Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Two Years of Eating McDonalds

In my last post, I talked about "my cousin" who fed her daughter McDonald's every day after school for a year. I wasn't entirely honest about that. It wasn't my cousin. It was me. I apologize for the ruse, although I'll explain in a minute.

In any case, I wasn't the one who fed my daughter the McDonald's. I was the one who ate McDonald's. From roughly ages 9 through 11, my mother brought me to McDonald's for dinner every weeknight.

*cue horrified gasps*

According to some of the comments, I now am incredibly obese. I have serious stomach and liver problems. My cholesterol is through the roof. My blood pressure is sky high. I have type II diabetes. And I continue to eat horribly and take my kids to McDonald's with equal frequency.

Except none of that is actually true. My BMI is about 20. My cholesterol level is excellent, as is my blood pressure. I had two completely healthy pregnancies, and both times lost all my baby weight within a month. I certainly don't have type II diabetes. I cook dinner at home most nights, and limit our fast food trips to maybe once a week, with minimal guilt.

How is that possible? According to the comments, I should be in an ICU right now, or at least on insulin.

Let me back up a little....

When I was in fourth grade, I went to a school that was about a mile away from my house. Every day, my mother would come pick me up at school, and we'd walk home together. There was a McDonald's on the way. We'd stop inside and I'd order... well, I don't remember. Something incredibly unhealthy, no doubt. And probably very tasty, since I was a really picky eater. But I do remember I always drank two cartons of lowfat milk, no soda.

We'd usually spend over an hour at McD's. I would tell my mother about my day, then she'd help me with my homework. Sometimes she'd give me a lesson that she made up herself. She bought SAT books, and when I finished doing my homework, she had me work on math problems from the SAT books. (I scored 650 in math when I took the SATs at age 12.) Then when it was getting late, we'd walk home. I didn't watch any TV at night... when we got home, I'd pretty much go straight to bed.

Sometimes these days I'll say to her, "I can't freaking believe you let me eat dinner at McDonald's for years." Her reply is usually along the lines of, "Leave me alone, life was difficult back then. And you know I can't cook." (She really can't.) It's hard to really get angry because I actually have good memories of those days. Maybe I didn't eat the healthiest dinner in the world, but I got some exercise and I learned a lot. Is that neglect? Is that wrong? Would I have been better off if she did things differently?

I guess the purpose of my post was that we need to look at an entire picture before we make a judgement. Or maybe that these little "bad things" we do as parents aren't as harmful as we think they are, as long as we're doing other things right.

35 comments:

  1. nice, I like it. First of all, I got warm fuzzy feelings just reading the story of the special time you spent each night, just the two of you. I do think too much of our culture is spent on blame and judgement about parenting. Maybe your mom let you eat crazy unhealthy for two years, but she kept you fed and educated you. Other moms may cook elaborate organic meals but not be able to provide the teaching time, or let their kids watch crazy amounts of TV. Being a parent is crazy hard. Being a broke parent is crazy hard. Most of us are just doing our best to take care of these little people we love more than life!

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  2. Exactly, Cutter. I just hate the way we all get so judgmental about parenting decisions (other's and our own). Like you said, most of us are just doing our best.

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  3. I'll even add a story of my own. My dad (a former professional athlete who had a team nutritionist!) would take me to Wendy's before every away basketball game. Instead of riding with teammates, he would ALWAYS take me to my away games and he didn't want me to be starving. So it was our tradition to find a Wendy's and I'd order a junior bacon cheeseburger off of the dollar menu and we'd split fries. These are some of my happiest memories. And it happened 1-2 times a week for 4 years during basketball, and sometimes volleyball and track season. I was obviously eating evil fast food and before a game (even worse!), but what I remember about this is the commitment my dad had to attend EVERY ONE of my basketball games and spend some special time with me.

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  4. I love this story. It is impossibly hard to spend enough "quality" time with your kids every day. So if it has to be over unhealthy food so be it. It has to be better for them emotionally than always being with a harried mom who is stressed out about getting a proper meal on the table. Way to go.

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  5. I loved you story. Sounds like incredible time to unwind, reflect and even ...study !!! You mom did a great job. I am sure she is very proud of you. how did we switch from McDonalds to parenting? Cutter: we love them more than life, sure seems this way. Incredible sacrifices to educate, find time in this ever less and less supportive society with added stress of judgement. I was relieved when my kid said he did not feel offended that I volunteer only once a year in school, and that SAHM's kids in his class are doing poorly academically. Not to look down on SAHM or anything but knowing that I am (we are) actually doing better than average was great news to me. So, in the end the results - happy well rounded child is what matters, right?

