A man who was concerned about the health of his 9-year-old daughter after noticing her belly decided to put her on a diet.
But his earnest intentions landed him in hot water after his ex-wife said he was "emotional damaging" their child.
What did he do wrong?
According to Reddit, the original poster (OP) screwed up, royally.
Redditor "Dietkidthrowaway" asked AITA (Am I the A**hole) for going too far with his daughter's weight loss strategy.
"Ex (32f) and I (34m) have a 9yo daughter 'M'. We broke up when M was 5 and I moved away, I would see M in breaks and speak on the phone so I was as involved as I could be."
"Last year I move back. I now have her alternate weeks."
"I had noticed M starting to put on weight. She's not obese but seeing her in person, I've noticed she has a belly which hangs over her waistband, and she wears 12-13 clothes despite being only 9."
"I spoke to ex and she got defensive, saying that M ate what she eats (ex is skinny and healthy) and has a sport she goes to twice a week."
"I asked about portion sizes and other exercise (twice a week for 90mins isn't that much) I was trying to stay friendly but ex shut me down."
"I know weight gets harder to lose the older you get so I decided to keep a close eye and do what I could on her weeks with me."
The OP came up with an alternative plan to change his daughter's eating habits and incorporated an exercise regimen so they can participate together.
"I did not put her on a crash diet but I did start using a portion control plate and packing lean lunches instead of letting her buy her food. (Carrot sticks, yogurt, flavoured steamed chicken breast etc.) M complained at first but then seemed fine with this.
"I also took her to the gym with me 4 times a week, my gym have parent and child classes."
"The only thing I said to M about it is that we were working to set her up for the future being physically fit and mindful of what she eats."
Although the OP's plan had an auspicious start, things quickly went south when M brought healthy snacks to a sleepover.
"So last week a kid is having a birthday and the parents are taking a small group to the movies and after to sleepover. The parents asked that everyone send their kid with their own snack and then the parents would buy popcorn on top to share."
"I'm trying to show my kid that snacks can be healthy, so I sent her with a bag of veggie sticks and hummus. She made a little fuss about not getting candy but seemed fine."
"I dropped her off and ex was gonna pick her up. Next day ex texts."
"I head over and ex isnt happy, M is upset and won't look at me. Apparently when they were sat at waiting for the movie kids started comparing snacks."
The poor girl's real view about food came to light.
"M told the other kids that they were gonna get fat and unhealthy bc their parents gave them those snacks."
"She said she had to eat the veggies so she could lose weight, and she wasn't allowed any popcorn (I never said this)."
"Then at their house after they ordered pizza for the kids M refused to eat saying she was gonna get fat.
"The parents called ex and she came and got her."
"M was crying saying that she was scared if she ate anything bad she'd put on weight and everyone would hate her."
"She told ex about our diet and gym. I hadn't because it was my weeks and why should I divulge all our plans."
"Ex ranted saying M always came home tired and refusing to eat. She blames me for giving M a complex when she was healthy and active."
"I said if she was healthy she wouldn't have a belly and be bigger than other girls."
"I said that at least I cared about what the girl puts in her mouth and she said M was happier before I moved back."
"Now ex is telling me she won't send her back to me if I don't stop 'emotionally damaging' her."
The sobering responses would indicate that, yes, he was the "a**hole."
Although the OP may have thought he was looking out for his daughter's best interest, many Redditors were furious after reading his post.
"GabiCoolLager" responded with YTA (you're the a**hole) and said that the OP's method was "abusive."
"Man, your daughter is NINE. She is a little chubby, for what you have said, and she was CRYING because she was scared if she ate anything."
"For christ's sake, YTA and you are f* your daughter's life up. What the actual hell you think you are doing?"
z'edit: some you guys gotta be kidding. there is no info about the kid being unhealthy, there is no info about medical reasons to get her to lose weight, there is only OP disliking the way his daughter looks, because she has 'a belly.'"
"making a 9 yo cry in fear of eating is not ok, will never be ok and saying 'oh you are just thinking of what is best for her!' is bullsh*t. this is abusive. this is how body complexs are born."
Others with the same opinion followed suit with their YTA explanations.
"YTA. OP, I appreciate that you are looking out for your daughter, but this is completely the wrong way to go about it."
"She is scared to eat pizza or popcorn? Really?? Yeah, she may have a little baby fat on her but she's nine and hasn't hit puberty yet."
"When she does, keep her active (as she will be in gym class at school), and she'll be fine. Right now, you are just freaking her out, and giving her a complex because of the way she looks to you." – cyanocittaetprocyon
"YTA, OP. Not to mention she's at an age where it's EXCEEDINGLY NORMAL for kids to put on a bit of weight."
"It goes to the belly because, shocker, that's where kids store their weight. You do not sound informed as to what constitutes 'normal.'"
"OP, my mom f'g tortured me over my belly. It was baby fat. It went away. Along with her chances of having a good relationship with me down the line."
"Not to mention: 'I hadn't because it was my weeks and why should I divulge all our plans.'"
"Bruh. Why should you divulge major diet and exercise changes? Why should you inform your child's other parent of a huge upset you made to your child's day-to-day routine? Idk maybe because that's what's expected of a borderline functional parent?" – Neurotic_Bakeder
THe OP's parenting skills hit a little too close to home for many Redditors – who, as children, have struggled with weight issues and dieting.
