The Wrong Way to Help Your Child Lose Weight

I do not know if you have heard of this article published in the April 2012 edition of Vogue magazine, but when I read the synopsis of the article, I had to go out and read the whole thing.

Author, and mother of a seven year old girl, Dara-Lynn Weiss, was worried about her daughter Bea’s weight after her doctor expressed concern that the girl was overweight. Weiss took her child to meet with Dr. Joanna Dolgoff, a specialist in childhood obesity. One of Dolgoff’s methods for helping overweight children is to assign the term “ted light” or “green light” designations to foods to help the child know if the food should be eaten in limited quantities, like cake, or if it is okay to have more, like vegetables. Sounds good right?

Well, Dr. Dolgoff’s methods are good, but the mother in the article took matters into her own hands and only visited Dr. Dolgoff the one time.

Weiss, who admittedly has her own problems with a healthy relationship to food, was wildly inconsistent with helping her daughter lose weight, and used extreme methods to help her daughter lose 16 pounds. Here’s a short quote from the article.

“I once reproachfully deprived Bea of her dinner after learning that her observation of French heritage day at school involved nearly 800 calories of Brie, filet mignon, baguette and chocolate,” Weiss wrote. “I stopped letting her enjoy Pizza Fridays when she admitted to adding a corn salad as a side dish one week.”

I was horrified by so many of the things this mother admitted to doing to cause the weight loss. From withholding dinner to reprimanding her child in front of her friends for her eating choices, this mom has likely given her daughter an unhealthy view of foods that will take years, if not a lifetime, to overcome.
I know from personal experience that things that happen to us during our childhood can have a lasting effect on how we view our bodies and how we relate to food. I remember my mother putting me on a liquid diet when I was a teenager in high school. I lost a few pounds over the summer, which made her happy. However, she was not happy when I regained the weight by the time October rolled around.
Like my mom, Weiss got the desired results from her daughter but the results likely came at a high price. She rewarded her daughter with new clothes but failed to instill in her the love of healthy foods, the enjoyment of playing for exercise, and other lessons that will put her on a path to obtaining the lifelong habits necessary for weight management. A seven year old is not capable of understanding the ins and outs of nutrition, but she is capable of internalizing the messages that her mom gave her. (I know, because I have a seven year old at home.)
If you have influence of children in your life, I’d encourage you to set an example of healthy eating and regular physical activity. I know we all have our own demons when it comes to food, but let’s make a concerted effort to keep our food issues away from our children and their friends.
We can turn this type of article into a catalyst for conversation about childhood obesity and the right way to help manage this obesity crisis among children. Just like eating healthy food begins at home – a healthy relationship with food also begins at home.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on the impact that unhealthy dieting can have on children or anything else on your mind. Diane



37 thoughts on “The Wrong Way to Help Your Child Lose Weight

  1. Jennifer says:

    Good topic! I remember growing up with a mother, while not even fat, who struggled with food. She’d go on crazy diets, taking me along with her. I remember the milkshake diet. She still has food issues( and is not fat.) I recently had a discussion with my 12 year old daughter, who is tall and lean, about this. I really hope that I have not messed her up with all my food issues. My youngest son is built a lot like I was as a child and I really have to watch myself not to treat him different from his thin siblings, foodwise. I try to follow Ellyn Satter’s approach to feeding them all: I provide the food and times, they decide how much and if they eat. I really wish my mother had not put me on a diet when I was 12. It has led to a lifetime of struggles with food. However, I am on a good path at the moment and hopeful that by God’s grace it will continue.

    • Diane Carbonell says:

      My mom was never overweight but I do remember her dieting and doing those old Jane Fonda workout tapes. I think just the fact that you have an awareness of presenting healthy eating to your child in a positive way is so great. Being able to dialogue honestly with your kids is so healthy from a parent/child relationship and a food relationship.

      I think your good path will continue Jennifer. You are doing a great job.

  2. Holly from 300 Pounds Down says:

    I’m totally with you on this Diane! And it’s too bad the person that came up with that program Red Light/Green Light has to even be associated with this woman who essentially did not even follow that program. I have actually read about that program years ago and it had good basic components. This woman basically did not even utilize the program as it was meant to be used. And I feel very sad for her daughter. I think a great many of us who have food issues can relate a lot of it back to childhood situations. My mother actually did put me on a “diet” as a child but I did not know a thing about it until I was much older and we were discussing my weight struggles. She started switching out my snacks for things like sugar free fudge popsicles instead of regular ice cream. And she enrolled me in ice skating and dance. I remembered that as being a fun time. Getting all new snacks and getting to be in activities. And I lost weight without knowing that either because she never ever told me! Now that is the way to do things. I can’t attribute my weight problems to my mom who did everything right but I fear the little girl in this article will not be able to say the same about her mom.

