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Monday, March 26, 2012

Public outcry over a dieting seven-year-old may be a telling sign of the obesity epidemic in America

When Dara-Lynn Weiss wrote about her seven-year-old daughter's struggle with weight for this month's Vogue, it was clear that the problem was as much mom's as it was daughter Bea's. Weiss admitted to a lifetime of food and eating issues, including starving herself, using dangerous medications, and trying every fad diet. When Bea was seven years old and four feet four inches tall, the pediatrician indicated that her weight, 93 lbs, was unhealthy, and thus began Weiss's struggle to manage her daughter's diet. 
The article is not available online but you can read a synopsis and typical criticism here.
Weiss readily admits to being "incompetent" and " woefully inconsistent." She goes on to explain all the mistakes she made, and how miserable the diet made her daughter. Diet and exercise finally brought Bea down to a healthy weight--but now that her struggle has been publicized, critics are gasping. "What a horrible mother," they cry. "She's practically guaranteeing an eating disorder!" 
But the thing is, they're already dealing with an eating disorder: the child eats too much! (Weiss describes how "there wasn't anything [Bea] didn't absolutely love eating" and "she polished off adult-sized plates of food" at four years old).
Helicopter parents have spent years dishing out love-yourself-psychobabble because they're so afraid their children will feel bad about themselves, or worse, get angry at them. One thing they fear most is the dreaded NEGATIVE BODY IMAGE, because they don't want to "give" their kids anorexia or bulimia! And what has been lost in all this handle-with-care-parenting is the ability to be firm, to tell kids no, to teach kids health and wellness and self-control. 
When you work at a gymnastics facility, you have a front-row seat to other families' eating habits. And it's often shocking. When I was little, a Happy Meal was an infrequent treat, sometimes dinner during a long road trip to grandma's. I've seen a mother feed her kids Happy Meals as a snack, before workouts, three days a week. Many parents think a full-size Snickers on a regular basis is appropriate for a small child. Mothers often bring snacks in case their toddlers get hungry; a quart-size bag completely stuffed with Goldfish crackers is not unusual. 
What I often see in the general public is a complete inability to gage what portion size is appropriate and what amount of exercise is appropriate for a child. Then you have extreme cases, like the author of the offending article, who has a history of disordered eating, and consequently, no clue how to instill good habits in her own child. Critics complain that Weiss's diet tactics were "selfish" and "immature," but I think she's actually representative of many of today's parents who have struggled with their weight.
Look, parenting can sometimes be difficult and unpleasant. I hate telling my kids that they have to go get their shots. But it has to be done. I hate telling my kids, over and over again, to make up their beds, when it's so much quicker and easier to do it myself. Undoubtedly, a loving parent wants to simply tell her overweight child she's beautiful just the way she is--because that's true!--rather than tell her she needs to lose weight. But the challenge of parenting is finding a loving way to do the hard stuff. 

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