"Sad owner of an eating disorder caused by a parent making me feel terribly about my weight my entire life checking in."
"Reading OPs post made me so so sad and reallllly reminds me of this scene in Little Miss Sunshine where the dad says that his daughter shouldn't have an ice cream because beauty queens don't have ice cream and you see her suck in her tummy that has been 'hanging out over her waist band' the entire movie later on because she is now ashamed of her body because of her dad's guidance."
"This post breaks my heart for that little girl. The secrecy angle of this line 'I hadn't because it was my weeks and why should I divulge all our plans.' is so unsettling and scary."
"OP please know that the adult and child work out classes sound like a great idea -- everything you're doing otherwise is clearly a problem -- 9 year olds don't magically come up with the put downs your kid slung at her classmates re:food." – cockadoodledickass
"I still had 'a belly' when I was at my lowest weight from anorexia. I also wasn't a 9 year old who's probably gaining weight before a growth spurt and I don't have a uterus taking up any space." – 23velf
"Yup. The 'little belly' and 'chubby thighs' my grandad used to compare to my sisters slim body, gave me an eating disorder that I still struggle with now. at 34 years old."
"So yeah, Op, you're massively TA." – mermaidsgrave86
Many shared their personal struggles growing up that lead to years of mental and emotional distress as adults.
"When I look at old photos I am FURIOUS about how thin I was when I was young despite always being called 'fat' by my mother."
"I was homeschooled and remember having to fatten up for doctors appointments. But I also remember the 'fasting' and crash diets after. Now I have complex PTSD from the abuse."
"OP I don't know what your relationship with your daughter is like and I am not saying it's abuse."
"it does however mimic A LOT of what my parents did to me that was overly controlling and eventually lead to a lifetime of depression."
"I tried to kill my self in December of 2019, but I am getting help and feeling stronger after completely cutting my parents out of my life. I don't know if I will ever speak with them again."
"I'm struck by the fact that your daughter has a sport she likes, why not just encourage that? Who cares if she isn't perfectly thin as long as she is healthy? Why does it have to be about her tummy? Shouldn't it be about her longevity and vitality?"
"I guess I am struggling to see how this is you caring about your daughters health and not you shaming your daughter for not being your ideal woman."
"YTA and you creep me out with how much you care about your daughter's tummy." – zipzipzipparoo
"When I was 9, I had a little belly. I played a sport every season. My parents always cooked healthy meals, we never had high calorie snacks around like full sugar sodas or potato chips or cookies."
"But we all enjoyed a bit of ice cream after dinner. One night, I stood up from the table on the way to the freezer and my dad said, 'I think you could go without ice cream.'"
"That was it, that was literally all he said. But the thought that generated that comment couldn't have been more clear to me, I wasn't skinny like i had been before."
"That ONE comment from my dad, that I'm sure was incredibly well intentioned, kicked off about a decade of food-related problems for me. I finally stopped puking up my dinner every single night after I went to college."
"Look, this girl isn't simple. She knows what 'beautiful' looks like, she knows all the prettiest princesses are slim. And most of all, she knows that her dad doesn't like the way she looks. My heart breaks for this poor girl."
"And, by the way, I was getting pudgy at 9 years old because I was about to go through puberty and grow from 4'10" at 10 years old to 5'9" at 14. OPs daughter could be gearing up for a growth spurt." – Dusty_Old_Bones
"Exactly! My 13 year old son got a lil pudgy before last summer. Then he shot up 6" over the summer and had abs going back to school."
"Idk how true this actually is but I'm convinced I know when my kids are about to have a growth spurt because they'll gain a little around the middle a few months before."
"Also we don't bring up weight or food or anything like that. Kids should be kids. Not worry about about food and body image." – Lilly_Kane
Redditor "raiejust" strongly urged the OP to reverse the psychological damage inflicted on his daughter as soon as possible.
"You have a long road ahead of you to fix this now. I study human anatomy and physiology and around that age (for a girl) is EXACTLY where they take off in breast growth, waist growth, and height growth, AND fertility (periods begin)."
"Wanna make sure your daughter doesn't get fat? weak? short? flimsy? amenorrhea? The female athlete triad? Make sure she eats NOW or you'll stunt all potential growth in her body."
"Kids are supposed to be fat. Give her the same confidence you would give your son for eating."
"The amount of things I could fact-check and teach you about how catastrophic this is, both sociologically and physiologically, is beyond your imagination."
"You've planted a memory in your child's brain. Good luck getting it out. The quicker the better."
According to a U.S. News article, dieting in childhood can lead to numerous physical problems – some irreversible – in the long run, with the most common issues being vitamin and nutritional deficiencies.
The article suggested that emphasis should be placed on "improving diet quality," instead of focusing on "cutting calories."
Some of these "modest changes" include:
"choosing water or nonfat milk in lieu of soda and juice, say, and eliminating processed foods. Sometimes that equals fewer calories, but that's not really the point."
"It's about improving the quality of those calories. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and non-fat dairy should always be central, with room for the occasional splurge."
WebMD also discouraged calorie-cutting diets for children, unless it is recommended by pediatricians.
The article additionally touched on the psychological effects of dieting at a young age.
"Many diets may teach your child that certain items are 'bad' or off-limits, which can change how she sees food later in life."
There are plenty of resources and methods available to help children maintain a healthy lifestyle, but instilling fear in your kids is not one of them.