Saturday, October 2, 2010

Weighing weight issues at 5?

My daughter is five years old. And is worried about being fat.

There, I said it.

After weeks of increasing pickiness that have peaked this week with my formerly healthy eater injesting only a bite or two at a meal, we're worried. And just a few days ago, we found out why: she's worried if she eats too much, she'll be fat.

The interesting part is that mom, who is more than a little overweight, is "just right" in her eyes. And I've been careful to never breathe a word about weight worries or dieting in our house, instead focusing on how we need to take a family walk or eat healthier instead.

And because we've tried to shelter her as much as possible, my only guess is to look at the messages she's exposed to elsewhere. Dieting messages are rampant in the media. Billboards, radio, television, you can't escape it. Even the ads on the Food Network - the ultimate celebration in food - focus heavily on what you should take when you eat too much of it.

The idea that my daughter has weight worries in kindergarten terrifies me. Granted, I've had close experience with watching a coworker's son battle an eating disorder in middle school. I expected to have discussions about the media and messages about health in a few years; I'm not naiive. I just wasn't ready for that talk yet.

However, now we're having to ramp up our talks, focusing on the positive (lots of foods are healthy and make us grow and be strong) and sadly, dabbling in the negatives of getting sick. And we've been trying to give lots of reinforcement and addressing her questions, reassuring her that we're not going to give her so much food that she gets fat, and really too much junk food is a big instigator of it all (in many cases).

We've decided to tap in my daughter's love of cooking and having her start helping me plan meals again, seeing if that won't spark her interest at mealtime. And we've decided the TV will stay off unless we're in the room and able to discuss what's on. Because little minds are curious minds, and you never know what ideas will stick.


Aimee said...

I'm so sorry! My daughter was also five last year when she began to talk the same way. In her case, it turned out that a group of girls in her kindergarten class were talking about who was "fat" and who was "skinny." My daughter said she didn't want to lose her "skinny power!"

I spoke to the teacher, and asked her if she had heard any of this talk (it was awkward, because I am FAT and she is SKINNY). She hadn't, but said she would listen for it and bring it up with other parents if she thought she needed to.

Our daughter kind of lost interest in the subject after a few weeks (but it has occasionally cropped up again for short periods). It sounds like we did what you are doing: talk about health. I would ask her stuff like "What's more important, being healthy or being pretty? What's more important, being pretty or being kind?"

I showed her how strong and healthy her mama is (After she told me, "mama, no offense, but you're kind of fat. I mean a LITTLE bit.") by picking up a goat. And I think the most important thing I did was start inluding her in cooking dinner. She LOVED that, and we got lots of chances to talk about healthy food, without focusing on whether it would make you fat or not, but on whether it would make you healthy and also taste yummy.

Good. luck. This is a tough one.

Anonymous said...

Wow. I must say that I can sort of relate to your daughter, as I started my first diet at age 10, although I worried about my weight for many years before that.

The thing is, I was always a skinny kid, but both my mother and my older brother had weight issues, and I was sure that I would "catch it." I watched the kids make fun of my brother, and I heard the snickering remarks they made about my mom, and it scared me to death to think that I might be next in line for such treatment. I never said a word about it to them, because I didn't want to hurt their feelings.

But then in 5th grade they made us all get weighed in front of the whole class, and I weighed 85 pounds. That seemed HUGE to me, and it was more than my friends weighed. Of course, I was also 5 feet tall, about 3-4 inches taller than most of my friends, but I didn't understand that this meant I should weigh more. I just knew that I was terrified of getting fat.

I couldn’t talk to my mother about it, plus I didn't trust one single word that she said to me about nutrition because, well, it was hard to put much faith in the words of a 350 pound woman who careened from one diet to the next. "Do as I say, not as I do" just didn't hold much water I fear. So I got my information from magazines and from my friends... and as you can imagine, those weren't the best sources! I think I also subconsciously mirrored my mother's behavior, with one crazy diet after another, punctuated by wild “falling off the wagon” indulgences.

Thus began my long battle with eating disorders, which I really didn't get over until I was out of college. It then took another 5 years or so to learn how to eat right and to lose the 40 pounds that my crazy behavior and screwed up metabolism had left me with.

So I guess that I'd say, if you want to help your daughter, the best thing you can do is to "get your own house in order" so to speak. Do whatever it takes to become a good role model for your daughter... that is what she really needs.


Eco Yogini said...

i think we often believe that the media messages and how women are portrayed are harmless.... we can't *really* be influenced by ads right?

but the advertising industry is a billion dollar one for a reason... :( and women are portrayed so poorly there.

i love your ideas to help support your daughter, it sounds like despite the challenges she faces, you'll giev her the tools to do the best she can in our world.

in the meantime, actively speaking out against sexist and "skinnY' advertising is something we should all do...

Robbie said...

Thanks for all the positive comments! I ran into my physician this weekend, and she echoed the same things. (Whew).

The great news is her interest in food is back and she has been eating well since Sunday. She said she didn't know how to eat healthy, and I promised I would help her learn. (No pressure on her, just trying to educate as we go. Like the chunk of fat on the steak? Not so much...)

I am sure this will not be the last time we talk about this but I am glad the initial crisis seems to be over.