Friday, August 26, 2011

Kids, Diet, Exercise, and “Maggie Goes On A Diet”

So, there is this book called “Maggie Goes On A Diet,” according to amazon targeted at kids 4 to 8, about a 14 year old girl that goes on a diet, joins the soccer team, and loses weight.  It’s causing a big stir.  I’m not normally a “blog about the news” kinda blogger, and to be honest, with IM coming up, I have better stuff to do…but this one has been weighing heavily on my conscious (pun totally intended).  I haven’t read the book, so clearly I’m judging a book by its cover.  With that disclaimer, my feelings are mixed on the book.  I dig that Maggie does something fun to be active by joining a soccer team.    I don’t like the idea of Maggie on a diet.  I’m all about talking about the goodness of good foods with kids, but not a fan of talking about the badness of foods, or shame, or guilt…  If only the book was called “Maggie learns about how great eating good things makes you feel.”
My Early Lessons On Food
I think I was 8 or 9?  Third grade.  There was this little store not far from my house, it was called Mitchell’s.  We’d go there and it was a common treat for me to get a candy bar when we did.   Eventually I came to expect the candy bar, it was habit.  Not such a great habit for the fat kid, a hat I had been wearing since grade 2 at the time.  So anyway, I’m standing in the kitchen.  Today is different.  Mom is turning over the Hershey bar in my hands, and pointing at the nutritional information.  She pointed out that the bar had over 200 calories in it, which seemed to upset her.  I didn’t really know why.  She was upset with me for wanting it, but handed it to me anyway.  I was…I guess ashamed.  Eating the candy made me feel better.  Calories, chocolate bars, nutritional information, shame for disappointing my parents, comfort in food.  This was my first lesson in nutrition.
I was not quite 10 for my next lesson.  It was 1986, I know because I remember “Walk Like an Egyptian” by the Bangles on the radio…odd the things that stick in a kid’s head.  Yup, still the fat kid.  I’m not sure why, but my parents decided to introduce me to exercise.  The next thing I remember is running around the soccer field at Garnsey Park in Joliet, IL, near the house I grew up in.  Dad told me my butt was sticking out when I ran…which was very true, and something I still struggle with…but it made me feel even more terrible at the time, since I had no idea how to fix it.  I couldn’t keep up.  I eventually just walked.    Running wasn’t fun, but it was clear that it wasn’t supposed to be.  It was punishment, for being fat.   This was my first lesson in exercise. 
Parenting and Healthy Living
So, now I have a 7 year old.  He does not have a weight problem, and I’m hoping to teach him things now that will keep that from happening later.  But it’s hard.  I had a weight problem.  I have a food addiction.  He sees my struggle with food every day.  Just like my early lessons were heavily based on my parents relationship with food.  I hope what I teach him will help prepare him to make healthy choices.  I hope the example I’m setting is a good one. 
 I think I’ve got the exercise thing down.  William and I run together regularly, and the fun always comes first.  If he walks, I walk.  If he sprints, I do.  We've done a 5k together, and he won his age group.  To William, running is fun.  Running makes us feel good.   We run just for the joy of running.  The only relationship we have between running and food is the idea that eating good things helps us run even faster. 
Food is harder.  At mom’s house there are poptarts for breakfast.  At Dad’s house those aren’t available.  He isn’t totally sure why.  We always want a chocolate chip cookie, but we only get one sometimes.  Cookies are a sometimes food, but he isn’t totally sure why.  We try to eat veggies with every meal, but French Fries aren’t veggies at Dad’s house.  Confusion.  But then, I hear him say stuff like  “Dad, this has good calories for me.”   Last night we were talking about where to go for dinner, and he said “I don’t care, what works best for your calories,” which is something he would hear in our house a lot as I struggle to balance the daily energy needs of an endurance athlete with the structure I put in place to keep the fat guy I was at bay.   It’s the reality of my life, but in a way it breaks my heart to hear him say it.  I hate that he has to live in a world where food is carefully measured, weighed, and evaluated.  It’s a world tanted by my demons. 
So, I guess I’m glad that Maggie learned to play soccer and eat healthy food.  I’m sad she changed based on her bad feelings about herself and I don’t think that really works as a sole reason for change, at least it never did for me.  Clearly, food and exercise are topics that we need to teach our children about as parents.  We have to lead the way for them.  Childhood Obesity is at 17% now.  It’s a problem and it’s time to wake up. 
But for the 4-8 year olds out there, and for the rest of us too, I think we’d do well to keep the message positive.   Eating well and exercising are great things, not punishments or restrictions to how we live. 

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