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.

  • Ocean Breezy

    Weigh in – Pun intended?

    For the most part, I am indifferent regarding this because I never had any weight issues, but what I will say is that I almost always shake my head when I see a toddler or adolescent waddling around and/or breathing heavily because they are overweight.

  • http://furahaproject.blogspot.com Furaha

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

    YES. The eating habits we have in adulthood are ingrained in us from childhood. There is no reason to have 200lb 10 year olds, none at all, in fact it borders on child abuse. It is the job of parents to take care of their children’s health.

  • http://www.cocoareport.com Cocoa

    Children are very unhealthy(as seen by the many billboards in ATL) and I do think parents should implement healthy eating and exercise or some type of physical activity. I do think you have to be careful in the approach with helping your child adapt a healthy lifestyle because you don’t want to go to one extreme to the next, like starving themselves to try to be skinny.

  • http://itsoftenbeensaid.wordpress.com Sasha

    It is absolutely appropriate for a mother to ever put a young child on a strict diet…..is that a serious question?

  • http://afrikanmami.blogspot.com African Mami

    No, it is not appropriate to put a child on a STRICT diet. However, it is appropriate to guide your child towards healthy eating. There is absolutely no reason a child should be OVERWEIGHT! None at all!!!!!! This woman is a PSYCHO as far as I am concerned. Her intent in making her daughter loose weight was so that she could fit in the societal standards of Vogue readers! The way she went about making her daughter loose weight was psychotic to say the least.

  • CurlySue

    I don’t know if a strict “diet” is neccessary. But a change in the way the family eats and spends time together would be great. It’s typically the mother who cooks and directs family play time, so it’s in her power to alter things. Instead of fried chicken and mashed potatoes, baked chicken and fresh veggies. Instead of watching a movie as a family, go for a walk or a bike ride. Usually, when a child is young, it’s very easy for them to lose weight by making these simple changes. They have metabolism on their side then. The woman featured in the article sounds awful, quite frankly. I can’t think of a single person who has changed their eating habits out of embarassment and shame. If anything, that pushes them further into the vicious cycle of eating to feel better.

  • OSHH

    I think it is more about teaching your about proper nutrition, moderation and balanced diet by example.

  • Cyndi

    My adopted kids were all morbidly obese when they came into my home as foster children. Not just baby fat – my then 2 yo was so fat he couldn’t close his hand into a fist. Their problem? Exposure to meth in utero and in the home was causing a metabolism problem – they craved sugar to the extreme.

    My mom is a very health conscious person and I was raised on all natural foods with good glycemic index scores. With Mom being a competitive swimmer and Dad being diabetic, we rarely got soda or candy or even mashed potatoes. I quickly put my kids on the same diet – we eat things like squash & zucchini pizza and goat cheese pasta. The kids are limited to one sugary snack per week at school and the teachers call me for permission.

    For us, though, it’s not just a beauty related issue – it’s a medical issue. When the kids don’t eat right, they get moody and depressed and can’t concentrate at school. Sugar affects their brains negatively. Now, 5 years later, the kids are all slender and the boys are tall. My daughter is a shorty pants. ;) They all do well in school and are very well behaved. For some people our diet would be too strict but for us it works.

    Now, as to the woman who was quoted – that’s not being calorie conscious. That’s humiliating your child in public. My kids’ weight is not for the general audience at Starbucks to talk about. It’s between them, me, their teachers, and their doctors. Children are not fashion accessories and they should never be ashamed of their bodies. It’s up to the parents to teach them that, not to be another bully who is obsessed with calling them fat until they cry.

  • OSHH

    “teaching your children”

  • http://afrikanmami.blogspot.com African Mami

    Quick aside:

    Did ya’ll notice that young girls eyebrows are ON POINT?! Love em!!!!

  • Jenn

    Dieting children is obscene.

    Making sure they’ve have adequate and healthy nutrition is a different story. Ensuring that your child has a healthy relationship with food will give them invaluable life skills. Telling your child that s/he can’t have something because it will make them fat is the horrendous act of a panicked parent.

    Food *must* be about energy and enjoyment. You should feel good *after* eating and *about* eating. Not just *while* eating. Food shouldn’t be a prize or a quick fix. Eating is one of the few things we do to sustain life. We should be doing it well. (The same goes for sleeping)

  • KayBee

    I’m against diets period. How about just an overhaul period in the kitchen. There’s nothing wrong with wanting your kids to be healthier..as long as you arent too aggressive..theyre just kids.

