How a Mother Taught Her Daughter to Eat Like a Slim Person
Could You Put Your Child on a Diet?
Just mention that you are reading a book about a mother who puts her obese seven-year-old daughter on a diet and you'll get a lot of (negative) comments from people who insist they would never read such a book. However, the book addresses not only how difficult it is to diet in a culture where we surround ourselves with food, but how miserable it is to impose constraints on children whose world revolves around cupcakes in school for every classmate who has a birthday and other "special" opportunities to eat.
Your hackles may already be up after reading that a mother put her seven-year-old, Bea, on a diet. Isn't that giving the child unhealthy issues about food and body image? But, Bea's doctor labeled her as obese with blood pressure of 124 over 80. Mom, Dara-Lynn, looked at her daughter's health and realized that Bea was heading down a path that could only get worse if mom didn't step in and change her daughter's food habits.
The funny thing is, Dara-Lynn says that her family were fairly healthy eaters without being obsessive. Mom and dad wouldn't talk about foods being fattening in front of their kids so to not instill any confusing thoughts about some foods being 'good' or 'bad.' They didn't let their kids eat lots of fast food or allow them endless sodas. However, dad was obese, giving Bea a good chance of inheriting a genetic propensity for being obese. Add on a large appetite, and Bea was a fat seven-year-old perhaps destined to become a fat teen and adult.
The Heavy is not just a memoir of a mom putting her daughter on a diet, but her commentary on a cultural obsession with food. And, not just food, healthy food. As a fat kid who grew up into a fat adult, I've lived through numerous "rules" to healthy eating. For most of my life, I used margarine instead of butter, because margarine was "healthier." Eggs were too high in cholesterol to eat more than once a week (oops, that changed). I ate low-fat cookies as part of a low-fat diet when doing so was supposed to make me low-fat. This book is a reminder that, yes, you can eat healthy foods, but that doesn't necessarily mean you are going to lose weight.
As mom Dara-Lynn discovered, the healthy lunch program proposed at Bea's school didn't come with a calorie count even though the experts who spoke to the parents about the lunch program emphasized that healthy foods were equated with preventing obesity in children. However, when mom spent time online trying to estimate calorie counts for the lunches, she knew that they would have nearly twice the calories daughter Bea should eat.
Yes, mom took both kids to a nutritionist whose plan was supposed to help Bea lose 1/4 to 1/2 pound a week (Bea's brother was a picky eater who wasn't interested in food and who was slender). Mom started reading calorie counts, trying to give her daughter snacks and treats that were low-calorie but also weren't depressing. This meant 100-calorie snack packs along with fresh fruit instead of the 500-calorie snacks some parents were giving to their kids (and Bea when she was on a play date). When it came down to it, to help her daughter feel like a normal little girl, Dara-Lynn would offer her daughter packaged snacks.
When you think that people would support a family assisting a child to make proper food choices if the child had celiac and couldn't eat gluten, or was diabetic and had to watch what they ate, or had a peanut or dairy or shellfish allergy; you realize that a mother trying to help her young daughter battle the disease of obesity is doing the same thing - giving her daughter calorie-appropriate options.
Helping her daughter to lose weight and learn to make better choices on her own meant incorporating more healthy foods into the entire family's diet, but also realizing that "healthy" is not synonymous with "low-calorie" or "diet-friendly." As I mentioned, this is something that I have found difficult to reconcile with my own diet. I've followed a healthy vegetarian diet at times without losing much if any weight. So few diet books nowadays even talk about counting calories ... in fact they laugh at the process (as long as you follow Atkins, The South Beach Diet, Paleo-Diet, Mediterranean Diet, de-tox diet, etc.).
This is a heart-wrenching book to read at times because at times I can identify with the mom looking at her own lifetime of food issues while trying to instill a lifetime of good eating habits in her daughter and at times I can identify with seven-year-old Bea who knows that she's different and that she will always have to be vigilant about her weight.
Serving Up Future Body Issues?
I understand that you don't want a child to develop food or body issues by bringing up dieting, but maybe if I child understood that they type of food they eat matters and that trying to sample every food offered at a buffet or school function isn't the best option for maintaining a healthy weight, then they could learn a lifetime of good eating habits.
I don't think that there is any easy answer to helping children avoid obesity as kids or later as adults. I wish that I had developed better habits connected to portion control when I was younger (along with listening to my body's signals for hunger and satisfaction).
I'm betting that this is the program that Bea started on since Dara-Lynn talked a lot about figuring out which foods were red light or green light foods. As a chubby kid and teen, I didn't really understand what I was supposed to eat, or how much.
if you hate the idea of measuring cups and scales, this is a handy tool that lets you measure out a portion of protein as well as half and whole cup measurements for vegetables and grains.
Were you a chubby kid? Did you lose the "baby fat" as you got older ... or not? If you have a weight problem as an adult, do you wish that someone had guided your eating habits as a kid?