Archive for childhood obesity

Mission impossible: can middle- and working-class people eat healthy in America?

Fruits and Vegetables

I heard these are supposed to be good for you.

Lately I’ve adopted a new mission: eating better. This is easier said than done, of course, especially in my case.

I am (sadly) a very picky eater.

I have been since I was a kid. I’ve gotten better as the years have gone on but there are still many foods I find completely inedible.

In spite of this, I’ve pushed on, pouring through blogs in an effort to find new recipes to try.

The good news: I’ve found a few promising options.

The bad news: I’m remembering how difficult it is to find healthy foods on a budget.

For example: on one site I saw several recipes that used quinoa. I figured this would be something worth trying out. The worst possible outcome, I thought, would be if I just didn’t like it. No big deal.

During my next trip to the grocery, I stopped in the health food section and found what I was looking for.

Quinoa, cooked

Quinoa is pronounced KEEN-wah

It was eight dollars for a ten-ounce package.

Eight dollars.

Ten ounces.

I am a poor college student. I work within a limited budget. I can’t afford to spend eight dollars on a tiny box of food.

I suppose this might seem like a lot of outrage over a little matter. But this is indicative of a much larger pattern affecting millions of people.

There is a statistical relationship between poverty and obesity. According to the Food Research and Action Center, “wages were inversely related to BMI and obesity in a nationally representative sample of more than 6,000 adults.” This means people with lower wages have higher BMIs and an increased chance of obesity.

This is odd, isn’t it? Wouldn’t it make sense for those with lower incomes to have lower BMIs?

Admittedly, the relationship between obesity and poverty is a little more complex and depends heavily on race, gender, and age. That being said, those with low wages are much more vulnerable to obesity.

Some of the reasons for this might be obvious. As I said before, healthy food often costs significantly more than junkier and processed foods with refined grains, added sugars, and fat.

Many people don’t even have access to groceries and farmers markets where they might buy healthy foods—or if they do, the food is of lower quality.

Lower-income neighborhoods often have an abundance of fast-food restaurants and a limited number of healthy options.  Many low-income families don’t have time to make a home-cooked, healthy meal. Instead they depend on the convenience and low cost of fast food.

Burger and friesWith all these factors working together, is it any wonder that obesity is such an epidemic in the United States?

As I said, I’m a poor college student, but I do all right. I don’t have to worry about where my next meal is going to come from. So if it’s a struggle for someone like  me to buy healthy food, how hard is it for someone working two jobs? For someone with a family to support?

The sad truth is that as long as junk food is cheap and abundant compared to healthy food that is expensive and difficult to obtain, poor nutrition and obesity will continue to be prevalent. There has to be a fundamental change in the way things are.

—Lauren Bunch

High on You: A Husky Boy Finds Out He’s Been Living in a Fantasy World. . . a guest post by Alex Poole

Two Huskies (or one Husky and a Malamute)


Like many husky boys who were spawned in the 1970s, I spent a lot of time fantasizing about how good life would be if I were thin while listening to cheesy ’80s songs. One of my favorites—and I even feel squeamish mentioning it now—was (and still is) Survivor’s “High on You.” If you are not familiar with this little gem, you should know that it involves a young man declaring that his ecstatic love for a girl is so great that he must be high and delusional. At the time, I didn’t catch that part; I was just thinking about how awesome it would be to have a girlfriend.

But it would be a long time before I finally got a girlfriend, not only because I was in elementary school, but also because I was, to use comedian Jim Norton’s words, a “meaty-breasted zilch.” I was constantly panting and looking for ways to hide my sweaty back and armpits from my classmates so they wouldn’t laugh.

Of course, I couldn’t hide anything, so I was blessed with a daily smorgasbord of insults including—but not limited to—the following: “fat ass,” “fat fuck,” “fat motherfucker,” “fat faggot,” “fat Al”, “fat Albert,” and “fat boy.” In seventh grade sewing class, a quite attractive female classmate asked me if I was gay because I didn’t have a girlfriend, which made the whole class roar. Most humiliating, however, is when some future hippie would lash out at the bullies for hurting my feelings, making me feel like an even bigger loser.

