Dilemma

I have one.

A couple I know have a child about the same age as my twins. But I am concerned about the way they’re feeding him. I don’t claim to be perfect when it comes to my kids; they have treats, we have takeaways once a week, and yes, they like Burger King (although that’s mainly because BK gives away toys with their kids meals, and Subway no longer do). But in general I try to make sure they eat a healthy, balanced diet. If I’m honest with myself I have to admit that the reason I do this is partly because I am fat and don’t want my kids to suffer the same crap I have been through/go through. But mainly I do it because I want them to enjoy the best health they can; I also believe that good nutrition will help their brains develop. I want the best for my kids and while I don’t want to be over the top about it, I do control what they eat. After all, I am the parent and this is part of my job.

But this child…. his parents regularly feed him things like McDonalds or KFC for breakfast *and* dinner. He guzzles soft drink by the bottleful and snacks on big blocks of chocolate, family size bags of lollies, and party pack size chips. He spends most of his time inside in front of the television. But here’s the thing; considering that *I* myself do not eat the healthiest diet in the world, and am fat, do I really have a leg to stand on here? And should I say something to the parents?

I worry about him. And it’s not as though he needs a home cooked meal each night. Both parents work and I remember well what that was like. But considering it’s summer at the moment, why not even feed him sandwiches, fruit, fresh ham, raw veggies and hummus? Just as easy as the drive through…

Am I out of line here? What do you think?

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23 Responses

  1. You are out of line. His diet is none of your business.

    You are obviously well intentioned, but I’m afraid you sound like the people fat people have been frustrated about forever — well intentioned people who think they know better than you.

    And I promise your friends won’t appreciate your advice.

    You might also want to keep in mind that health is really affected very little by diet. Modern “western” diet is filled with vitamin-enriched flour. The kid is getting the nutrients he needs to grow into adulthood. Saturated fats may add fatty deposits around your heart over decades. Constant consumption of high calorie food may result in increased body weight over the long term. But if he is unhealthy at the present, it is not due to dietary deficiencies.

    • I disagree: I think health is affected by diet, especially when the child in question is still growing. Dietary deficiencies are a given considering his diet contains almost no fresh fruit or vegetables of any kind, little dairy and a heck of a lot of sugar.

  2. Unless you are extremely close friends (or family), I wouldn’t go there. If you think the treatment constitutes child abuse, make a notification to the appropriate authorities. If not, don’t go there.

    Imagine if the shoe were on the other foot so to speak, how would you feel if someone came in offering their thoughts and ‘advice’ on how to raise your child? What they are doing may well be questionable and seemingly not in the child’s best interest but he is their child and unless they are mistreating him enough to constitute abuse, you really have no say in it.

    • Yes, and that’s why I am on the fence. I feel *very* strongly about this. But on the other hand… I don’t want to get into other people’s parenting. That’s why it is a dilemma. I do not want this child to experience the rejection that will possibly come from family members because of his weight. I don’t want him to have the health effects that come from a diet lacking in vitamins and minerals. But at the same time I don’t want to be one of those people who make everyone else’s decisions their business. But standing aside and seeing this is so hard. He’s just a kid, dammit.

  3. I think you are out of line. Seriously. Look, fast food is not ideal, I guess, but it’s *food*. They’re not poisoning their child. They’re not starving the child either. So it’s not really any of your business.

    • See, that’s the thing… I *do* think they’re ‘poisoning’ their child. More than 80% of his diet is processed junk.

      • “Processed junk” is still better than many families ate in the Depression. My mother had rickets in the Depression. RICKETS. Yes, in America. And a diet of grits, potatoes and eggs – just grits, potatoes and eggs – for weeks at a time when money was tight.

        I’m not saying it’s an ideal diet. I’m saying it’s within acceptable norms for our culture, and a damn sight better than it could be.

      • Hmmmm. I don’t think it’s within acceptable norms in my culture; but then, I don’t live in America. I agree it could be worse; I wouldn’t even be asking if it was OK to intervene if they were starving him.

  4. Does he really eat more in volume than other kids his age, by a lot? It’s hard to imagine young child eating a whole family sized bag of anything in one sitting, unless there was some glandular weirdness going on with him or something like that.

    And unless you’re around him all day, you really have no idea exactly what he does eat, or that it’s really the same all day every day. Furthermore, parents have been standing on their heads trying to get kids to eat vegetables for, I don’t know, probably a century or more. Yours readily eat them; you’re lucky. Some simply will not, ever, unless they are physically forced to do so. (I’ve known people who had that happen to them as kids. They don’t touch anything green as adults!)

