Nutritionist to the Stars on Assumption Overload

Originally posted in Community Blog

Oz Garcia has an article on Huffington Post this morning titled “Normal Weight: Our Definition Is Shifting.”

Oz Garcia, makes me want to bash my head into a wall.

He may be the “Nutritionist to the Stars,” but he is using his platform to hurt people, not help them.

The study uncovered an interesting trend: the more overweight the women, the more overweight their children tended to be. This goes to show that children lead by example and how important it is for parents to strive to live healthy lives so that their children can, in turn, internalize the importance of overall wellness.

Let’s unpack just this paragraph, shall we?

The article starts by describing a study where more than 200 women were asked to guess their weight and the weight of their children and estimate where they fall on the BMI chart. The study showed that the fatter a woman, the more likely she was to underestimate her own weight and her children’s weight, apparently putting them all at risk for impending implosion or something. I don’t know.

But then, it uncovered an interesting trend. Actually, I see two in that paragraph. The first is so obvious that it seems impossible that someone could reach Nutritionist to the Stars status without ever having heard that children look like their parents.

The second is that children lead by example, which I guess means that now fat kids are also responsible for their parents’ fat? Too many tantrums in the Twinkie aisle? If only those kids would eat some carrots to show their parents how wonderful occasionally eating something other than salted lard rolled in sugar can be.

More likely just bad writing. Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt that what he really meant was that children follow their parents’ example.

Here’s a news flash for you Oz Garcia: parents trying to control their kids weights through dieting doesn’t lead to an internalized importance of overall wellness. It leads to decades of hating themselves. Take it from me, that’s not a gift any kid should get from their parents.

Here’s the next paragraph:

Children cannot be expected to make good nutritional choices on their own at such a young age. The children in this study were, on average, seven to 13. During this age range, children tend to be considerably impressionable. If their parents are eating fast food at every meal, why should they be expected to make healthier choices? While it’s possible that the child will choose a different path than his or her parents, it’s not likely. Parents set the example and it is important that they become a positive authority during mealtime.

Here we have Nutritionist to the Stars validating the idea that fat people eat fast food at every meal. Where the hell does this come from? A week or two ago I was accused of the same thing by someone who should have known better. It boggles my mind that people really believe that all fat people eat fast food for every meal. Or that there are no slender people who do the same thing.

And moving on:

The concept of this skewed perception of weight is quite thought-provoking. I wasn’t at all surprised that the overweight mothers were raising overweight children, but I was surprised that many of these mothers actually found their overweight or obese child’s weight to be normal. This means that these mothers had no intention of working on helping their child obtain a healthy weight, which is downright dangerous.

Way to generalize there, Oz Garcia. These awful, horrible mothers aren’t planning on putting their 7- to 13-year-old children on diets. This is actually good news to me. It’s a sign of hope that maybe we really are having some kind of shift in thinking, that parents are less willing to ensure that they’re kids will end up hating themselves.

Want to know how messed up the children’s BMI chart is? I put in Ruby’s height and weight and the age 6 and she’s “at risk for becoming obese.” Put in her height and weight and age 9, because she’s the same size as third  graders in her school, and she’s in the normal range. What does that mean? I have no idea. Her height and weight is acceptable for a 9-year-old, but at six she needs to be on a diet? That “at risk for becoming obese” reminds me of those lovely sit downs my step-mother used to have with me that always ended with “you aren’t fat now, but if you aren’t careful you’ll end up just like your mother.”

Oz Garcia’s article ends with a little self advertising, when he tells us that all of his clients have healthy “well-functioning” children. Let’s all light a candle today for the hope that the idea that fat kids are non-functioning doesn’t stick.

In the end, our celebrity nutritionist comes across as arrogant and mean-spirited. As if there is no way that his interpretation of the facts could be wrong.

He states that people underestimating their weight means that obese people will start to think of themselves as “merely overweight.”

He advocates restrictive diets for young children, and laments the lack of them in fat families.

He assumes that everyone has the same privilege as his celebrity clients, or anyone who could afford to hire a family nutritionist.

