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Q&A | February 27, 2014 0 comments
Describe your latest book. The Enchanted is a story narrated by a man on death row. The novel was inspired by my work as a death penalty... Continue »
One Size Does Not Fit Allby Abby Ellin
Yes, I always knew I would write this book; the publishers, alas, were not quite so clear. In the mid-'90s an agent I met on a basketball court sent my proposal around, but no one bit. They all loved my writing, thought it had energy and wit and spark, bla bla bla, but they just didn't think there was an audience. This was before obesity became the "new black," as I like to say, before diet doctors and television specials and magazine articles and school districts and Bill Clinton got on the oversized bandwagon. Before the mantra du jour became, "Help the fat kids, help the fat kids!"
During this time I began writing a column for the New York Times about young people and money. It was fairly popular, and agents often contacted me about writing a book about young people and money (the thinking, I suppose, was that if I could learn that a Roth IRA had absolutely no relation to Philip Roth, than anyone could). I could have done it, but I didn't want to. My heart was in the physical, not the fiscal. There had to be a market for my fat kids.
As it happened, there was. By the time my (new) agent and I sent out my proposal circa 2003, the climate had very much changed. We found an editor whose 13 year old daughter weighed 250 pounds. The two had tried everything fat camps and diet doctors and nutritionists and psychotherapy and nothing stuck. My editor was enormously frustrated; she didn't know what to do for her daughter. Should she bug her about her weight or keep her mouth shut when she reached for a second or third piece of cake? The kid knew she was fat; she didn't need her mom to keep hounding her about it. But wouldn't it be irresponsible of her as a mother to just let her daughter get bigger and bigger? And what about all the programs out there, the weight loss camps and diet plans and so-called experts who have all the answers? What works in the long run?
My mission, should I choose to accept it: To figure this all out.
During the course of my research one thing became increasingly clear: Fat kids really needed someone to speak out on their behalf. Fat people in general are among the most discriminated against groups in this country they're slovenly and gluttonous and ungainly and it's that much worse for kids, who are pressured from their parents and peers and schools and the media. If you're a fat kid, there's nowhere to go to forget it.
Most parents have no idea what to do when it comes to helping their kids lose weight. (To be honest, most parents have no idea what to about a lot of things. Some of the most unenlightened people reproduce; it amazes me.) I'm not blaming parents entirely: Big Food and Big Sugar clearly play a role, as do schools who cut gym and recess and serve meals that are giant carbohydrates. Junk food is cheap and fast (and, I believe, quite good heaven is a vanilla shake and large fries). It's a whole lot easier for harried parents to roll into Burger King than spend an hour at the stove.
But the cold, hard truth is this: parents have to be role models. They need to take a good hard look at their own behaviors, at their own relationship to food and their body. They have to exhibit the behavior they want their kid to display. They can't lounge on the couch popping bon bons and expect their kids to munch on celery sticks. Conversely, they can't assume the pounds will peel off without exercise. If the school has cut physical activity, its up to the parent to make sure their kid somehow breaks a sweat. And if for whatever reason the kid doesn't lose weight, or isn't ready to it, then it's the parents' job to say, "Hey, I love you no matter what you weigh, I'm here for you if you want my help, and I'll lay off of you if you don't."
Look, this stuff is hard, and anyone who tells you that he or she has the ultimate weight-loss solution High carbs! Low carbs! Leek soup! is either lying or has a really good marketing adviser. What works for one person whether you're 13 or 35 might not work for another. Ultimately, losing weight, like quitting smoking or drinking, has to be an inside job. You have to reach the point where you just can't take it anymore. If you (or your kid) never reach that point, well, that has to somehow be OK.
Because when you get right down to it, everyone, of all ages, just wants to be accepted, no matter how high their BMI. This might sound terribly basic and cliché, but it happens to be true. The best thing parents can do for their fat kids is quite simple: Love them.