Let’s check in with some people who have experienced childhood obesity or observed it from a nearby vantage point. Jane Shure is a psychotherapist specializing in eating disorders and the transformation of shame. She trains healthcare professionals and gives workshops in making peace with food and body image, and she’s a former fat kid.
In all these roles, Shure is concerned about the possible unintended consequences of well-meaning ideas like the mandatory Body Mass Index screening of children at school and similar approaches. She says,
As I and any other person who has lived childhood as a fat person knows, being singled out and made to feel bad about oneself, erodes self-esteem and promotes inner criticism — two ingredients that harm far more than they could ever help.
Shure feels that what saved her from developing an eating disorder was her own mother’s willingness to keep her lips zipped. Tact and compassion can go a long way. As parents, we want to do the right thing, but what is the right thing? When a daughter or son starts starts busting out all over, we are, of course, not supposed to ridicule or nag. Everybody knows that. On contrary, we are supposed to offer support and suggest getting help.
As parents, we also know that sometimes there is just literally no way to approach a sensitive topic with a child or teenager. Anything you do winds up being an exercise in futility and makes the situation worse. Sometimes people don’t comment on the page here, but they do communicate, and say that it’s okay to pass the story along. One man wrote,
Depending on the personality of your child, micromanaging their consumption simply won’t work anyway, and if they’re naturally rebellious, will have the exact opposite effect of your intentions.
It sounds like this is exactly the sort of impasse that Jane Shure’s “Parent Talk” workshop was invented for. “Parent Talk” is a program that teaches parents how to raise kids with healthy attitudes towards food and their body image, and how to handle the situation when you suspect your child has an eating disorder.
Counselors of all kinds want to do the right thing, but what is the right thing? They can give advice and distribute healthy-choice literature, but what about emotional eating caused by complications that go back for decades? Unless the family dynamic is what the professional is particularly asked to treat, interfering with it just might result in a punch in the nose.
As a nutrition advisor, how do you say, “Sir, I can’t help your daughter. You weigh 400 pounds and have no intention of changing your ways. Plus, your entire family is terrified of your explosive temper, and they comfort-eat like crazy. You want them to lose weight? Leave home.” No, it’s just not an option.
Weight can be a control issue, a way of asserting ownership of one’s own body. A reader says,
Food obsessions run wide and deep in my family. I have a niece who is quite overweight, in part due to genetics, and in larger part because my oldest sister can be a harpy… My niece has bluntly said she got large and stays large because she’s sick of the nagging and harping and clearly crazy obsession my sister has with food. If my sister had tried to stuff my niece with candy and cake and french fries, knowing my niece as well as I do, she’d probably have taken up veganism and been skinny as a rail just to tick my sister off.
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