OyChicago blog

Too young to diet?

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Sharna Marcus photo 2

A couple of weeks ago the blogosphere, twitterverse and day time TV world went ballistic over an article written by Dara-Lynn Weiss in the April issue of Vogue Magazine about how she had put her seven year old daughter on a diet and her strict methods of enforcing the diet’s rules.

I began reading the comments and some of the heartbreaking essays about women who never recovered from their own childhoods of being forced to diet. Throughout my inventory of the internet to read more and more about this issue, one thing did cross my mind, it was clear that most of the bloggers, tweeters, and even some of the reporters on the talk shows never read Ms. Lynn Weiss’ article. They were ready to damn her based on brief quotes and others’ opinions.

So I’ve wanted to write about this article, I decided I wouldn’t until I actually read the entire article. Today at lunch, I snuck off and for the first time in my life bought a copy of Vogue and read. (Does anyone want a Vogue, by the way?)

One of the reasons I became so interested is that by the time I was 17, I had probably been on at least 15 different diets. There are many more salacious details I could and won’t recount for you here, but suffice it to say, my issues with food began from the age of seven (or earlier). I have never had a normal relationship with food, and maybe I never will. This toxic relationship has depleted me emotionally, physically and financially.

Given all of that, I have some sympathy for the demonized Ms. Weiss because she has similar food issues to me, as she recounts in the piece, and they are not fun. Also, therefore, as she admits, helping a child who was overweight and eventually obese was an almost impossible task. Ms. Weiss did facilitate her daughter to lose 16 pounds, but almost every commentator would agree that her methods were questionable and that her daughter is at high risk for an eating disorder down the line. Again, Ms. Weiss admits to this. If anything, her article is honest.

By age three, Ms. Weiss’ daughter did develop disordered eating, although it’s not labeled that in the article, just described. Her daughter’s pre-school teacher told Ms. Weiss that her daughter did not “self-regulate” her food intake and Ms. Weiss said she would eat adult size portions. I just wish at that point Ms. Weiss would have inquired as to why this was true, rather than begin the process of worrying (maybe even obsessing) about her daughter’s future obesity. Why was her daughter so hungry? She ruled out metabolic problems, but what was causing her hunger physiologically or more likely psychologically, and how could she work on finding a healthier replacement for whatever the food was compensating for. Yes, even, perhaps especially these questions should have been asked for an overweight three year old.

As someone who hopes to have kids in the next few years, I have already started to think about and address these issues. How will I feed a child when I don’t know how to feed myself? What I’ve figured out is to look to my brother and sister-in-law, who seem to do a great job with their kids. They taught them about nutrition as fuel from an early age and have fed them as such. They allow them to eat sweets, but in appropriate portions and in moderation. They try to make sure that their kids have plenty of time to be active indoors and outdoors. (They also live in the city).

I write this the day before Passover, a difficult night for anyone with issues with food given the feast that takes place at the Seder. And although I’m not certain that Ms. Weiss is Jewish, if she is, I hope that she can look at the Haggadah and figure out a way to be freed from the yolk of eating issues and help her daughter do the same. And instead of giving her daughter a look (if you have ever gotten the look, you know it) if she takes an extra helping of charoset, instead schedule a nice long walk together in Central Park over the weekend.


A table for two

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A table for two photo

I’d been circling the cruise ship looking for my family before I gave up and seated myself alone with a plate of cooked carrots, egg salad, lettuce, tomato and a glass of water. I was feeling sorry for myself. I don’t like eating alone. It makes me feel sad. I also was convinced no one was looking for me, which felt even worse.

“You were in the hot tub yesterday.” I turned my head towards the voice. Two seats over from me was a man who looked to be in his mid-60s, his face reddened from the sun. I scrunched my eyes at him and then I remembered.

“Oh. Right. Yeah,” I replied.

“Yeah, I was there with my grandkids and you were there with your kids,” he said.

“Right, I was. So you’re here with your family?”

“Yup. Here with my grandkids, my three daughters and my son-in-law. I’ve taken them on four cruises. But this is the last one.”

“Last one? Why? Had it with cruising?”