    • Diane Carbonell says:

      I read that the doctor said that the mom never went back for another consult. That says a lot right there to me. The mom wasn’t really interested in learning how to help her child eat a healthy diet, she just wanted her daughter to be a certain size.

      Your mom was a smart woman and she likely gave you some tools that you can use with your own kids Holly. Do you think so?

  3. Jody - Fit at 54 says:

    I saw a news report on this – UGH! It all starts in the home – right. So, what was happening before she took her to the doc? I did not see that in the news report. Yes, children learn early from watching & listening to the adults in the home PLUS they bring in the food right..

    Great stuff Diane!

    • Diane Carbonell says:

      It does start in the home Jody and this mom has it so backwards.

      The mom just noticed her child getting heavier and then the doctor indicated that she was overweight. That is what started this unfortunate dieting odyssey; however, I suspect there was a lot of disordered eating going on in that house before that doctor said anything.

  4. Andie says:

    I’ve seen several references to the Vogue story and was just too depressed thinking about it to even read it.

    It never mattered how good my grades were, and they were excellent grades at top schools – if I wanted to get praise from my mother, I had to lose weight. At one point, I dropped to 98 pounds by eating nothing but Diet Dr. Pepper, Nutty Buddies, Special K, and popcorn. I was ill. My mom was thrilled. My dad used to sing a song: Nobody loves a fat girl/She’s just a truck on the highway of love. Try to get that little ditty out of your head as an 8th grader deciding whether to eat lunch or not.

    My mom still struggles with food, and if I were a stronger person, I’d try to help her, but I’m too busy trying to get my own self together. It makes me feel awful.

    We don’t have kids, but I am sometimes horrified to sit down with my god-children and hear my mom’s words coming out of my mouth when they are (or aren’t) eating their dinner. It is not my place AT ALL to comment, and I can usually stop myself, but every once in a while, it slips out of that dark place in my brain. I’ve gotten better. I do not want them to ever go through that anxiety.

    • Diane Carbonell says:

      That is so sad. Thank you for sharing your story. That song your dad sang breaks my heart. I know I still hear the voices of criticism directed at me by my parents and it wasn’t even close to what you went through.

      I hope that your mom will be able to come to terms with her own struggles someday but you are smart to work on your own struggles and let her deal with herself. Thanks again.

  5. Leah says:

    AMEN! I saw that women on Good Morning America and was horrified at some of the things she did.

    Besides embarrassing her daughter about her food choices in front of her friends and taking away foods/meals as punishment one thing I noticed was this..

    She also mentioned that the girl came home crying because a fellow student called her “fat”, and that now that she is thin the young girl is happy again. I felt that instead of teaching her about healthier food choices solely for the sake of her health, this really was about her looks. So, she taught her daughter that being thin will make her happy and accepted by her peers. That makes me very sad as a mother and a woman who struggled with being chubby growing up.

    As well as teaching our children about healthier habits, food and activity, we need to teach them that their worth in life is not dependent on other’s opinions of them.

    I could go on…maybe I should blog about this as well..but I’ll stop here. 🙂 Diane, I appreciate the balance you bring to this subject of childhood obesity. We have to be aware of that problem, but not go to the extremes measures this mother did. She seems to be very proud of herself, but it only makes me sad.

    • Diane Carbonell says:

      She was horrifying in print – I would have been doubly annoyed if I had seen here on television!

      Great point that it was all about looks and not about health. She had it so backwards didn’t she?

  6. jules- big girl bombshell says:

    Diane…what an awesome topic………it has often been my belief that the key to working toward the war on obesity is to figure out and takes steps to realize the war shouldn’t be about the obesity…the weight…it is about the fears and MYTHS we pass on to our kids….

    Kids know NATURALLY what to do until we meddle into it with our own patterns of fear and habits… and another thing…..Peer pressure is real….so we need to teach them the tools to deal with that in a healthy way…. I remember having a conversation with my 9 yr old about at school lunches… she didn’t want to eat at the salad bar because then she got teased for being poor….the kids believed that only the poor kids ate at the salad bar (because if a child does not have lunch money that is where they eat from) so we had to have a discussion about it because the salad bar is one of her favorite things….

    peer pressure and school is the biggest temptations of trying to fit in….THAT is where we need to focus our energies NOT on the food….that is where we need to set our examples….

