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What to do about your fat kid sneaking food?

This video over at just makes me crazy. Dr. Richard Besser is attempting to give advice to a parent on how to deal with her eleven-year-old child sneaking food and instead of addressing the underlying causes and mentioning the potential for eating disorders, he recommends that the parent sit down with his or her kid and draw up a contract for changing her behavior. This is horrible, terrible advice, and I know because it's what my parents did with me. Did I mention I weigh around 400 pounds now?

Here's the thing: a child is not an adult. There's a reason we don't let children sign contracts, and it's because they're busy making mistakes and dropping the ball and acting on impulse...things that aren't really conducive to setting a goal and following it through. Why would you want to put your child in a position where she is likely to fail over and over? Furthermore, Dr. Besser makes a fuss about how the parents shouldn't be the food police, but that's the exact relationship you are fostering with this contract business, because someone has to be the enforcer and make sure the terms of the contract are being followed. Even if you're not being 'the food police', per se, you're at least being the food prosecutor. Is that really better? The bottom line is that it enforces the adversarial relationship that is already developing because she clearly feels like she has to hide her eating from you.

I swear, that letter could have been written by my parents. The part about "she wants to lose weight", is especially accurate because when I was a kid all I wanted in the world was to make my parents happy,and it was abundantly clear that all they wanted was for me to be thin. I have no doubt that there were loving reasons behind it, like wanting me to fit in socially, but all their campaign did was drive a wedge between us and eff up my relationship with food and exercise.

Here's the advice I wish my parents had gotten when I was a kid sneaking food into my room: listen to your daughter. Talk to her about what's going on and try to figure out what might be bothering her. Hug her...a lot. Remind her that you love her no matter what, and that you will always be there for her. That kind of thing will go a long, long way. In the end, the most important thing to remember is that your job here is about providing unconditional love and support. Leave the contracts out of it.

Registration business | Kevin Smith and Southwest Airlines

Tobysgirl February 10th, 2010 | Link | CarrieP, this is such a good

CarrieP, this is such a good post. My mother once said to me I wasn't fat until I got together with my husband. I had to remind her of the constant visits to our family doctor (whom I disliked, and I still remember his enormous shoes as I did not like to look at his face) and her obsession with my weight. I was maybe 10 or 15 pounds "overweight" at age 11 (before that I had been thin) and I was perfectly fine! What I needed was someone less concerned with my weight and more concerned with making sure I had good nutrition (we had always eaten normally, then she stopped making meals, and grew extremely controlling of her daughters' food intake; I'm guessing now that I was protein- and mineral-deprived and made up for it by sneaking sweets) and attention. Just as you say! My sister recently tried to use the same tactics regarding my weight as my parents did 45 years ago! (Shaming and blaming.) I am now fortunately immune to such idiocy and it only made it clear to me how stupid and vicious she is. Does anyone else still get crap from their families now that they're middle-aged?!?

ginagate February 10th, 2010 | Link | crap in middle age?

My mother has berated me for my weight since I was twelve, and hasn't stopped since, except for times when I've visibly lost weight - usually during times of very high stress. I wish she thought more of me and my accomplishments but I know that the only thing that would make her truly proud of me would be if I were a single-digit size. The only thing that's changed is the leverage she tries to use to 'help' me lose weight: when I was young, it was 'I'll buy you the nice clothes you'll be able to fit into", then "Boys won't like you if you're fat." Now that I'm older and married, it's "You'll die of obesity" and "You husband will cheat on you if you continue to gain weight."

It's no wonder we don't speak often, and when we do, I'm always on my guard to protect my feelings. I've learned to immediately stop the conversation and just get away from her when it turns to weight, clothes, health, food, or eating. She brags constantly about fasting for church, so we don't discuss religion either, lest it turn to that.

Carolyn February 10th, 2010 | Link | It seems to me that the

It seems to me that the first "fact" to acknowledge - is that any child who sneaks food is, first of all, hungrey, and, second, anxious about the likelihood of being able to get enough food. I would think that an 11 year old would not have the cognitive ability to articulate this.

I think Ellen Satter is a remarkably good source on food and children. She advocates that the parent is reponsible for what, when and where. The child is then responsible for how much and whether. Snacks and treats are best included, so a child learns to keep them in proportion.