    Maybe if you got to know them better, you would find out there was more than meets the eye. There usually is.

    And you’re right, if you’re not Ms. Health Food fiend yourself, all you’re going to get is an earful of “you’re no twig and YOU drink cola.”

    • I know what he eats because I have seen it. And yes, it is as much as I am making out in my post; a *lot* of food. I know veges are hard for most kids – hell, all mine will eat is carrots, broccoli and capsicums, thank the Deity for fruit! – but there has to be an alternative to the drive-thru.

  5. If he really is hyperphagic (greater than usual appetite), then that is likely a marker for a medical problem. (See the story of The Girl Who Had No Leptin, from Gina Kolata’s Rethinking Thin). Leptin deficiencies are relatively rare, and his might be a less extreme case than the one in the book, but they do exist.

    But if you really, really want to intervene, please…get to know them first. Really well. Really find out what’s happening in that family. They may be well aware of his hyperphagia, but even if they have doctors working on it, it can take a very long time to get control over, especially if he’s also a picky eater. And most general doctors don’t really know how to deal with something like that. It takes an endocrine specialist. (He might also be on a medication that causes stimulation of the appetite and/or weight gain as a side effect.)

    Also…you can’t really prevent your kids from becoming fat if they have the genes for it. (Which they might not, even with a fat parent.) I had my food “controlled” and I was still quite pudgy, even before antidepressants. Though I don’t think any very young kid should be drinking carbonated beverages anyway, that’s not good for their digestion.

  6. Maybe his diet is representative of his parents’ diet, so you wouldn’t just be criticizing their child-rearing, you would be telling the entire family they are doing “eating” all wrong. Do you feel ready and able to have that discussion?

  7. Frankly I don’t find anything different from this post that you’ve written here from what I read in the media every day. “This kid is fat and its totes because of Exercise and Diet, see how I will condemn his parents, bad bad fatty, bad.”

    I get that you are legitimately concerned. But the way to go about helping kids eat and be healthier isn’t to start off with thinking about how he’s eating the “wrong” foods. That’s what gets a lot of us fatties into messes as adults as we try to learn to feed our bodies what they want instead of what diets say is “good” or “bad.” (I love salad, but I never want to eat it because I associate it with dieting and forget that I actually really love eating it. How fucked up is that.)

    If you want to help this kid, and his parents, I would read up on intuitive eating, and encourage them to do the same. It’s entirely possible this kid is eating well past his satiety signals, it is also possible he isn’t. It seems likely to me that a lot of different stuff could be going on with this kids. It could just be that he’s getting ready to put on a growth spurt. (Or it could be he went through one and just kept eating, this happens.) You should also keep in mind that they are all exposed to the same media as you, and may just be sick of hearing patronizing b.s. about how you are what you eat.

    You’re right that kids should have access to healthy foods, and they should have opportunities to exercise. But you can’t force them to do these things, you can just try to make it fun and appealing. And if you go after these parents you’re going to have even less luck.

    If you just feel like you have to do something, I would try to include him or his whole family on active family outings, go roller skating, to the beach, play sports, go to the pool, fun things he might enjoy and try to make sure he has a good time. Maybe you could pack healthy and easy lunches full of tasty things.

    And maybe he and his family will like these things so much they will adopt them as well.

    But otherwise I would keep your judgmental self righteous mouth shut. YOU are not the arbiter of which fat people are good and which fat people need to stop eating so many lollies.

    • I was with you right up until the the end. If you actually read the post you would have seen it was not about being a ‘good or bad fatty’.

      I don’t worry about this child being fat. I worry about the amount of junk he’s eating and the affect that will have on his health. If he ate more ‘real’ food and was still fat (as I did and was as a child) that’s fine and I have no problem with it. But this is, to my mind, close to poisoning him and it’s just not right. Hell, even if he was eating huge amounts of food but it was (mainly) healthy I wouldn’t give a damn. But i think his parents are falling down here and I worry about him. I also worry about the kid I know who’s parents are so afraid he’ll get fat they feed him low-fat foods (as in processed foods) almost exclusively. And in that case, yes, I *did* say something to the parents, who I’m very close to.

      • Actually you DID express concern about his weight and not just his diet in one of your comments. So it isn’t just about him not eating right. And judging people’s diets IS part of the “good fatty/bad fatty” conversation. .