And then there was the physical part. Balls from various sports (e.g. four square, kickball, soccer, basketball, baseball) were thrown at my head, as were the fists of many future jailbirds eager to show me that even though I was big, I was just a “pussy” and a “faggot.” The violence really didn’t start until adolescence, which is when I really started to blow up. In middle school, my body was so sweaty and stretch-marked that I looked as if I had been oil wrestling with Chester Cheetah. Added to this hell was a face that could provide enough grease for all the world’s McDonald’s for a year and a full-body pelt that earned me comparisons to the missing link.

It should be understood that not everything was bad. Many hours of SCTV, The Higgins Boys and Gruber, and The Kids in the Hall made me forget that I was El Porko. And I also liked sports; well, one sport—tennis. I idolized Ivan Lendl, John McEnroe, and Jimmy Connors. The action, intensity, and fluidity of the game fascinated me, and surprisingly enough, I was pretty good at it. At the same time I really started to enjoy tennis, I really started to think about girls. However, for five years, I went on playing tennis, overeating, and listening to Survivor, just wishing that girls would look at me.

Right after I turned 15, I decided to lose weight after a routine appointment with my allergist. It was there that I learned that I was 5 ft. 10 in. and quickly approaching 270 pounds. I also noticed that my size 44 jeans were starting to leave a permanent tattoo around my gut and the waist was curling over. In a matter of weeks, I would have probably been sporting a stiff pair of 46-inch Plain Pockets.

In the first seven months, I lost 80 pounds. Within two years, I had lost a little over 110 pounds. I went through various body phases: slender but doughy, ripped, and finally, Stewart Copeland thin.

An odd idol for a teenage boy


(Copeland—pictured here—was the drummer from The Police who famously wore bun-hugging shorts that accentuated his flamingo-like legs.)

Of course, reducing the amount of fat I consumed, exercising for an hour every day, and avoiding sweets helped me shave off quite a lot of blubber.

But my self-loathing led me to levels of masochism unimaginable to me now.

During some periods, I would eat a cup of granola and a cup of vanilla ice cream a day; during others, I would eat only cereal with skim milk. Regardless of what it was, there was little of it. Added to this was frenetic exercising consisting of a daily regime of jogging, weight lifting, and tennis, often exceeding sixteen hours a week. If I screwed up and over-ate—i.e. when I ate normally—I would do an extra session and berate myself the whole time.

I imagined that the constant cravings, tinny breath, and stress of maintaining such a rigid daily regime would be worth it. Like the Ugly Ducking, I would suddenly transform into a studly swan, Survivor would start playing, and girls would surround me.

Yet after a few years, I realized that there was no high. No amount of thin could take away my low self-esteem and having washboard abs didn’t make girls fall in my lap. I felt disappointed, but relieved. Losing weight was good for me, and having a healthy weight is certainly better than being overweight. But happiness is so much more complicated than looking good.

To be sure, weight is still something I struggle with, and that will probably never change. I try to watch what I eat, but sometimes I eat too much ice cream. I run about 20 miles a week, but sometimes I miss a day. Instead of ripping myself a new one, I tell myself that I’ll do it tomorrow. And I’ve realized that always focusing on myself is horrendously irritating and draining for those who care about me.

I don’t know how many boys/men have eating disorders, but I sure don’t hear about much them in the media. I realize that this lack of coverage is due to many factors, but to me it seems like there is a still a callousness towards males who grapple with these issues. There are probably more of us than most people would imagine.


Happier times reading with my older girl


ALEX POOLE (Ph.D.) is an associate professor of English at Western Kentucky University, where he also directs the Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) program.

Stay glad: advice from Woody Guthrie and a recap

Good news!

I managed to keep exercising while on vacation—apparently Key West is a city made for walkers, so we managed to walk more each day we were there than we do at home, which is really saying something since we normally average an hour a day.

We also had an amazing time and were able to really unwind away from the stresses of work and the internet. I don’t say it in the healthy living section of this blog, but I really should—relaxation is as important a part of being healthy as anything else.

The only bad news (and this isn’t really bad news) is that I’ve fallen a little bit behind on telling you about some stories related to having a healthy mind and body. So rather than discuss any one of them at length, I’m just going to give you a quick rundown . . .

