The war on fat is a hot topic these days. Childhood obesity. Positive body image. Fat shaming. Kids on diets. Reality weight loss shows.
I’m really interested by it all. Really. Not so much about adult obesity. I understand most of that but I’m fascinated by fat kids. I saw a really obese boy play soccer against my son’s team a couple of weeks ago. He was huge. He could barely walk, let alone run. He couldn’t reach for the ball. He couldn’t keep up with the pack. He certainly would have weighed more than me. And he was playing for an UNDER 8 team. I wondered why he’s overweight. I wondered what his parents are doing to allow him to be overweight. I felt sad for him because he’s so young and if he’s struggling now – what does that mean when he’s older. When his poor eating habits are entrenched. Are his parents doing his future a huge injustice? “At least he’s being active” one of the other parents said. Active?? Being active isn't gonna cut it for this guy. The kid is eating himself to the point of bursting!
I recently read The Heavy by Dara-Lynn Weiss. It's a memoir of a mother helping her overweight 6 year old daughter lose enough weight to no longer be considered obese. Thought provoking to say the least. Confronting to be more accurate. In it Weiss talks about how she allowed her daughter to be obese. How she enabled it. She talks about the backlash she received when she put her daughter on a strict calorie counting regime. What she believes was the only way her daughter could shed the kilos. She talks about how she was judged and how society made it so hard for her to teach her daughter how to make sensible food choices. How to manage her portions. Mothers who would override her parenting decisions at parties, feeling the need to defend her ‘poor little girl’. It pissed me off reading it. She talks about other kids who have allergies. To nuts, eggs, dairy, shellfish. Others who are intolerant to gluten and cows milk. The support those children get is enormous. Other mothers will willingly omit nuts from a party table or prepare special gluten-free treats so that their child doesn’t miss out.
But what if your kid is allergic to calories? Is it not your responsibility, as their parent, to help them manage their food choices?
Have you noticed that everywhere you look there’s someone talking about loving yourself, and others, no matter what size we all are? Empowering men and women alike to embrace their bodies and to be unapologetic about their excess weight. It’s an important shift, I think, to help people who struggle with their weight to be less ashamed, embarrassed or defensive. It speaks to the emotions of all of us and supports us in our life choices. I think it is right that grown-ups get to choose how they want to live. Though I am confused that there’s a movement to say it’s ok for grown-ups to choose to be overweight but not for them to choose to be incredibly thin. How is starving yourself any less healthy or deserving of judgement than over-eating? Why do we celebrate eating cake and scorn dieting? And why – why – do we say it’s ok for kids to be overweight when they’re still kids? When there’s no medical reason that they should be.
Side note – I’d just like to point out, at this poignant stage, that when I talk about overweight kids, I’m not talking about those beautiful Michelin rolls on a baby or the rubber band wrists of a healthy toddler or the big swollen cheeks of a preschooler... ‘cause that shit’s just gorgeous.
Parenting is a tough gig. There’s a thousand choices you have to make for your kids every day and sometimes the choice you made yesterday, you can’t be bothered making today. Like yesterday it was really important to me that the kids made their beds but today, in the morning melee, I didn’t care so much so they went to sleep in unmade beds tonight. Meh... But when you've got a kid who's constantly nagging you for food, most often unhealthy food, it's easy to be worn down.
Consistency is hard and on top of that we all enter the parenting arena carrying our baggage and sometimes our own extra weight. I saw a commercial of the current The Biggest Loser season [no, I don’t watch it] which just happens to be about fat parents and their fat kids, where one of the daughters says something along the lines of ‘Why should I listen to what you’ve got to say about me losing weight when you’re so fat yourself?’ aaaah... I recognise that one. Do as I say, not as I do. I’ve played that one myself a couple of times I reckon. But I can’t help but think that if Mum had STARTED the healthy choices regime while her daughter was a lot younger, then they wouldn’t be in this predicament.
And make no mistake, it’s a predicament. Apparently it’s a fucking epidemic.
Who really is to blame for childhood obesity? Fast food? Too much screen time? Too many sweets? Poor portion control? Not enough physical activity? Mum and Dad?
I’m saying all of the above. PLUS I’m going to add – the price and availability of good food. When you’re paying in the vicinity of $8 per kilo for fresh fruit/vegies, $5 for a loaf of bread and upwards of $28 per kilo for a lean cut of meat at the local supermarket then those monster packets of chips for $1.50 and family feasts at the drive-through for $25 look pretty appealing. In fact, they look almost impossible to say no to. Especially if you, the parent, really want them too.
Let’s help our next generation become grown-ups who understand healthy food choices. Who understand that being neither skinny or overweight matters but being fit and well does. Let’s stop giving in to their cravings. Let’s stop using food as an emotional pleaser. As a bribe and as a peacemaker.
It won’t be easy. I know because I’ve already started. My boys are fit and well and currently have zero risk of being obese but I want them to understand what being healthy is all about. I’ve stopped using food as an incentive. I say ‘stopped’ because I used to. “if you eat this broccoli/bean/tomato, you can have a sweet treat after”. The more I thought about the culture that was breeding, the more I felt uncomfortable with it. Now I use play time as an incentive or a favourite activity. I realised I was teaching them that one group of food was a distasteful chore and another group was a delicious reward. Now I try to use language that presents all food as equally
Which is not to say that I don’t allow treats anymore. Oh, I do. But if I’m to be completely honest, they’re more for me than them.
And I reckon that’s the point of this whole post.