    • Diane Carbonell says:

      Thanks Jules – when I read that article I just had to write about it.

      Kids are naturally good eaters – that is true. When they start to grow up they start to internalize the media messages, they want to food they see advertised, and want to be “in” with their friends more than make good food choices. So sad that 9 year olds tease each other about what they eat. Wow.

    • Diane Carbonell says:

      I’m glad for you too Karen. The interesting thing to me is that so many people have food issues but it does not always get passed down to the kids. Like I said earlier, my mom ate very healthy, but I ate from emotions rather than from a bad example.

  7. liz says:

    This article was sooo sad. It can really hurt a child if weight is not handled correctly. There needs to be love and acceptance. Which I heard none of in the article.

  8. C says:

    Saw this on another blogger’s post and couldn’t believe it either. It is terrible that this mom is getting so much attention for doing the wrong thing while many out there struggle to help there childeren and need good models instead of this mom’s choice. I do not have kids and can’t imagine the line you would have to walk to help your child be heathy without messing their relationship with food up down the road. I was always a heavy child. My mom would say it was baby fat and I would grow out of it. Later she would sign us both up for Curzes or WW or a membership the the Y. It was always gentle encouragement and would never make me feel less than because it did not work. I know it was probably hard for my parents to see what I was doing to myself but they knew I had to find my own path. Its too bad but it looks like this mom cared more about what others thaught than her child’s well being. Thanks Diane for being out there setting a good example. It is needed.

    • Diane Carbonell says:

      She is getting so much attention partly because she is also a writer for vogue. I think she loves the publicity and the spotlight more than she cares what this kind of media attention will do to her daughter and their relationship. Can you imagine what the little girl will feel when she is a teen and looks over these kinds of stories?

      Your mom sounds awesome!

  9. Janis says:

    Seems like one of the most reliable ways to screw up your child’s relationship with food is simply to have a screwed up relationship with food yourself. There are a lot of things about kids that are set in stone — they aren’t a blank slate when they come out — but there are a lot of ways that their little heads can be hugely messed with, especially by their parents. Even if this kid turns out okay, her relationship with her mother will be permanently damaged.

    • Diane Carbonell says:

      This is the very heart of the matter Janis. Kids can be influenced so strongly by parents and oftentimes the parents aren’t aware of what they are doing. Even parents who feed kids for comfort may be coming at it from a point of trying to soothe hurt feelings with food. They were probably soothed that way too and don’t even realize what kind of message that sends.

  10. Amanda says:

    I was appalled by the mother in that article. Children shouldn’t be put on diets, period, for exactly the reasons you state Diane. In our house, we do discuss “sometimes” foods vs. “daily” foods, but the main thing I do is try to make sure the boys stay active. Fortunately, my children didn’t inherit my “welded to the couch” gene so this is not difficult 😉

  11. Kristi McMurry says:

    I’m not a mother yet, but I do think about how I’m going to feed my kids when I do reach that stage in life. My mom never enforced any kind of diet, but we had a home-cooked meal nearly every night that always included a meat and several vegetables. I didn’t drink soda until I was older (and when I stopped I lost 10 pounds…that’s happened twice actually). I don’t remember getting fast food that often and we hardly ever ate out because we didn’t have a lot of money.

    I think it’s all about teaching your kids how to eat healthy BY EXAMPLE. If you feed them pizza and chicken nuggets growing up, that’s what they develop a taste for…and that’s probably the kind of food they’ll gravitate towards when they get older. I definitely didn’t eat my veggies like I was supposed to (seriously, black eyed peas AGAIN?!) but I think the presence of them at every meal molded my view of healthy food as I’ve gotten older. I hope that all made sense…I have a lot of thoughts about food, but sometimes it’s just a hodge podge in that ole brain of mine 🙂

    • Diane Carbonell says:

      You are smart to think about it now Kristi as it really is an important issue. In today’s culture with all the fast food and processed food being pushed on children through advertising, knowing how you will encourage your child’s healthy diet is vitally important.

      Leading by example is the best way to share good habits with those we love. I absolutely agree. Your comment made perfect sense to me!