1) After all of the I Will Not Diet contributors posted their non-resolutions here on New Year’s Day, someone sent me a copy of Woody Guthrie’s list of New Year’s resolutions for 1942, which I’ve included above. Some of my favorites include: “Don’t get lonesome,” “Stay glad,” “Have company but don’t waste time,” “Dance better,” and “Love everybody.” I’m sure we’d all do well to take the same advice.

2) I’ve been wanting to tell you for a while about The Real Girl Belly Project, and my friend Alison reminded me about it today. This is a section of online magazine XO Jane (run by Sassy and Jane founder, Jane Pratt) devoted to publishing pictures of real—not Photoshopped—bellies. You’ve honestly got to see these to believe them. They are all flawed and human and wonderful!

3) My cousin Jennifer told me about an article called “The Death of Pretty,” in which the author argues that young girls today no longer want to be “pretty” but rather just “hot.” The article is far from perfect, especially when it veers into the women-should-be-innocent-creatures-men-want-to-protect territory, but it also makes a good point about our commodity-driven culture and the fact that young girls often grown up way too fast in our society because, like the celebrities they see on their screens, they want to be as sexy as possible. I wrote about this problem in my 2010 Halloween post, and, sadly, it’s not something I expect to be resolved any time soon.

4) And last but not least, another friend, Holly, reminded me that Children’s Health Care of Atlanta is currently running a series of anti-obesity ads that are drawing fire. You’ve really got to see the ads, which you can do here, to get the full impact of them, but suffice it to say they’re incredibly dark (like similar anti-meth and anti-smoking ads), and some people think they are hurting more than they’re helping, causing embarrassed kids to avoid exercise rather than embrace it. I have mixed feelings about the ads. I’m certainly glad anti-obesity ads are being disseminated in our society, but I don’t like that the ads seem to lay all the blame at the feet of the parents. At this point, we know that obesity is about the chemicals in our environment as much as it is about diet and exercise. So why not target lawmakers as well as parents? In several of the ads, kids ask their parents questions like “Why am I fat?” and I’d love an ad in which one of the kids said, “Dear Congress–why do you let corporations put so many chemicals in my food?”

Pizza for everyone! Served with a side of stupid!
Congress declares pizza a vegetable

Recently the United States House of Representatives declared that pizza—that pie-shaped piece of bread made with white flour and topped with tomato sauce and mozzerella cheese—could be considered a vegetable in school cafeterias.

Since schools have to provide students with a certain amount of vegetables a day, this means that pizza will count as one of them.

We all know we have an obesity problem in this country.

We also know that children are the most vulnerable to obesity: “Nearly one in three children in America is overweight or obese and the numbers are growing.”** It’s also true that kids today are dealing with more cases of adult onset diabetes, cardiac problems, and strokes.* (For more on this issue, read my three-part series on chidhood obesity: “Don’t be an enabler,” “Letting Go,” and “Rethinking baby fat.”)

And this isn’t just because kids don’t exercise as much as they used to or because they eat more than they have in the past. It’s also a problem because of chemicals. In fact, “In 2005 scientists in Spain reported that the more pesticides children were exposed to as fetuses, the greater their risk of being overweight as toddlers. And last January scientists in Belgium found that children exposed to higher levels of PCBs and DDE (the breakdown product of the pesticide DDT) before birth were fatter than those exposed to lower levels.”°

The natural response to this problem would be that we become vigilant in our efforts to help children be healthy. But rather than do that, the United States House of Representatives, arguably one of the most powerful governing bodies in the world, has declared pizza a vegetable. Pizza. Which has around 300 calories, 670 mg of sodium, 4 grams of sugar, and 5 grams of satured fat a slice.

In the 2006 futuristic movie Idiocracy, Luke Wilson’s character travels to a future where people are so idiotic that they try to water their plants with a Gatorade-type drink called Brawndo and then wonder why their plants aren’t growing. This happens because Brawndo is a huge corporation that controls government decision-making through donations and lobbying. (Pictured above is the FDA Food Pyramid from the movie—with four parts Brawndo, one part Starbucks, one part Grease, and one part Cigarettes/Caffeine/convenience.)

Pizza was declared a vegetable last week because the fast food lobby American Frozen Food Institute (AFFI) argued that they could not make food with more healthy ingredients palatable to school children. **

So what I want to know is this: does this mean we are now living in the land of idiots?






