Confession Of A Mum of an Overweight Child: “I scorned parents of obese children, until I became one”

You see, Max weighs just under 8st — 3st over his ideal weight — and is clinically obese with a BMI over 25. He wears clothes for a 14-year-old and, as this run proved, is incredibly unfit.

Yes, I know, you think me a bad mother. I, too, used to view parents of fat children with scorn, assuming they were too stupid to see the harm they were doing their offspring. Now, though, I hang my head in shame. The only pitiful excuse I can offer is that if you think it’s hard to lose weight yourself, it’s even harder to help your child shed the pounds.

Sometimes it feels as though all Max and I ever do is row about his weight. I’ve lost count of the times he’s dissolved into tears about a ‘friend’ calling him fat. I know only too well it’s my fault and I can’t forgive myself.

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What of those infamous fat-shaming letters the Government sends out to parents like me? You know, the ones saying the school has checked your child’s Body Mass Index and it’s time you chucked out the biscuits and bought more salad. Yes, I’ve had one and I’m afraid it made me feel so guilty I just put it in the bin.

‘Just stop him from eating!’ I can almost hear people screaming at me.

I have four sons: Jacob, 12, Max, ten, and my six-year-old twins Jonah and Zachary. All our boys eat with my husband and me every night and do the same amount of exercise. Three of our sons are slim — Zachary could even be classed as skinny — so my parenting skills can’t be that bad.

This is what makes helping Max slim down so hard. While the other boys eat what they like and stay slender, I have to single him out to deny him food. You can imagine how bad that makes us both feel.

There’s no doubt my own struggle with weight loss has an impact on my children — they’ve witnessed my yo-yoing figure over the years. But the real trouble is, Max has almost been raised in reaction to his older brother, Jacob, who struggled to eat from birth.

So when Max was born two years later, and immediately started nuzzling for milk the moment he was placed on my stomach, I cried tears of joy and relief. When he began to eat solids, he proved to have the palate of a gourmet. He would try absolutely anything and loved almost all of it. Where his brother was tricky, Max was easy.

As a toddler he once picked up an olive, I tried to take it away telling him he wouldn’t like it, but he gobbled it up and started grabbing at the bowl for more.

As cajoling Jacob into consuming a mere spoonful was a battle of wills, when Max asked for seconds I would only too gladly dole them out. I must admit Max also suffered from second-child syndrome. With Jacob I was vigilant about the type of food he ate. Only organic, no sugar, no crisps, sweets or chocolate for my precious firstborn. But with my second child it was more a case of needs must and I would often give him a biscuit as a means of pacifying him while I attempted to do my daily chores.

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I still remember — with shame — steadily feeding him an entire bag of biscuits during a particularly trying trip to buy a dress for a wedding. It was the only way to keep him quiet while I tried on outfit after outfit.

But when children are little, all the attention is on them gaining weight, not losing it. As babies, they are weighed monthly and health visitors keep a chart, showing how their weight compares to the average. But although Max was a big baby, no one thought it concerning.

He was a sweetly rounded toddler, rather than fat. I think his active life running around and playing kept him from tipping into chubby. His healthy appetite continued and I was loath to discourage him. I was proud of his sophisticated palate and didn’t see it as a problem that he enjoyed his food.

But when Max started primary school things changed. Despite the fact that children should be at their most active between the ages of five and 11, these days this is when they’re at their most sedentary — spending most of the day sitting on the mat in class. When I was Max’s age I walked to school every day and spent my evenings roaming with my friends in the fields surrounding our village. Max, like 44 per cent of children in the UK, is driven to school as we live too far away for him to walk.

Once he gets there, he sits in one classroom almost all day long. PE is a once-a-week activity and, since the beginning of this term, his school no longer has a dedicated PE teacher. Instead it is left to class teachers who have no training and, in some cases, no aptitude, to get the children moving.

It is shocking that in light of a growing crisis with childhood obesity that so little emphasis is put on exercise at primary school. Particularly when there is compelling evidence this could be a vital tool to help children slim.

A friend with an equally chubby, exercise-shy child recently moved to Scotland. She told me her son now runs a mile a day every day, come rain or shine, as a result of the school’s timetable. He has lost weight and has become fit enough to enjoy his daily runs.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not trying to pass the buck. I know it’s my responsibility to get Max moving out of school hours, but it would be far easier were there a culture of activity engendered by teachers.

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As it is, when I signed Max up for football classes, he stood in goal during every game. He joined a street dance club; I was overjoyed until the teacher told me he spent every session sitting in the corner refusing to join in.

He did judo, but found it too rough. He tried tennis but spent more time mucking about than hitting a ball. That’s why I hit upon the idea of running with him. I could combine a bit of mummy-and-son bonding time with some much-needed exercise.

How wrong could I be? As usual, it ended in tears. I know I should have stuck with it, but we haven’t been running since. It is hard enough to find the time to train myself, without having to go back to square one with Max. I know, I’m being selfish, but me-time is in short supply when you are a mum of four.

As for food, I know I should be cruel to be kind and deny Max all the treats he craves, but it is so hard to put that into practice.

Take Halloween, for example. Max and his twin brothers went out trick-or-treating and came home with buckets of sweets. They all dug in with enthusiasm and I didn’t have the heart to wrench Max’s tub of treats away from him.

I don’t want him to be the odd one out who can’t join in, partly because I know how miserable that is.

There have been many times when friends have enjoyed cakes or chips and I have had to say no for the sake of my waistline, while inwardly drooling.

It is a horrible feeling and one I hate to inflict on my son. One particularly tough conversation sticks in my mind. It was about a month ago, soon after our ill-fated run.

I pulled my boy into a cuddle and said: ‘Maxy, you know when I say you can’t have sweets or a biscuit it’s not because I am being mean, don’t you? I love you so much I just want you to be healthier.’

‘I do, Mummy,’ he replied, ‘but I am just always so hungry.’

How that pulled at my heartstrings. Every mother is programmed to ensure her children don’t go hungry.

You might think my own experience of being fat should make me better at tackling Max’s burgeoning size, but I find it makes it even harder. I know how tough it is to cut back and to deny yourself treats — if I can’t do it for myself, then how can I do it for him?

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The whole family are aware of Max’s weight issues, but sometimes I encounter a bit of a schizophrenic attitude. In one breath his doting grandparents will point out how chubby he is — and then hand him a chocolate bar.

We all find it so hard to say no to his gorgeous brown eyes, even though we know we should. He is such a bright, funny and happy boy, all of us hate the way it makes us feel to point out his flaws.

His father and I try, but we struggle to find the right way to tackle the problem without undermining his already low body confidence.

I try to give Max smaller portions and stop him from raiding the fridge for puddings, but it does cause friction in the family, as he resents the fact that his brothers are under no such restrictions.

And despite the work of celebrity chefs such as Jamie Oliver, who tried to tackle the problem of unhealthy school dinners, the playground is as littered with crisp packets and sweet wrappers as it ever was.

Yesterday, as I went to pick Max up from school, I was surrounded by hordes of children eagerly ripping into bags of crisps and sweeties. One boy was even munching from a Tupperware box that contained a portion of chips in ketchup. There was not a carrot stick in sight.

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But I am determined. We have cut out unhealthy snacks, I park further from the school to make him walk and I try to get him outside more often.

Max doesn’t thank me for it, of course. But one day I hope he will.

Culled from Daily Mail

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