After reading Dara Duff-Bergeron's great post on YMC, where she speaks about the controversial (and deeply disturbing) Vogue article recently published - about a mother shaming her overweight daughter, I was inspired to carry on the discussion, as this is an area that I am quite passionate about.
With the recent "anti-obesity" movement in North American (particularly American) schools, children are often taught that being "fat" or "overweight" or "chubby" is wrong, bad, and ugly.
Because of these messages and this stigma, children are now at a higher risk for developing eating disorders, low self esteem, being bullied, and even, worst case scenario, suicide. The claims that are circulating, in regards to children being at a higher risk of chronic disease and early death from being overweight, are NOT supported by scientific research or evidence, yet they're being thrown around freely. Children who are not overweight are hearing these messages too. They are also taking note of how "disgusting" it is to be overweight. These children are also at a higher risk of developing disordered eating patterns, unnecessary food restrictions, and food fears.
Ugh! It just riles me up!
Skinny-stress and its consequences.
The constant stress and anxiety that a child feels to be thin or look a certain way creates a cascade of unhealthy events. When kids are stressed (due to bullying, social pressures, embarrassment etc.), a release of stress hormones (such as Cortisol) is triggered in the brain. These can actually lead to depositing more fat cells, insulin resistance, and a disruption in the balance of Leptin and Neuropeptide Y, which are hormones that regulate hunger. When a child (or adult!) is constantly stressed about her weight (which, let's be honest, is rampant in our society), she is unknowingly perpetuating the "problem," and, likely, gaining more weight, thus creating more stress.
Quite a vicious cycle, no?
What about pregnant women?
Believe it or not, there is new research to support that when pregnant women stress about their weight gain chronically throughout pregnancy, the Cortisol released gets passed through to their placenta, putting their baby at an increased risk of poor stress management and coping skills throughout their lives! Crazy, huh?
Playing the "food police"—a dangerous game.
Just as the author of the recent Vogue article has done with her seven-year-old daughter, many well-meaning parents encourage restrictive eating patterns, so that their kids reach or maintain a certain weight. This can eventually lead to unhealthy body image, decreased self-esteem, disordered eating patterns, and perhaps even a full-blown eating disorder (which, by the way, can be deadly)!
The prevalence of disordered eating and eating disorders is scary. In fact, it's the #1 killer among young women who have a mental health issue, according to the DSM. The pressure to be thin in our society is astronomical. It sickens me to think that kids are also affected by this pressure at home, in their 'safe place.' It leads to chronic over-eating or under-eating, obsessions about food, and an unhealthy relationship with food.
Be a model (not the fashion kind).
We need to start thinking and talking about this as women and as mothers. We need to start eating for enjoyment and start honouring our bodies' natural cues for eating. We need to ditch the diet mentality once and for all—our kids will follow suit!
Instead of encouraging weight loss in your kids, encourage healthful eating, enjoyable physical activity, and body acceptance. Healthy people (including children), come in all shapes and sizes. Just as you wouldn't encourage your children to try to make their feet smaller or body taller, you shouldn't encourage your growing and healthy child to lose weight. You will only be encouraging negative and even deadly behaviours later on.
Thanks for reading!