5 Reasons Fat Camp Should Be Illegal

5 Reasons Fat Camp Should Be Illegal

Children's summer weight-loss camps are still a regular occurrence, and I can't understand why.


I am a senior nutrition and dietetics student in southeast Pennsylvania. A few weeks ago I received an invitation in my school email to apply for a position at a children's weight-loss camp. I was by turns confused and angry. I always believed weight-loss camp was just fodder for weird Ben Stiller movies from the '90s.

I honestly did not believe people were still sending their kids to these places. I did some research. All of the websites I visited talked about "lifestyle changes," "confidence," and "obesity epidemic." These are all major buzzwords associated with diet culture that really just have dollar signs written all over them.

If a child is healthy enough to spend all summer outdoors and away from home, and they want to go away to camp, why not send them to a summer camp where the main goal is to have fun? Weight-loss camps market in a way that makes it sound as though other summer camps are not being held to the same standard of nutrition of weight-loss camps, which legally, cannot be true. Can it?

So then, why don't all summer camps include healthy lifestyle as part of the curriculum? Maybe because they're already eating 3 healthy meals and running around all day?

As part of my research, I informally polled two populations of people. The question was "Is weight-loss camp for children ethical?" The first population was Odyssey writers who were mostly not involved in nutrition. Only 53% answered YES. I asked the same of my Instagram which is mostly made of nutrition-related followers and 70% answered NO. Every person who answered YES was not involved in nutrition in any way. Almost all of the people who answered NO were involved in nutrition as a student or as a dietitian.

This shows me that nutrition professionals know something about this that the rest don't. As a society, we are more concerned with the weight of a child than the well-being of the child. Weight and well-being are not interchangeable. Fat camp is unethical and should be discontinued. If you still don't believe me, read on.

1. Children's bodies are meant to grow.


The whole goal of a child's body is to grow. Cells are splitting. Bones are lengthening. Brain is wrinkling. This takes energy, AKA calories! Weight loss during childhood can inhibit growth. The development of children is imperative to their ability to be functioning adults. Weight gain during childhood is expected and normal. Perceptible weight gain is especially expected in the time before puberty. Ethical weight management for children focuses on maintenance, not weight-loss. Maintenance programs focus on parental involvement and a family approach to learning healthful behaviors. Significant and severe weight-loss may also signal hunger hormones and make food-seeking the top priority.

"I remember going from 5th to 6th grade and my body went through some wonky changes that year. I'll never forget my Mom saying that she wouldn't be buying my clothes in a certain size, so I lost weight that summer." - Anonymous, 28

2. Research does not support successful long-term weight loss.


The evidence has become overwhelmingly negative on the subject of weight-loss intervention. Diets fail. The human body has evolved through periods of low caloric intake, starvation, intermittent eating patterns, and times of overeating. All of that is true and yet humanity has persisted. This is, in part, because of sensitive hormone regulation and homeostasis. Our bodies are excellent at making sure we don't die. This has been terrible news for many people who have chronically dieted, but the evidence is there. So, if research does not support these practices, why are they still allowed to be acted upon children? Doctors would not be able to prescribe medication to children that failed in the research. I don't believe there is anything ethical about treating children outside of evidence-based practice.

"I feel like it is important to educate children on the importance of living a healthy lifestyle, but at the same time we need to do it in a way that is encouraging and productive instead of making it about weight loss." Anonymous, 20

3. Affirmation of bad body image.


There are many people ready to throw around the phrase "obesity epidemic" when they have never studied epidemiology, nutrition, or even anatomy. There are many people who say that kids will be teased if they are larger than average, without regard to radical ideas like, maybe, finding a way to stop bullying. Kids are subjected to judgment from every possible source and angle from the time they can toddle. Sending them away to lose weight teaches them that their body is a problem that needs to be solved. That their body is the problem. How can these children be expected to be mentally and physically healthy adults? Performative behavior such as losing weight to fit a predetermined mold of "healthy" is psychologically damaging, and discounts much of the evidence about supporting positive body image.

20% of teens are either "rarely" or "never" happy with their body image
52% feel that the media pressures them to change their body image
73% of teens feel their appearance affects their body image
65% of teens are afraid of gaining weight
44% of teens skip meals as a tactic to losing or controlling weight
31% of teens have been on a diet in the last six months
31% of teens have at least one body part on which they would like to get surgery
56% of teens feel that the media's advertisements are the main cause of low self-esteem
From Cultureandyouth.org

4. The environment is temporary, like the results.


Eventually, summer ends and the children who spent all their time focused on fun, calorie-burning activities go back home to their families. It is unethical to teach children that their lifestyle is their responsibility, and then remove them from the same environment that let them feel success with that responsibility. Environment accounts for so much when it comes to health outcomes. Factors like access to nutritious food, playgrounds, supportive friends and family all contribute. Providing a trifecta of factors for weight loss, making a camper feel like their hard work has paid off, and then sending them home, is cruel. The weight-loss camps boast tools for when the kids go home, but really the "magic" of camp is the change of environment. The feeling of success dissipates with every pound gained back, and then by the time summer comes again, the dismay and self-esteem issues send them right back to camp.

5. Every children's camp should have that level of care.


One of the other things that these fat camps boast, (besides unsustainable, unrealistic tools), is the team of dietitians, doctors, counselors, and fitness experts on staff. This is an unreasonable selling point. Every camp should have these people on staff. Anywhere there are children, engaging in outdoor activity, being fed on a large scale, and without the care of their parents, these standards should be in place. If that were true, and ethically practiced, every summer camp could be a place where body image, bullying, increased physical activity, and learning health skills are addressed. The fact that fat camps cost extra thousands beyond regular plain summer camps is mind-boggling. Where is the money going? Better food? Better activities? Better staff? That doesn't sit well with me. All summer camps should be weight inclusive and focused on fun, and health. If it costs more to bring the quality up to standard, so be it. That should be the cost.

