September 13, 2011

The kids are not all right

Like me, many of you have likely heard of the children’s book Maggie Goes on a Diet, set for release this October. Given the amount of outrage over the title, the pictures and the message, one wonders if the author (who is self-publishing this book) has enrolled in the ‘even bad press is good press school for getting the word out.’ After all, bad press has worked wonders for guilty ‘pleasures’ like “The Jersey Shore” or anything having to do with a Kardashian. Thus, I had to give some thought to visiting this issue before blogging on it myself.

If you caught author Paul Kramer’s recent appearance on Good Morning America, you might have been surprised (as was I) to see that he’s obese himself, which calls to mind the phrase, “Physician, heal thyself.’

While I do not denounce Mr. Kramer’s talents or worthiness based on his girth, I must wonder about someone writing for kids (recommending the book for children as young as 8 and in Grades 1 and up) on the subjects of diet and health who hasn’t managed to embrace these concepts himself. And yeah, I know that might be perceived as a bit controversial. But I believe actions speak louder than words – especially when it comes to matters of health (be they physical or psychological). In other words, Mr. Kramer’s so-called ‘message’ might be more meaningful if he was leading by example.

The fact is, as well intentioned as Mr. Kramer might be, this book could do far much more harm than good when it comes to teaching children about health, happiness and self esteem.

As a former fat kid who was made to go on countless strict diets, I can assure you that a diet is the last thing Maggie should go on. I do not blame or resent my parents for forcing me to go on diets, for cutting me off from what I deemed to be ‘treat’ food and thereby illuminating the concept of being “on” or “off” a diet plan (thus essentially teaching me about ‘cheating’ and bingeing with food). My parents did the best they knew how to do. But that was then. This is now. And despite the frightening rate of increased childhood obesity in our country, we should really know better.

I also take offense to certain passages within the book, in which the author tells of Maggie being unpopular and unhappy because of her size. The message here is that fat is unpopular and seen as “bad” amongst peers. If this is the case, time to get some new peers, Maggie. Popularity is not a reason to get healthy.

I might have weighed close to 300 pounds in grade school, but along with my stories of persecution and being misunderstood, I can also point to lots of laughs and good memories. Children need to be encouraged to live in the present and make the best of it. It’s this kind of self esteem builder that can help them want to change some of their eating habits in order to get fit and trim in a natural way. Most kids do still have height growth (getting taller) ahead of them. The weight has a chance to even out as long as drastic steps aren’t taken and bad habits aren’t taught. Ultimately, a healthy weight isn’t achieved by kids through dieting, but through balance and moderation in all phases of their lives.

As is true with adults, kids learn from example. Therefore, a diet for kids isn’t the answer as much as showing them what healthy eating is all about. We can enjoy our favorite foods in moderation, put down the fork before we’re uncomfortably full and then go for a walk. Let’s remember that kids have not learned their bad habits by themselves. Whether through mimicking their parents’ or peers’ eating habits or getting the wrong message from eating too many fast or processed foods, they have been taught to make the choices they’re currently making.

So shame on Mr. Kramer for proclaiming that Maggie Goes on a Diet – or that Maggie even needs to do so in the first place. Fact is, Maggie is perfect as she is. And now it’s time for Maggie to be introduced to movement, healthy choices and self-esteem builders. Not to the concept of ‘being thin equals popularity.’

It’s these kinds of subversive messages that led a kid like me to believe that food was a forbidden fruit that offered my only real pleasure in life. Cut to me stealing money from my Dad’s wallet, buying bags full of groceries, smuggling them into my bedroom and then eating until I felt like I was going to burst. These are not messages we want to encourage – not to the children we care about and not through the purchase (or even attention to) potentially harmful books such as this.

Let’s all turn the page on childhood obesity together, shall we?

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39 Responses to “The kids are not all right”

  1. Kristen Uglietta says:

    I was always “the chubby girl” growing up… Still today I don’t see anything else but “the chubby girl” when I look in the mirror. Kids need to know they are ok being who they are… they need to be encouraged, and it’s all about the self esteem… I wish we had more books or programs to teach kids that they can be whatever they want, and they can be the best, and they don’t have to GadDamn worry about what anyone else thinks about them. We all need to learn and accept that we’re each a unique creation. The pain I suffered as a young girl still haunts me today. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to stand up and say “I look good” or “I’m an attractive girl”… It’s never going to happen… It’s not in me, and it kills me. Now that I have my own child, I never want him to think he’s anything but amazing… Amazing being who he is and that’s it. I could go on and on, but now I’m thinking about what “could have been” had I been a little happier with who I am… Love you Gregg.

