Monday, April 26, 2010

"watch your size" or "accept your body" are not the only options

"How can you simultaneously encourage your daughter to watch her size and accept her body?"- Asks a recent article in the NYT.

Already annoyed by the title. It implies that your daughter isn't capable of accepting her size and accepting her body simultaneously. It implies that she can only accept her body if society deems it "acceptable."

Accept her body, or "watch her size" which means consciously trying to maintain or change her size. One large Minnesota study found that teenage girls who practice "healthy" dieting or weight management measures like "watch what they eat," "watch portion sizes" and "try to eat more fruits and vegetables," are heavier than their peers who have never dieted.

Aside from the title, the article also implies that making "small changes" will result in big weight loss. Small changes might make someone healthier or feel better, but likely won't make them lose weight. I wish the article had been a bit more rigorous, less lazy in it's acceptance of many assumptions about weight and more.

I remember a mom of a healthy nine-month-old girl in one of my first talks crying, "Every time I feed my daughter I feel like I'm on a knife-edge between anorexia and obesity." She was one of the reasons why I started Family Feeding Dynamics. I hear similar questions, though less extreme (or honest?) particularly from parents of tween girls. Fear and anxiety are pervasive in some mothers (and fathers) and is effecting the way they feed their children.

What is largely missing in the discourse of obesity vs "healthy" or eating "right" is the model of normal or wellness. (Setting aside for a moment the weightist assertion that you can't be "obese" and be healthy, or that you couldn't be eating well if you are "overweight," or the assumption that low body esteem causes eating disorders...)

Parents, you don't have to live on that knife-edge. Your only options are not obesity or anorexia. It's not just- "let your kid eat whatever they want and not give them a complex, or crack down on portions and forbidden foods and risk a child with low self-esteem and an eating disorder."

There is an alternative. There is normal eating, there is eating competence, feeding well. You can lead by example, feed with love and structure, provide a variety of tasty foods at a pleasant table and not make a big deal about it. Lecturing about eating to prevent disease and illness, feeding from fear and control doesn't help children do best with eating or feel best about themselves. (Two awesome resources are Child of Mine:Feeding with Love and Good Sense, and Your Child's Weight: Helping Without Harming, both by-you guessed it, Ellyn Satter.)

What do you think?


  1. Well said, Katja. Thank you. The redeeming point of the NYT magazine article you are referring to is, I think, that the author exposes where *we* as culture stand on. This dilemma that you so well describe and provide a resolution for. The NYT magazine article doesn't go far, I agree.

  2. Great post. We are trying to find a way to address these kids of issues with our kids. We want healthy kids, who eat well and feel good about their bodies - whatever their size. Your information will help.

  3. Out of curiosity, what do you consider healthy eating? Do you think there is a such thing as unhealthy eating?


    it's a great explanation of what I think of as "normal" or "healthy" eating. I think about how we feel about food. Do we think about food enough to reward ourselves with reliable, balanced, good-tasting meals most of the time? Or are we obsessed with food, driven by fear and avoidance? There is room in "healthy" eating for all kinds of foods. Is that what you were asking? What does "unhealthy" eating mean to you? I think it's unhealthy when we don't provide, when we diet, when we obsess, when we don't enjoy, when we binge, when we restrict too much...