How Parents and Children Can Move Out of the CrossHairs of the Weight Cycling Industry

This is a guest post by Lynne Murray. It was originally posted at Body Impolitic.

Lynne Murray says

I always ask “who benefits” from any given “social problem.”

The $60 billion diet industry or, as Dr. Deb Burgard has called it, “The Weight Cycling Industry” is in the business of cashing in on a problem of its own creation. Any truly efficient method of changing body size would put them out of business, but since none exists, they can keep making money as long as they can keep the hysteria flowing.

I did not use the word “fat” in the title of this post because fear of becoming fat opens up profits from populations that do not qualify as fat by any objective measurement. The latest group under attack is fat children and their parents.

My father was a psychologist and a lifelong student of human behavior, and when I brought him my report card he often used to say: “This tells me something about you, something about your teacher, and something about myself.” I think of my father when I see the hysteria and debates about the so-called “childhood obesity epidemic.”

Attacks on fat and fat kid focus a moralizing gaze on the parents of fat children and add a new generation of weight cycling customers to the weight cycling industry’s customer base. The Georgia billboards targeting fat kids and bullying their parents as either ignorant or uncaring are a prime example. Even sadder (because of the clout of the Disney organization) is an exhibit of cartoon-animated fat hatred that opened to so much instant loud negative reaction that Disney closed the exhibit–although spokespersons say they plan to re-tool and reopen it soon.

Most parents would do anything to protect their children, but how? Particularly in the face of the prevailing assumption that parents of fat kids have “failed” by definition simply because their kids are fat. With all the insanity around food and food choices, parents and children need all the help they can get to reinforce or reclaim our bodies’ natural wisdom around food and to build or rebuild trust in our physical selves and nurturing approaches to physical, mental, and emotional health.

Here are some positive examples of role models, wisdom and proven tactics to deal with a parent’s confusion about raising a fat (and probably unhappy) child in our current hostile cultural environment.

I love Shaunta’s tips on Fierce Freethinking Fatties about how to open a healthy dialogue with children about their bodies. The entire post is well worth reading, but some of the “no-nos” and “please-dos” leaped out at me:

It goes without saying that I don’t believe there is a fat-kids problem. There might be a kids-spend-too-much-time-playing-passively problem. Or a getting-nutritious-food-into-kids problem. But those problems affect kids of all sizes. Fat kids aren’t a problem. …

First the no-nos:

… Do not, ever, sit your child down and start a dialogue with any variation of, “Sweetheart, we need to talk about your weight.” No matter how many times you tell your child that you’re doing this for their own good and because you love them, and indeed no matter how much you love them, this will do far more damage than good. Every. Single. Time.

Don’t equate your child’s body size with his or her value. No offering money for pounds lost. Don’t wait to buy your kid new clothes until they’ve lost some weight. And please, try not to give your hungry child a disapproving look when he or she eats. Hunger is normal. Even for fat people who, believe it or not, cannot comfortably live on their fat stores alone. Don’t praise weight loss. Don’t wring your hands over weight gain.

And the please-dos:

… If you’re concerned with the amount of exercise your child gets, go outside and play with them. I promise you that they will gain the benefits of the exercise whether or not you point out to them that it might shrink their bodies.

… Fill your kitchen with a wide variety of foods. If you don’t think your kids should eat Twinkies or Happy Meals, the simple answer is to just not buy them. Like with exercise, whatever benefit you believe your kid will get from not eating these foods doesn’t hinge on you making sure they know that his or her fat ass is something disgusting that must be reduced at all costs.

… Take some time to figure out what’s awesome about your own body. Here’s a hint: Everything about it is awesome. Once you’ve got your own self-acceptance bolstered, share that with your kidlets. It’s one of the best gifts you can offer them. Let them see you enjoying exercise and eating a wide variety of foods. Your child’s body is a miracle. It is. I promise. Not it will be. Or it could be, if only they’d stop eating so much. It is. Help them see that by treating your own body like the miracle it is. That means no more hating on your thighs or belly or the size of your hips. No more refusing to wear a bathing suit or wearing a cardigan when it’s 90 degrees outside to hide your arms. Learning how to love your body is a gift to your children, who, I promise, are soaking up everything you say and do like the little sponges they are.

Ellen Satter has an abundance of great links and PDFs in English and Spanish on exactly the subjects that parents stress over. I love her Food Pyramid illustrating a “Hierarchy of Food” based on the realities of human existence and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs rather than the Department of Agriculture’s fantasy pyramid. Satter sensibly puts “Enough Food” as the base:

pyramid with

Getting “enough food”—the most basic creature need—is on the foundation of Satter’s Hierarchy of Food Needs, followed closely by the need for what is perceived as acceptable food. When today’s need is dependably satisfied, the individual can work toward providing for tomorrow and, having done that, can function at a high enough level to consider aesthetics. Experimenting with novel food builds on trustworthy access to personally rewarding food.

The abundant links on Satter’s reference page include:

Eve Reed: Turn feeding your children into a pleasant experience rather than a stressful one.