He assumes that we all have the same access to food as his wealthy clients do.

He assumes that anyone who is fat only eats fast food (still mind boggling.)

He assumes that if a child looks like his or her mother, it’s because the mother doesn’t care enough to be a “positive authority during mealtime.”

He assumes that fat parents don’t care about their childrens’ health. How could we? We’re way too busy eating fast food.

He assumes that fatties need to be pushed and prodded into making “good decisions.” I guess we’re too stupid to have gotten the message that produce is good for us.

He says in the same article that 82 percent of the women in the study were obese or “at the very least, overweight” and that very few people are “prone to obesity,” but instead we just haven’t been taught moderation.

Dude. Have you ever heard of the billion dollar weight loss industry? Did you know that most fat people have been on every diet known to man unsuccessfully? Do you honestly believe that we haven’t been taught that if we eat less, we’d weigh more?

Guess what. Many of us are big fat fatties because we were taught that if we dieted we’d lose weight.

The saddest thing is that Huffington Post gave this man a platform. Thousands of people will read, and trust, what he has to say. This is what we’re fighting against. How do we do battle?

* * *

Come join the discussion at Defiant Athlete on Facebook.

Shaunta Grimes blogs about body acceptance and athleticism for everyone at Live Once, Juicy. She can also be found on Twitter.

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28 Comments

  1. Posted April 13, 2011 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    … obese people will start to think of themselves as “merely overweight.”

    Not me. I like to think of myself as “merely awesome.”

    • Posted April 13, 2011 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

      I don’t even know you, and I agree. You are merely awesome.

  2. Posted April 13, 2011 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    I agree with you about all of this.

    Living with a parent struggling with body image and weight (as my mom has done for most of my memory) can also really impact children growing up in that environment, even if the parent never actively puts the child on a diet. My mom broke scales … not because she was too heavy, but because sometimes she’d gain five pounds and take her aggression out on it. Both of my sisters are or have been on all kinds of calorie-restrictive diets (and our mother takes great pride in their “healthy decisions”). The worst insult my youngest sister used for years was “fat” or “fattie,”

    Growing up in that environment made me petrified of buying a scale or monitoring caloric intake or exercising because I didn’t want to end up like the rest of the women in my immediate family. I recently decided to log food intake for health reasons (calcium, iron, and sugar), and it’s a real struggle because all of the software I have found assumes I am on a diet and provides calorie-related feedback. So … my point is that dieting parents can really screw kids up without actually intending to.

    • Posted April 13, 2011 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

      I had a very similar experience growing up and while I still have severe body image issues, I stopped dieting and weighing myself when I was 14 (my sister, however, got elective lap band surgery at 25, 5’6″ and 150 lbs).

      I recently joined a gym, mostly for the mood regulation benefits, and all the personal trainers there assume I am going to lose weight. Its really upsetting. Recently I sat on an exercise bike only to learn that it had a built-in scale–I was weighed against my will!

    • Posted April 13, 2011 at 10:46 pm | Permalink

      This is a really good point, Rachel. It’s made me think all day. I think I’m going to have to write more about it.

      Also, a bike with a scale? That’s scandalous. I’d be so mad!

    • Posted April 13, 2011 at 10:47 pm | Permalink

      I messed up my comments! Kaye, your post has made me think all day and I’m going to write about it I think soon.

  3. Posted April 13, 2011 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    It’s misguided paternalism, once again. We want to point fingers at an easy source of a problem without really going to the trouble to learn the nuances of said problem. My partner has struggled with her weight for years. She exercises almost every day, and still can’t manage to lose the weight she desperately hopes to shed.

    The fault here is not her own irresponsibility but a genetic condition. I’ve long encouraged her to seek treatment, if doing so would make her feel better about herself, but she hasn’t wanted to as yet. And that’s entirely her right. I love her regardless.

    • Posted April 13, 2011 at 10:50 pm | Permalink

      I think that the biggest problem is that as a society we assume that being fat is a problem. We assume it so hard that it actually can end up taking a lot of concentrated effort to let go of the assumption.