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  6. Obviously you would have won your 2th Nobel Prize by now if only your mother had fed you organic home cooked meals every day with almond milk. If I were you I'd be furious that she shortchanged you as badly as she did. (Just kidding, OBVIOUSLY!!)

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  7. Great post! I think the readers of the last post were pretty shocked because childhood obesity is such a problem in this country. Now you've got me wondering how much extra fat, salt, cholesterol, etc is in McDonald's now compared to 30 years ago.....

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  8. Joining others to actually envy the wonderful mother-child time you & your mom got to experience---if she was frantically rushing home to cook dinner & clean up a kitchen, I imagine the time would be much less relaxed & educational. And this definitely got me thinking about how quick to judge we are these days---not everything is so black & white (though seeing it as such is certainly EASIER and may make us feel better about our own choices). I truly believe that judging others' parenting boils down to insecurity about our own choices...by putting others down, we can feel better about ourselves (well at least I'M not ____ (insert "crime" of choice). Honestly people act as if fast-food, processed food, and TV watching are true acts of child abuse, yet I know we all remember those things fondly from our own childhood that did not scar or harm us in any way. I get wanting to give our children the best, healthiest life that we can, but moderation is not a bad thing.

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  9. This is a lovely post about close parenting time and bonding. But surely you have to realize that you are the EXCEPTION, not the norm! A child who eats at Mc Dondalds every day generally does not end up skinny and healthy, cooking their children meals. You are not a pediatrician, so you have not seen the horror that such unhealthy diets can do to children. I encourage you to spend some time working with children who really do have type II DM or fatty liver disease! It's really sad working with 9 year olds who "have to" eat KFC or McD's everyday, have DM, and spend their life in and out of the hospital, being stuck with needles unnecessarily. Your post would have been much nicer without the ruse, which is insulting. You are a physician, so can you see the difference between your ANECDOTE on eating fast food daily and being healthy, and the reality of study after study (as well as my anecdotal evidence of working in a hospital in this century and seeing case after case of the opposite of the outcome of your story) showing the poor health outcomes for doing the same?

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  10. Did you have any stunted growth?

    Nobody said your mom was horrible. If she took the time to buy you SAT books and cater to your palate (with McDonalds), then you were fine.

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  11. It does help that you were walking to and from school, rather than driving through. You were drinking low fat milk. And I believe McD's portion sizes are not the same as they were 20 or so years ago. Love the story about your time with your mom, I hope my 2 and 5 year old girls have such fond memories!

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  12. @Cigal MD: missing the point much? I think we're all, Fizzy included, well aware of the effects of regular junk food. Too well aware. It's this awareness that makes us even quicker to judge such parenting decisions, as was shown in her previous post. And the ruse? Not insulting, merely necessary to show us just how judgmental we are and how quick to ignore the potential other side of the story that may actually offer a compelling reason for the 'poor parenting choice'.

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  13. Eating McDonald's everyday for two years is no different than getting school lunch or school breakfast and lunch everyday for two years. Your mother did the best she could just like thousands of other mothers that have chosen to use the school cafeteria for one or two of their children's meals.

    I had a friend who was fanatical about what her child ate. Only organic, preservative free, no lunch meat, only fresh peanut butter, whole grains, etc etc. It was obnoxious. That little boy was no different or better off than any other child.

    It's all in moderation. In your case maybe the "moderation" is only seen across your life span.

    There are worse exposures in life than fast food.

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  14. You could look at it in two ways:

    1. Just because nice memories are attached to McDonald's doesn't make the food any healthier nor does eating it every day make it right.

    2. You didn't have the most healthy food for 3 years of your youth, but you turned out alright, so what's the big deal?

    Obviously, the mothers on here who are doing the same or similar will say "your mom did the best she could" and the mothers who are feeding their kids healthier stuff will say "she could have done better".

    I'm sure mothers everywhere are making mistakes, if it isn't through feeding their kids, it's through something else. Nobody is devoid of any flaws.

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  15. To whoever asked, I don't think my growth was stunted. I'm short, but slightly taller than my mother and my father is pretty short too, so I think I'm as tall as I could have been.

