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'Mom, Stop Nagging Me About My Weight!'

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Ever wondered what tweens think about weight? Here's a glimpse.

wendy walsh

Dr. Wendy Walsh: It's hard for me to talk about my 11-year-old daughter and eating without feeling intense anxiety. Food, a mother's most obvious nurturing gift, has become a battleground that sometimes undermines our close relationship. It's a subject that brings me great sadness -- and not because I think my daughter should be slender. I don't. But I do want her to be healthy and avoid diseases associated with childhood obesity. I feel sad because I know how our entire culture (her peers and mine) often judge us: me as a failed mother who "hasn't fed my daughter correctly," and her as an adolescent who is attempting to build self-esteem in a lookism culture.

Always off the height and weight charts, my amazing child walked at nine months. At 11, she's already 5'7" and 153 pounds. Her bountiful physique comes from some sound stock: I am 5'10" and her father is 6'4." God played a fun trick with my little girl's genes: Instead of giving her my ectomorph physique -- the "tall and skinny" one sought by so many in our culture -- he gave her some glorious curves. He gave her another challenge, too: an inability to feel full. And exercise isn't her favorite activity. As she informed me at age seven, "Get used to it, Mom. Reading is my sport."

Sometimes our family life becomes a power struggle over portion size and exercise. I vacillate between phases of extreme vigilance (during which I involve the pediatrician and a family therapist) and utter negligence (where I "give up" and just love my child deeply). My belief is that it's more important for her to know that she's loved no matter what her body weight or shape; that she's loved for her mind and her soul. Her intelligence and kind nature mean more to me than our culture's limited notion of how a woman should look.

I wondered how all this feels to her. After all, it would be unfair to only give my side of this sensitive story. So I have asked my daughter if I should write this article at all -- and if so, if she'd like to contribute. Here is the perspective of an 11-year-old on food and body image. Take it over, honey ....

Hi. I am in the sixth grade. My mom is super skinny, and that doesn't bother me. My sister is also really skinny, and, because she's my sister, of course I'm going to be jealous of her. I think that it's unfair that my sister gets to eat whatever she wants and not get fat. I would think that that would be unhealthy, but my sister [doesn't] seem to care about being healthy. So she eats whatever she wants, and my mom tells me that I can't eat the same. Even the doctor told me that everybody is different and that I have to get used to the fact that I can't eat the same. It's completely unfair that I have to suffer, but my sister and my mom don't.

While I'm at school, I get teased about being fat. Even if it's just a joke, I don't like it at all. And when I'm at home, I feel like I'm being nagged to get skinny and be like everyone else. When there is so much pressure on you to do so much already, and then people start telling you that you're gonna die and get diabetes, it doesn't feel good. Since I'm not skinny like most of my friends and relatives, I feel out of place and anything but normal. I hate being bigger than most people, and I wish more than anything that I could not have to worry about my weight. I know my mom loves me very much, but sometimes I wish that she would just stop nagging.

Wendy: So there you have it. I'm hated if I attempt to help her eat healthy, and I'm slammed by my peers if her eating gets out of control. It's a delicate situation filled with lots of anguish. Sometimes we both feel like failures, and judgment from our peers doesn't help the situation.

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17 comments so far | Post a comment now
friend February 23, 2010, 1:15 PM

it’s an unfair world and i feel sorry for those people with congenital defects. with that said, in terms of weight, everyone is different in their rate of metabolism. same goes for those born with food allergies and enzyme defects that they cannot eat what they like. furthermore, children who had to suffer at an early age from leukemia or other diseases that prohibit them from enjoying life as a whole, to do things they like to do, with endless hospital visits and a grim future. therefore, being overweight is the easiest amongst all those issues. if you and your daughter can work together to not overeat and stay healthy, then it could possibly increase her chances at longevity. i understand the pressures, but we are always faced with different kinds of pressure throughout life and everyone’s challenges are different. we just have to bear through it and hope for a brighter tomorrow. as a child, your responsibility is to remain healthy for your parents. your #1 priority is not your own satisfaction but that your parents do not have to one day hear of their adored child ailing from a preventable illness. all medicine are bitter and shots disgusted, but there’s a reason your parents give them to you.

Anonymous February 23, 2010, 1:16 PM

Dr. Wendy, I don’t think you’re HATED for helping her eat healthy. But it’s understandable that she would feel it’s unfair. I don’t know about your family’s eating habits, but maybe everyone in the family should start eating healthy. Just because some of you can “eat whatever you want” and be skinny, doesn’t mean it’s healthy to do that. Make it a team effort in the family.

