Thursday, February 14, 2013

Fat on Facebook

I received the following email from a loyal Foodtrainers’ reader:

Just last night I was scrolling through my Facebook feed and I came across a photo of my friend’s child, above the photo she had captioned "My Big Guy".  My eyes nearly popped out of their sockets because she had this child only 2 years ago and he is GIGANTIC, and by gigantic I mean OBESE.  This isn't like a home-grown, strapping, Midwestern farm kid who has been drinking natural cow's milk and eating kale grown outside in the garden, this is a Brooklyn kid who must be raised on ALL processed foods.  I immediately texted my best friend who is really close with this friend. She wrote back to say, "I know!  I am thinking about what to say to her now because something has to be said!!!"
What would Lauren do?  Do you have the conversation, or do you avoid it and watch your friend's kid get diabetes and asthma?  

What I would do, as a nutritionist, may be different from what you choose to do. I do not offer unsolicited nutrition advice, as professionally, I feel readiness is everything. Advice is taken much more seriously in my office than it is at a dinner table or schoolyard. I think your question is a great one for a few reasons. First, early childhood weight is often ignored or dismissed as “baby fat” while babies and toddlers, like the rest of our country, have been getting larger. One in 10 children under 2 years old is overweight. Additionally, many friends and relatives reading this struggle with the same “do I say something” question.

I reached out to Dara-Lynn Weiss, a parent and the author of the thought-provoking new book The Heavy, for her opinion on this. The Heavy documents Dara’s efforts to help her 7 year old lose weight. Last year I blogged about a Vogue article profiling Dara and her daughter Bea.

Dara’s response:
I am no expert on childhood obesity, pediatric nutrition, or child psychology. But as a mother who went through the trial of having an obese child, I do have an opinion about what you and other parents in your situation should do: nothing.
In my memoir about helping my child overcome obesity at a young age (The Heavy: A Mother, A Daughter, A Diet -- A Memoir), I consider various reasons why parents' job of helping a severely overweight child is so unexpectedly difficult. Some of those reasons are:
  1. We're scared to talk to kids about their weight, and to intervene in a very sensitive and challenging area of their lives. 
  2. While we are subject to the judgments and criticisms of our peers for having an overweight or obese child, we fear the backlash that may accompany our decision to help a young child lose weight. 
  3. The information provided by experts on how to help our child often has little or nothing to do with our individual child's situation, making us feel like we're doing something wrong when we fail to heed that advice or find it doesn't work for our families.

I can see that you care about your friend, and are operating out of genuine concern for her child. I think you are worried she's guilty of issue #1 (afraid to intervene), but I would suggest you try to avoid being one of the people contributing to issue #2 (judgment by peers). I respect that Lauren, who does have actual expertise in the area of nutrition, doesn't provide unsolicited advice to people without understanding the specifics of their bodies and lifestyle. It is all too easy to criticize others -- I know from having been on both sides of the judgment coin -- and to feel you know what's best for them without having a full understanding of their situation.
In this case, you are making judgments about a two-year-old child's diet ("he must be raised on ALL processed foods") and health prospects (taking "diabetes and asthma" as a given in this child's future) based only on a Facebook post. There may be medical issue or a reasonable developmental explanation around this child's weight. Perhaps the mother is already concerned about or even addressing her child's weight, and she is merely expressing her love for her baby on Facebook, not making a public declaration of obesity acceptance.
I appreciate that you want to help. As the mother of a child who suffered from obesity and still works hard to maintain a healthy weight, I strongly believe that the only person who should tell a parent that his or her child needs intervention with weight is a medical professional who has an ongoing relationship to the family. As a friend to the parent of an overweight or obese child, the best thing you can do, in my opinion, is support your friend's efforts to help her child -- whenever and however she decides to do so -- and spare her any unsolicited judgments and advice. I'm sure she's getting enough of those as it is.
 Wow, thank you Dara. I have a few additional thoughts. While we both agree saying something isn’t necessarily the right move, you mentioned support. If you are to support someone you have to be in contact with them. Perhaps open the door with “how is everything going? Your photo made me realize we haven’t been in touch”. If someone is looking to spew, that’s all they need to hear. I also thought a lot about Dara’s opinion of “expert’s advice” and it’s something I often think when I read books on children’s nutrition or parenting. I feel like screaming, “it’s not that easy.” And talking about weight and food is far from easy.
Thank you for this question, if any of you have articles or questions you’d like me to cover, send them my way.What would you do if faced with a similar situation? Have you ever addressed a friend or family member’s weight before they broached the subject? Would it be different if this were an adult?