  12. Bea says:

    I hope some one tells this little girl her mother is wrong. We believe what our mother tells (told) us. This child now believes she is a fat person and will have to battle the bulge her whole life long. She may have also picked up the message that the battle is unwinnable. The last lie is the most soul sapping. I was raised by fat women. Does it show?

    • Diane Carbonell says:

      I hope so too. At 7 years old she is already aware of the messages she is getting both from her mother and with this media attention. Your last sentences were so poignant.

  13. Maren says:

    This is a really important topic! I think that parents can create so many unhealthy habits for their children, even when they mean it in the best possible way.. My mother did the best she could with me, and in my case the food was mostly healthy, I just ate waaaay too much. She felt that portion control was awkward and “hurtful”…. etc. So I get that it’s difficult!

    • Diane Carbonell says:

      You are so right. The bad habits that we pick up from our parents aren’t always from a negative intent like this author had, but rather out of lack of education or from a parent’s attempt to please or love the child.

  14. Taryl says:

    That’s horrifying! I’m an everything-in-moderato kind of mom. The girls can have m&ms or cookies as a little treat, and the bulk of their food is basic, wholesome foodstuffs. Breakfast are things like oatmeal, bananas, eggs fried with peppers and onions, or toast and a little sausage. Lunches balance out a main course like sandwiches or baked nuggets with a veggie and fruit, dinner is a repeat of lunch. The only drinks available at home are water or milk, with things like juice being a once a month or less treat if we eat out. Snacks are things like cheese, carrots, apple, or occasionally popcorn.

    I don’t want my children struggling with food – I provide them homemade, balanced selections and ask that they eat their veggies and fruit first, and then eat as much of the main course as they’re hungry for. I don’t restrict snacks, per se, but I do encourage them to drink water before they decide they need more food. None of the kids display weight issues and all will stop eating when they are full, even if it is dessert. I just do the best I can to teach them to eat mostly foods that nourish their bodies and eat sweets as an occasional treat. I would NEVER deny the kids a meal for weight purposes or freak out over a potluck or cultural day that had rich food. Neither a dinner nor a rich meal are what cause weight issues – daily habits and choices are, even with kids! Healthy, tasty food and lots of activity are my tools of choice with kids health. The term ‘diet’ doesn’t get bandied about around here, even with mommy (I sometimes slip by try to watch his very carefully). Just taking every meal as an opportunity to eat good foodstuffs and limiting things like screen time to an hour or two a day helps a LOT.

    • Diane Carbonell says:

      I don’t want my children to struggle either. I’m not perfect and I hope that my kids will not develop bad habits as they grow up, but as they reach adulthood the choices will be theirs alone.

      I too would never deny my children food if I thought they had eaten too much already. That is just cruel.

  15. Becca says:

    What a serious topic! My mom didn’t teach me great eating habits growing up, and I still struggle with those today. I am not obese, but I could definitely stand to lose 20 pounds. I followed her example perfectly, and we still eat the same! :/

    • Diane Carbonell says:

      You are not alone with struggling with good eating habits because of a lack of a good example. My mom did have good eating habits for the most part, but I ate from emotional distress when I was younger. I still fight it.

  16. La. says:

    Wow, I can’t believe this!!! Crazy! I can’t imagine treating my girls this way. Reminds me of the girl who died from running. I don’t understand. One of the reasons I want to lose weight is so my girls can see food in a positive way. I grew up with a mother who used food for comfort and it creats bad habits in the offspring for sure since my sister and I both have the habit of turning to food!

    • Diane Carbonell says:

      I can’t imagine treating my kids this way either. And that running death was just unbelievable. It is so true that the habits we learn and observe in childhood have a lifelong impact.

  17. Grace @ Healthy Dreaming says:

    I saw the responses to this mother’s approach and I was quickly reminded of how my mom scrutinized my weight and made me feel terrible growing up. I really think there is a more positive approach to encouraging children to adopt healthy habits without using shame as a tool

  18. Laura Jane @ Recovering Chocoholic says:

    Wow, that is such an unhealthy approach. I don’t have kids yet, but I do worry about the impact of my actions on my future children, which is one of my motivations for trying to take control of my eating and exercise. I think it would be pretty tough to know the best way to help an overweight child, but depriving them of dinner and treats is definitely not the way to go about it. I think the parents and example is the most important thing. If you provide them with lots of healthy foods and show them that being active is fun that will go a long way to help them.

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