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Too young to diet?

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A couple of weeks ago the blogosphere, twitterverse and day time TV world went ballistic over an article written by Dara-Lynn Weiss in the April issue of Vogue Magazine about how she had put her seven year old daughter on a diet and her strict methods of enforcing the diet’s rules.

I began reading the comments and some of the heartbreaking essays about women who never recovered from their own childhoods of being forced to diet. Throughout my inventory of the internet to read more and more about this issue, one thing did cross my mind, it was clear that most of the bloggers, tweeters, and even some of the reporters on the talk shows never read Ms. Lynn Weiss’ article. They were ready to damn her based on brief quotes and others’ opinions.

So I’ve wanted to write about this article, I decided I wouldn’t until I actually read the entire article. Today at lunch, I snuck off and for the first time in my life bought a copy of Vogue and read. (Does anyone want a Vogue, by the way?)

One of the reasons I became so interested is that by the time I was 17, I had probably been on at least 15 different diets. There are many more salacious details I could and won’t recount for you here, but suffice it to say, my issues with food began from the age of seven (or earlier). I have never had a normal relationship with food, and maybe I never will. This toxic relationship has depleted me emotionally, physically and financially.

Given all of that, I have some sympathy for the demonized Ms. Weiss because she has similar food issues to me, as she recounts in the piece, and they are not fun. Also, therefore, as she admits, helping a child who was overweight and eventually obese was an almost impossible task. Ms. Weiss did facilitate her daughter to lose 16 pounds, but almost every commentator would agree that her methods were questionable and that her daughter is at high risk for an eating disorder down the line. Again, Ms. Weiss admits to this. If anything, her article is honest.

By age three, Ms. Weiss’ daughter did develop disordered eating, although it’s not labeled that in the article, just described. Her daughter’s pre-school teacher told Ms. Weiss that her daughter did not “self-regulate” her food intake and Ms. Weiss said she would eat adult size portions. I just wish at that point Ms. Weiss would have inquired as to why this was true, rather than begin the process of worrying (maybe even obsessing) about her daughter’s future obesity. Why was her daughter so hungry? She ruled out metabolic problems, but what was causing her hunger physiologically or more likely psychologically, and how could she work on finding a healthier replacement for whatever the food was compensating for. Yes, even, perhaps especially these questions should have been asked for an overweight three year old.

As someone who hopes to have kids in the next few years, I have already started to think about and address these issues. How will I feed a child when I don’t know how to feed myself? What I’ve figured out is to look to my brother and sister-in-law, who seem to do a great job with their kids. They taught them about nutrition as fuel from an early age and have fed them as such. They allow them to eat sweets, but in appropriate portions and in moderation. They try to make sure that their kids have plenty of time to be active indoors and outdoors. (They also live in the city).

I write this the day before Passover, a difficult night for anyone with issues with food given the feast that takes place at the Seder. And although I’m not certain that Ms. Weiss is Jewish, if she is, I hope that she can look at the Haggadah and figure out a way to be freed from the yolk of eating issues and help her daughter do the same. And instead of giving her daughter a look (if you have ever gotten the look, you know it) if she takes an extra helping of charoset, instead schedule a nice long walk together in Central Park over the weekend.

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