Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Oh, Oprah.... a grammatically imprecise rant

Don't know if anyone saw Oprah yesterday on "Why America's Kids are Fat..." It was painful to watch, and so disappointing. Here is Oprah, admonishing 16 adolescents, as young as age 11, on national TV to do something about their weight. She who, with personal trainer, chef, gym and endless financial resources,  has "lost" her own battle with weight yet again.  Oprah tells a struggling family that they should buy fewer video games so they can have fresh fruits and vegetables, Dr. Oz chimes in that they should buy fresh vegetables from the farmer's market. Oprah turns down pretzels saying "I'm not doing carbs..." Oh moderation and common sense, wherefore art though???

Dr. Oz - by the way, what are his qualifications in talking to young people about healthy life-style choices that honor their bodies and souls? I thought he was a surgeon? 

These poor kids were videotaped by their parents who seemed to taunt them about how much they ate, how they were out of breath while walking etc. "You ate two donuts, didn't you? I know you did, two hotdogs, two donuts?" The kids cry and squirm while Dr. Oz tells them the "Odds are good you will die in your sleep," "Your insides are rusting out, your chances of death are the same as if you had cancer..."

No one seems to think this is cruel. Its OK, and good medicine to scare these kids into losing weight. All the evidence shows that diets fail 80-95% of the time- often with added weight gain, no one mentions that there is good evidence that focusing on weight loss as a motivator for good health is particularly pointless and damaging to the psyche, no one mentions that fear and shame are proven not to be motivators for positive changes, and in fact reinforce counter-productive choices.

 It does not mean we give up, it means we acknowledge this is a multifactorial problem with complex "solutions" that will be different for each individual. (That would mean a 16 page post, and this one is already gonna be long...)

What I might have said:

Yes, the farmers' market is a great place to buy fruits and vegetables, and if you can afford organic great, but how about mentioning that canned and frozen are cheaper and more nutritious often than grocery-store fresh? (They are packed so close to the point of production, not shipped and sitting out for days on end...)

You are a worthy person, worthy of love and respect. Zero tolerance for bullying in school, and consequently on the Oprah show... Zero tolerance of bullying from the parents, who by the way are the ones responsible for bringing the donuts, pizza, and hotdogs into the house (not that these are inherently bad foods, but the scorn these parents heaped on the kids was awful...)

Kids: How can we help you respect and love yourself? What things make you happy? Can we find a walking club with friends, do you like to dance, play piano? Can we take some fun cooking classes, can we sit together and eat dinner as a family? Can your parents not be food-cop with judgement and scorn, but provide a varied meal that is eaten in a pleasant setting? Can one parent or family member sit with you while you have meals and maybe snacks and just talk about your day? Can you forget calorie counting, and include variety and banish guilt (called Intuitive eating, see resource list on my website...)

Most of these shows and media barrage never mention feeding dynamics. That setting up structure and loving feeding early on can help honor your body. Eating a variety of foods, having fun with your body, not shaming kids to drop out of gym when they are 10 or 11, accepting that some kids may be bigger or smaller, but can still be healthy, not putting young children on restrictive diets which evidence shows leads to unhealthy weight acceleration, making small changes like having your take-out at home with milk and apple-sauce, and then making more small changes.

The only glimmer of "hope" I saw on the whole show was when a very sad 16 year old girl mentioned that many in her family had had surgery, and asked if she could have gastric bypass, and Dr. Oz basically said "yes, and I'll even help you." Her face lit up like she had just won the lottery. Ugh. So sad. 

Oprah should be ashamed, not for gaining weight, but for perpetuating the damaging, over-simplified diet mentality that got her where she is, and will not serve those kids.

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