Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Controversial Diet Book for Young Girls


We do not see children under 12 at Foodtrainers. My feeling has always been that parents versus children make most food decisions, prior to that age. If necessary, I will consult with parents of young children or refer them out to a therapist if I feel a serious issue exists.  My reaction to an upcoming book entitled “Maggie Goes on a Diet” about a 14-year-old losing weight may surprise you.

We’re away in San Francisco and I was just getting up after a long day (actually two days) of travel yesterday. My husband called me over to the TV saying, “you’ve got to see this.” George Stephanopoulos was interviewing the author (plus, plus-sized himself) about his controversial new book. I don’t recall but the subtitle was something like “diet book for young girls.” I watched the segment, did some research googling and came to the conclusion this isn’t a terrible idea, it’s just an unfortunate title.

For starters, this is not really a diet book at all. In the story, with cartoon-like illustrations, Maggie is overweight 14 year old is subject to teasing from her friends at school. Maggie joins the soccer team and starts to make healthier food choices. She ends up the star of the soccer team, loses some weight and feels better about herself. I think the word diet sends the wrong message because it insinuates something severe. On one of the message boards a comment read “what’s next lingerie for 12 year olds?” This implies that something inappropriate is written about. What’s described isn’t severe and isn’t unlike what I would do if a 14 year old came to my offices.

Those buying the book are primarily parents, if I had overweight child and wanted to broach the topic of weight loss this may not be a bad conversation starter. I have a tween son and there’s a book my friends suggested when having “the talk”.  There’s something nice about reading “a story” or looking at pictures to open a dialog up with children. I’m a proponent of telling my kids about things my way before their peers give them the wrong information or they have fear about something they don’t know about.

Why not explain to kids what a diet is, why we may gain and lose weight, why people are different sizes and how to be sensitive about this? The notion that this will create eating disorders is ludicrous to me. Children are more likely to pick up on disordered eating my watching a parent “diet” than my being informed about weight and food and exercise in an age-appropriate manner.  I talk to preschoolers about nutrition. Granted, I don’t talk to them about calories but I tell them how various foods function in their bodies, how activity helps their bones etc.

The author of “Maggie Goes on a Diet” previously wrote a book about bed wetting,
It seems his goal is to cover topics that affect a lot of children but may be touchy to discuss. Some have mentioned that Paul Kramer has no degree in nutrition but this isn’t a nutrition book. And from his size, perhaps (and I don’t know this for a fact) he has some experience growing up overweight. I will buy “Maggie Goes on a Diet” when it comes out in October even with the silly title.
Have you heard about this book? What are your thoughts about it? Do you think it’s OK for a teenager to lose weight in a controlled manner?

25 comments:

  1. That sorta reminds me of the book "The Berenstein Bears and Too Much Junk Food" where the bears start to get to an unhealthy weight and then start to exercise more and eat healthier snacks like fruit or carrot sticks instead of candy. I thought it was a really good book.

    ReplyDelete
  2. You just made me laugh. Exactly, it's so benign in content but the notion of the word diet made people nuts.

    ReplyDelete
  3. But it really IS a stupid title. From the perspective of a writer and a reader, I would never buy that book...just because the title is so awful. I also wonder what age it's aimed at. I can guarantee that no 14-year-old would be willing to pick that book up!

    (Sorry, my comments all have to do with the book from a book perspective. I don't really have an opinion on the content...I'll withhold judgement until I read it.)

    ReplyDelete
  4. The title is totally the problem. My first thought was, "how did the publisher not foresee that it would be an issue?" My second thought was, "that publisher is really smart b/c look at all this press the book is getting!"

    ReplyDelete
  5. Funny you mention that Justine, the book I believe is self published (makes sense). Second, I thought about the publicity thing too but didn't think that when I saw the interview. Oh man, wish I had thought of that :)

    ReplyDelete
  6. Your so right-that title kind of makes me want to scream, but if the book talks about promoting healthy, balanced eating and exercise, I don't have a problem with that. My clients are mostly adults, but I've worked with one young girl (9) who I know personally. We talk about eating and exercising to be healthy and strong, but we don't use the "D" word. I also really stress the point to her that healthy girls come in ALL shapes and sizes. It really helps that her parents are supportive with this approach, because I agree with you that parents are still the main role models for their kids at this age! Hope you're having a fabulous time in one of my favorite cities :-)

    ReplyDelete
  7. I think if the whole family wants to get healthier and be a healthy weight with a dietitian its cool, sometimes something has to be done,

    ReplyDelete
  8. That title is the worst! I love the Spicy RD's approach, but particularly the reminder healthy girls come in all shapes and sizes. That message is sorely lacking among girls.

    You mention in your post the importance of modeling by parents and picking up disordered eating from a parent. Is there a correlation btw parents' disordered eating or obesity and that of their children? Yesterday some middle school teachers were remarking about a group of moms who are all frightening thin and that we should pay attention to how and what their girls eat at school. Thoughts?

    ReplyDelete
  9. I think the title is the main problem here. I did see a little discussion about this on CNN and I think people are very much overreacting because the content of the book is really good! (Or it seems to be - I haven't read it yet).

    The truth is that kids need to have certain things spelled out for them and I think this book is fabulous for that.

    Hope you are enjoying SF!

    ReplyDelete
  10. I have not heard of this book. It sounds quite benign though. It's an unfortunate title. I don't find anything wrong in starting a discussion about food/diets early. Like you said, if you don't talk to your kids they will just pick up information that may be skewed from their peers/the media.

