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March 8th, 2013
09:36 AM ET

Mom shocked to find seven-year-old's diet plan – author Dara-Lynn Weiss shares her view

Like many parents who clean up their kid’s room, Amy Cheney came across something in her daughter’s room she wishes she hadn’t.

She was straightening out her seven-year-old’s room when she found her "Dieyt" List.”

The poorly spelled strict diet regime lists:
Seventeen pushups two times a day
Sixteen star jumps two times a day
2 yogurt
3 apples
2 kiwi fruit
5 glasses of water
Jog-run up and down the driveway 3 times

Cheney wrote this on her blog, Mamamia.com.au, after the discovery:

"I felt sick. Physically ill. Like someone had knocked the air from my chest. I could feel myself getting increasingly anxious the more words I was able to interpret from her seven-year-old spelling. [...] How did this happen?"

Mom Dara-Lynn Weiss read Cheney’s dilemma from a very personal angle. She’s the author of “The Heavy,” a memoir about putting her own seven-year-old daughter on a diet after doctors told her that she was obese. She comes to “Starting Point” to share her view.

Initially after reading the post, Weiss says she “it was shocking, horrifying and heartbreaking to think that a 7-year-old would make a list like this.” But she began to consider other explanations. “As I gave it more thought and as I read what the mother wrote, what the child wrote and benefitted from the wisdom of hundreds of internet commenters’,” Weiss says, “I thought, how much of this definition of the word diet are we bringing to this?”

In her post, Cheney first blames society for projecting its standards and ideals onto her daughter. But it turns out her daughter spoke to a classmate who was on a diet and she created her own. Weiss asks to consider, therefore, if readers are assuming this child’s goal is to lose weight versus making healthy choices, and giving that a negative connotation.

“I think the story underscores the point that in raising these issues with our children, we are not bringing up something they are not aware of already,” Weiss says. “They are conversations they are having that we should have with them.”

soundoff (3 Responses)
  1. Mary Madison

    Okay, I saw the video version of the discussion on Soledad's show, since the clip is featured on CNNs homepage today. I had a gut reaction to the discussion, but wanted to also bounce this off my teenaged daughter - as someone who is currently in recovery from an eating disorder. Her reaction was mine: This IS disconcerting behavior on the part of the 7-year-old girl. People who say, "Well, maybe she's just making good healthy choices" clearly can't see this as the HUGE red flag that it is. Either this girl is/was on road to disordered eating and distorted body image OR she's directly observing it on the part of someone who's already disordered - ala copycat behavior. This is not simply an exercise in "healthy choices." Trust me, as the parent. Trust my daughter. Trust all the childhood/adolescent friends she made while in intensive ED treatment this past fall, at renowned Roger's Hospital near Milwaukee. First off, 7 year olds don't "make lists" - unless it's for spelling or what they want from Santa. Compulsive behavior right there. Secondly, if the mother had to "find it" versus knowing about it already - remember, we're talking about 7 year olds who breathlessly report just about anything and everything they're interested in - it's something that the girl hid or was ashamed/upset about in some way. Third, a list that intersperses low-cal food choices and exercise, together - with clearly delineated quantities, number of repetitions, etc - is very classic ED behavior (preoccupation with numbers, eventually including number of calories and number of pounds). Sorry, but I really have to say that I would presume the worst - for the girl's sake - and make informed inquiries/intervention. Don't presume. Fact is, too many girls - and increasingly guys - are not (easily) cured of eating disorders PRECISELY BECAUSE they've very successfully hid them from parents/friends for years before the problem is outwardly painfully obvious, have gotten so used to these behaviors being an addictive kind of coping response to stress that the road to recovery is extremely difficult if not nearly impossible. It's why insurance companies don't cover eating disorder treatment very well - because, so seldom, do kids make a full and lasting recovery IF they've hidden this secret for so long. Some of them even die of heart failure without ever giving an outward sign (bulimics often don't get skinny, like anorexics). This is disconcerting behavior for a 7 year old...investigate, just as you would if you saw a child exhibiting suspicious non-age-appropriate sexual comments/behaviors. Finally: Don't be fooled that little kids don't get EDs. I saw some 7 and 8 year olds, on my daughter's ED ward, and it was as heartbreaking as it was hard to believe. PS to Soledad & CNN folk: Attention paid to childhood obesity is extremely important, but realize that for as many kids who suffer from - and die from obesity - there are as many kids who secretly have eating disorders (that will kill, and much sooner, if left untended). And the more obesity is stressed, even in a good way, the more ED kids will indulge in their own deadly behaviors because they mistakenly think themselves "obese."

    March 11, 2013 at 9:13 pm | Report abuse | Reply
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