    Cigal: The purpose of the ruse was not to praise McD's as nutritional food or to belittle the impact of childhood obesity. It's more to discourage snap judgments based on a one-liner ("kid eats at McD's every night"), which is something that we should keep from doing both as mothers and as physicians. You say I am an exception? I don't think so. A kid who's skinny and a really picky eater, who gets a lot of exercise, and who gets reasonable portions and variety at McD's is probably not going to suffer any horrible ill effects from eating there 4-5 meals per week for a couple of years. You take a kid who is already overweight, plays on his computer all day, and probably eats way too much when he gets fast food... that is an entirely different story. Do you think the child in the story I told in my post (me) would have benefited from having CPS called on them? I sure don't! But a physician making a snap judgment such as your colleague very well might have put me in that unfortunate situation.

    And to the last anon: Yes, we do all have flaws. We're all going to make mistakes somewhere along the line.

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  16. Well-played Fizzy! As a crazy-busy physician Mom myself, I loved this post. Love your kids first, and the rest will fall into place. :)

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  17. @Snarky Scalpel: I'm not missing the point. This would have been a lovely blog post about nice time between daughter and mother had it not been for the ruse blog post prior. I appreciate that Fizzy's mom did a wonderful job giving her quality time and making the best decisions she could. That could be said in a blog post without trying to bait people into a discussion about the health of eating fast food. But clearly people do NOT realize the ill health effects that eating fast food has on most people that do so every day. Fizzy writes herself in the comment just above this one that being she is NOT an exception or anecdote- referencing my comment that being skinny and healthy after eating McD's for 2 years is anecdotal "evidence" of it being a good thing. She also write that eating at McD' 4-5 times per week for a couple of years "is probably not going to suffer horrible ill effects". Except that I have seen the opposite of that, as well as being backed up by numerous studies showing that kids who eat fast food are more likely to be obese, have DM, etc... I think Fizzy's experience with her mom is very nice, but it does not represent the experience of the majority of kids that eat fast food daily.
    @Fizzy: I certainly don't think the child in the story would have benefited from CPS, but I also don't think anyone would have called them. My anecdote on the prior blog about a child who actually did benefit from having CPS called (not by me) was only eating McD's french fries, and had become malnourished and hospitalized as a result. You want the point to be not to make snap judgments? That's why we develop a relationship with our patients and their whole families and treat the child-family as a whole. And that is also why nutrition (and other anticipatory guidance) is discussed at every well child visit, regardless of if the parent is only feeding their child a balanced diet and organic foods.

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  18. Cigal: Once again, you just heard part of what I was saying and made a judgment. I said that a kid like me, who was skinny and very difficult about eating, was likely not to be hurt by having 5 out of 21 meals of the week be fast food. If you have a kid who will not eat anything ever (which was me), giving them food that they like is sometimes the only way to get them to eat. I was always in the 5th percentile for weight and I remember going to restaurants and refusing to eat anything but ketchup. If my mother had cooked some healthy meal, I probably would have refused to eat it, fought with her a lot, and maybe developed an unhealthy relationship with food. Eating a dinner I liked (which was fast food, but also a small portion and included milk) kept me happy and kept me from starving.

    Do you think I'm arguing that fast food isn't healthy?? I'm certainly not. But do you think if you were my pediatrician and knew all the details of my case, you really would have thought I was going to end up sick and diabetic from those 5 meals per week? I think for a kid like me, it was actually not an unhealthy choice, especially since the journey included built in exercise too.

    And I think plenty of your normal weight kids in your practice eat tons of fast food... you just don't know about it because their parents are embarrassed to tell you about it and it's not a big issue.

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  19. *er, I'm not arguing that fast food isn't UNhealthy. Sorry, tired.

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  20. @Fizzy, once again your comment defends the practice of eating McDonalds daily as healhy and the only way. It simply isn't healthy for the majority of people. Even for a 5th percentile child. That's why I (and most other pediatricians) teach parents positive ways to get their children to eat healthy. I too was a less than 5th percentile for weight, very skinny & picky eater, but my parents still managed to feed me without resorting to McDs for dinner every night. I'm NOT saying what your mother did was wrong. I'm glad you had a wonderful experience together. What I AM saying is that it's not healthy for a majority of people to eat McDonalds every night, and that there ARE other ways to get a picky child to eat. As well as other ways to spend quality one-on-one time with your child.

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  21. Cigal: Yes, once again, I agree that eating McD's for dinner every night is not healthy for the majority of people. Absolutely.

