Parenting: Weight vs. Health

Image Credit here In Vogue's April issue, there's an article about one mom putting her young daughter on a diet after being tol...

Image Credit here
In Vogue's April issue, there's an article about one mom putting her young daughter on a diet after being told by a pediatrician that her daughter was obese.  There has been a ton of backlash (both positive and negative) -- just Google "Vogue Diet Mom."  Here are some examples:


(Article 1) (Article 2) (Article 3) (Article 4) (Article 5) (Article 6) (Article 7) (Article 8) (Article 9)
 

Now, in the back of your mind, juxtapose this article with all of the Maury Povich episodes that featured obese toddlers with parents that said they had no control over what their kids eat, that they wanted to give their kids what they didn't have growing up, and that they were showing love by indulging/giving in to their child's demands.

In response, I want to focus on what I think the dialogue should be:   If a parent is, or learns to be, (mentally, physiologically, emotionally) healthy themselves, the greater the chance that they will be able to raise a healthy child, and have a healthy relationship with that child.  It's not perfect, and it's no guarantee, but I do believe it increases the probability of having a healthy kid.

Parents should be able to say "I have a problem with food/body image, and I needed to help myself so I can help my kids."  And they should have the resources (education, counseling, support groups) available to help make healthy and considered decisions for their kids.  Instead, I think we see some people having kids either before they've dealt with their own issues, or having kids as a way to work out their own issues.

Being a parent is not a right, it is a privilege that comes with responsibilities.  Among these responsibilities is making sure that your child is healthy.  I think the phrase putting your child "on a diet" sounds more pejorative than saying you're paying attention to and regulating your child's nutrition and health.  It's a semantic difference--between depriving them (of crappy food that has been making them sick) and giving them a life (full of emotional, physical, and psychological well-being).

If you've been following my blog, you know that I've talked about the issues my parents had regarding food and self image.  And hopefully you also know that, more than anything, I wish that their parents had done a better job of taking care of my parents.  But like Jack Kornfield says, "Forgiveness means giving up all hope of a better past."  I can't change those things, but I can do my best to understand and contextualize things.  I can also break the cycle.

That being said, as a child who had two parents with their own demons, I wish someone (a doctor, a relative, a teacher) had stepped in and said "do you realize your daughter has a weight problem?"  I wouldn't have wanted them to write about it in an international magazine, but I would have greatly appreciated them recognizing they were out of their depth and needed help. 

So that leaves me with a few questions
(1)   How are parents responsible for regulating what their kids eats?
(2)   Should parents openly talk with a child about the child's weight, nutrition, health?
(3)   Should the dialogue with a child be more focused about weight or health?
(4)   When should a parent be concerned about a child's weight?

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13 comments

  1. There is a woman here at work, who restricts her child beyond the pale.

    "Amy" has a problem with food. She decided her daughter "Suzie" needed to go on a diet. Not because the MD said Suzie needed to--MD said "Suzie should be between 55 and 65# at this stage, she is 60#, she's good." Mom decided Suzie needs to be #55 with a rock.

    So, she puts Suzie on an 800 calorie a day budget and tell her "get used to it, you'll have to eat like this forever to stay healthy." Amy has this poor kid sooo freaked out Suzie was afraid to share a 100 calorie bag of popcorn with 3 friends because of the "calories!!"

    Amy seems to think that the genetic progeny of her loins should look like Bar Raphaeli, not "Suzie normal". Problem is, Amy is 5'4" and 130#, dad is 5'6" and 150#, and I can't see this kid becoming 6' and statuesque anytime soon.

    You are 1,000% right. If the *parents* would deal with their issues, then the children wouldn't have to suffer as badly.

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  2. There are just too many people having kids who have no business having kids. Why don't I have kids? I am educated, have a great job and a wonderful partner, but I know that I am not prepared. I still have student loans, and issues about my own life experience that I don't want to take out on my offspring. People have all sorts of issues that can mess up their kids- food being one of them. I am so sick of idiots getting pregnant before they are ready!

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  3. I totally think parents should be talking about health with their kids, not weight. Kids, heck even adults tend to shut down when you mention their weight. It's a touchy subject.
    I also think that parents need to deal with their weight/health issues before having children. It'll just be a vicious cycle if they don't. That's part of the reason I got healthy, I don't want my future kids to deal with what I did.

    Great blog Robbie!

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  4. So that leaves me with a few questions:

    *Waves Hand Air* I Know! I Know!
    I've raised four fantastic kids. One is off on her own, the second leaves this fall, and there are still two teens at home. I've had a lot of practice.

    (1) How are parents responsible for regulating what their kids eat?

    Are we responsible? You bet your sweet self we are!! It starts when they are infants, and continues until the kids leave your house. How are we responsible? Well gee. The last time I checked, kids aren't capable of getting themselves to a grocery store and they don't have any money, so we parents are TOTALLY in control of what food comes into the house! Parents are responsible for providing a healthy, well rounded diet with plenty of fresh vegetables and fruit, proper nutrients and lean protein. CRAP (Caffeine, Refined Sugar, Artifical Sweetners and PrePackaged/Processed) foods have no place in a family kitchen. Don't bring it in your house.

