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Shaming Children for Eating Snacks: How Not to Fight Childhood Obesity

Apr 4 2012
The Bible suggests food is a gift from God—even when we're trying to lose weight.

Manhattan socialite Dara-Lynn Weiss's essay in the April issue of Vogue touched off yet another Internet skirmish, part mommy war, part diet war, with cries of child abuse, accusations involving recipes for eating disorders, and of course, the inevitable book deal.

Call her the Tiger Mom of the weight-obsessed.

The snack-size version of Weiss's essay (not available online) is that her 7-year-old daughter, Bea, was found to be in the 99th percentile for weight. In response, Weiss put her on a kid-appropriate Weight-Watchers-style (i.e., restricted calorie) diet, but also served up a heavy portion of guilt and shame. She describes depriving Bea of dinner upon learning that "French Heritage Day" at her school involved Brie, filet mignon, baguette, and chocolate, telling her "you have to stop eating crap like that, you're getting too heavy," and shaming Bea for eating snacks that her friends' parents and other caregivers had given her.

In the essay, Weiss admits to having a complicated relationship to food herself:

I have not ingested any food, looked at a restaurant menu, or been sick to the point of vomiting without silently launching a complicated mental algorithm about how it will affect my weight.

Weiss also says she has been

on and off Weight Watchers, Atkins, Slim-Fast, LA Weight Loss, Jenny Craig, juice diets and raw food diets.

Believe it or not, I can relate. Once upon a time, I was conflicted and panicked about food and eating. Having a child spotlighted those anxieties; when I became pregnant for the first time, I was terrified of gaining weight, a fear I now regard as a failure of hospitality that still embarrasses me. But having my son highlighted two truths about my body obsession: one, that I didn't want to pass on my food "issues" to my child (which is a likely dynamic, especially between mothers and daughters), and two, that I was acting like the Devil when it came to food.

It's easy to do, especially in America, because while we have almost unimaginable plenty, we sometimes simply have too much. And the dismal and endlessly reiterated statistics on obesity—especially the childhood variety--make it likely that we'll associate chocolate cake with guilt instead of, say, party.

Don't read me wrong: I know that a poor diet carries significant health risks. I know that certain foods predispose the body to certain ailments. I know that in a sense, there's plenty to fear and to feel guilty about.

But there remains the fact that in Scripture, food is always a gift from God. The Garden of Eden is an edible paradise; the God of Israel rains manna and quail from heaven; creatures from lions to cattles to people seek their food from God, who invites anyone—even people who have no money—to come, buy, and eat. And God makes himself flesh, declares himself to be the "true Manna," and breaks his body as bread, pours his blood as wine, for the life of the world, promising one day to host a marriage supper to celebrate the consummation of all things.

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