I brought my children in for back-to-back check-ups earlier this month, and our pediatrician said they had both strayed a bit from the curve on their growth charts. My daughter had gained a bit too little weight (Warning light in my head: anorexia!) and my son had gained a bit too much (Warning light in my head: obesity!)
I was left not only mildly worried about their weight, but more intensely worried that even those gentle cautions from the doctor might spawn eating complexes or compulsions in one direction or another.
So I read every word of today’s Beth Teitell story in the Globe on the dreaded “fat chat,” the difficult conversations parents have with children about weight. Every instinct tells me it’s a minefield, but of course, that could be mostly me projecting from my own complexes. In fact, my favorite part of Beth’s story is the no-nonsense, drill-sergeant expert:
Why pussy-foot around, asks John Mayer, a clinical psychologist in Chicago, and author of “Family Fit: Find Your Balance.’’ “Would you be ‘delicate’ to insist that your child needs to take chemotherapy for a suspected cancer??’’ he wrote in an e-mail. “NO, as a responsible parent you would say: ‘This is what you are doing to save your life.’ Why do we treat obesity and weight control differently when so many more kids suffer from this illness than they do cancer?? Let’s stop the rhetoric and take action as parents.’’
He also disputes the idea that being honest about a child’s weight problem might lead to body-image issues. “Am I going to give you a complex, or are you going to have confidence that good nutrition and healthy eating are a good parenting decision? Parents should stop being so delicate and insist on what’s right and what’s wrong.’’
Beth’s distillation of most experts’ advice is a bit less daunting:
Work to create a healthy lifestyle for the entire family and don’t focus on the heavier child and calories; don’t label foods as “bad,’’ as that can make them more appealing or lead to eating issues later in life; don’t privately or publicly shame a child by yelling at him to stop eating cake at a party; build exercise into the family’s routine.