Putting a 7-year-old on a year-long diet? Not a great idea to begin with.

Recounting that diet and the questionable tactics of the parent during that year in a fashion magazine — in a spread that includes self-congratulatory “after” pictures? Really not a good idea.

This week, there’s been an online uproar over Dara-Lynn Weiss’s essay in the April issue of Vogue about the diet to which she subjected her daughter, Bea.

When should this be off-limits to a child? (The Washington Post)

She then goes on to complain about how difficult it was to monitor the eating of an unwilling child and admits to publicly snatching snacks from her daughter, depriving her of dinner and launching into tirades when the girl wanted to have both cookies and cake at a party.

The piece was first publicly eviscerated on Jezebel by writer Katie J.M. Baker (“Mom Puts 7-Year-Old on a Diet in Worst Vogue Article Ever”). It soon became fodder for other writers who lashed into Weiss.

Weiss’s essay has gotten so much attention this week that she reportedly has now received a book contract to defend herself.

The episode, as controversial as it is, is bigger than Weiss and her detractors. It gets at cultural notions of health, beauty and self-esteem and at how to parent around those issues.

I asked for a response from Karen Schachter, a Washington nutritionist who specializes in helping parents walk the fine line between preserving a child’s health and her self-esteem. She runs a program for mothers and daughters called “Dishing With Your Daughter.” Here are her thoughts on the story.

“This makes me very sad on so many levels,” Schachter wrote to me.

“As a culture we continue to perpetuate the cycle of body and eating struggles. On the one hand, there’s the obesity epidemic, on the other there are eating disorders and disordered eating. … as much as this mother is ‘the problem’ here, she’s also a victim. Where did she learn her negative messages about her own eating and body? Who were her role models?

“Many mothers are in a bind. Many mothers have struggled themselves with food/eating/body issues and want their daughters to not struggle; want things to be different for their daughters, but aren’t sure how. There are not many models for healthy attitudes around these situations. Another diet seems like the best solution, but it’s not.”

Schachter said that there are better approaches than a diet if you want to change the eating and health habits of a child. They include focusing on health instead of weight and helping the whole family get healthy with family exercise and meals, rather than singling out the child.

“It’s helpful for parents to provide structure, guidance and positive role modeling — not shame, belittlement, and guilt,” she said.

How do you encourage health for your children? Are diets ever okay?

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