      If your partner could turn her thinking about her exercise around to look at how it makes her feel, how it is improving her health even if it isn’t making her thin, she might be happier. (Might not, who knows? But it’s worth a try!)

  4. Posted April 13, 2011 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

    I couldn’t agree more with the issues brought up. The generalizations used by people to classify weight are horrible. People look at me and assume I don’t eat enough. I am 6’2″ and weigh 145 pounds. I am a climbing specialist on the bike I need to be skinny to do the things that I love. However I also consume almost 4k calories a day and most of them come from fried food and greasy burritos. My close friend and fellow cyclist weighs in at 165 pounds at 5’10″ with a female body. People assume my friend has issues moving quickly and are surprised when they fly through triathlons and endurance races.

    And I don’t even want to get started on the issues of privilege and access to food and information about health. (whoops! I did anyway) I got lucky with my upbringing and friends (registered dietitian and endurance athlete). But to assume everybody has access like I do is to make a grave mistake that only serves to alienate and make decisions harder for those they are trying to help. Yelling at people to change while assuming agency to do so helps nothing.

  5. Posted April 13, 2011 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

    I don’t completely agree. While I cringe every time I hear the word “normal” and I also think it’s pretty shitty that we except other unhealthy behavior (like binge drinking, smoking) while shaming those who are overweight, I think what the author’s saying makes sense. It’s important for children to develop healthy habits, not so they can be skinny and beautiful and “normal” but so they can be just that – healthy! And I do think parents play an important role in this. I worked as a bagger and all too often, I saw overweight parents buying mountains of junk food for their overweight children. And I don’t think that’s fair to those children.

    • Posted April 13, 2011 at 10:54 pm | Permalink

      The author (and you?) assumes that all fat parents feed their children crap all the time. Did you ever see non-fat or less-fat people buying junk food? The problem is not that people shouldn’t be encouraged to feed their children balanced diets, it’s that the message is targeted to fat people when really everyone would benefit from the same message. There are fat vegetarians, fat vegans, fat people who never touch junk food, fat people who exercise every day, fat people who won’t let their kids eat sugar. There are both fat and thin people who sometimes (or almost all the time, even) eat crap. The generalization that if you’re fat, you must be eating an all McDonald’s all the time diet is not fair.

      • Posted April 14, 2011 at 1:07 am | Permalink

        (Gah! I hit “Report Comment” when I meant to hit “Reply”! Please tell me I’m not the only one to have done that.)

        Did you ever see non-fat or less-fat people buying junk food?

        And another addition… I’m a teacher, so when I buy candy, it’s often for my classes. As in, I purchase amounts that I intend to share with roughly 200 people over the course of 5 days.

        A significant portion of the time — I’d say between 30% and 50% — someone (either the cashier or someone else in line) makes a comment like, “That’s all going straight to your hips” or whatever, where the assumption is that I intend to eat all the junk food myself.

        Because, yes. If I wanted to eat 4lbs. of chocolate, purchasing it in “Fun Size” and “Mini” increments is totally the most cost- and wrapper-efficient way to go about that.

    • Posted April 14, 2011 at 3:35 am | Permalink

      I’m with you, Sophia. We’re not trying to generalize all overweight parents, but it is true that the eating habits of the parents tends to reflect in the kids’ diets. That doesn’t mean “healthier” parents don’t buy their kids junk food as well, because I’m sure they do. But childhood obesity starts in the home, and it should be something parents are concerned about. I don’t care if you’re overweight or not, making sure your child is developing healthy eating habits is a GOOD thing.

      • Posted April 14, 2011 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

        My mother served vegetables at every meal, promoted healthy portion sizes, and has fantastic eating habits. I eat a lot like she does, down to the vegetables. She’s not fat. I am.

        Your move!

        • Posted April 14, 2011 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

          My mom was always very concerned with weight and obesity when we were kids, both our weights and her own. As a young child, I learned that there were “good” foods and “bad” foods and that eating “bad” foods meant that we were going to develop “problem areas” on our bodies. I was taught to restrict from grade school, with the implication that my food choices reflected on my moral character.