A "contract" with a child about food is laughable. This man clearly has no clue whatsoever about children and food. I would be astonished to find out he had a child of his own, since he is so clueless.

This family needs to re-establish trust with the child, so the child can be confident that food will not be withheld.

pani113's picture
February 10th, 2010 | Link | It is my belief that MSM is

It is my belief that MSM is not really meant to educate, but to shape people to consume more. (Not that a valuable peace can NEVER make it through.) I am sure that article from ABC news was meant to coordinate with the First Lady's antiobesity campaign kick off, Oprah's show on diabetes, and the article that came out a few weeks before suggesting kids should be medically monitored regarding weight. Corporate PR is VERY sophisticated.

Sadly the corporations behind the "obesity crisis" could care less about solving it, although they are probably pulling the strings of some sincere people being used to do their bidding. Why should they? It is very very profitable to have a whole new generation of weight obsessed dysfunctional victims.

"Fat can be beautiful. Intolerance is ALWAYS ugly!"

rachel_morgan's picture
February 10th, 2010 | Link | Nothing like trying to give

Nothing like trying to give a kid a complex. Dragging her about to different doctors and then writing into some TV doc who has probably never had a weight issue in his life.

10 and 11 year old girls are in that in-between time of life.

It could be hormones at this time of her life. She is in the process of shifting from being a little girl to a young woman. It isn't all that unusual for her weight to fluctuate quite a lot.

If she is sneaking food it probably means she isn't getting enough of it and feels hungry.

I'm sorry but her mother comes off as a bit of jerk IMHO.

wriggle99 February 10th, 2010 | Link | I really feel for this

I really feel for this child, her situation reminds me of my own situation at exactly that age. I still remember exactly how it felt trying so hard to control my eating only to see it spreading all over the place like an unstopable force.

Of course, I assumed it was my own greed and had no idea of any connection between the two. I had waited from when I was 7 to diet because I knew I was growing! But by 11, I felt I could hold out no longer as I perceived myself and was perceived as plump and hoped to stop any further gain by losing weight.

It's hard to add anything to the advice given by Carrie and others, I just feel sad that these kind of parents won't here it at all.

I can only hope that she can hold them off and keep getting round them-maybe they'll grow tired of trying- and doesn't develop an eating disorder in the meantime.

creeloo February 10th, 2010 | Link | Somebody send this mother

Somebody send this mother some Ellyn Satter books!

I sneaked food when I was eleven. I was HUNGRY. And my parents (mostly my mother) restricted my mealtime food, and would make me feel bad if I actually asked for a between-meal snack by rolling their eyes and sighing. And put me on Herbalife. I weighed about 120lbs when I was 11, but apparently that was faaaaaaaaaaat because most of my classmates weighed about 100-110.

I had just started puberty at age 11, and obviously my body needed energy to grow. People are used to the general idea that teenage/adolescent boys are a bottomless pit that needs filling with food, but the idea that girls also have large energy demands when growing so much seems to pass right by. Girls don't need energy to grow and be active, they just need to be slim and pretty! Grr.

I'm fairly sure Satter's advice on this would be to provide regular meals and snacks at set times, and allow the girl to eat as much as she likes of whatever food is served - WITHOUT COMMENT from the parents. For a couple of weeks she might seem to binge-eat, but as her food anxiety lessened, she'd probably fall into a more normal eating habit.

rebelle February 10th, 2010 | Link | Did it occur to the doctor

Did it occur to the doctor or this young lady's parents that maybe she's sneaking food because her weight-loss attempts have left her deprived and triggered the same binge response diets trigger in nearly everyone?
I agree, Carrie. Making this girl's weight the subject of a contract is outrageous.

chondros February 10th, 2010 | Link | I just want to say that the

I just want to say that the childhood experience others have described here was mine as well. My parents, especially my mother, were obsessed with my slight chubbiness, and some of my most vivid early memories are of weighing myself and thinking it was important to stay under certain numbers on the scale. I can't know for certain, but I suspect I probably wouldn't be nearly as heavy as I am now if I hadn't been pushed so hard to lose weight when I was little. I don't recall sneaking food when I was very young, but I did begin doing that later when I felt I couldn't satisfy my hunger in front of my parents.

fatthought February 11th, 2010 | Link | "actual" food health as opposed to the appearance of it

Isn't it amazing how, after all this time, most doctors -and this doctor jerk, as well- seem to be preoccupied with the *appearance* of health, supposedly signalled by "numbers", as opposed to *actual * food "health" - eating basically and more or less what one wants when one wants it without feeling hungry or too full?

