Namo amitabha Buddhaya, y'all.
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Thursday, July 14, 2011

Fat Kids and Fat-Headed Harvard Doctors

Looks like it's gonna be a two-blog-post kinda day, because I just cannot seem to shut up about this article in Time Magazine. Or its counterpart on CNN. I've been all over both comment boards, spewing all kinds of rancor and sarchasm (that's the gap between my witty remarks and people's inability to understand them).

In case you don't have time to read the links, some wit at Harvard University has suggested that childhood obesity is actually child abuse, and if kids get morbidly obese, their parents should lose custody. Yep, better to throw them into an already-overburdened foster care system, where they would seem to run a much higher risk of being raped, beaten or killed than they would in their own families, rather than let them get too fat. Great idea. Hey, here's another one; why not take these kids and ship them off to a state run fat camp (oops. my fingers almost slipped and typed "concentration camp'; wonder what that was about) and lock them up until they're eighteen, or until they've achieved a BMI of 25. Oh, and as for parents who apparently don't know enough about nutrition to feed a kid properly, don't bother educating them or anything. Just tie their tubes and make further procreation a death penalty offense. Yeah, that would solve the childhood obesity epidemic pretty quick.

What this doctor is forgetting, as all doctors seem to forget when they're commenting in public, is that there are human beings in this equation. One of them, by the way, is a kid. And I hate to dispell this notion that kids always do exactly what their parents say, but, uh, they don't. By the time a kid is eight or nine, he or she has both A. a functioning brain and B. the capability to use said brain to make decisions separate and apart from Mom and Dad. Yeah, I know how scary that is, but unfortunately it's the truth. So before we heap all the blame for childhood obesity on Mom and Dad (mostly Mom, since it's always the woman's fault in situations like this), let's consider that kid, for a minute, shall we?

Oh, heck. Let's just consider ME.

I was the obese eight or nine year old, though honestly, if you look at pictures of me from that time frame, I wasn't really all that fat. I did hit puberty at about a million miles an hour at nine or so, going from a kid's body to a fully grown adult woman's body in about six months. What happens during puberty? Well, you grow. And you gain weight. And it's possible it would have all settled out in the right places and I'd have been fine. Not likely, but possible. Instead, the pediatrician freaked out because I gained thirty pounds in two months, my mom freaked out because my first bra was a B-cup (no training bras here, kids) and the years of being forced onto one diet plan after another began.

I distinctly recall being about nine, reading Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, when my mom came into my room and asked me if I wanted to go on Weight Watchers or Nutri-System. I don't think too many nine-year-olds have a very firm grasp of either one, but at least she asked? I was on Weight Watchers five times in five years and gained twenty-eight pounds. The real binge eating started during this time. I was eating steadily, doggedly, anything I could get. I'd sneak into the kitchen and eat raw cake mix out of the box. I'd steal coins out of my dad's change stash to buy candy from vending machines (nice and anonymous.) I stole food from other people's lunch bags. I even fished things out of the trash. The more my mother cracked down, forced me into exercise programs, and chirped at me about what foods were and weren't on my program, the more I ate.

And I did it on purpose. Why? Because I was furious, in the way only a pissed-off little kid can be. I knew when my rights were being violated. I knew if I kept on eating, it would make my mother mad, so I did it. Church picnics were awesome because there was no way she could watch me every minute. I'd head straight for the buffet table and watch her roll her eyes in despair.

Yes, being fat screwed up my life. Yes, I was the butt of every joke in elementary and junior high school. Yes, that sucked. But it didn't matter. I was too angry. And was I, uh, extremely sick? Let me think YES. But I didn't know that yet. I'd know it later, when I got around to joining OA. Much later.

By the time I hit high school, the binge eating had slowed down, but the damage was basically done at that point. I graduated weighing over 200 pounds. I won't tell you where I'm at now, but I will tell you that since joining OA I've lost 50 pounds, very gradually over 3 years. (Yay!) And I don't doubt that OA saved my life, because if I hadn't stopped when I did, I'd have gone over some precipice and I really don't even like to think about that, thank you.

But what I'm trying to say here is, why put all of the blame on Mom and Dad? My mom and dad did everything right. They were both thin. They modeled good behavior. They exercised a lot (especially my dad) and they encouraged (nay, forced) us to join them. My mom was on a health kick before there really was such a thing; we didn't have much sugar in the house, and a cake or pie was a rare treat (though the ingredients were always around; have you ever eaten a stick of pie crust? I have).

Kids are not mere mouthpieces for everything mom and dad do. They can and do think for themselves. And act on what they think. And that's why this Harvard doc is so off-base. He's gone hell bent for leather after the disorder and completely forgotten about the person--the real little human being--who has it. Sure, put the kid in foster care. Make him even more angry and messed up than he already is. Great idea, Doc. Call me when you get another one.

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