A Tiger Mom Fights Fat

Parenting books are all the rage these days, but they’ve taken a different turn ever since Amy Chua’s book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom, hit the shelves a year ago and struck a nerve.  These current books aren’t filled with parental angst about the fragile state of a child’s self-esteem or soft lines such as, “Honey, you’re perfect the way you are…”  Instead, the parenting is critical, harsh and results-oriented.

In a recent article called “Weight Watchers” in April’s Vogue magazine, Dara-Lynn Weiss documents how she put her 7 year-old daughter on a diet because her pediatrician said she was obese.  Her methods included withholding dinners, shaming her, disallowing most desserts while she herself sometimes secretly scarfed down Haagen-Das ice cream for breakfast.

The end result?  Her daughter lost sixteen pounds and grew two inches in a year filled with tantrums and crying because she was hungry.  Backlash ensued.  And…Weiss struck a deal for a book tentatively titled, The Heavy.

We cannot disregard the fact we have a major health crisis in America where the majority of adults are overweight or obese and the numbers  continue to climb every year.  Weiss took the bull by the horns with the issue, but at what expense?  What will the long-term effects of this kind of parenting and dieting be on her young daughter?

I know our pediatrician has told us dieting for children is a “no-no” and if there’s a weight problem we should try and hold the weight steady while they grow.  How to do this?  Serve from the stove and not from the table, watch portion sizes, keep healthy food around, be a good example, offer lots of fruits and vegetables, provide low-fat snacks and get outdoors to exercise/play while setting limits on screen time.  As well, we need to teach our children to respect their bodies – they only get one to take care of the rest of their lives!  The obvious difference to this approach is its emphasis on health (emotional and physical) and nutrition as opposed to numbers on a scale, shaming tactics and short-term results.

As a nation, we’re fat.  We’ve got to do something about it.  Michelle Obama is right on target with her Let’s Move programs to end childhood obesity.  Weiss?  Her tactics will only exacerbate an already difficult issue by putting another layer of difficult issues on top.

It’s a “big” American problem and may well be a problem you’re struggling with in your own family.  Perhaps we can help each other by sharing our ideas for a solution.

  • http://www.killerbdesigns.com Brooke

    I agree that Weiss’ method sounds like a horrible way to deal with the issue. All that’s going to do is give her daughter body image and self-esteem issues throughout her life. Awful awful awful. It sounds like she could be taking some of your advice! I’m going to keep all those suggestions in mind as my own daughter graduates from purées and learns how to live a healthy and fulfilling life.

    • http://sixseeds.tv Jean

      I think the best thing to keep in mind as a parent is having a long term perspective with these things. My husband always says, “what direction are we going?” So, if things with food have gone “awry” it’s a matter of tweaking the system – getting rid of bad foods, getting outside more…

      God bless you are you raise your little one!!

  • maryalice

    This is such an important topic. For women, I think it is really important not to project our own negative self image (if we have such) on to our daughters, so modeling healthy habits ourselves as well as healthy self talk is important. When I am pregnant and nursing my children see my body change, and I don’t always love the way I look in clothes, but I try to avoid having my daughters hear me complain about my body.

    One thing that a friend (and psychologist) told me that has made a big difference is that it is a problem to single a child out within the family. Therefore, if one child is overweight, it would be better to swap out family pizza night for a healthier meal for everyone rather than try to set limits for what one child eats which will not apply to others. I also try to cook or order a reasonable amount of food so that there will be natural limits in place — if we make cookies, I try to bake just enough that we can each have two for dessert, and freeze the rest of the dough for another time, because if there is a full cookie jar on the counter all week it is too tempting!

    Second, try to incorporate exercise and activity in subtle ways for the more sedentary family members. This might be a family bike ride on the weekend, for example, which is all about being out together and having fun, and just happens to be healthy for all of you, or a nature walk. If you start small, keeping it positive, so that the family has a feeling of success, you can build up to pretty long rides or hikes which can have a nice health impact and also build great memories.

    Last, without talking about calories at all, I did a homeschool presentation about nutrition, and talked about what foods fuel our bodies, help us fight disease, etc. Then, with the kids help, I shopped for their favorite fruits and vegetables so that we could make sure to include them in every meal.

    • http://sixseeds.tv Jean

      Good points maryalice! Thanks for writing. Agreed that our focus needs to be bigger than numbers on a scale, but health, nutrition and looking at the long-term. God has given us each just one precious body and we are responsible for it. Talking about food as energy and involving kids in the process of shopping or even growing their own foods are great ideas!

  • http://www.bethanybirches.org Brandon

    Thanks for these thoughts Jean. Surely there is more to a person than appearance and weight. As The Message puts it in Matt. 6 “…There is far more to your life than the food you put in your stomach, more to your outer appearance than the clothes you hang on your body. Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, careless in the care of God. And you count far more to him than birds.”

    In this example it’s important to note that the birds of the air move around a lot more than most of us! I like your idea of creating situations for exercise by limiting screen time.

    Weight issues have complex roots in this country. It’s important to balance the issue against the well being of our children (which in part is tied up in this issue), like you have.

  • Susanna

    I have two adopted daughters. One doesn’t have an ounce of fat on her, and the other is too heavy for her age and height. They eat the same and exercise much the same, although the slimmer sister is more fidgety. So genetics and other issues (thyroid? food sensitivity? unknown causes?) have to factor in. Starving or shaming a child helps nothing. Judging heavier people as lazy or overeaters does nothing to address the real issue. While healthy eating and exercise are certainly part of the equation, there’s much more to this problem than simple solutions can address.