This is a guest blog post by Jill Castle MS, RD, LDN
Recently, an article entitled “Weight Watchers” in Vogue written by Dara-Lynn Weiss described how she successfully managed her 7 year-old daughter’s weight problem by putting her on a diet. Dara-Lynn Weiss—aka the Tiger Feeder—now has a book deal (with the title rumored to be “The Heavy”).
Weiss’s Tiger Feeding approach used restriction, control, shame, blame and punishment. And it seems to have worked—at least on the outside. Her daughter Bea lost weight, though I expect she may have lost some other things as well: self-confidence, self-esteem, an ability to self-regulate her own eating, a healthy body image, and what might have been a positive relationship with her mom, food and eating.
What I know:
The body of research on restrictive feeding shows that this approach backfires, and is often associated with weight gain in the long run and negative eating patterns such as hiding, sneaking, hoarding and eating in the absence of hunger (eating for reasons other than hunger).
Cutting calories also means slashing nutrients—something that can have a negative impact on overall health status and growth. In today’s child nutrition climate, cutting important and already deficient nutrients will be detrimental.
Diets don’t work. But they do a pretty good job of increasing the risk for an eating disorder! The body of evidence here is clear—children and teens who diet are at an increased risk for the development of disordered eating or an eating disorder.
Nutrition knowledge is at an all time low. This is just one more point of proof. Many parents know little about what to feed their kids, how to feed them, as well as manage the outside pressures to help their children navigate the world and it’s (often extreme) nutrition and weight beliefs. And, when you don’t know (and perhaps are desperate), sometimes you will go to extreme measures. Maybe this is what happened with Dara-Lynn.
The parent-child relationship is ultimately what will pull many parents and their children through the rocky years of adolescence, the pressures of society and the child developmental stages that are sure to come. At the least, you want this relationship to be founded on love, mutual trust and communication.
When it comes to weight management in children, the research supports a gradual weight reduction (if needed) or a cessation of weight gain to allow normal growth and weight redistribution. This takes time and a lifestyle change–something that some parents find hard to do. Preserving normal growth and a healthy nutritional status is of utmost importance. Certainly, maintaining a healthy outlook on food, eating and one’s own body is critical too.
We love to point the finger at food. Many might say this little girl ate too much and didn’t move enough (the old “blame it on the food and exercise” excuse), but I bet there was more to the story. It’s too simplistic to blame it on an over-indulgence on party day or snacking. True, this is part of the picture, but the reality is weight gain comes from many factors—in this case, it might have had something to do with the feeding practices at home, her stage of child development and how she handled outside influences around food, as well as her own eating personality and temperament.
This is what bugs me:
As a whole, we don’t look at the whole child when we address weight problems—we focus on food or physical activity, resulting in a narrow view. In my experience the answer lies deeper. Weight reflects how children are fed, where they are in their developmental progress, and the world around them as much as it does food and activity. As I love to say, “It’s not about eating, it’s about feeding!”
Why I am grateful for Vogue and Dara-Lynn Weiss:
You have made it clear how NOT to manage children’s weight. And in doing so, you will leave parents looking for a more loving, holistic approach to feeding children. One that certainly covers food and nutrition, but dares to dive deeper. An approach that gives parents insight into how their daily feeding interactions (feeding style and practices) affect their child’s eating, for the better or worse. An approach that is also sensitive to child development, giving parents a “what to expect” view on raising healthy eaters in the 21st century.
You have primed parents for Fearless Feeding, and I thank you for that.
While you have elevated the fear around feeding children, and weight, I know this isn’t necessary. Why be afraid to feed children, when you can be confident and fearless? When you know what to feed kids, how to do it and why children behave they way they do around food and eating, life is so much easier…and feeding your child becomes a joy, not a fear-laden struggle.
If you are a parent looking for a positive way to feed your child, without shame, blame, punishment, food restriction, deprivation or control, please visit our community, Fearless Feeding on Facebook, while our book is in the making. You can expect to see Fearless Feeding on shelves in early 2013. It will be the resource you’re looking for, and a guide to help you feed your child throughout his/her entire childhood in positive and productive ways, using an approach you can be proud of.
Should I forward a copy to Dara-Lynn and Vogue?
Jill Castle is a child nutrition expert, blogger at Just The Right Byte, speaker, nutrition consultant and private practice owner. She lives with her husband and 4 children in Nashville, TN.