So if you haven't heard, there's a UK mom who's so obsessed with her 8 year old daughter staying thin that she's restricted the child's daily caloric intake to just 700 calories a day- about half of what doctors recommend for a growing child. Her greatest fear, rather than her daughter becoming ill or suffering physically from starvation, is that her daughter will become fat and teased.
I want to focus for a moment, not on how horrible of a parent this woman is for starving her child, but on the reasons she felt the need to do so.
Unfortunately, she is right about the consequences of her child gaining weight. Overweight children are teased so often that we don't even blink an eye anymore. It becomes the norm and our only thought tends to be "well of course they get teased.. they're fat". What I want to point out is that if fat phobia and sizism weren't so incredibly pervasive in our culture already then this isn't something that would have happened. This seems to be a standard case of the cycle of abuse. The mother, weighing 228lbs herself, experienced the horrors of growing up fat. Children who are abused, either at home or by peers are more likely to develop schizophrenia,depression, anxiety disorders, borderline personality and bipolar disorder. The reality is that for most obese or chubby children they may be doomed to a lifetime of despair simply because of their body size or shape.
So what's a parent with a fat child to do? If you know these risks how do you cope with them? Homeschooling isn't an option for a lot of parents. We go to others for advice- counselors, dietitians and nutritionists, help websites.. and every single one of them says the same thing: reduce your child's calories and help them lose weight. The problem? As we've seen with most studies on weight it's simply not that simple. Reducing calories is basically a starvation diet and studies do show that in obese patients put on limited calories their bodies act as if they're starving (which makes sense if you consider our evolutionary history of needing to store fat as well and as quickly as possible in order to survive) . Starvation diets simply don't work. Even if a patient loses weight in the short term the weight returns within a year for most patients and within five years for the rest except for those who stay on starvation diets permanently- and that's exactly what this mother is doing to her child.
So why is it that all of society tells her to reduce calories to lose weight and then, when she does it, talks about how awful it is? Is it possible that they don't truly believe the poison they're espousing? Do they even realize that they're the ones creating the problems to begin with? Let's face it, if it weren't for the awful and pervasive abuse that fat people suffer this woman likely wouldn't care what her daughter weighed as long as she was healthy. We can't create a thin based culture and then act surprised when we see things like this. So yeah, this mom has set her daughter up for a lifetime of health problems and body issues and psychological damage, but if we're being honest we have to admit how huge of a rule our culture plays in travesties like this.
There are all these articles about children who are obese eating horrible things, but what it doesn't talk about are all of the thin children eating those exact same things- (of all of the obese children eating healthfully) the health of the child will suffer in both cases and it's completely independent of weight. A thin person who eats nothing but junk food isn't more healthy than a fat person who eats nothing but junk food. We need to focus on changing our minds, not changing our bodies and that includes the minds of those around us.