The April issue of Vogue magazine featured an article on a mother’s response to a pediatrician telling her that her seven-year-old daughter, Bea, was obese. Dara-Lynn Weiss embarked on a year-long battle to get her child to lose weight. This mother’s weight obsession and stringent methods have caused a firestorm to erupt among readers. The Internet is alive with harsh criticism for the “diet Nazi” as well as Vogue for publishing the article.
I agree with this public outcry. This mother’s radical reaction to her daughter’s weight was misguided. Eating disorder research has consistently shown that early dieting is linked to the subsequent development of eating disorders.
The mother professes her own unresolved eating and body image issues, and her story certainly illustrates the inter-generational transmission of disease, to say nothing of, trauma. One of the biggest problems with the mom’s approach is her language – “good” and “bad” are labels that people often attribute to food.
Such labels imply there is a moral issue involved. Food, in and of itself, is neither good nor bad, toxic nor cleansing; no more than heroin is intrinsically good or bad. It’s what you do with it that matters. Having a square of coffee cake on occasion for breakfast is in line with health. Having two or three everyday (or in secret when you just took it away from your daughter, as this mother did) is likely to be associated with illness. This is still not good or bad, it’s just a question of whether this behavior is in the service of long-term health or not.
Although this mother may have had good intentions and actually wanted to help her child, she clearly went about it in a way that caused more harm than good, both in the short run emotionally for her daughter and in the long run with regards to lifelong mental health or the advent of an eating disorder.
Childhood obesity is on the rise, and so are eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia. I would advise parents and physicians alike to become more educated about the difference between health and Body Mass Index (BMI). Just because someone has a BMI of 26 does not mean that they are not healthy. Blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol and bone density are much better markers of health than BMI.
So, what is an appropriate response for a mother who is given a diagnosis of obesity, or for that matter, any eating disorder in her child? I believe it is to seek help for the child from an eating disorder professional, get professional help herself if she has an unhealthy relationship with food, and consider family therapy. The underlying issues need to be addressed and some are clearly projected in the material shared in the article. The food-related behavior is just a surface level symptom. Trauma is a common underlying issue among patients with eating-related disorders, this includes emotional trauma from the experience of bullying or harsh criticism—especially when it’s coming from a parent.
Diets don’t work. They haven’t been shown to work long-term for adults and are likely not to work long-term for children. Life-style changes, in tandem with pleasurable exercise and emotional care, on the other hand, have the potential to effect life-long changes for the better.
I AM MADE IN GOD'S IMAGE
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
I AM GOD'S TEMPLE
Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple
and that God's Spirit lives in you?
(1 Corinthians 3:16)
I AM A WONDERFUL HAND-MADE
CREATION OF GOD
For you created my inmost being; you knit me
together in my mother's womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and
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