Thursday, April 26, 2012

Weighty Issues

In the April issue of Vogue, there is an article by Dara-Lynn Weiss detailing her attempts to place her overweight 7-year-old daughter on a diet.
The health implications for overweight children are well documented. They are at greater risk of developing high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and type 2 diabetes. They are more likely to suffer from low self-esteem, negative body image, and depression. And they may be signing on to a lifetime of obesity: One study found that 80 percent of overweight adolescents are still obese at 25. If a child becomes overweight before age eight, his or her obesity in adulthood will be even more severe.
Those numbers are enough to scare the socks off me. Yet today's culture dithers over doing something about it. 
The single most uncomfortable topic to discuss with their kids is . . . weight. In a culture rife with eating disorders and ominous warnings of how tenuous kids' self-esteem is, especially among girls, telling a second grader that she has to lose weight us not only uncomfortable, it's almost unimaginable.
Bea did what I did as a kid: she ate primarily good foods, but too much of it. Her mother was told by the pediatrician that her daughter qualified as obese, and that action was necessary.

Weiss' tale mentions diet soda and non-fat whip, which was the only part that made me shiver; a balanced food plan does not mean calorie-free. It should be about eating right. The freakish ingredients in those sort of "diet" foods can make the situation worse.

Many say that the fastest way to shove a kid to an eating disorder is to make her aware of her weight and get her to eat with more discipline. But I wondered—is that really so? 

When I was six, I was the image of a slender child. When I was ten, not so much; I had a spare chin. Ma doesn't do diets, but she was definitely proactive. For example, if I came home and asked for a cookie, her response would be, "Have an apple." 

Of course I didn't want the apple. I wanted the cookie. But since I didn't want the apple, that proved I was not really hungry. I waited for supper instead. 

My brother would protest that what she was doing was child abuse. Was it? A parent is supposed to teach a child self-discipline. If a child is made to go to bed on time, does she develop insomnia? If a child is instructed to spend her money wisely, does she become a gambler? All children cautioned to avoid drugs end up snorting crack? 

What about a peanut allergy? Do parents feel guilty limiting a child's diet if their life depends on it? I find that unlikely. 

Why is it when it comes to weight, which can have definite negative health ramifications, political correctness precludes action? The comedienne/actress Mo'Nique used to insist that "Big is Beautiful," that there is nothing wrong with being overweight. One day her husband told her that she is too heavy; he wants her for a lifetime. Some have accused her of hypocrisy, but her focus now is to get healthy, and she has.

Of course, there was internet brouhaha over Weiss' article. I am not sure why. 

If it was such a simple thing that child + weight awareness = eating disorder, that would be me. So it's not that. Ma was teaching me discipline, the same way she emphasized planning ahead, getting enough sleep, sticking with pencil skirts since nothing else flatters me. 

Before Bea was put on the eating plan, she would constantly complain of being hungry; then after the diet, she continued to say she was hungry. I wonder if this kid actually knew what hunger was. Many of us mistranslates it as "bored."
Weiss and Bea, post-diet
As Jews, we know about discipline. Food will always be an issue for me, the same way I have to constantly battle with loshon hara, kibud av v'eim, and other commandments. As I flex that self-control muscle, whether it be for food or for religion, it makes discipline in other areas easier.

A client came up to the office, a man in his 60s. He recently lost 40 pounds, and he was overjoyed. He couldn't do anything before, he said; if he went out, he could only pant in the shade. He was pre-diabetic, and his sister lived her life on injections; he wanted to avoid that fate for himself. 

He worked hard, he lost the weight, and he has no worries about needles in his immediate future. He is living life. 

Dominique Browning wrote in April's Bazaar on getting older. 
As opposed to living, being alive takes discipline.
To truly "live," one sometimes has to hold back. 
The struggle is obviously not over. I don't think it will ever be, for either of us. Bea understands that, just as some kids have asthma, her weight is something she may always have to think about, unfair as it seems. She will probably always want to eat more than she is supposed to. She will be tempted to make bad choices. But now she has the foundation to make those choices in an educated and conscious way. Only time will tell whether my early intervention saved her from a life of preoccupation with her weight, or drive her to it. 
Many of us have our own demons; mine is caloric in nature. I want to be healthy. I want to wear all of my pretty clothes comfortably. When I am in control, I am content. I have always had to watch myself, and I will always have to watch myself. And that is fine with me.


LL said...

