I remember when I started hating the scale.
I was at the pediatrician’s office completing a routine physical before entering fifth grade. We were nearing the end of the exam when my relationship with the scale, and my weight, changed forever.
My pediatrician closed his clipboard and, in a serious tone, began, “OK, there is only one thing left to talk about. Toby, let’s talk about your weight. You need some help.”
I fought back tears as the well-intentioned doc explained a program to help me drop some pounds. At the time, I’d weighed more than 100 pounds and only stood 50 inches tall.
I knew I was overweight, but hearing someone else tell me so was devastating. Even today, nearly 30 years removed from that day, writing about it brings back so much sadness and shame.
That experience created some lifelong baggage for me. In fact, this experience resurfaced recently as I began to worry about my daughter, Vivi.
My daughter loves to eat
Vivi is a gorgeous, social, bubbly 8-year-old who will enter third grade this year with tenacity and vigor that make me ridiculously proud. I’d never change her in any way, but I worry about her relationship with food.
Not only does Vivi like to eat, she thinks about food often, talks about food constantly and looks forward to her next meal.
At breakfast, she might ask: “Dad, what’s for lunch?” or “Are we going out to eat tonight?” On Sunday, in fact, Vivi returned from a birthday party — saying nothing about the overnight tomfoolery with her classmates. Instead, she spoke only about the cake-filled sugar cones and Skittles she ate.
Without doubt, my daughter loves to eat and, I’m afraid, I’ve now come full-circle. I’m a 40-year-old man with deep-seated issues, now tormented about what to do with a daughter who seems to be just like the elementary-school me. Having battled my own weight issues for many years, I know that I don’t want to send her down my same path:
- I don’t want my daughter to be dominated by food. I’d rather Vivi not look forward to the next meal, but I don’t want to give her a complex so she believes it’s wrong, gross or disgusting.
- I don’t want my daughter to have a diminished self-concept. I’ve tried to disconnect Vivi’s self-esteem from her physical appearance – but, the world may not be so kind.
- I don’t want my daughter to miss out. I want Vivi to feel free to grab a cupcake at a party or a second slice of pizza. I want her to be a worry-free kid.
The difficulty, though, comes when pairing the “I don’ts” above to what “I knows” of today.
- I know my daughter needs nudging. If left alone, Vivi would be a couch potato – watching Netflix and anxiously waiting lunch to be served.
- I know the activities she prefers don’t provide a high level of exertion. The level of physical effort associated with the grade-school level tumbling class she loves pales in comparison to an hour of soccer or swimming practice that she’d rather avoid.
- I know, if given a choice, my daughter will select higher calorie, junk foods. I hope Vivi makes mostly good food choices, but she’s an 8-year-old — there is nothing strange about picking French fries for a side.
Solutions that hold weight
When I think of the best way forward, for me, I come up with two parenting solutions:
1. Covert control
I can control what is in the fridge, what my kids are reaching for during snack time and the dishes that appear on our household dinner menu – that is an enormous advantage. I can influence their decisions without my kids having any idea – therefore not singling out any one of them.
2. Stop talking about weight, start talking about health
If I can talk to my kids about being healthy – eating wholesome foods in appropriate serving sizes, getting lots of daily, physical activity and finding their passions – there will be no need to address the numbers reported on the bathroom scale. There will be no “diets” in my home anymore. I will, instead, try to create a healthy lifestyle. And, by the way, one that can allow for French fries when it makes sense.
As with most of the parenting issues I think about, though, addressing your child’s health is not easy – and there is no right time.
The subject is complicated and the impacts are lasting. This is especially true if, like me, you’ve had the same personal struggles you’re trying to help your kid avoid. But, I’m choosing to let my baggage stay my own.
That doesn’t mean I won’t try to bat away an emerging issue with my daughter. It does, however, mean I’ll do so differently and more subtly.
All the while, like my parents some 30 years ago, I’ll wonder if I’m doing the right thing. Only time will tell if my parenting strategy is really worth the “weight.”