    But you don't seem to get that a lot of parents feed their normal or low weight kids fast food more than you realize. You think parents admit to their pediatrician how often they get fast food? And while it's not the healthiest choice, I'd say the vast majority of them suffer no permanent ill effects. And lecturing those parents probably just makes them feel guilty about choices that probably don't cause much harm in the long run. Is it really the best use of your time to lecture the parents of skinny kids about avoiding obesity and high cholesterol? Isn't it better to use that time to help kids who actually ARE at high risk for type 2 diabetes?

    But if you can show me a study that proves that kids with a BMI in the bottom 25th percentile are at high risk for diabetes if they eat fast food, then I'll stand corrected.

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  22. Here's something no one has thought of:

    Time.

    We forget that today we all freak out about McDonald's especially after that film, "Supersize Me". 10 years ago, nobody even had a clue that McDonald's could be unhealthy. Plus, back then, they probably DID make their food healthier than now because they used actual sugar or actual natural ingredients. Now with companies trying to mass produce for little cost, they use corn fructose and genetically modify their animals, plants, etc to make more food. So, maybe that's why Fizzy wasn't negatively affected.

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  23. Fizzy, treating kids with Type 2 diabetes is an effective way to use your time, BUT so is telling them to eat healthier, because even if there IS a slight chance they get sicker due to junk food, you can PREVENT IT.

    Don't just treat the problem.

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  24. I think McD's has gotten healthier, if anything. Apparently, the had to change the ingredients in the chicken nuggets b/c whatever was in them before couldn't qualify as being called chicken! Now it's white meat chicken nuggets, and the happy meals have apple slices and a miniscule amount of fries. It's probably not that much worse than what a lot of kids get at home.

    Most recent anon: There are reasons for not counseling patients on things that are low risk. I mean, do we counsel male patients to do breast exams? They do have a risk of cancer, so why not do it to prevent that tiny risk? Or maybe it's better to spend that time counseling your male patients on things that are more likely to be a problem for them, so they don't tune you out as useless. It also alienates parents to lecture them, so it's probably better to make sure that it's something worthwhile.

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  25. I want to add that I don't want this to become a big debate about the health value of fast food. I meant this as a commentary on how quick we are to judge other women and their parenting choices. A lot of women get judged and lectured about deciding not to breastfeed, when in actuality, they're fantastic moms. My point was that we shouldn't freak out and call someone a bad mom and say her child is being harmed unless we know ALL the details. Most of you agreed I wasn't being neglected or harmed when you heard the whole story, but several people were quick to say that the child in that story was in danger.

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  26. Fizzy, I usually agree whole-heartedly with your blog posts and the opinions you express, but not as much this time. Your post asks for a response from two different directions :
    1. as another mom making judgement calls on other moms

    2. but also as a physician (as we are mothers in medicine)

    I go to my physician and assume my patients are coming to me for my medical advice, not to be their girlfriend. And there lies the difference. If you were my cousin or my friend, I'd be less likely to give you advice or make any judgements. But if you were my patient, I would definitely council you (or your mother) about what healthy dietary choices would be and I'd discuss the risks of eating poorly as a child. If a physician doesn't discuss your child's diet and/or the decisions being made regarding their health, they shouldn't be your pediatrician. It doesn't mean they're passing judgement, but we're paid to give medical advice, not to gloss over things.

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  27. Fair enough, VIPeds. I don't really think physicians should ignore diet, and it irritates me that people are misunderstanding my purpose here to the point where I've been forced into a position of arguing that. My frustration and reason for writing this is mainly with your #1: the judgments we as moms make on other moms. My motivation for posting this was when I got a negative commentary from another mom on the fact that I allowed my baby (who is in the 10th percentile for weight) to sample a couple of McD's french fries.

    I am just so sick of all the judgments we make on each other. In my post on breastfeeding, people are still making comments like, "If you don't breastfeed for the full year, you're a BAD MOM." I'm still hurt over comments that were made to me over small amounts of formula my kids got. Not to mention judgments on crying it out, cosleeping, watching TV, etc. I just wanted to show that all the "threats" people were making (i.e. "tell your cousin that her daughter will get diabetes") don't necessarily pan out the way they think.

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  28. Reminds me of the "Roseto effect"--where the social support systems end up having a bigger influence on health than we think!

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1695733/

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  29. Oh, Fizzy. I feel so bad for you. They completely missed your point. Sigh!

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  30. Great post!

    I also want to take this as an opportunity to point out that weight and diet are (gasp!) not as related as many people assume, and restrictive diets are not helpful for weight loss in most people. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17469900) There's a lot of other factors involved, including genetics and activity levels.