Everyone poops . . . but not on the same schedule

I am really beginning to believe that the key to not being overweight is pooping.

I’ll admit that most of my evidence for this theory is anecdotal, but I can’t help but notice that a good deal of the people I know who poop regularly are thin.

My husband Dave’s pooping schedule, for instance, is as predictable as the sunrise and sunset—once in the morning and once at night. Without fail. And he has neverhad a problem with his weight. In fact, I think he has been the same weight all of his adult life.

My dad’s the same way—his pooping is in fact so efficient that he can stand up from the dinner table, announce that he has to “use the facilities,” go take care of business, and be back at the table in five minutes.

On the other hand, my pooping schedule is about as easy to predict as a girl’s first period. In other words, you have no idea when it’s coming, and inevitably it always arrives at a bad time.

The problem with this is that when it comes at a bad time I have no choice but to hold it, which is not only unhealthy, it also means that my body goes into revolt, either pushing the poop out more vigorously or pulling it back inside like a turtle head (possibly Dave’s favorite phrase).

No matter when it comes, it’s almost never a good thing, and as a result, I spend most of my life bloated and in pain.

One of my friends once told me that she never understood how anyone could poop in a public place. (Spoken like someone who never has trouble pooping.) But if you’re like me, you go where you have to . . . at rest stops, at work (thank God for faculty bathrooms!), at various McDonald’s locations, at the Pak-a-sak on Highway 27 in Richmond, Indiana, at almost every Barnes & Noble I’ve ever been to, and many, many times at the Pizza Hut on Harrison Avenue on the west side of Cincinnati.

(I guess that last example should be explained . . . between our junior and senior years in college, I used to visit Dave at his parents’ house in Cincinnati. The only problem was that his parents’ house only had one bathroom. And it was centrally located—right between the living room, the kitchen, the master bedroom, and the den. Smack dab in the middle of the house. So no matter where you were sitting on the first floor, you could hear the person in the bathroom. This meant that, for probably fifteen years, I was unable to poop in their house. And the closest bathroom I could find was at the Pizza Hut on Harrison Avenue on the west side of Cincinnati, which is now—through no fault of my own—closed.)

People who don’t “get” pooping in public places are people who don’t HAVE to poop in public places. They have no understanding of what it means to be overcome by the sudden urge to take a dump. Their digestive system is regular, they are healthy, and usually they are also slim.

I guess I don’t have to tell you that the friend who scoffed at pooping in public was, of course, thin.

I read an interview with Whoopi Goldberg about a year ago in which she claimed that losing weight was all about pooping. She had just dropped some serious pounds (which I believe she has now gained back), and she explained that she just had to learn to poop. Once she started pooping regularly, the extra weight disappeared.

I keep waiting for that to happen to me.

It seems like more and more people (including me) have some form of IBS these days, and it makes me wonder if there’s a connection between that surge and the increase in obesity. Is it possible that Americans are getting more fat because we simply can’t get enough poop out? And is it also possible that the toxins in our environment—our air, our homes, even our food—are messing with our digestive systems?

I have to believe there’s some connection.

No matter what the reason, I feel confident that if you can poop regularly, you can also look good in a bathing suit.

And hopefully you can avoid an embarrassing trip to Pizza Hut.

Back in my day . . .

Thankfully, after a long, hard, and sick winter, Dave and I are finally walking every day again. Getting back to our routine is wonderful, but it also reminded us recently of how different our childhoods were from the lives of kids today.

And that’s because almost every time we walk through Kereiakes Park, we pass the playground on the far side of the park where kids play on the jungle gym, ride the swings, and—wait for it—eat fast food.

I am not kidding when I say that almost every single time we see a family at the playground, we also see a mom or dad cleaning up the fast food meal they just served their children.

We had seen it so many times that, after a while, we stopped noticing. But being away from the walking trail for weeks this year made us look at this now familiar scene with fresh eyes.

Four kids, two adults, six sets of hamburger wrappers, french fry cartons, and to-go cups.

What’s wrong with this picture?

I think we all know.

“Did you ever take fast food to the park when you were little?” Dave asked me the other day. “When I was young, there was only one McDonald’s on the entire west side of Cincinnati. And going there was a big deal, like going out to a fancy meal or something.”

