Why I refuse to weigh my children

There is, in my view, only one good reason to weigh a child, and that’s when a doctor needs to prescribe medication.

Although recent research by the University’s of Manchester and Oxford has suggested regular weigh-ins could help combat childhood obesity, I believe this could have a damaging impact on a child’s self-esteem. Poor self-image can be a contributing factor to weight gain, and besides, weight alone is not a good measure of health.

Getting a child on the scales, and using that result against a set of national averages, is a one-way ticket to body image anxiety. I know because I’ve been there.

I must have been about seven or eight years old when I was called to the nurse’s office as part of a regular school check. I remember looking down and seeing my blue checked summer dress grazing my knees, my legs disappearing into white ankle socks as I squinted at the analogue dial on the scales.

The needle pinged up with vigour, and the nurse made an odd noise – I felt like I’d failed a test but I didn’t know why. It wasn’t the first time I’d got on the weighing scales, but it was the first time I’d really noticed the process and wondered what it meant.

A few days later we got a letter from school, and my mum made an appointment to see our GP. At the appointment, Mum and the doctor said things like, ‘overweight’, ‘worried’, and ‘puppy fat’.

It was all very confusing, and even though the doctor wasn’t that concerned, the experience made me more aware of my body – should my thighs really spread like that on the car seat? Should there be a roll around my stomach when I sit down? At home I played with our puppy, she didn’t seem to have any fat at all.

To this day, I don’t know how much my children weigh. They have been weighed at the doctor’s surgery, but it’s a process I deliberately minimise.

The recommended changes were small – semi-skimmed milk, fruit salad instead of ice cream and low fat margarine. But I had already learned to view my value through the lens of weight.

Subsequently, my teenage years and early 20s were marked by self-imposed calorie counting, regular weigh-in sessions (up to three times a day) and avoidance of ‘fatty foods’ – including healthy foods such as nuts.

The adults in my life had long stopped worrying about my weight – I hit puberty young, age 10, and the remarkable changes to my body easily explained my earlier stockiness.

But thanks to the school nurse, the damage was done – and is not easily undone. My 20s were an exercise in dietary restriction, not nutritional understanding.

As soon as I had my first child 10 years ago, I made a decision that weight would not feature in my parenting style. I threw out my own set of scales and stopped attending those distressing weigh-in sessions for babies.

To this day, I don’t know how much my children weigh. They have been weighed at the doctor’s surgery, but it’s a process I deliberately minimise.

At home we place a high value on the nutrient level in food. We talk about ‘fuel’ and ‘energy’ rather than calories and fat. We talk about balance; protein, carbohydrates and starch.

My boys know what dietary fibre is. They know they need calcium and Omega 3s. They know if they eat too much sugar, including fructose, that it will give them a sudden energy boost followed by a drop.

At just seven and 10 years old, they make self-guided sensible decisions like, ‘I don’t need sugar right now’ or, ‘I had a pie for lunch so I should probably have some green veg at dinner’. It’s beautiful to see their understanding of nutrition and health develop at such a young age.

I’d hate to think anyone judged their physical or emotional health based on their weight. If a conversation like that ever arose I would shut it down with one simple statement: ‘They’ve got a great appetite, eat a good selection of foods, are very active, and happy. What more could you ask for?’

These are better measures of health than any set of scales.

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