Is it acceptable to put a seven-year-old on a diet?

Dara-Lynn Weiss in Vogue

Here is the dilemma with putting a young girl or boy on a diet: If a child is told her body is “wrong” from such a young age and is forced to change her behaviors, will she be set up for a lifetime of insecurity and disordered eating? Or, if you don’t encourage her to eat healthier and become more active, is she destined to the health problems that coincide with obesity?

Based on the response Dara-Lynn Weiss received to a Vogue article she wrote about putting her seven-year-old daughter on a diet, it seems the overwhelming majority think it’s wrong to put a young child on a strict calorie-controlled diet.

“Dara-Lynn Weiss, who opened up about putting her 7-year-old daughter on a Weight Watchers-style diet in Vogue‘s April issue, has to go down in history as the one of the most f***ed up, selfish women to ever grace the magazine’s pages,” Jezebel writer Katie J.M. Baker wrote.

I’m not yet a mother, but one thing I know to be true about parenting is that someone will always find a reason to criticize the decisions that mothers and fathers make. If you give your child a candy bar, you are setting them up for a sugar addiction and weight problems. If you don’t give your child a candy bar, you are denying them the pure innocence of childhood and the happiness that is a bite (or five) of chocolate.

The Heavy by Dara-Lynn WeissThe trouble with Weiss’ article (and subsequent book, “The Heavy”) was that the methods she used to manage her daughter’s weight weren’t educational. They were restricting and shameful, which isn’t an easy load for a young girl to bear.

I once reproachfully deprived Bea of her dinner after learning that her observation of French Heritage Day at school involved nearly 800 calories of Brie, filet mignon, baguette, and chocolate. I stopped letting her enjoy Pizza Fridays when she admitted to adding a corn salad as a side dish one week. I dressed down a Starbucks barista when he professed ignorance of the nutrition content of the kids’ hot chocolate whose calories are listed as “120-210″ on the menu board: Well, which is it? When he couldn’t provide an answer, I dramatically grabbed the drink out of my daughter’s hands, poured it into the garbage, and stormed out.

Although there’s undeniably an obesity epidemic in the United States, there is also a more covert epidemic of children growing up too fast. In this case, Weiss would have been better off promoting physical activity and knowledge of healthy foods, rather than admonishing her daughter for any slip-up.

Weiss later defended her decision to KJ Dell’Antonia from the New York Times.

“My biggest fear was making her obsessed. I felt that was my problem. I didn’t want her to be like me and end up obsessed with food and weight,” said Weiss, who has admitted she was overweight as a child. “But when it became clear that she needed help… I couldn’t ignore that in the hope of not creating an obsession.”

Therein lies a fine line: Telling a young child that she is on a “diet” is dangerous in terms of future body insecurity and disordered eating tendencies. Showing her that the family is eating healthier and being active sets her up for a positive relationship with food and exercise.

*Top photo from the Vogue photoshoot with Weiss and her daughter.

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  • Charla

    Well I think clearly this mom is bananas and is going way overboard. There’s nothing wrong with her daughter and she is grooming her for eating disorders. BUT some children are very overweight and they should be on a diet. I see elementary kids all the time who look close to 200lbs. So not as drastic as this mom’s but some kids do and should be on a healthy diet.

  • amberc88

    what a psycho! I mean you can feed your child healthy foods, and teach them about a healthy diet, but this woman is ape shi!t crazy!! i would never deprive my child of food because they ate something with *extra calories in a previous meal! That girl is going to have issues when she is older! and in this case you can blame the mom! poor kid

  • Bebe

    She sounds psychotic and no doubt, effed that child up for life. She will always be obsessed with weight and calories now. Good job, Mom! So sad….

  • beachchick

    As someone who was heavy as a child, I can tell you she is setting her kid up for a lifetime of body issues. My mom put me on a diet when I was 8 years old and slightly overweight. I can still recall the shame to this day. She might have won the battle, but this child will lose the lifelong war with her weight and image.
    Unless the child’s health was in danger, she should have introduced healthy foods and focused spending more time on althetic activites as a family such as long walks, skating, or wii games,
    My heart goes out to this child.

  • girl101

    I think it’s acceptable to put a kid on diet ONLY IF that child is over weight. Being overweight at such a young age can become a huge problem later in life. It’ll take a toll on the child’s health. However, if the child isn’t over weight I don’t think they should be put on a diet. Yea, parents need to moderate what they eat (for instance, not too many sweets, more fruits and veggies in their diet, etc.).

  • Anon.

    When we picked up my stepdaughter last week, DH and I were informed she is on a diet. She is FIVE years old. We have always exercised healthy eating and portion control while at our home, and she doesn’t load up on junk food. However, she isn’t denied of one sweet thing in the weekend she is here, either. When we were first told I thought she just meant healthier eating, which was fine. Until this innocent 5 year old looked at me and said “I’m on a diet because my mom says I’m too fat for all my clothes”. This made me irate. Please keep in mind this little girl is not overweight, is perfectly healthy, and is constantly playing. It breaks my heart because I know as a girl she will worry about weight and looks the older she gets. It hurts me to my core to think that instead of just enoying her childhood she is constantly being told she is “fat” and now has this in her mind. I do not want my girl growing up with an eating disorder, or thinking something is wrong with her. Having a healthy lifestyle is one thing. To tell a CHILD they are fat and need a diet is CHILD ABUSE.

  • anjealka

    For most kids getting off the video games & computer & eating better is all they need if they are overweight which for a 5-10 year old , overwieight is only 10-15lbs. How does a 5-10 year old get lots of junk food unless it is bought by the family? Next christmas instead of buying a PS3 get a basketball hoop. I do think in some cases if a child is morbidly obesse they need to see a nutritionist and get a plan. There is a 9 year old in my daughters grade is was 216lbs. His mom just calls him a big boy who will be a football player. The amount of food I have seen him consume scares me. I have seen him eat a full 3lb box of coscto orange chicken for lunch with more items on the side. The poor kid is teased & I know does not feel comfortable. In this sitaution I think a diet under medical supervision or some sort of program would really be benefical.