL

    you better believe if i had a fat child (girl or boy) they would be doing daily fitness and dieting….im not going to turn a over weight child into a over weight teenager only to have diabetes at 19. its irratating how people get upset about people really being concerned about children being fat. its not cute! its not cute for a little girl to have her stomach round and hard at 7 drinking fruit juice and soda because shes “just a child”. sometimes you need to be extreme when it comes to things like that. its all about the bigger picture. i have a friend who was raised vegan, her mother was a very strict vegan and ALL of her kids had vegan diets. everyone wondered why her little brother was getting fatter and fatter. you cant control what they are eating when they go to a friends house, at school, or what they sneak into the home (he was sneaking cream chesse, and candy and storing it under his bed.) you can teach all you want, but if your NOT in control of the situation how are you helping?

    is she supposed to wait until she needs gastric bypass or is riding around in the supermarket in a scooter at 16….? i live in a place where people are sloppy and eat out a lot.

  • D

    No! This is incredibly dehumanizing to children. I see kids who are not obese or overweight who already talk about dieting. The many conflicting American body image values are creeping into the lives of children at earlier and earlier ages and it is terrible. It is worse when the mother is so obviously transferring her own selfish control and disordered eating issues. In the 90s, fat children ran with other children on the playground. I think that strict diets also cause a yo-yo’ing effect with regards to weight for most adults. Children need a complex of healthy fats and have other dietary requirements.

    However, if a child is obese to a point where it is proven that their health is in danger (and by the way, being underweight is more damaging to health than being overweight), then usually it is good to pinpoint the cause, for instance, if it’s processed foods, the mom can add rather than subtract, introduce more and more healthy foods in their meals, just like your mom did. Swap out healthy choices, have their kid eat more at home, etc. Or make different healthy foods appealing, say no when your kid wants way too much crappy food and such. Disordered eating and broken body image in childhood is profoundly scarring, and if the mom as well as other children is to blame, it is something she could have prevented.

    There are some people who are actually healthy, but at that weight because of genetics or because that is a comfortable weight for them. Like a woman I know who eats well and is strong and agile and does lots of dancing, but has come to accept doctors considering her overweight.

    A kid, especially a girl, is going to absorb America’s sh*tty body standards eventually. Why throw it in their face when they’re still a child?

    What is important is they are eating healthy, nutrient rich foods appropriate for their age. There is a wealth of misinformation in America about the diets of adults and children. It is the parents’ job to try to raise their kid up with good food.

  • D

    I agree with Tricia. The parents should set an example and set food on the table that is healthy. Sure, they might not know what the kid eats when they leave the house, but at home the food should be at least not processed and full of trans fats and simple carbs. Eating disorders are often about control issues and emotion, and if someone is assailing and abusing you or your family life is bad in ways that you, as a child, can’t explain, then the issue is a damaged psyche and maybe the mom should focus on loving the child and not controlling her.

    To me, I think home should be a place of comfort when a child can feel secure. Both with what they eat and their parents. Tweaking someone’s ideas about food can have long, long range consequences. I think food is important to emotion. When you’re assailed or abused for something as fundamental as hunger, then it’s hard in the future.

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