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5-yr-old Obsessed with Weight
Treebell posted:
I need some advice (or anyone that has gone through a similar situation to let me know that I'm not alone). My daughter is 5-years-old and is OBSESSED with her weight. She is not stick-skinny like the girls in her class, but her doctor is not concerned with her weight (we have discussed weight with her doctor throughout the years). The taller she gets the more she thins out She eats healthy meals, has healthy snacks (yogurt, grapes, oranges, etc.) and is active (she loves wii fit for kids, takes ballet classes and is usually running around).

A boy in her Pre-K class called her fat several weeks ago, and now she is obsessed with her weight and food. She walks around sucking her stomach in so her ribs stick out, then cries when we tell her to be herself. She asks me on a daily basis (several times a day) if she's losing weight, or if her "tummy is smaller." If the TV is on she'll make comments like, "that girl is fat so she doesn't eat healthy" or "I want to look like that girl" (these are not weight-concious shows - this happens just when watching commercials). She'll even stop eating halfway through a meal and say, "I can't eat anymore or I'll get fatter."

I am okay with being health-concious. We eat family meals and encourage physical activities in our home. We tell our kids that healthy foods are necessary fuel for our bodies. But my 11-year-old daughter hasn't even gone through this obsession with weight. My 5-year-old is a very happy little girl, except when it comes to the weight topic. I'm concerned and her near-hysterics when trying to talk about it are breaking my heart.

Thank you in advance.
Haylen_WebMD_Staff responded:
Thank you so much for posting - what a difficult situation! Did your daughters focus on weight begin only after she was called fat or has she had concerns before?

My "height-weight appropriate" 6 year old was also called "fat" last summer at the pool. It is heartbreaking to hear. She seemed to move past it but spent a few days sucking in her stomach and looking in the mirror too! All of the information I was able to find talked about pre-teens or teenagers with unhealthy body image issues.

I'll ask our expert to chime in - till then, is there a counselor or teacher at your daughters school that might have suggestions?

Christopher Tiongson, MD replied to Haylen_WebMD_Staff's response:
First off, sorry to hear about your daughter's distress.

In general, it is best to keep the focus on healthy eating and activity. It sounds like you are already doing a great job of emphasizing healthy habits. Physical fitness, basically how well your child's body works as she plays and learns (for exampler her energy level, endurance, strength) and not size is key. Combatting the media's and society's biases about physical appearance is not easy.

Offering counter-examples of healthy (and realistic) body types might be something to try if she is a fairly mature 5-yr-old. Also maybe showing the graph of BMIs on the growth chart to your daughter might allow you to show her that she is tracking along just fine and that she is in the healthy range.

I think this sounds like something that should be explored in depth with your pediatrician or a counselor. It is interesting that her distress seems to be isolated to body image.
Treebell replied to Christopher Tiongson, MD's response:
Thank you both so much for your replies. Yes, Haylen, it is heartbreaking to watch children at such young ages go through this. I appreciate you sharing your story so I know that I'm not the only parent that has had such a young child be concerned with this. My daughter was oblivious to weight on anyone until this comment was made by the boy in her class.

Thanks, Dr. Tiongson, for the great ideas. My daughter is very curious by nature, so she is not letting this weight thing go. She disects every piece of food we put in front of her - asking what's healthy, and if it's not healthy, she asks why it's not. We also keep telling her that treats are okay - in moderation (but we've found many treats that are quite healthy - mainly fruit-based). I like that she's curious and wants to learn, and she is accepting our "all things in moderation" policy.

I think I will make an appointment with her pediatrician to discuss this issue further, and perhaps ask for her help in monitoring this situation to make sure our kids stay on the right track.

Thanks again!
Haylen_WebMD_Staff replied to Treebell's response:
My 6 year old had to wear an eye patch when she was 4. We had a few incidents of pointing and rude comments from kids we didn't know. She was a champ - I was the one with anxiety!

Here's a few body image related articles for parents who might be facing this situation with older children.

Eating and Body Image: A Troubled Relationship

Moms, Kids, and Body Image

Treebell, please continue to check in! Your experience are so valuable for other moms and dads :)

Treebell replied to Haylen_WebMD_Staff's response:
Just wanted to post an update...

Before getting in to speak with our daughter's physician about her obsession with her weight, she caught the flu bug that was going around....or so we thought. She had some vomitting and complained of stomach pains, but she had an ongoing fever that would come for a few days, then go away, then come back. We couldn't get her to eat and she was sleeping all the time.

DH took her to see the physician for her fever, fatigue and stomach pains - they did a urine analysis, strep culture, blood work for mono & a stomach x-ray. It turns out she was severly constipated (I believe due to her sudden diet changes) - so much so that it was causing the fever (usually around 102.5), fatigue and stomach pains. She is now on Mirolax for 2 months and limited to 1-2 cups of dairy per day. She has been feeling better since DH took her to the doctor - I saw her run last week for the first time in a month and I almost cried with relief.

This past weekend she started talking about exercising again, but I will say she has been better about the food aspect of her "diet." They are doing a "Keep Moving" unit at school right now, so I think that is contributing to her exercise talk.

She did lose weight throughout this ordeal, due to her weight obsession and then her illness, but is still at a healthy weight. We are going to keep working with her and the physician (who told us to call any time - they were also concerned) to make sure she stays healthy, but I have to say this has been one of the most trying things I've gone through as a parent.
Haylen_WebMD_Staff replied to Treebell's response:
How stressful! Thank you for taking time to update us on your daughter. I'm so glad she is feeling better - I can practically see the relief in your typed words. Now that I have kids, I understand why my mom would say "I wish I was sick instead of you!"

It sounds like you have a great doctor too (love the "call anytime").

Please keep us updated - I know your information will help others!


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