          My mom’s not fat. I am.

    • Posted April 15, 2011 at 11:11 am | Permalink

      Binge drinking is dangerous if someone gets behind the wheel of a car, and second-hand smoke causes lung cancer. How is anybody else’s health and welfare affected by my fat ass?

  6. Posted April 13, 2011 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

    “the more overweight the women, the more overweight their children tended to be. This goes to show that children lead by example and how important it is for parents to strive to live healthy lives so that their children can, in turn, internalize the importance of overall wellness.”

    Correlation is not causation.

    Also, “choice” is heavily shaped by access. Access to healthy foods and lifestyles no doubt correlates with better health for both parent and child, even without a parent pressuring or even teaching the child.

    Also, genetics plays a role, both in individuals and in the parent-child correlation.

    Also, as pointed out by others, just as there is a correlation for being overweight, there is almost certainly a correlation for being underweight. To the extent that parents can be culpable on the “too big” end, they can be culpable on the “too small” end.

    Also, as pointed out by others, the metric(s) used to judge someone being overweight are generally inaccurate.

    Also, being underweight or overweight isn’t everything in terms of health.

    Working on health and nutrition is great. It is useful for improving the quality of life and helping curtail a lot of the problems bogging down the health care system. I also believe that parents do have a role in helping promote the health of their children.

    But for the purpose of this article, he’s using flawed reasoning and a faulty measure of health to only analyze a fraction of what goes into health. Garcia disregards other explanations, ignores the roles of access (class, affordability, location) and government regulation, and fails to acknowledge the limitations of his measures. He would do well to take a page from Jamie Oliver, who has worked hard to make healthier food options available in school lunches (with mixed success) — educating parents only goes so far when schools provide/sell a sizable chunk of the meals that kids eat (not just to address their health in the short term but for helping them establish good habits in the long term).

  7. Posted April 13, 2011 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

    The real reason he’s such an idiot is right there in the title.

    “Nutritionist”.

    That is a nonsense term. I could say I’m a nutritionist and that meat pies 3 times a day are the secret to a long and healthy life. It’s no different from calling yourself a “tooth inspector” and talking about dental health.

    The legally protected term, like physician or dentist or cardiologist, is dietician. This guy’s just a quack.

  8. Posted April 13, 2011 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

    He assumes that we all have the same access to food as his wealthy clients do.

    This! Unfortunately, unhealthy, processed food is cheaper and more available in many communities. If I have 2 dollars in my pocket and a week until payday, a pack of hot dogs and a bag of hot dog buns will last longer and be more filling than a bag of salad.

    • Posted April 13, 2011 at 10:44 pm | Permalink

      Never mind that you might be able to pick up the hot dogs at the corner store while trying to find the food his clients eats might require multiple buses or money for a cab or finding someone willing to drive you.

  9. Posted April 13, 2011 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

    I tend to agree with the sentiment that kids follow the example of their parents, and of course we want parents to be teaching children healthy choices. But healthy choices does not mean calorie restriction. It means having healthy food available most of the time. But kids should eat until they are full. So should adults and if you are making reasonably healthy choices most of the time, your body will regulate your weight. What makes things worse is that most of our common understanding of healthy nutrition is wrong. And overall caloric intake is not actually the cause of weight gain. Your body chemistry is. Studies have shown that people with excess body fat in general don’t ingest more calories than people without excess body fat.

    • Posted April 13, 2011 at 10:38 pm | Permalink

      The problem with the article in this respect is that it assumes that because fat kids look like their parents, that all of them are unhealthy. It assumes that thin is the only way to be healthy. It also assumes that if you and your children as slender, than you are healthy, which is not always true.

      Generalization, as a rule, is a bad, bad thing. Bad.

  10. Posted April 13, 2011 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

    That “at risk for becoming obese” reminds me of those lovely sit downs my step-mother used to have with me that always ended with “you aren’t fat now, but if you aren’t careful you’ll end up just like your mother.”

