The first time anyone called my daughter "fat," she was only a few minutes old.
Born five weeks early, Carolyn measured 19.5 inches long and weighed 7 pounds, 11 ounces, earning her the acronym L.G.A. -- large for gestational age. In other words, she looked more like a full-term baby.
And Carolyn has shown no signs of slowing down in the 20 months that have followed. She polishes off every crumb on her dinner plate and has quickly learned how to say "more" at meal times. At her last checkup, both her height and weight put her in the 98th percentile for her age.
Family and friends have joked about her hearty appetite and thunder thighs, and the mom in me secretly worried. The warnings about childhood obesity fill every parenting magazine and website, and most note how habits formed as toddlers directly affect their weight as school-age children.
As a society, we have become so weight-conscious. Some cities have tried banning toys in Happy Meals and successfully limited the size of sodas being sold, all in the name of curbing obesity. We are so determined to solve the "weight crisis" with our children that mixed messages from media, pediatricians and other parents are drowning out our own parental instincts.
We see conflicting messages all the time. When I was a child, apple juice counted as a healthy fruit serving. Today, it is a major no-no for toddlers because it is high in sugar. In 2010, a study found that eating chocolate
Then there is the so-called "ideal" weight. At every well-check, my daughter's doctor has charted her height and weight to determine how she ranks percentile-wise with her peers. Meanwhile, the pediatrician for a friend's son declines to share these percentile rankings because he doesn't believe in grouping kids by their size.
Even my own mother has voiced an opinion, suggesting I not give my "big girl" ice cream, because Carolyn doesn't need the extra calories.
All the while, our pediatrician hasn't pushed the panic button yet. As she noted, Carolyn is as tall as she is wide. Plus, she checks off all the healthy habit boxes -- she is very active, takes great naps and sleeps through the night, doesn't drink juice and loves fruit and cheese more than any other food (including sweets). Most days, she just happens to eat the full 900 calories recommended for her age by the American Pediatric Association.
And honestly, it was the calorie intake that had me worried, despite assurances otherwise from the pediatrician.
A 2011 study by the Institute of Medicine revealed that 10 percent of infants and toddlers weigh more than is appropriate for their length. One in five kids (ages 2 to 5) is overweight or obese by the time kindergarten starts. And that number jumps even higher, to one-third of all U.S. children, when they are 6 to 11 years old, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
I didn't want Carolyn treading this dangerous path, one in which excessive weight can lead to childhood Type 2 diabetes or other serious health problems.
But the trouble with the mixed messages and frightening statistics is that I started second-guessing my own instincts.
I got it right once before by trusting them.
My stepdaughter was 7 years old when we first had dinner together. She finished only half of what she put on her plate. Twenty minutes later, she wanted ice cream. "I have a dessert compartment," she explained.
The next time we had dinner, I wrapped up her leftovers. "So you have something for your dessert compartment when you're no longer full," I told her.
She never again took more for her plate than she could finish.
Today, as a 15-year-old, she packs fruit in her school lunches, can't taste the difference between low-fat and regular salad dressing and knows exactly why Coca-Cola will never find its way into our refrigerator. She swims seven months out of the year. She also still gets ice cream after dinner.
So now, when it comes to my younger daughter, I read the warnings about obesity; I ignore the food-related studies; I log Carolyn's height-weight percentiles in her baby book and promptly forget about them; and I thank my mom for her advice, even as I continue giving my daughter a little after-dinner ice cream.
Carolyn may be large for her age, but instincts tell me that's not a reason to worry.