childhood eating disorders

The Heavy


I almost called this post “How to Give Your Kid an Eating Disorder.” I was turned off by the title of this book: “The Heavy: A Mother, A Daughter, A Diet.” I had a lot of mixed feelings about this book and the topics it brought up. I don’t know if there is a way to discuss the book without coming across as judgmental. So I want to start off by apologizing if I sound that way.

My mixed feelings were hard to decipher. I like weight loss memoirs and as someone who has lost 100 pounds, I can relate to the journey. You would think I’d love this book. Unfortunately, I did not.

The book is about a mother who has an obese child. Bea is about 6 or 7 in the beginning of the book and is classified by her doctor as obese. That’s pretty heavy for a 6 year old. I could relate to Bea feeling self-conscious, embarrassed and sad because of teasing. I wasn’t overweight as a kid–even though I THOUGHT I was. I didn’t gain weight and actually qualify as “overweight” until I was about 17.

“For the prior three decades, I had not attended a party, sat down to a meal, gone to the bathroom, or been physically ill without, on some level, silently calculating how that action would affect my weight. I’d be miserable with the flu, but a little voice inside of me would see the silver lining that the loss of appetite I was suffering meant I might be losing weight.  [pg 28]”

That above quote was by the author, the mother. She went on to describe pretty disordered eating patterns that she had most of her life…juice cleanses, fasting to drop weight quickly, etc etc. She talks about how she struggled with being overweight but she was 115 POUNDS instead of 100. What?!?! What kind of delusions is this woman under? 115 pounds?

“While the occasional peculiarities of my diet weren’t causing me serious physical harm. Bea’s way of eating was legitimately dangerous. She was on track to spend her life being overweight and battling the problems that come with it: high blood pressure, diabetes, difficulty moving, heart disease, poor self-esteem, social isolation, depression. [pg 30]”

This broke my heart so much. I found myself getting really angry with the mother. And this is where the judgmental attitude comes across. I kept thinking “what kind of mother lets her 6 year old daughter eat so much she’s OBESE?”

“But occasionally I’d give in to her please for a square of coffee cake, mainly because I wanted to eat half of it. [pg 33]”

Okay, I know what you’re thinking. Where were MY parents? Trust me, they were there as I was gaining my weight. I think it was the approach and what my parents said that made me rebel and do the exact opposite than what they wanted. I felt criticized and judged; I felt shamed and restricted. I never felt like I was taught the right way to eat, or portion control; I was just taught “food is bad” and food was something to be hidden. Also, to be fair, I was already an adult and moved out of the house when I truly gained the bulk of my weight. That wasn’t really in my parent’s control. I don’t fault them for that, maybe just their approach.

But what about the mother in this book? Was she not aware that her very young daughter was gaining weight so quickly? It was also a turn off that the writer apparently thought her and her husband were perfect parents in every way.

“Jeff strongly believed that the whole family should be in it together. It shouldn’t just be Bea who went to nutrition doctor appointments and adhered to a new eating plan. It should be all of us. So that Bea wouldn’t feel singled out… [pg 42]”


This was actually good. I was glad that the husband suggested the whole family do the weight loss plan together. I think that’s how it should be. It should be a family goal to be healthy and everyone should support each other. I don’t think one family member should be singled out and SHAMED. But of course Bea still felt singled out because her younger brother got to eat a lot more food than she did.

I really hope that someday when I have kids I can teach them healthy eating and exercise without giving them a complex. I don’t want to shame them, or teach them that foods are bad, or make them feel self-conscious about their bodies. I want them to be healthy like I am now.

“‘I want to be able to do it myself,’ she whimpered. ‘I know I need to lose weight, but I wish I could just do it myself.’ [pg 46]”

She’s SEVEN. Seven years old. That’s a weird statement for a seven year old to make. Are they even aware of something like that at that age? I sure wasn’t.


The mother listed out the foods on their new “diet” and one thing that stood out was that her son ate a slice of pizza for an afternoon snack and Bea had homemade s’mores (two chocolate graham crackers and a marshmallow toasted in the oven). “They were delicious and she ate them almost every day. [pg 61]” Hmmm…I don’t know about those snack choices for a pre-dinner meal. Something about it just rubs me the wrong way.

Mid-way through the book, Dara-Lynn said she bought some sugar-free whipped cream to top strawberries with for only 20 calories. She was so excited about it and it made me wretch. Again, I used to be the person that are tons of processed junk food, then I was the person who ate processed LOW-CALORIE junk. Basically, food with chemicals. I’m not that person anymore so the idea of giving a kid fake food filled with chemicals is just gross to me.

“Instead of looking for whole grains and organic ingredients, I now compared calorie content, fat grams and portion sizes….I wasn’t happy that the reduce calorie content also brought with it maltodextrin, aspartame, artificial flavors, red 40, yellow 6 and blue 1. But I accepted them because the snack better served the purposes of our larger goal. [pg 84]”

How do you feel about that statement? Do you disagree or agree it was the right move?

There was a part in the book where Bea had a bunch of treats and food at a school festival and when she got home, the mom made her eat a light dinner. It was a salad with nonfat dressing and fruit for dessert. I felt badly for Bea. Her mom wasn’t teaching her how to eat in a healthy way, she was teaching her that if you go over your calorie allotment for a meal you need to starve yourself at the next meal!