And he’s right. When we were kids, going out to eat—fast food or otherwise—was a big deal. Sure, on a special occasion or holiday, our families took homemade picnics to the park, but now, for too many American kids fast food is a daily occurrence.

Though this is partly the fault of parents, it’s hard to blame parents alone for this problem when there’s a McDonald’s on over corner. When you have to drive right past one on the way to the park, it’s easy to wonder why you shouldn’t stop and feed the kids while you’re out?

(There is, in fact, a McDonald’s, a Wendy’s, a Rally’s, and now even a Dairy Queen all within four blocks of Kereiakes Park.)

It’s also hard to blame parents when it costs about two dollars to feed each kid at a McDonald’s.

What’s weird is that I really think a happy meal used to cost more when we were kids than it does now. Am I wrong or didn’t a happy meal in the seventies used to cost three dollars and now they’re just two bucks? Or maybe they’re three now, I’m not sure.

Either way, that doesn’t make any sense! We have had forty years of inflation, but prices at McDonald’s have gone down, not up. How is that possible???

It’s possible because technology is always making it easier to make our food even more processed, meaning that fast food is cheaper today because it’s less real. It’s also possible because the main ingredient in almost all American fast food is corn and/or corn syrup, and corn is heavily subsidized by the federal government in our country, which means that fast food restaurants can sell products made with corn byproducts cheaper than ever before.

Translation: our kids get fatter every time they eat fake, er, I mean fast food.

Sugary haze

196 pounds
As some of you may know from my post about
Pepsi Throwback, I’m a fan of soda made with real sugar rather than high fructose corn syrup. Real sugar—or real anything (sugar, butter, cheese)—is almost always better for you than chemically processed sugar, so I’ve been thrilled to see a few soft drink companies bringing back soda made with beet or cane sugar.

While it’s true that too much sugar—whether it’s processed or not—isn’t good for anyone, it’s also true that in moderation it’s better to have the real stuff than to shovel a bunch of carcinogenic chemicals in your body along with it.

And that’s why Pepsi is introducing Sierra Mist Natural this weekend. Not only have they replaced the high fructose corn syrup with real sugar, they’ve also cut all the preservatives, which is a move I can definitely get behind since “Preservatives are toxic and tumor-causing. Most impact the nervous system, changing behavior. Some have an impact on reproductive health or weaken the immune system.”*

But what’s strange about this is the way I heard about, which was in an Associated Press article called, “Pepsi Giving Away Cans of Sugary Soda.”

Say what?

The way this headline is written, it sounds like Pepsi is giving away soda made by Satan . . . or at least soda that is much worse for you than the average Pepsi, which seems like an odd choice given that the opposite is true—the new Sierra Mist Natural is better for you than the old Sierra Mist. So shouldn’t the headline say, “Pepsi giving away cans of soda made with natural sugar” or “Pepsi giving away cans of soda without preservatives”? And am I crazy to think that the headline they did use is totally misleading? Am I crazy to think that it almost sounds like the reporter is trying to make Pepsi look bad?

The answer is, no, I’m not.

The article also claims that Pepsi has created this new drink to counteract the “slump in soft drink sales and a rise in sales of juices and teas, which are perceived as healthier than soda.” Juice and teas are “perceived as healthier than soda”? Does that sound as funny to you as it does to me??? OF COURSE, juice and tea are healthier than soda. Because real juice is a great source of fruit and vitamins, and tea is rich in antioxidants. But the way this article was written makes it sound like that may not actually be the case.

The article also claims that there is “little scientific evidence” to show that “high fructose corn syrup is more harmful or more likely to cause obesity than sugar.” But that’s simply not the case. There actually have been several studies that have shown that high fructose corn syrup is worse for you than natural sugar—the most recent one out of Princeton University. Yes, it’s true that the Corn Refiners Association questions this research, but to say that little evidence exists is just plain wrong.

So why did this reporter get so many of his facts wrong?

I’ll never know for sure, but it almost seems like the article was written by the corn lobby, a group that is fighting very hard right now to re-brand “high fructose corn syrup” as “corn sugar” because Americans are finally learning about the problems with it and the giant subsidies the government gives to the corn industry.