  • Zaza

    Not want to’blame the parents’ but they have a huge influence on their child, in hindsight I wish I’d been pushed to keep active and watch my weight more as a child, because it’s not fun growing up big when all your friends are cute and small, at that self-concious age of development, plus it’s much harder to lose the weight as an adult.I’m not saying parents should say ‘hey fatty, lose weight!’ and give their kids a complex, but rather teach them that a healthy lifestyle is that, a lifestyle, not a terrible diet, make them join sports, dance activities etc.

    I have lost the weight since then but I do wonder sometimes ‘what if’ about all the activities and stuff I held back from as a child because I was too self-concious about my weight.

  • ginnamarie

    It kind of sounds like this mother is projecting…

    Although I will say there is nothing wrong with trying to teach your children how to eat AND prepare meals/snacks that are better for them. That is how we learn. Calorie counting for children is definitely extreme, they deal with enough. But I am all for exposing them to healthier options

  • QCastle

    Strict diets dont last. Its about promoting a lifestyle.

  • QCastle

    It was abusive.

  • asada

    I thank the lord my mom was a nurse and understood the line between obesity and anorexia. She was adamant I eat well and got concerened when I ate too little. Its a good balance. I do not make it a habit to eat junk food or keep it in the house, which might be why some parents start to get hard on their kids. They are not living the lifestyle they want their kids to live.

  • asada

    what is the diet that you follow modeled after? I sounds like a modified Atkins diet, or more paleo. This I gotta know about!!

  • Leelee

    I think the problem is the word “diet”. A kid shouldn’t be on a diet, most diets don’t even work for adults let alone kids. I think we should focus on healthier options overall and this should start from the moment your kid is old enough to eat solid foods. The saying you can’t miss what you never had holds true in this case. When you teach children to eat healthy early on, they don’t feel deprived or are missing out on anything.

  • Cyndi

    asada – it’s the Glycemic Index diet: http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/glycemic-index-diet It’s what my Dad uses as a diabetic and it works really well for my kids.

  • binks

    Agreed, it is all about balance, moderation and setting key lifestyle changes. You don’t have to be strict or go overboard. Kids usually follow their parents’ lead when it comes to nutrition and health anyway. So it’s great that parents are mindful but don’t go overboard like the parent above, she is going a bit to far that she might want to watch it before she gives Bea an eating disorder later in life or an unhealthy body image. For example, why not tell her it is either the cake or cookie, ir making her a healthy piazza, etc. There is always an efficient ways to do things instead of depriving her all together

  • No

    I don’t think the mom needs to take that drastic of a measure. You don’t want to be a food drill sergeant and have kids that grow up counting calories their whole lives. All you have to do is start cooking/eating healthier things for the house, and make them follow. Stay away from Starbucks and those other places like it. Her daughter isn’t overweight so she could’ve easily cut out the junk and lost a 5 pounds.

    It should never get to the point that a child needs is obese, but since it does in many homes, what can I say? Healthy eating (fruits, vegetables, no over processed junk) is the way we were intended to eat and shouldn’t be considered a ‘diet’, and if people make their kids stop eating candy and chips, then childhood obesity would be much less of a problem. Are crash diets and calorie counting really needed if a family is eating fresh, real food (which shouldn’t be a problem if you are wealthy/do not live in ‘urban’ areas, anyway)?

  • MarloweOverShakespeare

    Dara-Lynn Weiss said (or this article omitted, perhaps intently) NOTHING about her own eating habits, only of her daughter’s.

    My momma makes and eats catfish stew, so I eat it and LOVE IT! My dad taught me how to prepare and enjoy steak, I’ve done as such (and about to do when I get home tonight!). I’ve eaten just about everything my parents ate except liver & onions – this is a dish I’ll refuse even to the point of death.

    We eat the way our parents/relatives eat. I believe it is this simple. What makes you think your offspring is going to have healthy eating habits if you DON’T have them?

  • Pseudonym

    Well, medically what you’re supposed to do is start the child on a healthy eating regimen/lifestyle (from which they stop putting on excess weight) and allow them to just grow into their current weight. So, 90 lbs on 3 ft will become 90 lbs on 4 ft…or whatever it is children/people are supposed to weigh. (I have no idea!)

    But you’re not supposed to put children on diets to achieve weight loss.

  • Jahmella

    I am petite but I’m addicted to a lot of unhealthy foods. I would like to change my “diet” so when I have children they can easily make healthy eating choices. There are two definitions of diet, one is to eat a certain way in order to loose weight and the other is a habitual way of eating. When I think of strict diet, I think in terms of practicing good eating habits. My point is my idea of a healthly diet could be strict to someone else so these terms are relative. Children should be taught by example that we eat to live and not live to eat. So to answer the question yes children can be put in strict diets. If I decide to eliminate sugar out if my child’s diet I think I will be making a good choice. However, I am not saying that children should be starved si they can loose weight.

  • 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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