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.
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.