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Thanks a lot, Bully: my 11-year old wants to go on a diet

I don't know if this could be considered triggering in any way to someone with food issues/ED, but it might be, so...warning, just in case.

There's a girl in my daughter's class who has been bullying her in some way or another since they were in kindergarten (they're in sixth grade now). Separating them in different classrooms is impossible, as they go to a small school with only one class for each grade. I've talked with almost every teacher, every year about this child's behavior, and once again it has reared its ugly head.


I spoke with the girl's father at a birthday party once, and he told me that Bully Girl has been in and out of therapy and on and off various medications for years, so I understand (and sympathize with) the fact that the girl has issues.

During the summer between fourth and fifth grade, my daughter got kind of...broad, for lack of a better term. She sort of grew out rather than up, or got wider rather than taller. She isn't fat by any stretch of the imagination, she's just a solid, large-framed child (her father and I are also large framed, so genetics FTW!). She's very active, playing multiple sports in school and constantly playing outside when she's home. She's muscular and fit.


Bully girl started calling her fat last year, in fifth grade. My daughter would remark on it, and I would ask her what she wanted to do about it and she would just say "I don't care what she thinks. I'm not fat. (Bully) is just mean."

Over the summer, something changed (hormones? Middle school awkwardness in general?). Before school started, she got anxious and brought up Bully girl, saying she was nervous about seeing her again. School has been in session for just over a week now, and the sailing has been smooth until today. Bully girl told my daughter that the cheerleaders (Bully is a cheerleader) are having a pizza party Friday night, then patted my daughter's stomach and said, "it's a good thing you're not a cheerleader, because it looks like you've eaten more than enough pizza."


My daughter was upset when she got home, and it took her a couple of hours to break down and tell me what happened. She was sobbing, and saying she was fat, and that she wants to go on a diet. We had this exchange:

Daughter: I'm fat.

Me: No, honey, you're not.

Daughter: Well, (Bully) says I'm fat.

Me: (Bully) is wrong.

Daughter: Well, I'm not skinny.

Me: You're healthy. And healthy is way more important than fat or skinny.

Then she said she wants to go on a diet, and I said...no. I said diets aren't the answer; that living a healthy lifestyle is the answer, rather than a short-term change in eating habits, like a diet. I told her I would support her making healthy choices, like eating more whole grain foods or more fruits and veggies, and that we could do some research and reading on healthy lifestyles and nutrition together. I hope this was the right thing to say/do, because honestly, I have no idea what the right thing to say/do is.


My mother was a yo-yo dieter all of her life, and had two bariatric surgeries - the second of which ended her life, sadly. She developed pancreatitis while in the hospital recovering from the second surgery, and passed away at the age of 42. I was five months pregnant with my daughter at the time. She died chasing an ideal, died because she didn't want to be fat anymore.

Her mother - my maternal grandmother - was also always on a diet. And she and my grandfather regularly remarked on my mother's weight, even in front of us kids. Grandma never sat down at the table with us, never joined us for a meal, all because she was chasing that same ideal. She spent countless Christmas and Thanksgiving and Sunday dinners walking around the table, pouring tea and serving seconds and forcing a bowl of banana pudding on you, or "Here, have this pie, come on, I can't eat it, look at how fat I am, it'll go straight to my hips!" We would tell her to sit down and she would offer up the old gem about calories not counting if you ate standing up, and how she was happier serving us than sitting down to eat herself.


Both my mother and my grandmother encouraged us (my two sisters and myself) to diet. My grandmother because it was just her way, I think. I remember she bought me a pair of pantyhose once and shamed me for the size I needed. She said I would never get anywhere in life and never find a husband if I didn't lose some weight...I believe I might have been all of 12 years old at the time. My mother encouraged us to diet so that we wouldn't be like her, and to try and keep our grandmother off our backs.

My weight has gone up and down over the years, also. Up after both my pregnancies, WAY down once when I had an eating disorder, then way up again when I realized what I was doing to myself. Down after my divorce first happened, then back up again when depression sank in. I am no better than my mother or my grandmother. I feel like I am locked in a cycle, and I am desperately trying to get out of it myself and keep my daughter from falling into it. Throw in your standard cultural pressure to be thin, and the whole thing feels insurmountable.


So what do you do, what do you say to break a cycle that is generations in the making?

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