The Feeding Doctor –Dr. Katja Rowell: Taking anxiety and conflict off the menu.

Feed Me!: One woman’s opinions on food, eating, body image, and weight.

Jennifer Harris, LRD: Calming the storm — Feeding Dynamics for yourself and those you care for during eating disorder recovery.

Kathleen Cuneo: “Building healthy families one meal at a time.”

Maya Snijders-Naumann: Discover that eating and living in a health-promoting way can be a joy instead of a burden.

Peggy Crum: “Sustenance for your well-being.”

Landmark fat activist Linda Bacon, author of Health At Every Size, The Surprising Truth About Your Weight offers some wonderful PDFs on her site. I can testify that I have personally printed and brought along some of her handouts to a doctor’s appointment and it went MUCH more smoothly than it ever had before!

One of Bacon’s PDFs aimed at school administrators and teachers looks useful to parents as well:

It’s tough enough for kids to enjoy their bodies. Few are at peace in their bodies, whether they’re fat or fear becoming fat. Every time we make fat the problem, these are side effects, however unintended they may be.

The National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA) also offers an online kit aimed at teachers but useful for parents Everybody in Schools Curriculum Unit Resource Resource Kit, a collaborative project between Chancellor State College and the University of the Sunshine Coast. The materials focus on topics such as: “What does it mean to be me? – Self esteem and resilience,“ active living “What movin’ makes me feel good?” making friends with food, “Healthy and pleasurable eating” and body diversity, “How can we appreciate EVERYBODY?”


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16 Responses to How Parents and Children Can Move Out of the CrossHairs of the Weight Cycling Industry

  1. Emolee says:

    Great post. I especially liked this:

    Hunger is normal. Even for fat people who, believe it or not, cannot comfortably live on their fat stores alone.

  2. Crys T says:

    Seconding what Emolee said. I so wish that these resources had been around when I was a kid.

  3. Andie says:

    Good post, I wil be checking out some of those links for sure.

  4. Katya says:

    Love this post, especially the point about focusing on the healthy activity rather than the weight loss. All kids should be eating healthy food and getting exercise, and parents should be modeling these healthy behaviors (which include not obsessing over one’s weight).

  5. LR of The {No Longer) Frozen Midwest says:

    Originally read this post on Body Impolitic, but thank you for including it here as a guest blog; it’s well worth spreading the word as far as possible. QFT:

    … Do not, ever, sit your child down and start a dialogue with any variation of, “Sweetheart, we need to talk about your weight.” No matter how many times you tell your child that you’re doing this for their own good and because you love them, and indeed no matter how much you love them, this will do far more damage than good. Every. Single. Time.

    I’m certain no good has ever come from speaking those words.

  6. Meera says:

    “Even for fat people who, believe it or not, cannot comfortably live on their fat stores alone.”

    It’s unbelievable how many people seem to actually believe that fat people can just live off their reserves until they reach a culturally ‘appropriate’ size. Under conditions of severe food deprivation, many bodies simply shut down their vital systems before they ever consume much of their fat stores. It’s perfectly possible to die of starvation without ever becoming thin / un-fat, and people of any weight who survive often have serious permanent organ damage.

  7. Stephanie says:

    That Disney stuff and the Georgia billboards are scary. You’d think it would be possible to promote healthy habits without saying “fat is bad,” yet that rarely happens. I really think they’d get better results emphasizing healthy habits without stressing the weight angle. Might annoy the “fat is bad” people, but I’m fine with that.

  8. Fat Steve says:

    I always ask “who benefits” from any given “social problem.”

    I don’t know about this rule…the same exact logic is used by people who claim that climate change is invented by people who are in ‘green industries,’ in order to sell their alternative energy sources.

  9. Shoshie says:

    You’d think it would be possible to promote healthy habits without saying “fat is bad,” yet that rarely happens.

    QFT. I had an incredibly frustrating conversation with a friend of mine who’s a naturopath and just. couldn’t. get. it.

    “But, my patient! He really needs to lose weight!”

    “Why don’t you try talking to him about increasing a physical activity that he enjoys. You said he plays tennis once a week, why don’t you encourage him to take a class or learn squash or play three times per week instead of just once?”

    “But he’ll still be fat!”

    “That doesn’t negate the fact that he’ll be more active.”

    “But fat!”

  10. Darliene Howell says:

    I would like to recommend the free NAAFA Child Advocacy ToolkitSM which lists resources available to parents and educators or caregivers for educational materials, curriculum and programming that is beneficial for all children. It can be found at:
    http://issuu.com/naafa/docs/naafa_childadvocacy2011combined_v04?viewMode=magazine&mode=embed

  11. Lynne Murray says:

    Thanks for the positive comments, Emolee, Crys T, and I would have liked these resources to be available when I was a little fat kid decades ago, and they are till waaay to little-known, hence the post.

    Andie and Katya, thanks–I agree good behaviors for all kids, no singling out anyone as a target!

    LR, true, it is so important to get the message across that telling child his or her body is wrong can only have negative results matter what the intention.