      • This is not about being ‘good’ or ‘bad’. This is about people poisoning their child, a small child, who has no way to fight back. He is not making the decisions here; they are. We wouldn’t even be having this argument if his parents had him on a stringent diet: I suspect most comments would be the complete opposite in that case. I am concerned about his health, not his waistline.

  8. I thnk all you can do is lead by example, unless they’re very close (like a sister). The parents won’t appreciate the advice, or your judgement. It’s unfortunate that people think that’s an acceptable way for kids (or anyone) to eat, but we’re a nation poisoning ourselves. It’s hard to learn to eat healthy after being raised on junk, but it happens. If the kid is over at your house, try offering him some fruit. Maybe the parents, too.

    • I know. I really don’t like those people who interfere with other’s parenting decisions. But this is a serious issue…. and I am torn.

  9. It’s not ideal, and it’s not what you would do, but it is still, very, very, much so not your business.

    I think you need to step back and stop thinking about about what these parents feed their kid. Parenting choices are very personal, and you would be basically pissing all over their choices.

    You can’t know the future. You don’t know if he’ll send up fat, and unhappy, or fat, and happy, or thin and happy, or thin and unhappy. There are no guarantees.

    I think you’re making a mountain out of a molehill here, in terms of the seriousness of this issue.

    Starving him, beating him, otherwise abusing or neglecting him would be a serious issue.

    When it comes down to it, all they’re doing is feeding him a diet that you don’t like. Back off.

  10. I understand where you’re coming from. Our best friends’ son (12) is pretty big and he went to the doctor because he was throwing up constantly. He has a fatty liver and his doctor said he should drop 50 pounds. All very serious things.

    This kid is a food sneak. When he comes over, all kinds of treats disappear from our cabinet. The most we can do is stress that he has to ask us first, or else we won’t be able to keep treats in the house. His mom cooks, but she often cooks large, fatty meals. She’s trying to get him to exercise more.

    When he eats at our house, we give him veggies and fruit and make him eat that before he gets a treat. He likes them more than we thought he would (more than my son does, at least).

    But we’re not going to tell his mom that she needs to change his diet. I would feel comfortable talking about HAES and intuitive eating, though. I have fears that fast food and processed food is bad for you, but most nutritionists say it’s not, so long as you’re getting a variety. I dunno. It’s complicated and, chances are, you’re only going to damage your friendship in the end and the child’s diet will still not change. Maybe introduce the parents to HAES and hope for the best. But just know that there’s nothing you can say that will make them change the way they feed their child.

    I don’t personally think you’re being a bad person for being concerned. This whole, “You’re so judgmental!” thing is a little hypersensitive for me. You’re obviously more concerned about his diet than his weight, and despite your concerns you haven’t said or done anything yet.

    Diet is important, but even moreso is exercise. From what I’ve read, exercise is the key to remaining healthy. So, maybe if you can’t help out with his diet, you can encourage him to be more active.

    Good luck.

    Peace,
    Shannon

    • Thanks, Shannon.

      I have hung back from saying anything because hey, all of us parents live in glass houses, y’know? But I am concerned about a preschooler eating copious amounts of junkfood each and every day. Hell, even every second or third day would be OK but to see what they give him, and to know what it’s doing…. maybe it’s a cultural thing, this acceptance of junk as ‘food’ but in New Zealand it’s even reccomended that we avoid giving small children juice, let alone soft drink and chips. And hell, I was a fat kid, despite being pretty active and eating well. Fat doesn’t worry me. But I also don’t see the need to make him *fatter*. And his health worries me a lot. He’s still growing and developing. He *needs* nutrients, not crap.

      I’m thinking I may initiate a conversation with the parents about how hard it is to be so busy and cook (I’ve been there…) Then I can drop in a few suggestions that we used to use back back when we were both working, like feeding the kids sandwiches for tea. Alternatives to takeaways. We already invite him around for physical activities with our kids, and he enjoys them, so we’ll keep these up.

  11. I agree with Julie, the best you can do is lead by example when you have the chance. His exposure to your children and their healthier eating habits will hopefully have some positive affect on him. It is so very difficult not to be “preachy” to someone when you see the damage their poor choices with food are causing the family but in this case you really must try. Anything you say will not be taken in the constructive manner that you intend. You might try offering fresh vegetables from your garden or a recent trip to the farmers’ market but that is about as far as you can go.

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