  2. Tommy Strouse says:

    Shame on Kramer! Maggie (or Mitchell) need to be shown a healthy lifestyle and not a diet. You really hit the nail on the head, Gregg when you stated lead by example. I had so called baby fat until I was 21 and was still getting taller (yay). Anyway, thanks again for doing what you do!

  3. Gregg says:

    I can related, Tommy! Oh, how I can relate! (Thank you so much for your comment!)

  4. Gregg says:

    Your comments break my heart, Kristen. I appreciate you being so open and honest on this subject. Your share is the exact reason that books like ‘Maggie Goes on a Diet’ should not be made available to any child — no matter if he or she is big, little or somewhere in between. It’s shame and fear that keep us “fat kids” not only in isolation but also in the purgatory that leaves us feeling like bingeing is our only solace. Together, we can all effect change. And for the record, Kristen — you are beautiful (both as you were as a child and as you now are as an adult). And I sincerely mean that!

  5. Debbie says:

    Gregg, I really struggle with this issue. I’ve always tried to have all kinds of food available (while limiting junk food) so nothing will be the “forbidden fruit”. We stress healthy eating for snacks and meals. And yet Holly continues to sneak food and I have to assume gorge on food privately, because her weight just continues to go up and up. I’m really torn – I don’t want to make her feel like there is anything wrong with her, but I don’t want her to become obese and have to deal with the teasing and the health issues that will go along with it. It really breaks my heart. I know it doesn’t help that she has two size 0 sisters.

  6. What an awesome post! I can’t believe this book is coming out!
    (I once had a nutritionist put me on a “weight management plan” who was himself well above his ideal weight. It made it impossible to take him seriously.)

    I’m so glad you blogged about this. Thank you for sharing this with me.

  7. Gregg says:

    Thank YOU for your insights and support, Jessica. So helpful and so generous.

  8. Gregg says:

    I feel your pain — and your struggle, Debbie. My best advice is to be a good example and love her with all your heart. You are wise to help her to feel normal, because that’s what she is (even with size 0 sisters). My younger sister is excellent at math and all academics. My youngest sister is a model in Europe. Me? I’m a writer. All siblings are diverse — in so many ways. Love your daughter and encourage her without becoming a dictator. Offer healthy foods — and occasionally offer decadent ones in smaller portions. Denial is not anyone’s ally. I am here to help as much as I can — as is the whole Just Stop! community. So keep the comments and updates coming. And remember: You’re not alone in this!

  9. Melissa says:

    My pediatrician told my 15 year old son that he needed to lose about 10 pounds. Now I’m dealing with a son who is borderline anorexic. A book like this is harmful and it angers me!

  10. Gregg says:

    It’s downright frightening how many actual doctors are misinformed about childhood obesity. Hence it has become a national epidemic. It can’t just be up to the parents. We all need to work together to teach our kids about healthy choices — without damaging their self esteem. It’s time for us to leave this old school thinking behind. I appreciate your comment so much, Melissa — although I’m sorry for your current circumstance. Please tell your son that he is amazing and that a whole online community thinks he’s perfect in this (and every) moment!

  11. Eve says:

    My parents never put me on a diet, in fact, they helped me get fat. While they were both a healthy weight, it amused them how much I loved sweets and that I could eat more mashed potatoes than my dad, who worked all day in a factory. They believed in cleaning your plate, even though they gave me the same portion as an adult. I’m not blaming them; it’s not like I refused any food.
    What I don’t like about the book’s title is the word diet. Little kids shouldn’t be on diets. Couldn’t the author write Maggie Plants a Garden, where the girl learns about growing her own healthy salads, or Maggie Moves, where she tries dance and sports and whatever else gets her body moving and grooving? Kids aren’t stupid, and I hate books written as if they are. If you have a chubby character in an illustrated book get thinner through the pages, kids will make the connection between what she’s eating or what she’s doing and the side-effect of getting lighter. But tell them flat out that the chubby girl on the cover needs to go on a diet and you teach another generation of kids judgment.

  12. Gregg says:

    Oh, my darling, Eve… Your genius commentary makes me wish you had written this book as opposed to Mr. Kramer. I so appreciate your point of view, as I know others must as well. Thank you!

  13. Mitz says:

    Eve, you write the book, and I will gladly illustrate it!

    Alternately, the title could be kept the same, if the book were to focus on the -dangers- of dieting – particularly at a young age.

    But to endorse such a thing? Meh. A few hours after reading and I -still- feel my temper flaring.

  14. Susan King says:

    If I never hear reference to ‘going on a diet’ vs. ‘creating a healthier lifestyle’ again I would be thrilled. I hate the thought of kids being put on that on and off roller coaster so young. Thanks for taking on the charge Gregg!

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