should you put your kid on a diet?

There has been quite a lot of conversation around Dara-Lynn Weiss's article in Vogue this past month and how she put her 7-year old daughter on a diet.  Most of what I have read and followed is people (mostly women) are just aghast that she did this to her daughter.  Although, my friend Tracey Jackson actually applauds her efforts. 

I have been thinking about writing something about this since I first read about the article.  I certainly am not that familiar with the realities of what went on inside the Weiss household even though I read the article…nor does anyone but there is something to be said for her Dara-Lynn teaching her daughter healthy eating habits now vs later. 

Although my best friend doesn't believe I was a fat kid, I was a fat kid.  Maybe my mother was overly obsessed with not being fat so even an extra 10 lbs was considering fat but I was not exactly svelte.  My Grandmother used to say, "never too thin" and "a minute on your lips, forever on your hips".  Needless to say those mantras made me a little bit of a Jewish neurotic when it comes to weight.  I think about what I am putting in my mouth from a calories perspective at all times…when I get up in the morning and when I go to sleep at night, it is always on my mind. 

When I was six years old we were living in Ann Arbor, MI.  We would come home for lunch every day.  I was the oldest.  One particular day everyone had a friend with them.  I remember sitting around the kitchen table and everyone was given peanut butter and jelly for lunch but me.  I got rolled up deli meats with a tooth pick in it.  My Mom knew carbs were a no-no before anyone else did.  I looked around the table and burst into tears.  My Mom pulled me aside and asked what was wrong.  Of course I wanted pb&j and she said I could have it but I said in between my gasps that I couldn't because I was fat. 

Fast foward.  In junior high school I went to weight watchers with my Dad, I did one of those liquid cleanses in High School, I brought my little deli roll-ups in my camp lunch bag and slowly put my hand in the bag and took it out so nobody could see I didn't have a real sandwich and needless to say the diet has been a main even throughout my life.  As crazy as the whole thing made me, I never got to a point where I got so out of control because I learned from a young age that I couldn't just eat whatever I wanted to, I am not built like that but I have promised myself that I will come back in my next life very thin. 

Unfortunately our children did not get my husbands svelte figure where he can eat whatever he damn well pleases.  We also enjoy food in our household not processed products.  There are times when I have over stepped my boundaries, as my Mother did constantly ( and my Grandmother ) about their weight but I have tried very hard not give them the look (although I probably do) or say something.  What we talk about is moderation is key and healthy eating.  God knows I just hope that I did not make my kids as neurotic as my Mom did but who knows. 

So, do I think Dara-Lynn did a good thing but teaching her daughter better eating habits now vs later?  Yes because I guarantee her daughter feels better about herself even though it was not a fun process to get there.  She knows that it is an issue that she will have to live with the rest of her life.  We are not talking about being stick thin…that is not ok…we are talking about having a normal body weight and feeling comfortable in your own skin and being happy with that.  Sounds simple but for many, like myself, not so simple.  Why can't I be 5'9' and be super thin?  Because I didn't come out that way. 

The long term issues with obesity are already taking a toll on our health system including our mental health system.  Trust me, being overweight doesn't make someone feel good about themselves.  Maybe the article made the whole situation sound a little insane but if you break it down and read between the lines, she did her daughter a solid. 


Comments (Archived):

  1. addabjork

    I haven’t read the Vogue article, but I wonder if it isn’t a question of framing, as in diet (suggesting that you are losing weight to look good) vs. eating healthy. I grew up with parents who never talked about weight but ate hippie granola and lots of vegetables. Sure I didn’t like it at the time (and wanted a sandwich on white bread and chocolate pudding in my lunch like all the other kids), but now I am so thankful. They set my palate such that I love vegetables and feel sick if I eat too much meat or pastries. But they did that without ever mentioning a word about weight being something you should be concerned with from a looks standpoint. Because like you said, to a certain extent, weight isn’t so related to what you eat. The important thing is health!! 

    1. Gotham Gal

      Your parents ate healthy and so you did too. Everyone has different habits in their homes with different metabolisms. There is no doubt healthy choices start at home but sometimes it isn’t that easy

  2. Jsspence

    As the mother of a 13 year old boy who is 5’10” and weighs 200 lbs, I am very in tune with this issue.  My son has always been a giant compared to his peers and thankfully has self esteem on par with Kanye West.  His weight has become a concern so my husband and I have worked with him to understand what he’s eating, how much he’s eating and how much exercise he gets.  He has been using a food/exercise diary app on his ipad and has taken ownership of controlling his weight.  He now knows how to make informed choices and he likes being in control. He has lost 3 lbs in the first 2 weeks and is encouraged by his own success.  We have stressed that we want him to be healthy and develop good habits now that will serve him for the rest of his life.  I don’t believe there is any place for shame or cruelty, but part of a parent’s job is to teach their child good eating habits.  Some kids pick it up on their own (like his slim 15 year old brother), but many don’t.  Kids need to learn to enjoy REAL FOOD and know that exercise needs to be part of daily life.  I don’t know much about Dara-Lyn other than a small piece I read on the internet.  If she approached her daughter with love, concern and a genuine interest in improving her health and not her appearance, I agree that she did her a solid. 

