A few weeks ago my brother, who’s a junior at UT in Austin, was volunteering at a middle school. He saw a poster on the wall and, knowing that I would take an interest, took a picture and sent it to me. When I opened his text message and saw it, my heart broke. The poster was covered in cut out pictures of fast food, with a caption in the middle: “SAY NO TO FAT: OBESITY AWARENESS WEEK”.
I hesitated on sharing the picture of the poster in this post — I don’t want to offend the kids or teachers involved, but simply address them in a kind and compassionate manner. If you choose to view or comment on this picture, please keep in mind that vulnerable children spent time working on this and we need to be gentle and caring with our approach. I decided to write an open letter to these children to hopefully explain why they don’t need to fear fat.
To the kids who said no to fat,
First off, I want to say that I’m glad you’ve taken an interest in health. It looks like you’re very passionate and that’s great energy to have. I’m sorry that you’ve been mislead. There’s absolutely no reason to fear fat and I want to explain why. First off, fat is nothing to be scared of. In fact, we need fat every single day for our bodies to function. Did you know it’s an essential nutrient? This means that our bodies need us to give it fat every day. Our bodies use fat for energy and to help keep us warm. Fats also protect our organs, keep us warm, and produce important hormones (ones you’ll need to grow up!).
You don’t need to be worried — simply eating fat does not make us gain weight. All forms of food (carbs, protein and fat) provide energy for our bodies and are essential. There are more nutritious for you fats (like those in avocados and nuts) and fats that are more fun foods (like those in desserts and sweets). Neither one is “good” or “bad”– it’s how you balance them that’s important. When we say foods are good or bad, we tend to restrict the “bad” ones and eat more of the “good” ones, which leads to craving “bad” foods because we are avoiding them! This is called a diet cycle. When children and adults go through this diet cycle, they tend to gain more weight than they tried to lose in the first place.
I’m sorry there may be adults around you, whether it be teachers or parents or coaches, who may be suffering from a diet cycle themselves. These adults have most likely been dieting or following food rules since they were your age or younger. I promise they have your best interest in mind. I’ve never met a teacher, coach, or parent who didn’t want the best for their child. But our world is so full of not-true statements about the ways we should eat and the foods we should avoid.
I’m sorry you’re sent home with body report cards. Did you know that your BMI (body mass index) score has nothing to do with your health? Someone may have a high BMI yet are perfectly healthy when you measure their blood pressure or blood sugar. Similarly, someone with a low BMI can have high blood pressure. Measuring our BMI just doesn’t cut it! When adults deem children as unhealthy just because of their BMI, it really causes issues.
When you’re growing as fast as you are, the last thing you need is more body shame. I’m sorry if you’re a heavier kid who’s been put on diets or a tough exercise regimen. I’m sorry if you’re a thinner kid whose health is ignored just because of your body size. No matter your body size, you’re important. As a kid, you’re more likely to suffer from self esteem issues (been there!) and when you pile body dissatisfaction onto that, it’s no fun at all. We’re all pressured to look a certain way – thin. Did you know that most men and women aren’t meant to look like supermodels? It’s a very, very small percentage of humans who actually look like this. If you find yourself feeling anxious around food, wanting to restrict or get rid of your food after you’d already eaten it, please talk to a trusted adult.
I’m sorry you feel like you need to say no to fat. It’s not a drug. Instead, we can say YES to fat! Living in fear of being or becoming fat is no way to live. We are all special in our own way, and we are all different body sizes. It’s totally possible to be healthy at many different body sizes. Instead of avoiding fat and fast food, we can practice listening to our bodies. How does your body feel after you eat a large hamburger and fries? Do you feel drowsy, low energy? Does your stomach get upset? Or, does it hit the spot and satisfy a craving? Either one is okay.
So instead of fearing fat, here are some easy things you can do to take care of yourself that doesn’t involve fearing food.
- Make sure you get enough sleep. Children and teens need up to 9-10 hours of sleep per night. Put your screens away about 30 minutes before bed.
- Drink plenty of water. Sometimes when we feel hungry, we’re actually thirsty!
- Aim for variety of all kinds of foods. Fruits, veggies, grains, dairy and protein!
- Find movement you enjoy — whether it be biking outside with your friends, joining the basketball team or having a dance party in your bedroom.
- Don’t stress about food. Listen carefully to your body — it will let you know when certain foods help it feel nourished and energized!
Please, please don’t be scared of fat, or being or becoming fat. You are a wonderful human being no matter what size you are. You can work towards being healthy without avoiding fat or worrying about becoming fat. And better yet, enjoy your childhood!
A Concerned Adult
Hi! I’m Emily, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and self-taught intuitive chef. I firmly believe that cooking is the simplest and most important step we can take to improve our minds and bodies and build healthier communities. Join me and let’s bring food back to the kitchen!