    Maybe the author chose a controversial title on purpose? So many books (especially self-published) fall through the cracks. Had he chosen a 'tame' title we probably would not be talking about it. Now this book is being discussed on CNN and right here. Publicity is publicity. Smart move on the author, I think.

    ReplyDelete
  11. When I first saw the book online I was floored - but you are right, it's because of the use of the word "diet" in the title. There is absolutely nothing wrong about introducing healthy concepts young (obviously it's a good idea) but the way it is presented is the most important aspect ie: healthy = strong, able to play, feel good physically and emotionally. I also think that those of us who work with overweight children will have differing opinions than those who work with young children with eating disorders.

    ReplyDelete
  12. I have only heard of the book by title and I agree, the title is pretty bad. But I don't know anything else about the book and I think that what you've described sounds like a reasonable approach for teenage girls. I really don't like the idea of putting young girls on a "diet" though. I have a 9 year old niece and my MIL and other family members sometimes talk about some food (i.e. cookies and ice cream) as being "fattening" in her presence - it makes me cringe when they do this. I've tried explaining to them that she's impressionable and that talking about food in terms of what foods are healthy and good for you vs. not as good for you would be better for her but I doubt that's going to change anytime soon...

    ReplyDelete
  13. I just read about this book in my ADA newsletter. I agree with your perspective but I don't agree with the age group he's targeting! 4-6 year olds I think I read? Like you said, anything before the age of 12 is a diet mainly influenced/controlled by the parent! This book should almost be targeted at adults! ha

    ReplyDelete
  14. what ticked me off about this book was the implication that it is OK for the kids to make fun of Maggie while she is fat, and now that she's lost the weight they are her friends.

    What a shallow way of looking at life.

    As someone who went through puberty heavier then her peers, I was constantly put down, teased, made fun of, etc. I would never, and have never, want to be friends with such people because of their shallow look on life.

    Fat is one of the last acceptable prejudices in "polite society" and it is sickning. Especially considering how much of the US is overweight.

    Why isn't there a book to teach the bully kids to accept the kids that aren't the same (although there probably is but why isn't that on the media). Or teach the overweight kids how to stand up to them?

    I'm all for discussion weight loss with younger kids, but for health reasons, not to be popular..

    ReplyDelete
  15. "Diet" should not be associated with a child's food intake. Of course parents should feed their children a healthy diet but there's no need for them to "diet" with the focus on weight loss! Talk about stressful for a kid!

    ReplyDelete
  16. I do think that children need skills to stick up to others and in no way is ridiculing others for their appearance at all acceptable. However, in no way are children going to accept themselves at any size, the same way adults aren't either and for obese kids I don't think "love yourself" is the only message. Sometimes weight loss is necessary and can improve self esteem it just needs to be handled delicately by a professional (versus a parent). Lisa, while we may say "diet" shouldn't be used for kids with obese children a diet (whether we refer to it as such) is often needed.

    ReplyDelete
  17. I could NOT agree with you MORE! IN fact, I just posted this article on my end of the week "News update post" and I wrote exactly what you said, "I love the idea, but HATE the title". The word diet should have no part in this title. It's really unfortunate, just like you said. The premise of the book is great. There are so many young girls being teased over their weight, and I think it's ok for them to makeover their current diet and lifestyle, in a healthy (non-diet) way!

    ReplyDelete
  18. I think it's a really silly title, but yes, as many who commented before me, it seems pretty benign in content. I doubt anyone would raise an eyebrow (or buy, or interview the author) if the book was called, "Maggie Plays Soccer" or "Maggie Moves".

    I recall thinking myself quite mature at 14 and wouldn't be caught dead with a book that had pictures, though...so I am not quite sure who the audience is here.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Gina, will check out your post. I'm glad you agree re "making over" a teen's routine as some people do not. Cameo/others the audience suggested is 6-12 though I have a 7 and 9 year old and it does seem geared toward younger children. Also Maggie looks sort of inflated/not loving the cartoon chubby kid image.

    ReplyDelete
  20. The book doesn't sound too bad, but yeah, horrible title.
    I work with kids in this age group and you are completely right that it is very much about the parents. The kids I do see struggle with fitting in, bullying, etc. so it might be a good book in helping to relate.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Kristen, would love to hear more about what you feel works with this age group (a toughie for sure). The bullying is a reality, I love what someone suggested about about preparing kids to respond to the bullying too.

    ReplyDelete
  22. hi,
    from your summary, i like what anonymous said, that if making fun of maggie for being overweight was presented as okay, that's irresponsible. the title, however, is what makes this book get publicity. it sounds controversial. if i was marketing a book, i would want a title that might shock people a little. the title doesn't seem best for the message of the book, unless stopping the teasing was the ultimate message of the book.
    my sister planned on having 'the talk' with her tween son but his friends filled him on the guts of the talk already. i'm not presuming anything about your relationship with your son, but they know so early. maybe we all do. i found out from friends at age 11.
    very thoughtful post. here from ayala's place.

    ReplyDelete
  23. Thanks Ed. I don't think teasing should be presented as ok but I do think teasing happens. Kids know everything early, my son is 9!

    ReplyDelete
  24. Well I won't be buying that book for my child! What is shocking, that this book was actually written at all! Eating disorders and a low self worth and body image are being seen in children as young as 6, when they should be concentrating on being a child and enjoying life. Has the author got any professional qualifications!

    ReplyDelete
  25. I would like to recommend that you stick with the #1 Forex broker.

    ReplyDelete