“It was the most severe food-cutting move I’d ever considered, but I went ahead with it. I knew she had ingested more than enough food to make it through the rest of the day. A child who eats 700-800 extra calories at lunch is not going to starve to death if she does not get dinner. [pg 144]”

She then says “The efforts I had to take to steer Bea through these obstacles were overwhelming. I hadn’t signed up for this. [pg 145]” What? Yes you did! You signed up for this when you decided to have children. Parents are supposed to teach their kids to exercise, eat healthy, know their manners and abc’s. It’s all part of it. School certainly doesn’t teach kids the right way to eat. TV doesn’t. Their friends don’t. I so don’t get this woman!

Saturday mornings was when Bea weighed in. She woke up and was hungry and the mother said “Pee, take off your clothes, and weigh yourself first. [pg 161]” The kid threw a tantrum, saying she didn’t want to weigh herself and the mom said “Sorry, you have to.” Man is that disordered. She also ranted about how almonds, yogurt and salmon were unhealthy.

If you can’t tell, I pretty much hated this book. While I found some interesting things in it here and there, most of it made me really angry and really sad for this girl growing up with an unhealthy mindset about food. There was so much about this book that disturbed me and I didn’t even go into it all.

QUESTION: Have you read this book? What did you think?

Should You Lose Weight With Your Kids?

Recently I saw an article online about whether or not parents should lose weight with their kids. Quick disclaimer: I don’t have kids yet but I think I can weigh in on this topic because of my own childhood and upbringing.

I think this is treading dangerous ground to be honest. My hope is that someday my kids grow up with a healthy body image. As a kid I did not have a healthy body image. At age 9 I thought I was “fat.” Sure that was mostly because of kids at school, which you can’t avoid. But looking back at photos, I was never fat until I was 17 years old and I started to gain weight.

250+ Pounds

Losing weight was somehow always on my brain, though. As a normal pre-teen I thought about dieting and losing weight. Why? Why was I so consumed?

I think kids are impressionable and they see what their parents do and they see what their friends/classmates do. My best friend in middle school, Kristy, was anorexic. I didn’t really understand what that meant as a 12 year old. She was one grade ahead of me. Her mom was always on a diet. So was Kristy. Kristy would bake these amazing desserts but she never ever ate any of them. I found that strange as a kid but I didn’t understand until later when my mom explained to me that Kristy was anorexic. Every winter she would be hospitalized with frostbite because she was so skinny. Yet she was always trying to lose more weight.

My mom was never really “on a diet.” But she was way into diet food. The fat-free fad, the low-fat, cardboard food that was sugar-free, salt-free, flavor-free was a staple in our house in my teens. My tactic for dealing with this? Bingeing at friend’s houses on “real” food (i.e. junk food). My mom made healthy after school snacks for my brother and I but of course as a kid, you want the pop-tart not the apple…

This is my background. This is my history as a kid with weight loss and gain. As someone who has tackled obesity and has maintained my 100+ pound loss for 3 years I see obesity everywhere. The kids I see are plus-sized. They have muffin tops, thick arms, and fat stomachs that are leading to diabetes (I know, I was there once). It makes me sad to see this epidemic spreading.

So I see this rampant epidemic as a horrifying thing BUT I am also weary of giving a whole generation of children eating disorders either. Is there a healthy balance? Is there a way to teach our kids to make healthy choices without shoving it down their throat and giving them a complex?

Causes of Childhood Obesity: 

  • Lack of physical activity or sedentary lifestyle
  • Eating more calories than he or she expends
  • Too much fat and sugar in the diet
  • Family genetics

When I was a kid I was forced to do sports and I HATED it. I hated team sports (still do) and it was a miserable thing for me. My family also went hiking and backpacking a lot. I grew to hate it because it wasn’t fun. It was a chore. My dad, the Marine Drill Sergeant barking orders as we marched through a forest, was not making it something fun. I stopped hiking for a long time. Now? I love it again!

My tactic for my future children is to SHOW them that exercise is fun. That eating healthy can be good and taste good. IF they want to do sports, they can. If they are like me and team sports is not what they are interested in, there are tons of alternatives for solo sports. Swimming is a good one. 🙂

  • Michael and I have talked at length about how we want to raise our future kids in terms of sports. Michael wants them to do Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. At first I was hesitant. But with more thought I think martial arts are a good way for kids to learn strength, confidence, respect and will power. If we have a girl? That’s ok. She needs to know how to defend herself too.

  • I want to teach my kids that food is fuel for the body. It’s necessary and important and it makes a huge difference WHAT fuel you put into your body. This does not mean denying ourselves of all treats.
  • The Kinect video games are so much fun and a surprising workout! These types of new technologies would appeal to kids.
  • Exercising together is a good way to show them exercise can be fun. Running together, sprinting, hiking, going for bike rides, doing a kid’s 5k together, swimming, play frisbee in the park…the list is endless.

  • Sneak in fitness.  Take the stairs instead of the elevator and make a game out of it, make it a race. Park the car far away from the store and walk. Bike or walk to school every morning.
  • Don’t reward good behavior with treats. As a kid if I was “good” I got ice cream for dessert. I loved ice cream. 🙂

It seems like the list can be endless for fun ways to teach kids about exercise and food. I think the bottom line is to somehow help overweight kids lose weight without putting so much focus dieting and what the scale says.

QUESTION: If you are a parent, how do you feel about articles that suggest parents and kids lose weight together? What tactics do you use?