Junkfood Science: Not today, not ever

November 25, 2007

Not today, not ever

What could possibly be harmful about telling young people the importance of ‘healthy’ eating, exercising and maintaining a ‘healthy’ weight? This is often voiced by those who wrongly believe most children are eating poorly, sedentary, ‘too fat’ and heading for an early grave.

A mother addressed this with one of the most heartwrenching, powerful essays I’ve ever read. One I hope everyone will read in its entirety. Her perspective illustrates why children do not need or benefit by more health concerns, no matter how well-intentioned they might seem.

All parents trying to bring up their daughters and sons in an environment that doesn’t promote fixations with body image, food issues and eating disorders, will share the pure terror Harriet Brown felt when her youngest daughter said she was too fat and that her mother didn’t understand. Mrs. Brown does understand, it’s this culture that doesn’t....

Mom, I’m too fat!

These are the words to strike terror into a mother's heart, especially if you've ever dealt with anorexia or bulimia in your house. Every child or teen with an eating disorder says these words at one time or another. They reflect the delusion at the heart of an eating disorder, the distorted perceptions of her/his own body and the anguish caused by those distortions. I heard them many times in the year my older daughter was sick with anorexia. But this time, this weekend, they were uttered by my younger daughter....

I do know that seventh grade girls diet. A lot. And that they talk about their diets. And they talk, as young women (and some young men) do, about how fat they are. They talk about how fat their butts and thighs and stomachs are. I know these kids.... They look no different from kids of my generation, except that maybe they're a little taller....

To those advocating ‘healthy eating’ and other initiatives in the name of childhood obesity, the reality for our children is far from healthy.

They're bombarded at school with hysteria warnings about body fat and obesity and unhealthy eating. They are forced to watch Supersize Me. They are weighed and their BMIs calculated, in front of other children. Their body fat is “measured" (however inaccurately) with calipers, all in front of other children. They are taught that there's good food and bad food, that some foods are unhealthy, that some bodies are unacceptable. They're taught that you can never strive hard enough to be thin, to exercise, to avoid certain foods....

Maybe if they grew up in a culture that wasn't obsessed by issues of weight and body size and shape, [some of them] would pass through the dangerous time of adolescence without ever developing an [eating disorder]. If they grew up in a culture where it was OK to be who you are — fat or thin, intellectual or street-savvy, funny or serious — they would come out of adolescence loving themselves, not hating who they are.

She goes on to write about the still-fresh memories of what her older daughter went through and all of the things she’ll now be watching like a hawk in her youngest, with the “determination to do whatever it takes to save her if she is in fact in danger.” She wishes for a culture that supported parents like her, rather than fought them. "But in this culture and time, to advocate for, as Ellyn Satter says, a 'joyful relationship with food,'" she writes, is to be perceived as a nutcase by mainstream.

It takes a strong child advocate to say: “I don't care what the powers that be think. I care only about my children, and other people's children.”

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