Lol I couldn't have said it better than you! I'm exactly like you!
I grew up eating healthy foods and my mom never gave us cake or sweets during the week. Only fruit and healthy stuff. But I could mamash eat whatever I wanted (behind mom's back) and I never used to put on any weight.
Until I went to seminary I was a stick (as in you could see my bones sticking out) and although I wasn't shapeless, I was just really skinny. In seminary, I think that I may have abused on the cake-fests-at-3am a bit too much, and I gained more than a few pounds and became just normal-slim, which was depressing at the time coz i used to be super-thin...
But a few years down the line, even though those size-zero dresses don't fit me anymore, I've learned to love the way I look, and although I now need to be careful with what I eat, I think that this was H-shems way of being kind by teaching me self-control earlier rather than later. Many woman only start gaining weight after they have kids, but this way I learnt earlier on.
I've always wanted to eat super-healthy and exercise regularly but I didn't have so much motivation. Now that I know it's the only way to keep in shape though, I do it and I'm much happier...
Dont' get me wrong, I could do with losing a few more pounds, and this is not the best time to be thinking about weight (I'm in the middle of finals where my diet consists mainly of chocolate) but still I'm very conscious of health...

Oh and on that note, I am more and more convinced that whether a man is attracted to a women has much more to do with chemistry than dress-size, so I'm not too worried! + u cant really tell :P

Princess Lea said...

My concerns don't have to do with men; frankly I find them kind of clueless about a lot of things. (No offense to the fellers out there).

I try to maintain my weight for me, not for dating. As for your seminary weight, that is all too common; I never went, which I am sure helped :), but a high school classmate of mine who always preached healthy eating and exercise came back with quite the, um, posterior. Ahem.

I am happy I have the tools now, instead of having to learn them later on when my metabolism hits a wall at 40.

Princess Lea said...

And men also have to watch their weight! Obesity has the same negative affects on everyone!

LL said...

I know man. Guys need to stay in shape just as much as girls. I mean, I don't mind if my husband isn't in good shape when we get married but...well....all I'm saying is that I'm gonna need an exercise-buddy when I get married and future husband: Its gonna be you!!! You can't let your wife sweat it by herself ;)
(Note: my dad lost about 35 pounds after he married my mom) Not that I'm expecting that but...well.. I love cooking healthy food and considering the average diet of jewish people in todays day and age, it's kinds inevitable that anyone who marries me is gonna have a major diet-change and lose weight solely due to the food I'm gonna make (I hope my future husband doesn't read this but if you do ever read this, don't worry - I love cooking and I make very tasty food, really! It just doesn't contain 3 cups of oil and a cup of sugar like every other american recipe...) I mean SUGAR IN SALAD DRESSINGS??? I'm sorry but that's just taking it too far. Thank G-d my mom taught me how to make a REAL salad dressing - olive oil, balsamic vinegar, a pinch of salt and pepper and tada! tastes perfectly fine without all those extra calories!!

FrumGeek said...

LL wrote: "I am more and more convinced that whether a man is attracted to a women has much more to do with chemistry than dress-size."

Very true!

PL wrote: "My concerns don't have to do with men; frankly I find them kind of clueless about a lot of things."

Very VERY true!

I used to be thin until I hit puberty. After that, I just started gaining weight due to eating a lot and not doing any exercise, and it was only in 11th grade that I made a decision to lose weight. I lost 20 pounds in one summer and kept it off for a while(though over the past year I gained back 5 of the pounds, and am working on losing it). A big thing was not just watching what I eat, but also making the treadmill part of my daily routine. I think that if a guy wants his wife to be fit (and by fit I don't necessarily mean thin. You can be one and not the other, and fit is WAY more important in my opinion. A heavier fit girl is WAY more attractive than a skin and bones not fit girl) he should be willing to make that commitment as well.

Princess Lea said...

LL: And I make cakes with whole wheat pastry flour. I'm a man's worst nightmare. No margarine crosses MY threshold!

FG: That should be the deal: Don't do the crime if you can't do the time. (Which can be roundabout applied here).

LL said...

Lol. I think we're both a guys worst nightmare!! Seriously. I bet my cakes are worse than yours. I make everything with wholewheat spelt flour and brown sugar (half the amount that the recipe says of course ;), I sometimes substitute some of the oil with apple sauce, I eat salad three times a day, and I haven't looked at a fizzy drink in about 3 years... Oh, and when I said that my diet consisted mainly of chocolate these days - let's just say it's not Hershy's. Only dark, good-quality chocolate for me. At least 75% cacao content ;) (p.s. i genuinly love healthy food. This isn't a ploy to lose weight) So yea, I kinda feel bad for my husband - but (and this is a direct quote from my dad lmao):
"Don't worry boys, you can get used to everything. After all, I did" Man I feel bad for him, but he's happy now :) he finally likes the wholewheat stuff, after years of training ;) LOL

Plus, I really think that we can make ourselves like what is good for us. Example: I used to HATE andives with a passion. Anyways, my mom started telling me how good they were for health and then I forced myself to like them - and now I like them! I really think that most things are psychological...