Carolyn February 23, 2010, 1:45 PM

Love this article. It’s such a fine line between wanting your child to be healthy and fit and imparting the skinny-is-better attitude. My 10 year old is a little overweight and she does get teased about it at school. I want her to eat better and be thinner, but I also don’t want her to obsess over being skinny. She already talks all the time about wanting to be thin and going on a diet. So sad our society doesn’t do a better job of teaching our girls that it is okay to just be yourself.

Black Iris February 23, 2010, 6:19 PM

I think you’re setting your daughter up for eating disorders and probably contributing to her weight gain more than preventing it. It’s very hard for people who don’t gain weight to understand what it’s like. It’s easy to say, oh, you just have to be more careful and you’ll lose weight.
Diets don’t work. We want to believe they do, but 95% of the time, people just end up fatter. We keep trying to convince ourselves that if people just try harder or get the right diet, it will work.
Remember, stress and DIETING slow down your metabolism.
Give up on controlling her food. Stop focusing on weight. Let go of it completely. Don’t just love her despite her being fat, stop caring about the fat. Look at health instead.
There are things you can control. You can be healthy, whether or not you lose weight. Get enough sleep. Get sun for Vitamin D. Get more exercise.
Instead of making the goal, weight loss, make it being able to run or jump or do something active.
Do insist on exercise for 30 minutes a day. Make it for everyone in the family - skinny people are sometimes less healthy than they think.
Look for activities that are fun for her like swimming or dancing or horseback riding or hiking with her family. Do it with her.
Here’s the thing - you can force people to exercise moderately. If they do, they will get healthier. You can’t really force people to lose weight.

Sadie February 24, 2010, 12:08 AM

Your daughter’s weight issues may be due
in part, to the brand of foods that she’s eating and not just how much she’s eating. You see lately, I have been reading quite a few articles that discuss food additives…those that are listed and those that are not…and there impact on our health, weight and moods. If the foods that we are eating are loaded with empty calories or are nutrient deficient, our body will tell us to ‘eat more’…we are ‘missing something’. I know this may sound like quackery or science fiction, but if you think about it, it makes sense. For example, I read somewhere that animals in the wild don’t suffer from obesity, heart and cancer diseases or depression. However, domesticated animals suffer from all of these maladies. The difference is…processed foods…we eat out of cans and boxes and ingests meats that have been treated with insecticides and growth hormones and a plethora of chemicals to enhance the flavor of that food. And lets not overlook the gene minipulation and this is just really scimming the surface. Your daughter’s weight gain could be the result of all of these factors, maybe you should consider substituting a more natural diet…instead of investing in a therapist[cause the problem may be beyond her control]…consider a more organic diet. Oh, and I don’t mean a ‘raw diet’ but a diet that’s isn’t bombarded by so many harmful additives.
All of us, not just your daughter, are victims of these foods that are slowly but most definitely destroying our health and our planet. Best wishes for success…8o)

Raine February 24, 2010, 4:05 AM

Please try not to focus too much on your daughter’s weight or appearance - it’s obvious she already knows there’s a problem, and feels like she’s being treated unfairly by being singled out for her differences. The best you can do is provide healthy nourishing food, and limit “junk food”, for the whole family, and let each person choose whether and how much to eat. Same for activity - try to make it about family activity - outside games, walks or bike rides, etc, instead of just “exercise” to lose weight. I don’t know if you’re familiar with her work, but Ellyn Satter has written a lot on parents & children and their relationship in regards to food and weight, so you may some of her books helpful.

Black Iris February 24, 2010, 7:14 AM

Okay, you really got me going here, but I feel for you daughter.

What I’m hearing is:

You’re 11 years old. There’s something wrong with your body and you will never be able to eat what you want or as much as you want for your whole life. This would not make me want to diet.

You’re overweight, so either what you try to do doesn’t work or you aren’t being good or you aren’t capable of being good. Either way you lose and there is no way to win. You are stuck having people insult the way you look and you might become seriously ill with diabetes.