“No. I’ve had it with my family not being appreciative. I got one of my kids a brand new car and they said, ‘Thanks. I hate the color. Can you take it back?’ And this morning, I took my grandson mini golfing and he didn’t like how it was going so he threw his golf club down and left me there. My daughters, they, I dunno. It’s not that they disappoint me. I try to point them in the right direction. I say, ‘Don’t do this. Don’t do that.’ Do they listen? Of course not. They do what they want. And then they get into trouble. So I learned a long time ago, don’t let people in too close. Like my grandkids. I love them to death, but I’ll always keep some space between us, because if I let them in too close, I’ll get hurt. Yeah. I learned that a long time ago.

"The other night on the boat my girls all took a picture together. They were all dressed up. They looked so beautiful! I had to fight like heck not to cry all over the place. I thought to myself, this is so beautiful! I felt so happy. I told them, ‘You gotta get me a copy. I need that picture!’ Because, you know, that picture looked like everything I ever wanted. And then my daughter told me the picture would be better if my son were in it. I told her, maybe someday. Maybe someday he’ll get it together and he’ll be in it. But for now, well, he’s in jail. It’ll be four years in May and then he’ll be out. I saw him once. Once. This past Christmas Eve I saw him. And I don’t know what I was expecting. Maybe… maybe some kind of remorse. So he said all the right things, but I could tell from his body language he wasn’t remorseful. He wasn’t sorry. Maybe he’s been hardened from the whole thing. I dunno. But I know I wished he’d seemed sorry. More sorry then he acted anyhow.

"I grew up tough. Both my parents were tough. Lots of violence and yelling and that sort of thing. Not a lot of love in my house growin’ up. My daughter told me she didn’t want me to be involved with her kids the way my parents were with mine. My kids don’t remember them. When I was a kid, I barely saw my grandparents. You’d see ‘em once or twice a year and they’d take you out for a malted and you thought they were the greatest. It was really special because otherwise you never saw them. Once or twice a year – that was it.

"My youngest daughter, when she was just a little girl she got cancer. And that changes you. Let me tell you. That changes you in a second! And so I spoiled her. She was my little girl and she was my easiest and I spoiled her. I didn’t think I spoiled her too much, but I dunno. Then when she turned 17, in the first two minutes she met this boy and I said to her, in front of his face I said to her, ‘Really? Are you joking?’ But she was blinded by this guy and he said, ‘So? And? Who are you?’ And he stuck around. He stuck around until I got rid of him. It took me beating the guy silly.”

“He left?” I said.

“Yeah he left! He’s in jail! And he’ll be there for a long time. And I went to jail getting rid of him. I’ve done my job. I’ve done the best I can. It’s upsetting when your kids make the wrong choices. It’d be OK if it wasn’t for the worry.” He said.

“Well, people who don’t want to worry shouldn’t have kids, right?” I said.

“Yeah. That’s the truth. I wish I’d read that book before this all started.” Laughter.

“I know I’m a lot younger, I’m not a grandparent and you’ve had a lot more living than me for sure. But speaking to you as a daughter, I think if you go back to the moment you saw the picture of your girls, and you tell your girls how much love it brought up in you, that feeling will stick with them. You seem like a good man with your guard up for good reason. But I can tell you, hearing a dad say what you said to me, it means something. It can change things. It can make things better. It’s not too late for things to be different.”

“You know… geeze! I haven’t talked about this stuff in, I dunno… years! Well, I always say after the last family trip, ‘This is it!’ No more!’ But then halfway through the year my daughters start talking about a trip again and I say, ‘Eh, what the hell!’ and I give my oldest my credit card and tell her to plan it all. Then the bill comes, I pay it and everyone’s had a nice vacation. Like I said, I did the best I could. You’re a good listener. So, what’s your deal?”

I see my son about five feet from me at the dessert bar. I call him over with my other three kids trailing behind like ducks in a row. “Can I sit on your yap?” my daughter asks. “Yes, you can sit on my ‘yap.’” The man smiles and makes small talk with the kids for a few minutes before standing up to leave. “Well, I guess I’ll go find my family.” the man says. “It’s been a real pleasure talkin’ to you. A real pleasure…” And with a wink and a smile, he was gone.

Hand and hand go the joys and pains of life. No matter how hard we try to shore ourselves up, we get hurt, we get disappointed, we disappoint, we have regret. But living is about all that. It’s messy. And it’s wonderful. Sometimes we’re sitting alone, feeling sorry for ourselves when we realize we were never really alone at all. Sometimes you just need to make a little space at your table for a stranger to be reminded. To be reminded that hope floats.

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