Sporadic Intelligence said...

I have on my table a violin string.
It is free.
But it is not free to do what a violin string is supposed to do
- to produce music.
So I take it,
fix it in my violin
and tighten it until it is taut.
Only then is it free to be a violin string.
- Sir Rabindranath Tagore

I posted this poem on my blog about 4 years ago. I think it explains a lot about discipline, rules, and well, life.

Also when I read that article originally, I didn't take any issue with it, and was surprised to find it lambasted and Weiss crucified later for it.

Princess Lea said...

LL: Guilty of apple sauce as well. I sue evaporated cane juice. Mmm.

I also really love healthy foods. And no one believes me when I say I don't want to eat processed foods or takeaway. I don't feel good afterwards.

Last night I had this amazing bean soup with quinoa . . . hummina hummina. I had probably half a pot, so there goes my post-Pesach watch fest.

SI: Beautiful.

That's what aggravates me; weight is seen by many as an equivalent to less than pretty nose. Obesity can kill. It destroys quality of life. It's not about looking like a supermodel; it's about wanting your kids to live a full and healthy life.

LL said...

Lol! I know! Like when I went on camp when I was younger, I just couldn't bring myself to eat the burgers or white burger bread-rolls - I just really don't like it!

It's freaky you sound just like me. And you sound even more freakily like one of my good friends from seminary (who's also very tall and obsessed with healthy food) but 1) she doesn't have neices and nephews b) she doesn't have sheitel hair and c) she's not your age - so it definitely can't be you ... but i have so many memories of us cooking quinoa together in seminary... sigh... those were the days... i miss it man... and i love quinoa!!!

Anonymous said...

You know, I worry about this in a different way. My boyfriend is a bigger guy and has been his whole life. A few years ago (before he met me) he decided he wanted to be more in shape and began exercising, although not necessarily watching what he eats, and over the years has gradually lost a lot.

But he has a sort of all or nothing approach to exercise and healthy eating that worries me, and I will see him eating unhealthy amounts of things or unhealthy foods and feel paralyzed. Part of me wants to cry out, "No! Don't eat that! Don't eat that much of it! You're hurting yourself!" But part of me is terrified of giving him some kind of eating disorder, where he thinks, "my girlfriend won't be attracted to me unless i'm thin."

it is something we struggle with a lot. and it scares me about the future, because i want us both to be healthy, but i don't know how to help him with this without hurting him.

Anonymous said...

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Sporadic Intelligence said...

Totally agree with you that people perceive weight at just an aesthetic issue.

Ridiculous, kidding themselves, by thinking "I don't judge, it's what's inside that counts"

Most often a person is responsible for their own obesity (hormone, thyroid and other issues aside). It is nothing like being born with a hooked nose, are stubby calves.

Princess Lea said...

Anon with Boyfriend: I don't presume to know anything about relationships (I have never been in a romantic one) but let's see if it can be taken from another angle.

You think your BF will object because he will think you want him thin. But it's not that. You want him HEALTHY. There is a difference. For instance, someone can eat good, nourishing foods and can still have love handles, whereas others can be super-skinny but eat junk so they aren't healthy.

So, if anything, baby steps would be recommended. For instance, anything cooked at home is better than anything eaten out. Would it be possible to make him dinner? Because you have control of the oil and salt, it'll already be better stuff, even if you don't use quinoa or whole wheat.

You can do what I did: first let him get adjusted to good foods, then later work on portion sizes. But the processed foods have got to go.

As a female, you do have powers of persuasion. But they will have to subtle. Nor will it happen overnight; my mother managed to slowly win my father over when it comes to healthy eating, but he won't do it for himself unless she provides for him all his meals.

Let your plan of attack be about health, not weight. "Sweetie, I want you to live a long and healthy life. And this junk food it getting in the way of our golden years."

I know a guy who never took care of what he ate. He's not even 60 and he's had bypass surgery, and he's going to need his foot taken off. He says now it his fault because he never took care of himself.

Princess Lea said...

Anon 2: Thank you.

SI: Oprah was once talking with Dr. Phil, and she was saying that there are people who are on medications or other problems and cannot help their weight. To which Dr. Phil responded, "Honey, that's not you!"

Sparrow said...

Wow, can really identify here, especially with the "have an apple if you're hungry" bit. Kudos on the sugar and oil substitutes.
And the quinoa/soup dish sounds really good.

Princess Lea said...

No one would believe had amazingly delicious sauteed onions, butternut squash, and craisins are in quinoa. It's replaced the erev Shabbos farfel.

SiBaW said...

But sometime yummy food can be so "forceful:" :-)

Princess Lea said...

HA! "Force"ful it is!