I had my first awareness that I was heavier than my friends when I was in sixth grade. We had a tire playground at my elementary school (literally, it was made out of tires) and I was following my friends through one of the structures and noticed I was struggling a bit to fit where they had navigated easily. Judging from childhood pictures of Brian, he was overweight even earlier than me because there are chunky pics of him by about four years old. By adulthood, both he and I tipped the scales at well over 200 pounds before we finally managed to lose and then maintain healthy (although not skinny) weights long-term (he lost the weight before I met him, me after we met and partially inspired by his story).
Julia is five and a half and at her five year checkup she was in the 95% percentile for weight but also in the 75% percentile for height. In other words, she’s not THE fat kid, but she’s not as skinny as most of her friends. Other than a belly that sticks out (which to be fair, even many skinny kids have) Julia doesn’t look overweight when she stands by herself. She’s got round cheeks and an adorable booty, but she doesn’t look heavy per se. Put her next to her friends though – the gazelle-like Laney, the petite Kasey and Karma, the positively model-esque physique of Eva and suddenly Julia starts to look a bit…. bigger.
This causes a tremendous deal of parenting stress for me. I don’t want her to be bullied for her weight, don’t want her to feel different, don’t want her to have low self-esteem. Yes, I know she is only five, but I feel like if I screw her up in some way (because all parents screw up their kids somehow), this might be the one I end up causing. So I worry, even though I don’t think I am doing nearly enough and likely doing ineffective or potentially even harmful things about it. Here’s a short list of my crimes:
- Using food as a reward.
- Using food as a punishment (i.e. not giving her a cookie at the diner if she behaves badly).
- Refusing to give her something else to eat if she won’t eat what we gave her.
- Giving in and giving other things to her when she won’t eat what we gave her.
- Letting her eat meals that mostly involve her favorites of mac and cheese or cheese sandwiches instead of pushing harder for healthy options.
- Insisting she be served a meal of healthy options that I am fairly certain she won’t actually eat.
How do you get a picky carb loving five year old to eat healthy? We don’t let her have dessert regularly and we don’t keep juice in the house but we’re not tyrants. She gets ice cream on Wednesdays with Grandma & Papa and that cookie at the diner on Fridays. She also gets chocolate milk once a week with school lunch and most weekends she gets to have one mini chocolate after lunch. But she eats the same things for dinner most nights – mac and cheese, cheese sandwiches, chicken nuggets, sometimes with a side of the rare fruit or vegetable she’ll eat. I don’t mind the nuggets (compared to the meals that are strictly carbs and cheese) because it’s one of the only meat things she’ll eat. She seems to have a textural issue with meat although I’ve seen her eat the occasional cheeseburger.
In case you were wondering why she doesn’t eat what we eat – we aren’t there yet with dinner because she goes to bed so early. I come home early on Diner Friday so we can eat together but that means that she also goes to bed late that night. I suppose we could keep her up later Saturday and Sunday too, but an overtired picky eater is less than fun to eat with, so it hardly seems worth it.
So what does she eat? She’ll eat American cheese and occasionally mozzarella but no other cheese. She’ll eat pancakes and waffles but not french toast. Bananas, apples and grapes are ok but not strawberries, pineapple or blueberries. Peppers are fine, and the occasional carrot, but no broccoli, peas or anything else green. Any food she doesn’t like is “disgusting”. She’ll occasionally try new things but often either gag on them or spit them out. There will likely be crying.
We never ever talk to her about her weight or her body. We talk about eating less carbs, more variety of foods, how important it is to try new things, but never ever in the frame of her size. But I worry. That she’ll keep getting bigger. That she’ll realize it. That we’re the ones making her this way. Despite being so picky, she’s obsessed with food. She thinks about it all the time. At parties where there are less healthy foods out like chips, she’d eat 100 if I didn’t stop her. Am I making her this way by restricting what she eats?
Brian and I both passionately love food, could eat it to excess if we don’t keep ourselves in check. Neither of us, despite working hard at keeping ourselves in more reasonable shape, will ever be skinny. I don’t think she’ll ever be skinny either, you can look at her wrists and see just from the size of her bones that she’ll be a bit more sturdy. But that doesn’t mean she is destined to be fat either. I know the route to keeping her somewhere in between is to give her both healthy foods and a healthy attitude towards food even when the food is not healthy. But I’m not sure I am able to deliver on that properly at this point based on my confused and complicated path with food and weight in my own past.
I’d love to hear from some of my fellow moms of their ideas and suggestions for how to address this? Book suggestions are welcome as well, if you know of any good ones. I know there are tips for picky eaters, but what about picky eaters that are also overweight? Is she overweight? See, I’m in the dark here. Many people tend to reach out to me via text, email or in person as opposed to writing comments on this blog (how come guys? I’ll look more popular if you comment on my blog!), so I will collect all the feedback across sources and share it with everyone in a future blog, as I assume I can’t be the only mom who deals with this. Thanks in advance!!