Here’s a message I think is better:
Weight is not an illness. It is a sign of bad habits that may lead to illness. It doesn’t matter if you’re skinny, if you have those bad habits, you can become ill, too.
Forget weight.
Everybody in your family should avoid unhealthy foods and eat sugar and salt in moderation. Skinny people can have high blood pressure, etc.
Everybody in your family should eat lots of fruits and vegetables.
Everybody in your family should get 1/2 hour of exercise daily. It can be sports, walking to school, housework, playing outside, dancing, an exercise video, whatever they enjoy.
Everybody in your family should get a good nights rest, some sunshine, and a multivitamin.
Absolutely cut any efforts to make your daughter end a bad habit that others are allowed to have. If she’s just eating more than other people, let her. Focus on her health, not her weight.
Whether or not you exercise is a better predictor of your health than your weight. Make her exercise and let her know that healthy habits will keep her healthy and that’s what matters. Take away the scare of diabetes, etc.
Give your skinny daughter the same message. Let her know that eating junk food is bad for her even if she’s skinny.
Consider getting your own cholesterol, etc. tested.

tennmom February 24, 2010, 7:38 AM

I was overweight at 10 and 11. As I grew taller, I didn’t gain any weight so I fit into the “normal” range again.
My 12 year old is 5’6, about 150 pounds, DD bra. She is very active. You could bounce quarters off of that child. Her Dad was 6’4 so I think she will get taller.
My 10 year old is also tall but thin, maybe 85 pounds, 4’`10”, also very active.
I think it is more important to pay attention to healthy eating and exercise instead of body type.
People are always surprised when I tell them my weight because I look 20 pounds thinner than I am.

BlackIris February 24, 2010, 7:40 AM

One last thought - your daughter’s BMI is at the high end of normal. People who are underweight are actually more likely to die than people who are slightly overweight. She can be healthy at the weight she is.

erica February 24, 2010, 9:50 AM

I think it is a cultural thing as well. I was watching Tyra and she had several different women from various cultures. They’re perception of fat all differed. Maybe you think she is bigger because of your background and culture. I know a few white women who think they’re buts are too big all the time and they are as flat as a pancake. Whereas, a big but in non-white cultures are celebrated. As long as she stays active, plays some type of sport (mandatory) and eats healthy enough, she will be fine…the way she is. Also you may want to check the frequency of P.E. in her school. Physical Education is getting put to the backburner in alot of schools in America and this is an issue that needs to be resolved. Include your whole family too. Please stop telling your child she can’t eat something and the other one can. Being born out of society’s standard of what a body image is supposed to be is not a guarantee for bad health. And please tell those busy-body “friends” to mind their own stinkin’ business. That is your child and what they think does not matter at all.

michelle February 24, 2010, 10:02 AM

I want to point out that at 5’7” and 153 lbs, your daughter’s BMI (24.0) is in the NORMAL range. I think all this faux concern about obesity-related health problems (which studies show is only a potential problem for the seriously obese) is BS. It’s just another cover for society’s aesthetic disapproval of non-skinny women. And you are buying right into it. The fact that you care at all what others think is very worrying to me. Frankly, you are passing along every damaging myth about obesity to your poor defenseless daughter. This is not good parenting and you are setting her up to become fat (for real) in the future.

Rahim Samuel February 24, 2010, 10:32 AM

I don’t have children yet, but I think weight issues are something that parents should keep a heavy hand on. A heavy, but nurturing one. If children are encouraged (not forced) to be active at a young age and taught proper nutrition, it wouldn’t be such a challenge to them as they get into their teenage years.

Rahim Samuel

dmill February 24, 2010, 10:41 AM

I agree with Michelle. My mom always had weight issues and by the time I was a teen, dieting, feeling fat, sneaking foods were a part of my life. Now I look at pictures of myself and I was not fat, just slightly overweight because I loved to read more than exercise. How different it might have been if I’d been “given” opportunities to become more active or if I didn’t sneak food because my brothers could have chips but I couldn’t.

Sheron February 24, 2010, 1:01 PM

I know people carry weight differently, but I don’t think 5’7” and 153 pounds is fat?! For an 11 year old, I can see how it would feel strange to have a grown woman’s height and weight.

JMC February 25, 2010, 6:44 AM

Brava Dr. Walsh and Carrington for talking so honestly about such a personal issue. Carrington will eventually find the right balance for herself and it seems like she’s already thinking about food’s relationship to health - that’s pretty good for 11!

anon March 17, 2010, 1:28 AM

Maybe your daughter would feel less weird and nagged if everyone, including the “skinny” people adopted the SAME healthful eating habits together. No junk food for anyone. It is bad for skinny people too you know.

Howard Stern May 19, 2010, 3:47 PM

How wide is Carrington’s anusssssssssssssssss?

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