And maybe that’s exactly what happened with this article. Some lazy reporter got a press release from the Corn Refiners Association, and rather than check any of the facts, he simply copied the pertinent lines—”percieved as healthier than soda” . . . “little scientific evidence”—word for word. What’s sad about this is that most people will probably take what he says as fact and think, “If it’s in the newspaper, then it must be true.”

Incidentally, as Michael Pollan explains in his bestselling book The Omnivore’s Dilemma, corn farming “undermines small farmers, depletes soil nutrients and weakens topsoil—which, in turn leads to more fertilizer use, and further environmental damage.”

All of this means that cutting back on high fructose corn syrup will be good for farming and good for our planet. Just one more reason I’m glad Sierra Mist Natural was invented.

Why Huge is Huge

198 pounds

After seeing an ad for Huge that featured Nikki Blonsky (of Hairspray fame) in only her bathing suit, I had high hopes that this show about a bunch of teenagers at fat camp would push the obesity and body issue discussion into unchartered territory. And last night, Huge followed through on that implicit promise.

Not only does the show actually feature many, many people with real bodies . . .

curvy bodies,

lumpy bodies,

obese bodies,

—it also doesn’t turn them into offensive fat jokes, which is what usually happens when we see overweight characters on film or in television, relegating them to being either the source of inane humor or the sidekick. Or—worse still—both.

But on Huge, “fat” people are real characters—fully developed people who are both likeable and fallible, making them incredibly empathetic and the show that much more interesting.

And let’s be honest, a show about “fat” people—real, appealing, honest-to-God “fat” people—is huge in and of itself.

But, as we know from Tobey Maguire, with great power comes great responsibility. And this show has a huge responsibility as well: simply put, it must be honest about obesity. This is so important that I’m going to repeat it:

This show MUST be honest about obesity.

In other words, it can’t convey the message that people are obese simply because they eat too much.

It’s hard to say at this point which direction the show is going on this issue.

No, Huge isn’t making offensive wisecracks about how much these characters eat, but it is showing them as kids who love their junk food. Blonsky’s character—the wonderfully sassy Will (short for Wilhelmina)—keeps a stash of candy and snacks underneath the fake bottom of her suitcase, some of which she eats herself and some of which she sells on the fat camp black market. And after Will tries to run away from camp, the first thing she does is order a big plate of french fries and a large chocolate shake at a roadside dinner.

The message is clear: “fat” people like fatty foods.

And I don’t really buy it.

I don’t believe, for instance, that Blonsky is the size she is because she eats three times as much as the rest of us. I believe, instead, that she’s that size because of her genes and because of the chemicals in our environment. (If you don’t know what chemicals I’m talking about, be sure to read my “Rethinking Baby Fat” post.)

Still, I’m not ready to throw out the baby with the bath water.

And here’s why . . .

Though camp director Dr. Rand—played by Firefly‘s Gina Torres—sends the message that Will is overweight solely because of the food she eats when she asks Will, “Don’t you want to change your life?” Will isn’t buying it. On more than one occasion, Will actively resists the idea that she needs to lose weight or that she shouldn’t like herself the way she is, as do some of the other campers who post signs like this near their bunk:

Early on we also find out that Will’s parents made her go to fat camp against her will. More importantly, she reveals that she doesn’t even want to lose weight. “I’m down with my fat,” she says during one scene, and later rolls her eyes with disgusts at one character’s “thin-spiration” wall. And when Torres’ Dr. Rand questions her in the diner, she responds by accusing Rand of wanting her to hate her body, something she is unwilling to do.

It remains to be seen whether or not Huge will fall in line with Will’s take on her body or Dr. Rand’s, but I can say this: as long as Will refuses to dislike herself the way she is, I’m there.