It is time to separate well-being and weight, and make all summer camps weight inclusive. We need to teach our children that their bodies are vessels for their growth as people. Helping kids to understand the changes they are going through in an age-appropriate way, and working towards an understanding of health, is paramount to healthy body image. All bodies are good bodies. Fat camps belong in the past and I'm ready to see them go. I'm ready to never get another job invitation to one ever again. Almost all of the nutrition professionals I spoke to on this subject felt the same. I hope that those who disagree will come to see that healthy children exist in many bodies, and that ethical care means accepting that as fact. Evidence-based practice should be the minimum standard of care of all people, but especially children away from their parents and guardians.

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To The Person Who Feels Suicidal But Doesn't Want To Die

Suicidal thoughts are not black and white.

Everyone assumes that if you have suicidal thoughts that means you want to die.

Suicidal thoughts are thought of in such black and white terms. Either you have suicidal thoughts and you want to die, or you don't have suicidal thoughts and you want to live. What most people don't understand is there are some stuck in the gray area of those two statements, I for one am one of them.

I've had suicidal thoughts since I was a kid.

My first recollection of it was when I came home after school one day and got in trouble; and while I was just sitting in the dining room I kept thinking, “I wonder what it would be like to take a knife from the kitchen and just shove it into my stomach." I didn't want to die, or even hurt myself for that matter. But those thoughts haven't stopped since.

I've thought about going into the bathroom and taking every single pill I could find and just drifting to sleep and never waking back up, I've thought about hurting myself to take the pain away, just a few days ago on my way to work I thought about driving my car straight into a tree. But I didn't. Why? Because even though that urge was so strong, I didn't want to die. I still don't, I don't want my life to end.

I don't think I've ever told anyone about these feelings. I don't want others to worry because the first thing anyone thinks when you tell them you have thoughts about hurting or killing yourself is that you're absolutely going to do it and they begin to panic. Yes, I have suicidal thoughts, but I don't want to die.

It's a confusing feeling, it's a scary feeling.

When the depression takes over you feel like you aren't in control. It's like you're drowning.

Every bad memory, every single thing that hurt you, every bad thing you've ever done comes back and grabs you by the ankle and drags you back under the water just as you're about the reach the surface. It's suffocating and not being able to do anything about it.

The hardest part is you never know when these thoughts are going to come. Some days you're just so happy and can't believe how good your life is, and the very next day you could be alone in a dark room unable to see because of the tears welling up in your eyes and thinking you'd be better off dead. You feel alone, you feel like a burden to everyone around you, you feel like the world would be better off without you. I wish it was something I could just turn off but I can't, no matter how hard I try.

These feelings come in waves.

It feels like you're swimming and the sun is shining and you're having a great time, until a wave comes and sucks you under into the darkness of the water. No matter how hard you try to reach the surface again a new wave comes and hits you back under again, and again, and again.

And then it just stops.

But you never know when the next wave is going to come. You never know when you're going to be sucked back under.

I always wondered if I was the only one like this.

It didn't make any sense to me, how did I think about suicide so often but not want to die? But I was thinking about it in black and white, I thought I wasn't allowed to have those feelings since I wasn't going to act on them. But then I read articles much like this one and I realized I'm not the only one. Suicidal thoughts aren't black and white, and my feelings are valid.

To everyone who feels this way, you aren't alone.

I thought I was for the longest time, I thought I was the only one who felt this way and I didn't understand how I could feel this way. But please, I implore you to talk to someone, anyone, about the way you're feeling; whether it be a family member, significant other, a friend, a therapist.

My biggest mistake all these years was never telling anyone how I feel in fear that they would either brush me off because “who could be suicidal but not want to die," or panic and try to commit me to a hospital or something. Writing this article has been the greatest feeling of relief I've felt in a long time, talking about it helps. I know it's scary to tell people how you're feeling, but you're not alone and you don't have to go through this alone.

Suicidal thoughts aren't black and white, your feelings are valid, and there are people here for you, you are not alone.

If you're thinking about hurting yourself please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit suicidepreventionhotline.org to live chat with someone. Help it out there and you are not alone.

Cover Image Credit: BengaliClicker

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Take A Break, Trust Me, You Need It

It was something I didn't know I needed. And I feel much better from it.


I recently went on a little mini vacation. Where'd I go, you ask? Nowhere.

That's the best part.

Thankfully, I have a full-time job with great benefits. One of them being paid time off. I recently used all of my PTO, plus the two days I get off a week, which turned into a long and well-needed mini staycation. I stayed at home, slept, caught up on my programs, did some homework, and decluttered.

And you know what? It was something I didn't know I needed. And I feel much better from it.

I wasn't sick. I was mainly just stressed out and overwhelmed. It was like getting the rest I didn't know I was lacking. It was like having all the time in the world to do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. No due dates, no deadlines. No time crunches, no schedules to follow (except my school one).

I'm not telling you to take a week off work and school. But, if you have that opportunity—PTO, spring break—then take advantage of it.

You don't have to go on some extravagant vacation either. Doing something as simple as staying in bed all day, watching Netflix, and spending time with your loved ones is just as relaxing.

It also taught me the importance of self-love and taking care of yourselves. I was stressed, and I feel like I'll never be fully "de-stressed," but for a while, I was able to sit back and smell the roses. I was able to recollect myself, spend some time on me.

Sometimes, you just need a day. Whenever I feel like I need a day off, whether it be with work or school, I usually feel bad about it. I feel awful missing class, or having to call out sick to work. I eventually get over it, though, because at the end of the day, I'm taking care of myself.

Missing one day won't kill you. Take care of your mental health.

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