A diet book for kids. WTF?

“Maggie has so much potential that has been hiding under her extra weight.”

So says the blurb from the new kids’ book by Paul Kramer. In case we’re not sure exactly where he’s going with that, we have the cover image, which depicts a chubby girl in pigtails holding a pink dress before her, gazing longingly at a thin version of herself reflected in a mirror.

Maggie, you see, is fourteen. And the book – called, creatively enough, Maggie Goes On A Diet – is aimed at pre-teens; particularly, girls aged six to twelve. Yes, you read it right. A diet book for girls aged six to twelve.

As the mother of two daughters, aged ten and three, I nearly wept when I saw this book – and I’m not exaggerating for effect. I worry enormously about the pressures my girls will face as they get older – pressures to be beautiful, to be skinny, to achieve the ‘perfect’ figures of models and actresses and heavily airbrushed celebrities. I do everything I can to protect them from eating disorders and from distorted body images. The idea that someone would write such a book – and that, presumably, some people will buy it for their young daughters – breaks my heart.

So what is wrong with this book? Well, what isn’t? For a start, kids don’t need diet books because when kids are overweight it is not their fault. None of my three kids has access to food that I do not buy for them, or give them money to purchase. Of course, they do go to birthday parties, and yes, they eat crap there, but no-one gets fat from eating cake once a week, and besides, I’ve taught them moderation so they don’t eat everything in sight.

An overweight pre-teen does not need a diet book. An overweight pre-teen needs a parent who is prepared to make lifestyle changes so that none of their children becomes overweight. A parent who buys healthy food. A parent who teaches their kids to eat when they’re hungry and stop when they’re full. A parent who encourages their kids to get outside and run around. It is utterly unfair to put the onus on the child, particularly a child as young as six to twelve years.

Secondly, diets do not work. I have been banging on about that for years and I’ll stress it again: diets do not work. Diets are about ‘good’ and ‘bad’ foods. Diets are about deprivation and hunger. Diets are about ignoring our bodies’ signals and eating what somebody else tells us to eat. And – here’s the crunch – diets have less than a five percent success rate. They do not work! So any parent who puts their pre-teen on a ‘diet’ is setting them up for failure, and quite probably a lifetime of yo-yo dieting and cycles of gain and loss and gain.

Thirdly, and most significantly, puberty is the most vulnerable time for girls to develop anorexia and other eating disorders. And one of the primary triggers for anorexia is pressure to lose weight. Imagine handing a little girl a copy of Maggie Goes On A Diet and saying ‘Look honey! Maggie did it! So can you!’ I can’t ever imagine doing that to my child, and I hope no other mother does it to hers.

There is, however, one good thing I can say about Maggie Goes On A Diet. Paul Kramer has self-published his book, which presumably means that mainstream publishers rejected it. I hope that sanity prevails, and the general public do the same thing.