    Meera, I think that the “fat people should just stop eating” is a variant of demonizing fat and punishing fat people “for our own good” which is just awful and the opposite of helpful.

    Fat Steve, you make a good point, and skepticism can’t hurt so long as we examine the motives of everyone (e.g., the global warming deniers who have a religous agenda that involve either profit or trashing the planet because of some dubious permission from a diety).

    Stephanie, no matter how well-intentioned (giving these organizations the benefit of the doubt they may not deserve) I think that the Georgia and Disney images contribute to the dehumanizing of fat children, attacking them “for their own good”–very dangerous!

    Shoshie, it is frustrating to deal with, but a very clear example of how fat hatred exists separate of actual health concerns.

  12. Carol says:

    The scariest thing I’ve seen so far about the campaign to decrease obesity in children is school systems in Long Island and elsewhere to have kids wear electronic bracelets that track their heart rate and activity (all day and night) for teachers to upload onto a computer, and presumably tsk-tsk them from there.
    So we not only have fat-shaming, but shaming of sedentary kids (who, if they are like I was, could be book-loving and very healthy!), in addition to invasion of privacy.

    Second annoying thing is Obesity Panickers have taken one major study that claims that breastfeeding a child lowers their chance of obesity later (I’m not even sure if they have addressed all the confounds of this, given that women who have the luxury to breastfeed the longest are higher-income, higher-educated, and more likely to be choosy about a child’s diet later), so now we get adoption-shame, and working-mothers shame, along with fat-shame. Yay!
    p.s. Little correction–it’s Ellyn Satter, not Ellen.
    p.p.s. Links are great, especially anything by Linda Bacon.

  13. Tina says:

    I always ask “who benefits” from any given “social problem.”

    I don’t know about this rule…the same exact logic is used by people who claim that climate change is invented by people who are in ‘green industries,’ in order to sell their alternative energy sources.

    Yeah, but if you look at who really benefits from arguing against climate change, it’s the oil companies. They receive govt subsidies for oil and the average amount oil companies pay in taxes is 9%. You just have to look at who funds scientists who claim that climate change doesn’t exist/isn’t caused by man. Oil companies.

  14. wriggles says:

    Any truly efficient method of changing body size would put them out of business, but since none exists, they can keep making money as long as they can keep the hysteria flowing.

    True, but how can you leave out the ‘obesity’ industry formulated by scientists and doctors-which arguably saved the slimming industry in the 1990’s?

    The slimming industry did not direct my adventures in weight gain-a cycle includes loss presumably- and left on its own would have died on its arse long ago. Unless you’re saying that the take over of the study of weight in the last say, 30 or so years is by people bought and paid for by them.

    Either way, that still wouldn’t explain doctors (scientists intense collusion with this). The former recommending and sending their patients to slimming companies “They’re the experts”. And shoring up the illusion of efficacy to this day.

    My route was a product of my own desire to be thin, which was probably culturally influenced-including from feminism, plus the edicts of the medical profession and scientists who insisted at press conferences announcing their findings. “Don’t give up your diets, don’t stop dieting” every time they discovered another “obesity paradox”.

    I did not use the word “fat” in the title of this post because fear of becoming fat opens up profits from populations that do not qualify as fat by any objective measurement. The latest group under attack is fat children and their parents.

    I can agree with this until the last sentence, for me it refers to people who aren’t. Until they were persuaded to feel they too needed to be restricting their diets/calories and increasing their exercise-in order to avoid fatness/be “healthy” the vicious fat hating climate of today could not get going.

    Because it’s those behaviours which either alter people to a fat hating mindset or make them susceptible to it.

    Children have always been under attack. There are generations of adult fat people who were fat children and can tell you about pressure from their families, doctors, teachers, seeing professionals and nutritionists in the media insisting they participate in restrictive eating. And that weight cycling was your “fault” when it was already known to be intrinsic to calorie restriction induced weight loss.

    The idea that nothing counts until its on billboards etc., is the same erasing mindset which says what fat people did of our own volition and agency didn’t happen.

    • Lynne Murray says:

      I can relate to your comment, Wiggles! I look at pictures of my father from the 1930s, myself in the 1950s and my brother in the 1960s–all fat kids, later fat adults, and fighting prejudice despite, in my father’s case, five decades of yo-yo dieting of one sort or another. I escaped from the dieting and still battle the self-hatred part (the price of self-esteem in a society that deems you “wrong” the minute you show up is eternal vigilance!). My father was a scientist but in the 1990s when I showed him the scientific research proving the futility of diets it was new to him but he “got it” as soon as he read it. That evidence was there for those who looked for it not well known then and it only starting to reach general awareness now–and meeting great resistance for many reasons.

      Fighting a deeply engrained prejudice is hard work–especially when it is reinforced by those who profit from it. Questioning popularly held assumptions requires the mental equivalent of heavy lifting. Many of those who urge weight loss even as they also acknowledge that it’s highly unlikely to be successful include medical professionals, who are as brainwashed as the public in general.

      As Mark Twain said, “It “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble, “Mark Twain said. “It’s what you know for sure that ain’t so.”

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