I have never read a diet book. I think they are misguided doctrines, reflecting the cult of celebrity that dominates our society. They focus on an aesthetic quick fix and not a healthy lifestyle that can be maintained. However, as one of the 1.6 million people in the UK with a recorded eating disorder, I’ve read every book I know to be published on recovering from Bulimia. I would recommend Getting Better Bit(e) by Bit(e) by Ulrike Schmidt and Janet Treasure; a book that highlights the dangers of dieting and helps the user try to find a healthy relationship with food.
This is why I am so concerned by the pending publication of Maggie Goes on a Diet by Paul Kramer, on the 16th of October, a self-published author of children’s books such as Booger Bob. Maggie Goes on a Diet tells the story of a 14-year-old “who goes on a diet and is transformed from being extremely overweight and insecure to a normal sized girl who becomes the school soccer star” according to the blurb, and Amazon.com gauges the reading level at 4-8 years old. With B-eat, the eating disorder charity, reporting presentations of eating disorders in children as young as 6 years old, do we really need another source telling children that weight loss equates to success? I trust the tween idols of Disney and Hollywood cover this.
Having had a turbulent relationship with food, I am a big fan of Jamie Oliver’s work in schools. I am not against communicating the healthy eating message at a young age. I applaud those who provide vital well-researched public health messages on obesity. Yet I find it difficult to believe that this book, with ‘Diet’ clearly in the title (in a cosmetic context), conveys the same ethos. I must state I do not know the author’s intentions, this is most likely a well-meaning ill-judged attempt to curb America’s obesity crisis. However, just as we have Jamie Oliver, the USA have Michelle Obama. She has both the media platform and the well-toned arms to make a dent in the seventeen percent of obese children and adolescents who are obese in the States.
I think what sits most uncomfortably with me is the cover. The author’s message seems to be ‘judge a book buy its cover’, so I shall do the same (literally). It contains a typical dysmorphic image of a girl looking into a mirror and seeing a reflection that is not her own. In the mirror she does not see a successful soccer star, but a skinny girl with a small pink dress; a look not a lifestyle she aspires to. It is also a pet peeve of mine the dress is pink, but I don’t think I can hold that against the author or illustrator.
Joanne Ikeda, a nutritionist emeritus at University of California-Berkley, was interviewed by ABC News without reading the book. She stressed that highlighting imperfections in a child’s body “does not empower a child to adopt good eating habits” and that “body dissatisfaction is a major risk for eating disorders in children all the way up through adulthood”. I am cautious of any material with this potential.
I must stress that Paul Kramer is not a paediatrician, a psychologist or a nutritionist. I cannot help thinking, that given the nature of this book, he should have consulted with one or more of these professions before starting writing. There are many customers on Amazon requesting they withdraw it from sale. I must say I agree, as I am fearful for vulnerable children seeking an unhealthy solution to their poor self-esteem being inspired by this book in the wrong way.
*I have emailed a copy of this blog post to Paul Kramer so he can correct any factual inaccuracies and I have welcomed him to give his own opinion. At present I have received no response. I encourage you too to contact Paul Kramer and voice your concerns about this book.
[The image is the front cover of the book Maggie Goes on a Diet. It has a pale pink background and an illustration of a girl looking in a mirror, holding up a pink dress. She is chubby, but in her mirror image she is slim.]
Edited to add: Laur has received a response from Paul Kramer, the author of Maggie Goes on a Diet. It is reproduced below in full.
I am not a physician nor do I claim to be a dietary expert. I am the author of, “Maggie Goes On A Diet.” This book was NOT written to be a diet book. It is a children’s book written in rhyme intended to entertain. One of my major goals was and is to inspire children of all ages to exercise and eat healthy nutritious foods.
By knowing that if they begin an exercise program and modify their eating habits by eating as much healthy and nutritious food as they want, they can build a future foundation for positive eating habits and an improved self image.
I DO NOT maintain that the message in this book is a quick fix or that anyone who goes on a diet will be happier, or will be more popular or become a soccer star.
In this book, 14 year old Maggie decides to take control over her life without being pushed to do so. Her intent was to become more physically fit, which would enable her to run faster, bend more easily, and improve her skills in playing sports. She was also tired of being teased which was unpleasant at best.
You say that you are not against communicating the healthy eating message to children at a young age.
I say that I am in favor of communicating the eating healthy message to children and adults of all ages.
You say that what sits most uncomfortably with you is the cover, you continue on to say the author’s message seems to be, “Judge a book buy its cover”
My response to that is I have been taught that one should NOT judge a book by its cover.
I have struggled with obesity for a good deal of my life and I have also recently begun an exercise program and I am eating healthier more nutritious foods.
It is also my opinion that “DIET” is not a dirty word.
Thank you for the opportunity to respond to your blog. I hope you put in my entire response.