Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Would you put your kid on a 'diet'?

I saw this on BlogHer Health and HAD to share. Below is the original article followed by my thoughts. 
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[Editor's Note: As if our girls don't have enough messages flying at them about their size and shape and how it contributes to their worthiness, there's now a diet book being marketed for girls as young as four. FOUR. Obviously, some controversy surrounds the book, Maggie Goes on a Diet.SAHM Answers tackles the subject and asks what your thoughts are... so share them. I bet you have some! -Jenna]

Little Girls and Diet Books. Really?:

Maggie Goes on a DietIn October, a book entitled Maggie Goes on a Diet will be released. According to a description at, “Maggie is transformed from being extremely overweight and insecure to a normal sized girl who becomes the school soccer star. Through time, exercise and hard work, Maggie becomes more and more confident and develops a positive self image.”
“The book’s cover art depicts a heavyset girl holding up a pink dress as she looks in the mirror. The image reflected back shows a thinner version of herself.”
And here’s the kicker: the book is being marketed to children as young as four. It seems that this is going to be one of the most controversial children’s books of the year, since there is criticism every which way author Paul M. Kramer turns.

FULL DISCLOSURE: I have not read this book. But honestly, I've got some major issues with the title itself. Here's my hangup: the word 'diet' can  simply mean 'the usual food items consumed by an individual', but in our society's collective consciousness, it has come to mean 'a regimen of restrictions designed to physically alter an individual'. "Going on a diet" has come to imply abandoning 'regular' eating habits and adopting 'special' ones to bring about change- and because people "go on diets" most frequently to combat undesirable states of being (usually unwanted weight or diet-related illness), it's generally accepted that if you're on a diet, something was wrong, and you're trying to make yourself better off by dieting. The word "diet" is thought of as something outside of normal and regular- kids think of diets like medication- they are only useful and necessary to fix things that have gone wrong. And though these things may sound like semantics to the logical adult mind, children are less aware of these subtleties. In my experiences (as an educator of elementary/ middle school aged children), being "put on a diet" registers as "punishment for the way my body is". 

My mind immediately goes to a former dance student whose demeanor was transformed overnight from confident, engaging and daring to self-conscious, embarrassed and inferior. This child who was usually an exuberant and liberated dancer one day refused to demonstrate a block of choreography in front of her peers or dance in the front line. I was baffled- I knew that not only did she know the choreography, but she executed it beautifully and she loved to dance. When I pulled her aside after class and asked her why she didn't want to demonstrate the choreography, she burst into tears and informed me that she had been put on a diet by her doctor the day prior. "I didn't even know I was fat," she told me. She was eight, and in her mind (and the minds of a lot of her peers), diets are things that fix fat people. Since she had been put on a diet, she reasoned that she was not ok as she was and she had something to be ashamed of. Because we educate about health with grossly broad generalizations, ( "Exercise! Eat good foods! Being fat is bad!") instead of the details necessary to make sense of this information ("Specific types of exercise are useful in developing strength and flexibility which improve your quality of life! Other types are keep your heart in good shape so that it can continue to function properly! Some foods are more dense in nutrients that your body needs to feel and be healthy- eating these foods directly results in solid growth and physical development! Carrying around excess body fat has dangerous implementations on your health, but healthy looks different on everyone, and 'fatness' isn't accurately gauged by what you look like.") kids develop very generic ideas about health, which can be dangerous.

I do not accuse the author of this book (or anyone else who puts children on "diets") of ill-intentions, but I whole-heartedly disagree with the execution of this material designed "to inspire". I am absolutely in agreement that children whose health is compromised by their current eating habits should change those habits, but is it necessary for them to "go on a diet"? NO. It's necessary for them to develop new habits based upon an understanding of the process of nutrition, not through restriction, but through balance and the promotion of foods that their bodies want that will support their health and well-being for their entire lives (not simply while they drop __lbs). We, as a society, are much more prone to medicate than educate- we focus on reversing instead of preventing. Until we embrace the importance of educating children on exactly how their bodies work and how to keep them in optimal functioning condition, we will continue putting kids on "diets" to "fix" the bodies that they will never learn how to properly care for. 

What are your thoughts on putting kids on a "diet"?