Kids know when they're hungry, as attested by countless stories of sneaking food. (Yes, I did also, from the time I was six.) Hello! An overwhelming amount of the time, this means hunger, and the only control issue is that of the parent or parents, who are probably underfeeding or restricting.

Wake up, medical profession, but especially the one or two percent of you who have not yet sold out to Big Pharma or Big Diet or Big Grants or Big "Health" Foundations or all of them...

DeeLeigh's picture
February 13th, 2010 | Link | That was my thought as well.

That was my thought as well. Why do kids sneak food? Because they're hungry. Let them eat until they feel satisfied at meals, rather than pulling guilt trips if they want seconds and making desserts "for adults only," and give them a satisfying snack rather than a celery stick if they're legitimately hungry between meals. Then they won't need to sneak.

Sara A. February 13th, 2010 | Link | I used to sneak food when I

I used to sneak food when I was that age too. I was really hungry, because during the day I was on Ritalin and wouldn't eat very much. But then it would wear off and suddenly I was so hungry and so ashamed. I felt like I was eating a normally and then I would get home and I couldn't stop eating. The neurologist never explained any of the side effects to me so I thought I was losing my mind. I was a size 12 at age 12 and was considered fat. I remember the other kids making fun of me clearly. I maintained that size until I started to rebel and not take my Ritalin consistently. I started gaining weight then and haven't stopped since. I kind of wonder what I'd look like now if I hadn't been on an appetite suppressant during puberty.

vpw's picture
February 17th, 2010 | Link | This whole contract business

This whole contract business is obviously ridiculous. I've had similar experiences to people on the boards, where foods were demonized in my house and we were never given enough food. So of course when those foods were available or when I was hungry, I'd eat under the covers while my mother slept. I also spent about ten years on and off diets, even going so far as to attend fat camp just to please my parents.

I also made the mistake of watching the related videos on ABC. Another viewer asked if it was okay to send her kids to bed hungry if they wouldn't eat the "healthy meals" she prepared for them. Besser's answer was a resounding yes. He says that he's never known a child to actually starve himself. I say that all those kids who don't eat the dinners they don't like are going to be the ones sneaking food late at night. Apparently he doesn't see the connection between these issues.

geek February 18th, 2010 | Link | I still sneak food and lie

I still sneak food and lie to myself about it. Poor kids Sad

paellataffy's picture
February 19th, 2010 | Link | The food police

Sorry to sound as though I'm promoting myself, but please see this paragraph that I wrote earlier:

" I was taken to see a specialist in obesity at Cardiff Infirmary when I was eight and, when I went to boarding school at the age of 11, the headmistress offered to oversee my weight loss. I played sport sometimes three times a day, a plate of stewed tomatoes on toast was considered an adequate meal at the end of a winter day when I'd just spent almost an hour outside playing hockey or lacrosse and, as a special treat, I was summoned before the school doctor once a term who told me how fat and disgusting I was and how I would never find a university place, job, love etc. if I failed to mend my ways. And – guess what? When I left school I was still fat."

Does this sound familiar, fellow fatties? What I failed to mention was that at the age of eight I was actually prescribed Ponderax, a diet pill.

Mental, or what?!

Want to know what I think of life, the universe and everything? Visit my blog, A View From a Broad at and find out!

worrier February 24th, 2010 | Link | Paellataffy, you could be my

Paellataffy, you could be my twin! When I was 8 I was taken to a succession of doctors who said she must lose weight or get diabetes, etc. Then I was taken to a paediatrician who put me on some sort of amphetimine type diet pill. There followed 20 years of yoyo dieting and all the aftermath that goes with that. I was told I should eat whatever food was the diet food dejour because it was good for me and would make me lose weight. Food became like a punishment. Yes, of course I would sneak food when I was a kid. I staggers me that people who suggest/put kids on diets don't accept that a child will resent the punitive food regime and that it is as inevitable as the sun rising in the morning that a child will eventually try to stop the punishment. Such people a so unintelligent, but so convinced their way is right. What to do with such people?

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