    1. Gotham Gal

      Good for your son. At that age he has to own it

  3. Angela Moulton

    I didn’t read the Vogue article but did the follow-up critique and bashing.  I agree that as long as the mother was sensitive to her daughter’s feelings and emotional maturity, she has done her daughter a solid.  Parenthood is not for the faint of heart.  My mother was extremely demanding of looking presentable at all times.  No wrinkles or flaws allowed.  I ended up with an eating disorder in college (I was never overweight).  And I rebelled by being a little sloppy and disheveled.  (I remember when I was 13 going to the salon and the stylist had to cut a large matted knot at the nape of my neck because I wasn’t brushing my long hair underneath.  I felt so embarrassed and ashamed for not taking care of myself better.) I now look back realizing I never needed to throw the baby out with the bathwater like I did.  I now realize my mother wasn’t perfect.  But she cared.  She also immediately got me into top-rate counseling for the eating disorder.  And it worked.  (being a gymnast and weighed daily probably contributed to the eating disorder too.)  I have found my healthy balance and appreciate my mothers standards, which really are about presenting and being one’s best self – inside and out.

    1. pixiedust8

      But that’s the thing for me. The mother was not sensitive to her daughter’s feelings and actually admits as much.I have no issue with the goal, just the way it was attained. The mother had eating disorders, and I just worry that the daughter will end up with the same issues because of the way this was handled.

      1. Gotham Gal

        my guess is there are a lot of people walking around with eating disorders….you just don’t know it.

        1. pixiedust8

          Oh, I don’t doubt it. And I think we just saw one get started in a child–but I hope I’m wrong.

  4. Tracey Jackson

    Obviously I like this posting and thank you for the shout out!  You say something I wanted to say in my  blog but you know me I go long. I too grew up a bit plump.  And I knew from an early age I was not one of those kids and I knew many who could eat whatever they wanted and remain stick thin. It seems understandable now, but when you are a kid and your friends are on their fourth burger you feel cursed. But no I am grateful, I learned very young I could not eat whatever I wanted and be forget thin, normal weight. I yo-yo dieted for years. It took me until after my kids were born to get to and maintain a the right weight for my frame. But I look – thanks to Facebook at many of those rail thin girls from years gone by and they are not in such good shape now. If you learn moderation from the starting get it stays with you.  I think developing good habits early on is essential. And if your kid is tipping to the side of porky, better you lovingly take them aside and help then their peers pick on them or tease them.

    1. Gotham Gal

      I can totally relate. I yoyod until post kids too. Those thin girls in high school killed me but they never learned what I did which is healthy moderation and that is not easy to learn later in life

  5. atg

    I loved when Tracey noted that there is a focus on being rail thin–a standard that is UNATTAINABLE, absent starvation, for many of us.  I am quite thin by all accounts, but I too think about everything I eat all the time, and struggle with my body image. Joanne, I was surprised to find out you think about your weight, seeing all the wonderful meals you eat. It’s refreshing to hear two women, who can speak from personal experience, be so honest about this issue. What I would say about the Vogue article is that I too agree that Dara-Lynn did the right thing. As you mention, being fat is far worse for any girl’s self-esteem than being on a diet. And I would take anyone who argues otherwise to task.I do think there is a concern about making children too self-conscious and eating disorders are a real thing, but so is depression and social, isolation due to  obesity–and I’m not just thinking about kids who are morbidly obese. This is all true, even before we get into the medical issues associated with obesity, which brings me to my next point: I do think it’s importat to differentiate between the health costs and the social costs. Both are real. But it bothers me terribly when people use “healthy” as a euphemism for “skinny.” They are not the same thing, though they can be intertwined. 

    1. Gotham Gal

      Skinny Photoshop models is not healthy

  6. Havasta

    Fresh food is the new normal. As a rule I dislike calling fresh farm food “healthy.” Since it surrenders the title of normal to processed foods that is everything but normal.

    1. Gotham Gal

       fresh food is the new normal.  i might have to use that one.  nice!

  7. Sarahdean

    I don’t take issue with Dara-Lynn doing what she had to to get her daughter’s weight under control.  What I take issue with is that she had to write about it in VOGUE!  That’s permanent and a complete invasion of her daughter’s privacy.

    1. Gotham Gal

      agreed. it is the way that the article was written that created much ado. this is a serious issue and one that should be addressed with tender loving care.

  8. Janet Hanson

    When I was 10 my mother called all the other mothers in the neighborhood and told them to please not give me any afterschool snacks because I had a “weight problem.”  The next day I went to my friend Kathy’s house and her mom came into the kitchen and said “you are not allowed to eat any of our food.”  I almost DIED of embarrassment.  Of course, my mother was frigging gorgeous (I resembled my dad) which of course made me feel even worse.  From then on, I felt like a ZOO ANIMAL.  Throughout college I would go on diets but no matter how thin I was, I always felt fat.  Even when I had cancer and weighed barely 100 pounds, I still thought I looked heavy! Fast forward to my own kids– Chris has “my build” and Mer loves to eat A LOT.  They are both in spectacular shape because I never did what my mother did when they were “overweight” in their pre-teen and teen years.  My advice — get a coach or someone great to inspire your kids to eat right — it could be a great chef or an athlete — anyone but mommy dearest!  

