How Parents and Children Can Move Out of the CrossHairs of the Weight Cycling Industry

Lynne Murray says

I always ask “who benefits” from any given “social problem.”

The $60 billion diet industry or, as Dr. Deb Burgard has called it, “The Weight Cycling Industry” is in the business of cashing in on a problem of its own creation. Any truly efficient method of changing body size would put them out of business, but since none exists, they can keep making money as long as they can keep the hysteria flowing.

I did not use the word “fat” in the title of this post because fear of becoming fat opens up profits from populations that do not qualify as fat by any objective measurement. The latest group under attack is fat children and their parents.

My father was a psychologist and a lifelong student of human behavior, and when I brought him my report card he often used to say: “This tells me something about you, something about your teacher, and something about myself.” I think of my father when I see the hysteria and debates about the so-called “childhood obesity epidemic.”

Attacks on fat and fat kid focus a moralizing gaze on the parents of fat children and add a new generation of weight cycling customers to the weight cycling industry’s customer base. The Georgia billboards targeting fat kids and bullying their parents as either ignorant or uncaring are a prime example. Even sadder (because of the clout of the Disney organization) is an exhibit of cartoon-animated fat hatred that opened to so much instant loud negative reaction that Disney closed the exhibit–although spokespersons say they plan to re-tool and reopen it soon.

Most parents would do anything to protect their children, but how? Particularly in the face of the prevailing assumption that parents of fat kids have “failed” by definition simply because their kids are fat. With all the insanity around food and food choices, parents and children need all the help they can get to reinforce or reclaim our bodies’ natural wisdom around food and to build or rebuild trust in our physical selves and nurturing approaches to physical, mental, and emotional health.

Here are some positive examples of role models, wisdom and proven tactics to deal with a parent’s confusion about raising a fat (and probably unhappy) child in our current hostile cultural environment.

I love Shaunta’s tips on Fierce Freethinking Fatties about how to open a healthy dialogue with children about their bodies. The entire post is well worth reading, but some of the “no-nos” and “please-dos” leaped out at me:

It goes without saying that I don’t believe there is a fat-kids problem. There might be a kids-spend-too-much-time-playing-passively problem. Or a getting-nutritious-food-into-kids problem. But those problems affect kids of all sizes. Fat kids aren’t a problem. …

First the no-nos:

… Do not, ever, sit your child down and start a dialogue with any variation of, “Sweetheart, we need to talk about your weight.” No matter how many times you tell your child that you’re doing this for their own good and because you love them, and indeed no matter how much you love them, this will do far more damage than good. Every. Single. Time.

Don’t equate your child’s body size with his or her value. No offering money for pounds lost. Don’t wait to buy your kid new clothes until they’ve lost some weight. And please, try not to give your hungry child a disapproving look when he or she eats. Hunger is normal. Even for fat people who, believe it or not, cannot comfortably live on their fat stores alone. Don’t praise weight loss. Don’t wring your hands over weight gain.

And the please-dos:

… If you’re concerned with the amount of exercise your child gets, go outside and play with them. I promise you that they will gain the benefits of the exercise whether or not you point out to them that it might shrink their bodies.

… Fill your kitchen with a wide variety of foods. If you don’t think your kids should eat Twinkies or Happy Meals, the simple answer is to just not buy them. Like with exercise, whatever benefit you believe your kid will get from not eating these foods doesn’t hinge on you making sure they know that his or her fat ass is something disgusting that must be reduced at all costs.

… Take some time to figure out what’s awesome about your own body. Here’s a hint: Everything about it is awesome. Once you’ve got your own self-acceptance bolstered, share that with your kidlets. It’s one of the best gifts you can offer them. Let them see you enjoying exercise and eating a wide variety of foods. Your child’s body is a miracle. It is. I promise. Not it will be. Or it could be, if only they’d stop eating so much. It is. Help them see that by treating your own body like the miracle it is. That means no more hating on your thighs or belly or the size of your hips. No more refusing to wear a bathing suit or wearing a cardigan when it’s 90 degrees outside to hide your arms. Learning how to love your body is a gift to your children, who, I promise, are soaking up everything you say and do like the little sponges they are.

Ellen Satter has an abundance of great links and PDFs in English and Spanish on exactly the subjects that parents stress over. I love her Food Pyramid illustrating a “Hierarchy of Food” based on the realities of human existence and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs rather than the Department of Agriculture’s fantasy pyramid. Satter sensibly puts “Enough Food” as the base:

pyramid with

Getting “enough food”—the most basic creature need—is on the foundation of Satter’s Hierarchy of Food Needs, followed closely by the need for what is perceived as acceptable food. When today’s need is dependably satisfied, the individual can work toward providing for tomorrow and, having done that, can function at a high enough level to consider aesthetics. Experimenting with novel food builds on trustworthy access to personally rewarding food.

The abundant links on Satter’s reference page include:

Eve Reed: Turn feeding your children into a pleasant experience rather than a stressful one.

The Feeding Doctor –Dr. Katja Rowell: Taking anxiety and conflict off the menu.

Feed Me!: One woman’s opinions on food, eating, body image, and weight.

Jennifer Harris, LRD: Calming the storm — Feeding Dynamics for yourself and those you care for during eating disorder recovery.

Kathleen Cuneo: “Building healthy families one meal at a time.”

Maya Snijders-Naumann: Discover that eating and living in a health-promoting way can be a joy instead of a burden.

Peggy Crum: “Sustenance for your well-being.”

Landmark fat activist Linda Bacon, author of Health At Every Size, The Surprising Truth About Your Weight offers some wonderful PDFs on her site. I can testify that I have personally printed and brought along some of her handouts to a doctor’s appointment and it went MUCH more smoothly than it ever had before!

One of Bacon’s PDFs aimed at school administrators and teachers looks useful to parents as well:

It’s tough enough for kids to enjoy their bodies. Few are at peace in their bodies, whether they’re fat or fear becoming fat. Every time we make fat the problem, these are side effects, however unintended they may be.

The National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA) also offers an online kit aimed at teachers but useful for parents Everybody in Schools Curriculum Unit Resource Resource Kit, a collaborative project between Chancellor State College and the University of the Sunshine Coast. The materials focus on topics such as: “What does it mean to be me? – Self esteem and resilience,“ active living “What movin’ makes me feel good?” making friends with food, “Healthy and pleasurable eating” and body diversity, “How can we appreciate EVERYBODY?”