    This line really jumped out at me. My own step-mom wasn’t so blatant, but several pointed comments by her and my father left me to assume they thought my mom was weak and going to lead me to be fat someday. I never put up with their crap about dieting, I had school to avoid that, and also my mom’s, where every scrap of food wasn’t examined. “No, you can’t have another slice of (homemade) bread, it’ll make you fat.” I really worry about my siblings, though. They’re in high school and already have not only the self-hate but the disdain for others, without regard for agency. My step-mom and my dad are very much the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” types, and it’s become more apparent as time goes on.

    I’m sorry your step-mom said such things to you, and more sorry that society sees nothing wrong with the mental anguish we cause people for factors outside their control. And frankly, even if, as they believe, fat were caused by solely eating junk food and not exercising, well, is being fat the worst thing in the world? Does it make you degenerate? I’m never been swayed by the “health” arguments. I maintain that that’s an excuse to hate people, and vent all your own shortcomings on others, to have some small way to feel superior, using the cloak of “what’s best.” Why this one issue? Well, this and STDs or HIV. But that’s a whole other can of worms.

    • Posted April 13, 2011 at 10:42 pm | Permalink

      Thank you so much for your understanding. It means a lot to me.

      My siblings and I are all grown and already have whatever damage we’re going to have. But it’s really sad to me that I have never, in 18 years, allowed my daughters or my son to spend any time alone with my dad or step-mother. I feel like I always have to be there to buffer them from the nonsense I grew up with.

      My advice with your siblings is to take whatever opportunity you can find to tell them that their bodies are awesome just how they are in the most organic way possible.

  11. Posted April 14, 2011 at 4:50 am | Permalink

    Also the study and the article seem to conflate “parent” with “mother.” Annoying. I guess men get off scot free on this one, too.

  12. Posted April 14, 2011 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    As a feminist, I recognize the absurd and misogynistic cultural pressure to be ever thinner. However, I feel that the comments here aren’t making the distinction between that fixation and being healthy and in shape.

    The human body was meant for movement–something that has historically been denied to women and is only now beginning to be accepted and even celebrated as women engage in athletic competition. In general, though, American society has become more sedentary, and as a result, and more prone to heart disease and diabetes. This is especially evident among children, who are getting Type 2 diabetes more than ever before. Women who don’t build muscle mass–and therefore increase bone density–are at greater risk for osteoporosis in old age.

    It’s true that “weight” is a general and often sloppy marker of fitness, but I think Americans have become increasingly unhealthy–and part of that is shown in the *overall population* weight gain over the decades. Granted, individuals vary: People are shaped differently, and you can have super-fit people who aren’t “skinny” as well as skinny people who are incredibly unfit.

    It’s impossible and cruel to assume–as our culture does–that one body type is acceptable and everything bigger than that is “fat.” At the same time, it’s important to acknowledge that our sedentary lifestyles and too much fat-sugar-salt in processed food (thanks, agribusiness!) are not good for our health. Not everything about fighting obesity is “fat shaming.”

    • Posted April 14, 2011 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

      Forgot to mention that the HuffPo article is just sexist bullshit. What, fathers never feed their kids? They’re not responsible for this basic aspect of childrearing? It reminded me of the old claim that a child’s autism was a mother’s fault because she was “cold.”

    • Posted April 14, 2011 at 7:12 pm | Permalink

      Victoria, the problem is with assuming that only fat people are sedentary or only fat people eat junk food.

      The CDC (in the US) says that US weights have been stable for the last 20 years. There is no dramatic increase in weight here. I don’t know whether people are more unhealthy or less unhealthy than in past generations. I’d buy that we’re all more sedentary, but that goes for people across body types.

      There is no way to advocate against obesity without assuming that whatever you have to say about it is something that all fat people haven’t already heard. There is no way around the fact that only 5 percent of all people who lose a significant amount of weight keep it off for five years–and most of those are people who gained and lost once, as with pregnancy or an illness.

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