THE BLOG
09/07/2011 10:30 am ET | Updated Nov 07, 2011

Why Maggie's Diet Is a Bad Idea

I don't want you to buy Maggie Goes On A Diet. I shouldn't even be telling you about the book, because it appalls me to think of it getting in the hands of a parent or -- sigh -- a child. This as-yet unpublished, self-published book would go unnoticed except that people like me are frothing at the mouth and (the modern equivalent) blogging like mad about it.

But, it's out there. The media is delighted about the backlash, and I'm sure the author is delighted at the attention. So, let's talk about it.

Why would the same promotional materials be labelled "necessary" and "dangerous?" Why would people object to children taking care of their health, eating well, exercising, and making new friends?

Let me explain. Maggie Goes On A Diet's premise is that a 14-year old is teased for her weight and decides to diet and exercise -- transforming her from ostracized to popular, from unhealthy to a soccer star. It sounds like every Cinderella, Karate Kid, coming of age story out there, right? The problem is that both the problem and the solution are flawed and even harmful. Under this storyline are grave errors in children's health advice.

  • Bullying is not resolved by fixing the victim.
  • Diets are NEVER advised for children. Weight loss in a growing child is cause for medical alarm.
  • Weight stigma causes harm. Stigma and shaming don't change behaviors, can worsen poor self-care, and often reflect unreasonable standards of appearance -- not health.
  • Healthy eating, activity, and self-esteem ARE important, but for their own sake and at all body sizes -- not to change appearance.
  • Parents are responsible for feeding and being active with their children, not the kids. Adults should be planning, serving, and eating with their children.
  • Counting calories and pursuing weight loss are unhealthy ideas and behaviors for children. Eating disorders, a leading cause of disability and death in adolescents, begin with diets and inadequate nourishment during critical growth stages. Although not all children are predisposed to anorexia, bulimia, binge eating, or other eating disorders the best prevention tool we have is making sure young people are neither encouraged to, or allowed to diet.

Here's why I do the work I do, and why F.E.A.S.T. is holding an international conference about parents and eating disorders in November: because the public needs to understand that the pressure on children and young people to diet is immense -- even normalized in these days of "obesity epidemic" terror. The growing objection to this book is about parents who know the dangers of dieting and weight bullying reaching out to say that there ARE good books to read on this topic, and this one isn't one of them.