As childhood obesity becomes an increasingly alarming problem in the U.S., the need to promote the benefits of a healthy lifestyle to our children starting at a very young age has never been more important.
Teaching kids about portion control, eating whole, unrefined foods, and staying active should be at the forefront of every parent’s mind. But the approach we take in doing so is almost equally as important as the message is itself.
In an article featured in Vogue Magazine’s April issue, writer Dara-Lynn Weiss admitted to putting her 7-year-old daughter, Bea, on a diet after the child’s pediatrician deemed her clinically obese. Weiss grew concerned after learning her daughter was in the 99th percentile for her age, weighing in at 93 pounds when she was 4 feet 4 inches tall. However, admitting she struggled with diet and body image issues herself, Weiss employed various unhealthy tactics over the course of a year to get her daughter down to what she saw as a healthy weight.
These methods included such rules as depriving her daughter of dinner if she’d already exceeded the day’s calorie requirement, carefully selecting her snack choices, rewarding her with new, pretty dresses if she lost weight, and more.
“I stopped letting her enjoy Pizza Fridays when she admitted to adding a corn salad as a side dish one week….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,” admits Weiss. “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.”
Several experts from The Today Show weighed in with major concerns involving both the meal deprivation, and the fact that Weiss was featured in a photo spread with her daughter that gave off a certain ‘fashion layout’ feel, almost glamorizing the story and the message being told.
Dr. Nancy Snyderman was especially concerned with Weiss withholding her daughter’s dinner if she’d already exceeded the day’s calories, because it ultimately isn’t healthy for the body. “When you deny someone a meal, you’re basically telling the human body that now you’re starving. And so the body as part of a survival mechanism craves all the foods you don’t want: fat, carbs, sugar, etc.” says Snyderman. “I know she means well, but I think she’s off the line.”
Concerning the fashion spread, Snyderman says it’s no wonder these young girls are struggling with anorexia and bolemia and body image issues. They begin learning these behaviors at a very early age. And in cases like this, they’re learning these tendencies from their parents whom they’re influenced by most.
While there’s nothing wrong with talking to our kids about health, suggesting that deprivation or extreme self denial are healthy practices is wrong. It sends the wrong signals to our children, and that can lead them down potentially dark paths concerning health and body image.
Our advice? Be a good example of health to your kids. Teach them about healthy eating and staying active. But don’t overdo it, and consider how the things you’re teaching them today is ultimately affecting their tomorrow.