    Not only do moms get judged, but chubby people like me get judged constantly. I eat fast food about twice a year. I cook and eat healthy food in appropriate portions. I exercise occasionally - not as often as I would like, but I am sure most people could say that.

    My food choices get constantly policed. I had one boss stand over me and criticize me loudly and openly for eating a few almonds while my average weight coworker drank coke and ate chips. I wanted to crawl under my desk and die. This happens all. the. time.

    I am not saying everyone should give up and eat all fast food. I cook and eat healthy food because I enjoy it more and I believe a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and good proteins is better for my health. I also prepare these foods for my kids. I just know it isn't necessarily going to make a difference in my waistline.

    I would love a BMI of 20. Ain't gonna happen in any healthy way for someone of my body type and genetics. I have family members and good friends who struggle with serious eating disorders, and I don't think they are healthier than me. Please think twice, folks, before judging parents and before judging obese people.

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  31. Dear posters vilifying Fizzy for daring to stand on the side of fast food as a physician (which was not the point) ...

    A physician mom who ADMITS to being fed fast food for two years of her childhood even thought she knows how unhealthy it is, but using this as a story to highlight the ways in which her mom was still a great mom may actually make a patient think, wow, my doc is a human being and grew up as a human being with parents who struggled like I do - maybe I can listen to her now! Who knows, this story could help actually convince people NOT to eat fast food constantly but not want to flagellate themselves for the occasional fast food dinner because - Hey, Dr. Fizzy survived! Fizzy's two year supersize me makes one night a week or month or year fast food an even bigger victory for moms or anyone who is struggling. Victories make people not feel like a failure.

    Enough rambling, basically, I just believe that the more human and a little fallible your doctor seems, the more likely you actually listen to them as a patient. Fizzy's example of getting off our high horse of judgement and actually LISTENING to what the real problem is could be a valuable tool for reaching more patients!!!!

    end scene

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  32. Dear posters vilifying Fizzy for daring to stand on the side of fast food as a physician (which was not the point) ...

    A physician mom who ADMITS to being fed fast food for two years of her childhood even thought she knows how unhealthy it is, but using this as a story to highlight the ways in which her mom was still a great mom may actually make a patient think, wow, my doc is a human being and grew up as a human being with parents who struggled like I do - maybe I can listen to her now! Who knows, this story could help actually convince people NOT to eat fast food constantly but not want to flagellate themselves for the occasional fast food dinner because - Hey, Dr. Fizzy survived! Fizzy's two year supersize me makes one night a week or month or year fast food an even bigger victory for moms or anyone who is struggling. Victories make people not feel like a failure.

    Enough rambling, basically, I just believe that the more human and a little fallible your doctor seems, the more likely you actually listen to them as a patient. Fizzy's example of getting off our high horse of judgement and actually LISTENING to what the real problem is could be a valuable tool for reaching more patients!!!!

    end scene

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  33. loved both of your posts.

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  34. Fizzy, I am sorry you have had some bad experiences with people passing judgement. Lord we knows we are sensitive to it, as there are ample opportunities in life to feel like a bad mom. I also agree that most of the time people need to mind their own business for many of the reasons you pointed out, basically, they don't know the full story. I also do see some of the commenters' points as well about the conflict between the point of view of a treating physician or an acquaintance responding to the first post. I got my masters in nutritional ex phys doing T2D research, so this one is dear to my heart as well. I know there is value in doing all we can to try and prevent childhood obesity and diabetes through education.

    My two year old son also loves burgers and fries. I feel paranoid bringing my occasional McD's cup into the med school, even though it's full of unsweetened tea. Silly? Sure. We try to cook at home the majority of the time, and I know his diet is fine. I also know moms need breaks and we do the best we can and could do without the judgement. My parents never allowed me to eat McD or really any fast food, forbid sugared cereals, and I can say my BMI is not as low as yours...lol. Clearly, it's complicated.

    I think you made some good points and shared a real story. It was an interesting approach, and I would bet it was the "ruse" that threw people off. I think people just react poorly to feeling tricked. That doesn't mean I think you didn't do something thoughtful and creative with this format. I actually thought about your original post all afternoon after reading it having a "what would you do?" moment. Keep it up, and kudos for making us think.

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  35. Cigal - get a life.
    Fizzy mother was burnt out single parent going through medical school and residency while raising Fizzy. The "other ways" of "spending quality time" were not physically and emotionally feasable. When you are in Fizzy's mom's shoes and raise Fizzy - ivy league trained doctor, please, tell us abot ways you achieved it. Untill then, keep your lecture to yourself.

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