Most people agree that when Dara-Lynn Weiss put her seven-year-old daughter on a diet (and wrote about it in Vogue), she did it wrong: Her methods—which many feel amount to fat-shaming her daughter—seemed more psychologically damaging than physically beneficial. But in the midst of the criticism, many nutritionists and health experts are happy to have the spotlight on childhood obesity; even if Weiss set a bad example for other Moms, her situation is one that a growing number of parents are also dealing with. Child and family dietitian Louise Goldberg RD, CSP, CNSC wrote on her blog, An Apple A Day, that some aspects of Weiss’ story resonated with her—particularly the lack of support from schools and other parents when it comes to help kids eat well.
Goldberg—who also said that all parents should work to address the problem of childhood obesity—was criticized by many readers who were appalled at Weiss’ article, and angry that Goldberg would agree with her in any way. She’s since clarified that she doesn’t support everything Weiss wrote, but we wanted to know more about how she thinks parents can help their kids lose weight. So : How should parents help their kids lose weight?
Is it ever ok to put a young child on a diet? If so, when?
I don’t like the word ‘diet’ because it implies a restriction in calories with the sole purpose of losing weight. Children benefit from a healthy eating plan that consists of whole grains, good proteins, fruits, vegetables, dairy/dairy alternatives and limiting non-nutritious foods. The goal is to provide enough calories and nutrients to support the child’s growth without being excessive.
What advice would you give to a parent whose child is obese or overweight?
It’s never helpful to make your child feel shame or guilt for their weight issues. Provide him with nutritious foods and an opportunity to be active. Make it a family goal to get healthy together.
Some parents don’t address weight issues because they want to avoid undue stress or they believe their child will eventually grow out of it. How should parents determine when it’s a “problem,” or when it’s time to be proactive about their child’s weight?
If the pediatrician is using a weight-for-length or BMI (body mass index) growth chart and tells you your child is overweight or obese, it is not okay to ignore, especially if it is compromising other areas of his health. Is he out of breath frequently? Does he have difficulty breathing at night because of his weight? Is his blood pressure high? Are his cholesterol and triglycerides elevated? Is his weight affecting social aspects of his life? These are all important factors in evaluating the child’s overall health.
A lot of moms struggle with their own weight, food, and body issues, just like Weiss, which makes it especially daunting to “teach by example” as so many critics have said she should have done. How can you encourage a healthy relationship to food and health, when you’re struggling with your own?
It’s true. Adults carry their own history and it can most definitely influence their child’s relationship with food. It is okay to have an ongoing dialogue on your child’s age-level about why some foods make you feel better than others (e.g. “when I eat fruits and veggies, it makes my tummy happy”). Focus on getting a balance and variety of foods. Don’t demonize food or make them feel badly for wanting unhealthy foods–but remember it is also okay to set limits. Is it okay to have a cookie? Sure. Is it okay to have 5 cookies? No. If you aren’t sure how to get this conversation started, a registered dietitian or pediatrician can help you find the best way to talk to your child about this subject.
If you are struggling with more serious issues like an eating disorder, I encourage you to seek professional help for yourself first.
Anything else that’s important for people to consider about the Vogue article, or about dealing with childhood obesity on a personal level in general?
Remember the long term goal is not simply a number on a scale. You want your child to live a healthy happy active life. Your job as their parent is to guide them and support them along the way so they will grow up to make good food choices on their own one day.