About 2 years ago, my therapist asked the seemingly harmless, but nevertheless annoying, question of “What is your first memory of food and your body?” I mean, can’t blame the lady for asking, we had been chipping away at understanding my history with an eating disorder and why it was at the age of 24, I avoided mirrors at all costs and refused to eat in front of the people that were closest to me. So, I entertained her and gave the following response.
“I think I was like 7. Or 8. And we (my family and I) were at a really fancy restaurant in Lake Geneva where we would go with all of our friends. We sat down and the waiter brought out warm bread, olive oil, and parmesan cheese. I usually ate butter with my bread, so this was new to me. I saw my friend ask her mom if it was okay that she try the bread, whereas I jumped right in and soaked up all the oil and cheese I could get. It was obviously delicious. But before I could go in for seconds, my mother took me by the arm and led me outside the restaurant. She knelt down, looked at me, and said “That was wrong of you. You should have asked if you can eat that.” She explained that I had embarrassed her for eating “unhealthy” and for “looking like a pig.””
Now since then, I have eaten my fair share of bread and cheese, and everything else for that matter. I am a loud and proud intuitive eater who loves her life in recovery, but this story is not about me, the 26-year-old. This story is about the 8-year-old little girl who was punished for eating bread and who at that moment, had learned that food was either “good or bad.” This post is for her. Because that little girl came to the forefront of my attention when I woke up this morning to read that Weight Watchers had launched a new app geared towards children. Amidst the rage I had felt and ranting I had done this morning, I knew I needed to write about this, but wanted to do so in the most informed way possible. So, I headed to the app store.
It’s called “Kurbo.” It is a mobile app that monitors children’s and teens’ intake. My first of many concerns was that in order to have an account of your own without parental supervision, all you have to be is 13 years old. THIRTEEN! I cannot imagine how much more dangerous my eating disorder would have gotten if I had access to this as a 13-year-old, walking into high school for the first time, with a backpack full of insecurities and a growth spurt. I do not need to rattle off all of the reasons why 13 is such a vulnerable age for kids, but to put it simply, assuming that a new teenager has the executive functioning and emotional capability to be exposed to such overt diet culture and disordered eating messages, is just flat out irresponsible.
So, once I established that I was at least 13 years old, I got to choose an avatar for my profile. The only choices I had were animated fruits and veggies. I’d much rather have had a smiling donut or a cheeseburger, but I caved and chose a banana. Now once this little banana was logged in, I had to enter my height and weight and “goals” for this journey I was pretending to embark upon.
“Kurbo” prides itself on its “traffic light” system. What is that? Oh, just another way for this company to ascribe morality to food and shame children into eating what is “right.” As if there weren’t already enough rules given to children in order to fit Western society’s ideal mold, now kids have access to an app that polices their snacks. I guess that was more of a rant than a response to “What is the traffic light system?”, so here goes.
- Green means go. So, these are the foods you are allowed to eat without any concern for stopping. I am not joking when I say the only green light foods are fruits and vegetables. And I don’t care what anyone says, a binge is a binge. Whether that binge is on Doritos or blueberries is irrelevant, the underlying emotional distress remains the same.
- Now yellow means slow down. As in, these are the foods we eat the most of, but must only eat when portioned. You can eat the pasta, but it must be portioned and whole grain.
- And then there’s red. The universal color of danger. Kurbo claims to not limit people from eating red foods but labels them as such in order for kids to stop and think when making the conscious choice to “indulge” in such things as cake, candy, and anything with more than X amount of calories in it.
Once I got a feel for what this app was all about, I decided to enter a day’s worth of typical meals and snacks for myself. But to be completely honest, I made it through breakfast and deleted the app immediately. I walked away from my computer and had to step outside for some fresh air. That 8-year-old girl inside me was crying.
This was my breakfast. Everything bagel (1 red) with chive and onion cream cheese (2 red) and a glass of orange juice (1 red) Yep. Orange juice is considered a red food. Also, it was suggested that instead of cream cheese, I top my bagel with smashed banana or unsweetened applesauce. Do you understand my tears, now?
It’s been a very long time since something has created such a visceral reaction within me. Yes, going through the app upset me. Talking with my friends and fellow clinicians kept the rant going. But it wasn’t until I read the following headline on www.kurbo.com, that I knew I couldn’t stay quiet.
The headline reads “Child Success Story: 8-year-old lowers her BMI to a healthy percentile”
I was nearly knocked on the floor with disbelief that it could be legal, let alone ethical or moral, to share a weight loss “success story” of an 8-year-old. It is nothing short of despicable and has left me with a laundry list of words that are not allowed on the internet. I mean after reading that headline, I figure anything goes and would like to keep typing, but I digress.
Like I said in the beginning, this is for the 8-year-old who was called an embarrassment after eating bread, and now for that 8-year-old whose “weight loss journey” is being glamorized and made public. At 8, we can’t fight for ourselves, but I have learned over time to fight now for what that younger version of myself deserved. Our kids deserve better than what Weight Watchers is offering. Which if you ask me, is a whole lot of misinformed, simplistic, damaging diet culture, weight stigma, and practically a prescription for an eating disorder or at minimum, a disordered and fraught relationship with food.
So, for that 8-year-old who just wanted to eat her cheese and bread in peace, this one’s for you, girl. Be kind to yourself, remember that food has absolutely zero moral holding, and trust me when I say that the future you is trying to do better. So, who is with me? Don’t just let this pass through your newsfeed and hope it’ll resolve itself. Share this. Write letters of outrage. Let your child eat whatever their growing bellies want. And speak out! You have ANAD standing behind you in support.
Written and contributed by Megan Rose!