    Am I a food nazi in my own kitchen? No. Absolutely not. We have cake for birthdays. Candy on Halloween and Peeps at Easter, bake an occasional batch of cookies and have ice cream every once in a while. Chocolate is available. I do, however, refuse to buy garbage - no soda, flavored drinks, chips, rainbow sugared fake yogurt, bakery goodies, snack cakes or candy is kept in my house. My fridge is stocked with fruits and veggies, cheese, greek yogurt and the pantry has whole grain goodness. If my teens want junk food or fast food, they have to buy it with their own money. Most of the time they opt for the free, healthy stuff. Imagine that.

    (2) Should parents openly talk with a child about the child's weight, nutrition, health?
    Yes! How else will kids learn about proper nutrition? About appropriate portions? Exercise? Their own health? If you don't know, then educate yourself first. Start with the pediatrician, hit the library, research online. It's not rocket science and there's plenty of support for the asking.

    (3) Should the dialogue with a child be more focused about weight or health?
    Health. However, a parent shouldn't be afraid to call it when necessary. If Junior weighs more than 200 pounds and he's only 4'-8 and 12 years old, then something is seriously wrong and no sugar coating (pun intended!) is going to fix it. The parent needs to lay it out, provide proper, nutritious food, encourage exercise and get outside help if necessary. By encouraging exercise, I mean get out and exercise WITH your kid. Take up biking, play, walk, run, swim. Work a P90-x DVD together. Most kids learn by following...your job as a parent is to lead.

    (4) When should a parent be concerned about a child's weight?
    Before it gets becomes a problem. Small children are more animalistic than adults when it comes to food. Barring serious food allergies kids will pretty much eat what they're given when they're hungry and will stop when they're full. Don't push food on kids, don't use sweets as rewards, don't use food a a punishment of any sort - that is, don't withhold food for bad behavior. (Acting out at the table is cause for immediate dismissal; however, once the rest of the family is finished eating, the errant child should be allowed to return, sit quietly and eat politely if he's actually still hungry.) Food is enjoyable and meant to be savored, but it's main purpose is to be fuel for the body, and kids need to learn that from the day they are able to put a cheerio in their mouth by themselves. In fact, if you start that them young practicing healthy eating, demonstrating fitness and encouraging your kid to make good choices, their weight will never become a problem.

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  5. Angela pea....*applause* so true! I don't have kids and won't be having any but it's good to see a parent who isn't clueless!

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  6. Anonymous -- I really hope "Amy" gets help with her issues. There's a fine line between guiding a kid to make healthy choices and basically teaching them how to have an eating disorder.

    Brooke -- I'm glad you're putting in the work now so that one day your kids will see the benefit of having a healthy parent

    Angela -- I think you hit this one out of the park. Well done!! (I'm adoptable!!!)

    Beyond -- imagine what the world would be like if all parents had their act together like AngelaPea?

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  7. I don't really have answers for you questions, but I fully agree with your statement.

    Parents should be able to say "I have a problem with food/body image, and I needed to help myself so I can help my kids."

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  8. My mom gave me quite the complex in terms of food, body image, etc. My sincere hope is that when I have kids someday, I can teach them healthy living without doing the damage my mom did.

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  9. My head is swirling with thoughts right now because I've been uncovering a multi-generational thing in my own family and what it really comes down to is what you said: acknowledging one's own shortcomings first, THEN having children. That's not to say that if you have shortcomings you shouldn't have children, or else no one would have kids, but it's only now, at almost 50, that I feel that I'd be capable of raising a child. My mother and her mother...man oh man...and there's so much anger and bitterness and pain....

    In regards to the question at hand, however, there is no better way to teach and lead children than by example...and you can't be an example unless you're aware.

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  10. Karen, my first reaction to your comments is that if we waited to sort ourselves out before having kids, we'd be extinct!

    I know my food issues trace back to my childhood, and maybe my parents had something to do with it, but I don't recall my parents having food issues of their own, and I didn't realize my own issues until a few years ago -- after my kids were in middle school at least.

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  11. I think there's an opportunity anytime in a child's life for a parent to say "you know, I don't know the answer. let's find out together!"

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  12. "I think there's an opportunity anytime in a child's life for a parent to say "you know, I don't know the answer. let's find out together!""
    That is my mantra!!! I always find learning opportunities with my daughter Ella(6) no matter the topic.
    My mom projected her body image issues and diet on me at a young age so I've really focused on health with her and Lucius(3)and not to equate love/rewards with food.
    I really do believe its our responsibility as parents to "control" the food that comes into our house and then kids mouths. We're also responsible for keeping them off their butts and running around.
    Health is what we should be striving for for them and for us. I'm as always a work in progress but I can acknowledge where my problems lie and am addressing them so that as my kids grow they won't suffer as I did and am now.
    This is an amazing post.

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  13. I agree with "Health is what we should be striving for for them and for us" -- Vogue's article would have been so much better if the point was "because of my daughter's weight issue, I learned about my own issues with food and we conquered them together."

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<3 Robby