Today’s going to be a little different from my regular posts because I just finished a book touching a weighty subject worth discussing. ‘The Heavy: A Mother, A Daughter, A Diet’: Chances are you’ve heard of this book when it was first published in January 2013. The memoir by Dara-Lynn Weiss – published after she’d written an article about her daughter’s weight management plan for Vogue – sparked a lot of controversy on the topic of childhood obesity. But especially the way the author decided to tackle her daughter’s weight problem and health issues related to it.
Why did I pick it up? Not because I was the first to jump on books that caused public uproar or read every bestseller out there but because I can personally relate to the topic. While I haven’t shared my own ED story it started with weight and health struggles in early childhood, too. I actually hadn’t read more than a single article in the newspaper I’d subscribed to back then. After reading the article I was shocked and convinced Dara-Lynn Weiss wasn’t in her right mind for putting a seven-year-old on a diet. However, when I recently spotted it on the display of recent purchases at my library I decided to give it a go wanting to know the whole story.
What does the title stand for? Other than probably assumed ‘The Heavy’ isn’t referring to the weight of her daughter but Weiss herself: “Having love for your child sometimes mean being the heavy and doing unpopular things that you know are right.”
What is it about? When her children’s pediatrician declares Dara-Lynn Weiss’ daughter Bea to be obese with a weight of 93 pounds at 4’4 the author decides to put the girl on a diet then and there. At first starting out with the advice of dietitian Dr. Johanna Dolgoff and her “Red Light, Green Light, Eat Right” program to help her daughter drop some pounds but quickly putting her own more severe spin on it. Not allowing for a simple ‘eat less, move more’ diet but a strict plan cutting down Bea’s intake profoundly and not allowing for leeway. Soon enough a lot of her time – or so it appears – evolves around planning Bea’s meals to a T. Instructing other parents/ relatives/ teachers in what her daughter can and can’t eat freaking out if these people decide to forego the rules just by the slightest.
Giving her that much: yes, I understood Weiss’ worries about her daughter and believe she acted not solely to make the girl fit into society’s idea of beauty but motherly love. And yes, in general I think it’s good she took initiative for the better health of her child and whole family. But I whole-heartedly disagree with the way she went about it. As a woman with a history of dieting herself Weiss at times appears not informed enough about what exactly a healthy diet looks like.
There are numerous of them but one incident that stuck out to me most. When Bea got home from school after a day celebrating French Heritage Day telling her mum about the food served. Usually giving her daughter strict instructions on how to handle these kind of situations to fit into her low-calorie daily meal schedule Weiss had forgotten that day. What happened was that the girl mindlessly ate according to her appetite. The author has a hard time keeping calm when she hears about it and feverishly tries to add up calories. Ultimately deciding to cut down on her daugher’s dinner. Mind you: the girl is seven at that point. Can she really be blamed for wanting to eat like all the other children on a special occasion?
Browsing Dr. Dolgoff’s book online I found she actually recommended parents not to be the food police. Forgivance is necessary. Applying this to my own experiences I remember my mum and dad encouraging me to replace some – not all – of the sweets I ate with fruit. My dad went running with me and they gave me subtle hints to forego the second or third piece of cake at family gatherings. Did I loose weight fast? No – it was a slow but steady process. Did I feel deprived or embarrassed in public? Neither. It was the best way for me to understand I had control over my health and weight by opting out of chocolate bars at the school cafeteria or a second helping at lunch. Though I might be biased as we’re talking about my parents I generally think it’s best if parents actively involve their children in their journey to a healthier – not necessarily thin – self. By giving them the tools and showing them that being active and eating healthy can be fun and isn’t a black-and-white situation. Mistakes are normal and a learning experience.
Not to be all ‘healthy living blogger clichée here. However, one simple change I feel the author missed was opting to educate herself not only about calories in vs. calories out but the importance of real food. As opposed to the 100-calorie-packs of highly processed foods like or using Cool Whip Free to make fruit more appealing to her daughter. To be fair: Dara-Lynn Weiss does state her previous aversion towards handing these kinds of food to her children. She made it a point her daughter gained on healthy foods already – yet it remains a fact she decides to go for it in the end. In my opinion, the better way of not making Bea feel deprived and left out of typical childhood happenings would have been allowing her the ‘real deal’ every once in a while. Either way, this is by far not my main criticism as I mentioned above already. In my opinion Weiss set the foundation for her daughter possibly developping an eating disorder and took away the freedom and light-heartedness of childhood.
The takeaway? Especially with my eating disorder in mind it’s hard to say which route I’d choose for my own future children. Having read of certain tendencies of the children of people who once had an ED developping one themselves it’s a sensitive field to navigate. Time will tell. What I can say for a fact, though, is that I wouldn’t go as far as Weiss did. Childhood obesity is a serious topic and I could go on and on here. Yet most important to me is to allow children to be children. Enjoy a happy childhood not centered around worries about weight and calories.
Would I recommend the book? I was only able to touch a fraction of what ‘The Heavy’ entails and like I mentioned I feel to truly have a more distinguished opinion on the topic reading it was necessary for me. So if your library happens to own a copy: why not give it a go?
Have you read or heard of ‘The Heavy’ before?
What are your thoughts on diets during childhood? Maybe you even have own experiences to share?
And really whatever else you have to say on the book or the topics related to it.
Happiness inducing today: Talking to a very good friend.
Stay in touch!