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"My Kids Were Fat"

Once upon a time, when Game Boys were boys who played sports and "carb" was not a four-letter word, I was quietly proud that my children drank juice instead of soda. I was secretly smug that they ate pasta four times a week and snacked on granola bars and oatmeal cookies. Of course, the mere mention of weight management was forbidden: It was thought that a single cautionary word about food from a parent—other than "candy equals cavities"—could batter a body image. I would no more have said "You need to make sure you don't overeat" than "If you don't play football, other boys will think you're a sissy."

Once upon a time, I would never, ever, ever have nixed a second helping of spaghetti. Everybody knew that forbidding food was tantamount to encouraging a child to "diet," and "dieting" among kids was a straight shot to an eating disorder.

How long was I the poster mom for denial?

I wasn't unaware that we were fighting an uphill battle, foodwise. Outside our house, in this land of milk and money, family-size cartons of fries drift like schooners down cola rivers, past islands of chocolate doughnuts. Granola bars have essentially become cookies. And the "virtuous" cookies, the ones with oatmeal and nuts in them, have gotten bigger every season.

But so had some of my kids.

Still, how could I overcome the dread? After all, friends, from both afar and right in my neighborhood—one a psychologist—were reluctant to make food a battleground even by insisting that their children try broccoli. How could I speak heresy and say, "Let's try eating a little less pasta and go easy on the sweets?"

It took an allergist to push me to that point. At my son's visit, the doctor told me point-blank that my child was short of breath not just because of his sensitivity to cat dander and grass but because he was too fat.

I gulped.

Too fat?

"Too fat" was a grown-up term. And the doctor had used it right in front of my son! Was that right? Was that real?

Best-selling author Jacquelyn Mitchard's most recent novel, Still Summer, was published in August by Warner Books.

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