The American Academy of Pediatrics recently released new clinical practice guidelines that doctors and parents need to target fat kids to prevent them from becoming fat adults. I can tell you now that will be a disaster. It will be damaging to children and will cause eating disorders.
The panel advises that health care providers should consider referring children as young as 2 years old to “intensive health behavior and lifestyle treatment” programs if they are overweight or in the obese range. Children ages 12 and up with an obese BMI are to be considered for counseling to be prescribed weight-loss medications, and those over age 13 with severe obesity based solely on the BMI should receive medication or a referral to a bariatric surgery center.
Although the guidelines are new, doctors have been perpetuating physical and psychological harm to children based on their weight for decades. I am living proof of the damage caused by this practice and its unintended consequences.
I was 6 back in 1978 when my mom took me to my annual checkup with my pediatrician. The doctor weighed me and exclaimed to my mom, “What are you feeding her, lead sandwiches?” Up until that moment, I had no awareness of my body, let alone that something was wrong with it.
I could tell my Black mother was mortified by my doctor’s statements. Instead of defending me and saying I was perfect just the way I am, she said she would do something about the problem.
What problem? What was possibly wrong? How could a growing kid be a problem? What was wrong with being heavy? What was wrong with me?
That doctor’s comment was a defining moment in my life and I have never forgotten his words in my entire 50 years.
I never recovered. My mother never recovered, and she has been trying to change my “wrong” body since then. Even at 36 years old, she was paying for a liquid diet for me.
I was a victim of medical fatphobia. My mom thought to protect me from discrimination and mistreatment and to keep her in the good graces of the doctors she would shame me into a body that was not obtainable. She put me on every fad diet she was on. She hated her body, so I was supposed to hate mine too. I have done the hot dog diet, the cottage cheese diet, the saltine cracker diet, Weight Watchers, steroids, and more all before the age of 18. No matter how I did on these diets, it was never good enough. In reviewing pictures from my childhood. I was a big, tall child. No one other than my mother and the doctor would have considered me fat. With the new guidelines from the AAP, I would be eligible to receive medication or even bariatric surgery. Mother would have been forced to comply.
When I was a freshman in high school, I went for another check-up at the pediatrician. He weighed me in the hallway and exclaimed loudly to my parent that I needed to stop eating so much because I was fat. I was so embarrassed. I decided to go on a diet and my parents began to monitor what I was eating even more closely. I eventually developed an eating disorder and passed out at school. When the doctor asked what I was eating after I was rushed to his office, I told him, and he then said “You are not eating enough.” I could not win. I thought I was doing what he wanted.
Every doctor I have had pushed weight loss surgery on me. I have even been refused medical care unless I am willing to have surgery. I thought I was the bad one. I was not. This was poor and unethical medical care. I could not put my finger on it, but something was very wrong here and it was not me.
As an adult, I got the messages loud and clear that I was unacceptable, that the reason the kids called me “grape ape” and “Jolly Green Giant” in school was that I was not in the ideal body. I was tall and built like my dad — I was not fat. There was nothing wrong with me except my BMI was high.
Society said that I was not acceptable and that I should be as close to the ideal body (a white woman) as humanly possible, otherwise I should be ashamed of myself and not afforded all the fruits of life. As my mother ingrained into me, I would never find a husband (I am a lesbian so there is that), a good job, a meaningful career, respect from peers, friends, and anything else thin privilege affords someone.
At my lowest weight, when I had become what would be considered thin, I was praised and lauded for doing the impossible — losing weight. Everyone wanted to know my secret. It was starvation. I was literally starving myself in the short run to acquire a look that would last for a short time until my body said no more and corrected itself and more.
All through my adulthood, my weight cycled. I would lose as much as 100 pounds and then promptly gain it all back and more. Society and doctors would say I was weak-willed, gluttonous, stupid, and should be ashamed of myself. The reality is that I am highly educated (master’s degree), I have had a tremendous career, I am an avid volunteer, community educator on various justice issues, a writer, and I have many friends.
When I was 48 years old, I read an article about how diets do not work and that 97% of those who lose weight on diets regain what they have lost and more within 3 years. Why had no one told me this? (Another symptom of diet culture, hide the truth about diets.) I evaluated my life, and it was true. I was not a failure, diet culture was. I was not lazy or weak-willed — my body was naturally rebelling against starvation and needed to refeed. I was not alone. All dieters were dealing with this.
So, if we know that diets do not work and know that weight cycling is bad for you, why is everyone pushing diets? From doctors to nutritionists, to dieticians, to personal trainers, to researchers, and even the President of the United States, this myth is pervasive.
I had to learn what is going on so I could get off the dieting hamster wheel and heal my body and mind.
What I have learned is that everyone is pushing the body ideal and that is not me. Diet culture is obsessed with the white female body. The form of it, the look of it is held out as what we all should be striving for. This obsession has its roots in racism and the notion that white women did not want bodies like slave women.
When I found this out, it all began to make sense to me. The reason I was never going to be satisfied with my body is because I was never meant to be. I am never going to be the ideal in a society filled with racism and fatphobia and I am supposed to be disgusted with myself as a result.
I am more than my body. I have more to offer than my appearance. I am a full human being that deserves dignity and respect.
My pediatrician set me on a lifelong quest for “perfect” and “small.” I am officially off the course. I have decided to love my body as it is regardless of what society says. This new frame of mind will be hard to manage with all the societal pressure, but it is necessary. My mental health depends on it.
I am Black, lesbian, disabled, mentally ill, fat, a birth mom, mom and grandmom (grand ma Coco to be exact) and Funny. I am a woman who is constantly fighting for my and your liberation.
I have a history of working for those living at the margins mostly in activist and nonprofit spaces. I currently work in the mental health field serving those who have been convicted of felonies and are in mental heath court. I am also a writer. I write about disabilities, chronic illness, mental health, racial trauma, sexual violence and disordered eating. I am also a public community speaker on the same topics. Hit me up if you need my writing or speaking skills.
Please use she or her pronouns when referring to or about me.