Fat camp champ: why adolescence never leaves us

199 pounds
If you feel like ANY of the things you have ever done to lose weight—or to feel better about your body—are at all messed up, then you have simply got to read Stephanie Klein‘s Moose. I just finished it a few weeks ago, and I’m not exaggerating when I say it it might be one of the best books I’ve ever read.
It’s definitely one of the most important.
Moose is a memoir about Klein’s experience growing up “fat” and being shipped off to fat camp by her somewhat unsympathetic parents.
I put the word “fat” in quotation marks because, as I mentioned in my “Fat is off the list” post, I don’t think that word is productive, but also because Klein was never really fat.
Chubby, yes. But not fat.
If you don’t believe me, here are some pictures to prove it:
The image on the left shows Klein as a plump teen around the time the book takes place, and the picture on the right is the one that appears on the back of her book: the author as a successful, gorgeous, and obviously thin adult woman.
Though the book doesn’t exactly chronicle how Klein finally kicks the fat habit, it does beautifully narrate her horrific experiences trying to lose weight any way she could while growing up in a world that does not accept people who struggle with weight. Ironically, when Klein goes to fat camp, she is one of the thinnest people there, and as a result, becomes popular and sought-after. As it turns out, even at fat camp, skinny wins.
But what’s so moving about this book is that Klein goes through what we all—fat or not—went through when we were young: feeling unattractive, struggling to fit in, and just wanting to be normal.
Sadly, Klein’s parents offer little understanding of her situation. At one point, the whole family goes to a “pay what you weigh” dinner, and when Klein refuses to get on the scale, rather than empathize, they tell her that the whole world is prejudiced against fat people and that she’ll be much happier if she loses weight.
It’s to Klein’s credit that she doesn’t shy away from painting her mother and father as imperfect—if ultimately loving—parents.
As a result, it’s hard not to be completely moved by how challenging it is for Klein to experience adolescence with an extra thirty pounds to lug around and parents who are pushing her to eat lighter fare while scooping out the scalloped potatoes for themselves. And this is why you can’t help but walk away from the book with a better understanding of the fact that your own adolescence—no matter how awkward—wasn’t that bad by comparison. This is because when young Stephanie suffers from the taunts of her peers or—worse yet—her parents and teachers (one of whom insists she admit she’s “gorda”—or fat—in Spanish class), so do you, and the book is obviously better for it.
This is a must-read for any woman who has ever struggled with weight or body issues.
In other words, it’s a must-read for all of us.

Childhood Obesity, Part III: Don’t be an enabler

I’ve talked before about my take on the current childhood obesity epidemic. As I mentioned in my “Letting Go” post, I don’t think this problem can be solved until parents start letting their kids play outside as much as we did when we were kids (which was basically all the time).

The bottom line is that kids today are raised in a very insular and protected world—one in which they are not allowed to play outside alone, one in which they are given a trophy just for participating, and one in which they are not often enough held responsible for their actions. In a nutshell, kids today are coddled. And until we let them venture out on their own—into a world where there are consequences (both physical and emotional), they will become more and more lazy, entitled, and overweight.

I’m sorry if you think that’s too blunt, but it’s the truth.

But one of the things I haven’t talked about is how we feed our kids today. Partially because the problem with the way kids eat isn’t that different than the problems with the way us adults eat. We all eat too much processed food, and we all need to cook at home more. Even though I know this is true, over the past few weeks, I’ve become more aware of some additional issues with childhood nutrition.

One of them is obvious but bears repeating: the way adults enable their kids poor eating habits.

Dave and I were on a walk Tuesday when we came across a family of three: a father and his two kids, a boy and a girl, probably around ages nine and eleven.

The father was typical—middle-aged, a little bit overweight, but not unusually so.

But the kids stood out to me as being much bigger than normal—no, they weren’t morbidly obese, but they were carrying much more weight on them than they should. They almost looked to me like the little boy in last summer’s Up!—just too round.

But what was really alarming was what they were holding.

Both of them had gargantuan slurpee cups. I am not kidding when I say they were each about a foot tall. One had some kind of blue frozen drink, and the other was yellow.

They were both nursing these monster-sized sippy cups as the three of them walked over to a nearby grave (we were in the cemetery at the time), and I couldn’t help but note the irony: would these kids die younger because of the junk food they were putting in their bodies? And more importantly, what kind of father would buy his kids that kind of crap??? Especially in such a large size and for kids who should be cutting calories rather than adding them?

I imagine that it must be difficult to say no to a child who begs and begs for something they really want. I can guarantee you that if I were a parent, I would be lousy at that kind of discipline. But I do know this—no matter how difficult it was, I would not let my children feast on a 100-ounce cocktail of high fructose corn syrup and artificial flavors.

And I sure hope you don’t either.

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