    1. Gotham Gal

      great advice!

  9. Mark Gavagan

    Thanks for discussing this issue and sharing your personal experiences and feelings. Reading this helps me understand how my 7 and 8 year old daughters may feel about themselves and their bodies a few years from now.It also reinforces an important parenting responsibility: developing healthy eating habits, ingredient awareness, cooking skills and an appetite for fresh vegetables, whole grains and unprocessed food is a great investment for anyone.Enjoy the weekend!

  10. Ella

    Joanne, Reading your blog is like an in person chat with you (something I look forward to!). Today’s thoughts come as I try to coax my 4 year-old granddaughter (Ella Amena Marie) into eating breakfast. She’s thriving and I’m trying not to freak if she doesn’t eat all of her yogurt. God bless parents (I didn’t donate DNA to Ella but, could have cloned her) and thanks for sharing your story; I’ll be paying more attention to what she eats and when without forcing issues or, overlooking any.Best,Grandma Ella

    1. Gotham Gal

      thanks ella. when she is hungry…she will eat!

  11. pixiedust8

    I’m just curious as to whether you read the original article? I don’t have a problem with limiting your kid’s food, but the way she did it was a bit crazy. She admits she humiliated her kid and got mad at her daughter when they were guests and adults offered her food. Also, the mother clearly had her own eating disorder and was completely clueless about how to feed her daughter (which is alarming, because we kind of envision the less educated populace not understanding healthy eating). She needed a nutritionist to help her figure out that if her daughter was still hungry after dinner that maybe she should eat fruit. It was like that had never occurred to the author.I have a four-year-old and we discuss healthy eating regularly. Everyone on both sides runs naturally skinny, but I want her to understand how to fuel her body. After all, a seven-year-old like the one in the article does NOT get fat on her own. Her parents are supplying her food (and possibly her school, but ultimately, parents need to take the responsibility), and that didn’t seem to occur to the author at all. 

    1. Gotham Gal

      I read the article and it was pretty obvious the mother has some food issues but again she might have just wrote it that way. after all, she was given a book deal.

      1. pixiedust8

        Right, but unless she went in with the intention to make it as sensational as possible to get a book deal (which is a whole ‘nother disturbing issue then), she writes about taking fen-fen after it was illegal, among other things. I just found the whole thing very disturbing. The mother seemed to be transferring all her own issues to her daughter.

  12. CCjudy

    I dont know about children and diets as I do not have children. As a child growing up in Bklyn my mother was very strict about our eating. She was a Terrible cook. We went to Coney Island and could only have one hot dog and share one lobster roll. At movies we got movie for one candy bar period. Did i like it? No. And my sister and I are very healthy eaters and never had food issues. It really does start at home.Judy

  13. chefbikram

    The reality is that no one can teach kids as well as parents. Parents set the example. And just this week there was a study showing that even Doctors fear bringing up the “fat” issue to parents about kids. Doing it kindly is key. Doctors should be able to raise the warning flag…Read this post for helpful tips: http://athleticmindedtravel…

    1. Gotham Gal

      it always starts at home.

  14. Rohan

    I’ve thought about this many a time and feel it’s really among the best things parents can do for their kids.I’ve seen so many friends struggle with weight loss which naturally ended up becoming deep rooted confidence problems. I feel life deals us enough knocks anyway.. we could do without another. 🙂

  15. panterosa,

    GG, I am curious as to how you balance you obvious love of food and sharing meals with others, with your family and friends, as a bonding experience of nourishment of body and soul. I have a serious budding foodie (10) who inherited the heavier side’s genetic metabolism, so she yoyo’s as she goes through growth spurts. She is so strong and radiant and lovely that I want her comfortable in her own skin as she moves into her teen years and puberty. That said, she needs to maintain “moderation”, your, and my mother’s, term.I am a baker, my mother a 4star cook, and her father (we’re divorced) also cooks a lot. She rotates between these 3 households every week. She is quite talented for her age in the kitchen and we love to encourage that. However, I’m sure you are familiar with the perils of that much food interaction with a child who tends to heavy genetically. I was quite opposite – thin as a rail and very active, so I have a quite different MO.How did you manage your kids at that age? Would love any input on a few things you did to keep your kids on track health wise without making them feel they were always having to cut back. 

    1. Gotham Gal

      SO hard. i have dieted forever so i know. i know that it all about portion control. take a bite but no need to eat the whole thing every night. 8 ounces of protein and vegetables for dinner is perfect. one dessert a day ( for a kid ), no need for a huge bowl of cereal but one that is well sized with lots of fruit. it is purely education.