Happy Valentine's Day, Dave Linn (Jen Linn's husband) wrote the most beautiful piece about her. This is love and a must read (with tissues ready). Miss you Jen and your dancing always.
Giveaway news: the winner of the Chocolate giveaway is Kathy (from beautypalatte blog) and the winner of Sex Again is Meg. 


  1. Yes! Thank you! Can't tell you how often clients who struggle with their own or childrens behaviors are so hurt by the actions and words of family and friends who are trying to " help ". The hurt and anger certainly don't help but only contribute to shame and isolation. Not what friends are for! Love the idea of unconditional support and no judgements and an appreciation of the struggle we are all in to raise happy healthy kids!

  2. This is definitely a tough situation, thanks for posting this view on how to deal with it. IT's interesting too, because we hear this in the know..when Jessica Simpson got really big in her pregnancy and gave birth to a 10 pound was like "yeah!! How impressive!". All I could think of was; wow, that child now has an increased risk for just about everything.
    Great blog post, I'm sure I'll use these tips in the future, my friends are starting to have kids, it's crazy!

  3. important to point out though that while some people are nasty, others feel better to "help" than ignore. I think you can help by really listening to a friend or family member's cues and talking about the non-food or weight areas that affect food choices and weight. Oh and it's not just overweight comments Michele, right? But commentary about weight loss, regimens etc.

  4. Hooray! So excited about my new treats!

    Such a great (and timely) post. Even though I am not a nutritionist, I definitely consider offering my opinions when I hear or read about people, particularly bloggers, discussing about their new, not so healthy, diet or their 1000th failed attempt to lose weight. Sometimes it is really, really hard for me to bite my tongue, but I know that if they aren't asking me for my advice, it definitely isn't my place to say anything!

  5. I feel if you post about something you're inviting feedback so that may be different.

  6. I try not to address anything with anyone! That's the only way I keep my big foot out of my big mouth.

    Seriously though, this is a tricky one. It's sad to see overweight kids because you know what the other kids have in store for them. Nothing harder to watch than a child get bullied or made fun of.

  7. Great topic! Great post!

    I love you for saying: "I do not offer unsolicited nutrition advice, as professionally, I feel readiness is everything."

    I couldn't agree more.

    The health professional whose place it is to address nutrition, weight and BMI is the pediatrician -- it's supposed to be part of every well visit. Schools also monitor kids for obesity.

    Oh, Facebook and its pictures...that's one reason to call and visit.

    Happy Valentine's Day.

  8. Agreed Ameena (bday girl). And I'm not an advocate for doing nothing about weight. I just feel the changes have to come from the child/family and not friends and other family members.

  9. Yay! I am excited to get the book. I think! As long as it doesn't involve swapping half-eaten food I'm up for (almost) anything.

    Great input from Dana-Lynn Weiss and very smart of you to turn to her for her thoughts on this.

  10. we'll see about "up for anything" happy reading, Jill Blakeway is so classy, it doesn't seem like a sex book. Happy Valentines Day to you and Mr D'Incecco. Agree about DLW's advice. I am a great outsourcer Meg.

  11. Yes but even the pediatricians have been known to say some pretty scarring things when it comes to weight. They may have the information and forum to discuss it but language and methods concern me sometimes. Do people still "call" I am phone phobic or out of practice. Visits are good.

  12. I agree that readiness is everything! But having that support is so important.

    Lauren...I hate to be a pain but I didn't receive the mushroom kit I won yet. I had emailed the girl who initially contacted me but have never heard from her. Do you have any idea? My email is I appreciate it! I was so excited to use it! :)

  13. Kristen, emailed you re shrooms. Are for weight loss support is important, do you mean friend should support other friend?

  14. I also never offer unsolicited advice (unless it's on my blog and then you are chooosing to read it right?). Anyway, I agree with everything said here. Perfect.