Thursday, April 14, 2011

What happened to the playground? Children and Weight Loss

I apologize for being absent lately. Normally, when I refrain from writing for so long, it's because I haven't been eating well and I'm not making my recovery an active part of my everyday life. But that isn't the case right now. Actually, it's quite the opposite.

The reason I really wanted to write today was to ask the opinion of you, my beautiful readers, regarding something that has been very puzzling to me lately. I belong to a gym in the city where I live. This gym, unlike any that I've belonged to in the past, allows children to gain membership (as part of a family plan, I'm sure) and use the equipment, most of them unsupervised. When I say children, I don't mean teenagers. I mean children. Little kids. 8, 9, 10 years old, swinging around on the elliptical like it's a toy. Not only is it unsafe, it begs the question, what kind of message is being sent these children about body image?

Even when the children are being supervised, it's still incredibly disturbing to me. Like yesterday, a father was working out on an elliptical next to his son, who was around 10 years old. The kid was pedaling the elliptical, sweating, wiping his forehead, sipping water. He was pushing himself as hard as I was. A few rows ahead of us, a trainer from the gym was teaching a kids class. 6 children were stretching, doing sit-ups, running in place, doing squats, taking turns on the treadmill. All the adults in the gym were going about their business. No one seemed to be freaking out, except for me. So I wonder, am I too sensitive? Is it because I have an eating disorder and I understand not only the benefit, but the possible dangers associated with diet and exercise? Is it because I used to be that kid, overweight, always thinking about my body, on a diet every day of my life before I was even in high school? I understand that childhood obesity is a problem in this country. But is strapping your kid to an elliptical where he can look at the calories he's burned the solution?

It made me think: what happened to the playground? What happened to playing tag, kickball, dodgeball. Red rover, red rover, send so-and-so over?

Isn't there a better way to teach our children how to be healthy?

In other words, can't we help them be healthy without calling so much attention to it? Can't we let them think exercise and healthy eating are just normal, not something they have to think about and be conscious of and monitor their progress with?

I understand there are two sides to this issue. I am not an expert in this field. It just seems so unnatural and unsafe to me. It seems so alarming because I was that chubby, unhealthy kid. I went on my first diet when I was 8 years old. I was taking diet pills on and off from ages 14-22. I've lost 80 lbs, I've been bulimic. I've tried every diet, every trick, I've been, at one point or another, almost every size in the clothing department. The point being, I've never felt just good enough. I've never been satisfied with my weight, no matter how fat or how thin. I've never been happy being me.

I just don't want anyone else to have to go through that. And when I see these kids at the gym I can't help but think of the child version of myself, struggling and sad and feeling fat and ordinary, wishing she were thin. Wishing she were pretty. Willing and sick and desperate enough to do whatever she had to do to lose weight.

And then she did. And it didn't change anything.

What was the point, then? What did it solve, all those years of dieting and exercise and purging and restricting and binge eating and crying and not feeling good enough and wanting to change and wanting to die?


It solved nothing.

I guess the point I'm trying to arrive at is this: if you are unhappy, if you don't feel good enough, if you don't love yourself, if you aren't at peace with who you are right now, then losing weight isn't going to change any of that. Even if the diet commercials and talk shows on television tell you otherwise. Changing your outward appearance does just that: it changes you physically. If you are emotionally damaged, it's the inside of your body that needs to be changed. It's your heart that is in need of healing. Your spirit. Your mind. Your soul.

No diet is going to change that.


  1. I agree with you. I was that chubby kid, dying to be skinny, who figured out at 9 that I could lose weight by not eating. I can't even imagine how much worse things would have been if I'd been able to go to a gym like that. I think if you really want to work out with your child go outside and play basketball with them or go for a long walk or something. I don't think kids belong in the gym.

  2. I agree with you. Completely.

    But, why is the same not true for adults? Why is it okay for adults to spend hours a week in the gym, but not for a child? We all need exercise, and your suggestion that it should be just a normal part of life is spot on. I wish that could be true for adults, not just children.

    Exercise, dieting, all that kind of thing, it's something that we (generally) want to protect children from, right? But when it comes to adults, why shouldn't that apply too? Surely it's detrimental to anyone.

    I have a question for you too, I hope you don't mind - one of my friends was diagnosed with anorexia earlier this year. You've said, and I agree, that weight loss isn't going to change the unhappiness people feel. Rather that your spirit and mind need healing. How does that come about?

  3. This childhood obesity epedemic (or more importamtly how we are handling it) is going to pave the way for a generation permanantly effed up about food.
    It's sad.

  4. Your post was really touching. I completely agree with you-- children that young should NOT be in a gym! They should be playing outside.

    Great post. :)


  5. I agree, if parents have the time and money to take their kids to a gym, why don't they put them in a sport (which is much more educational and fun, imo) or just let them run around outside? It doesn't make since.

    I actually work at a gym and I think its a VERY dangerous idea to let young children workout unsupervized on the equipment.


  6. first great post. "can we be healthy without drawing attention to it"- great question.

    there are other issues here though. like, some parents might think it's safer to have their children play in the gym- i imagine especially in larger cities- then outside on the streets.

    i worry when i'm a parent i won't be able to convey how much fun it is to be physically active, when my kids' friends are all on their PS3s or Wiis or whatnot.

    glad to have you back :]

  7. I also see it from both sides. I grew up loving exercise and never worrying about my weight, though. So I may have been one of those kids that would love to go to the gym just for the endorphins.
    On the other hand, I do think that we send the wrong message to kids now a days. We scare them to death with childhood obesity talk among other things and give them stick them role models to inspire to be.

    You are so right about the fact that dieting won't make you happy with yourself. YOU only have the power to do that; no food does.

    I'm glad that you are doing well :)

  8. Amazing post!!! I agree with you 100% that there are much safer ways to encourage healthy lifestyles in children than encouraging them to burn calories at a gym! "Can't we help them be healthy without calling so much attention to it?" Well said.

    I'm so glad to hear you're doing well!!!