Should You Put Your Fat Kid on a Diet?: “The Heavy” Dara-Lynn Weiss Review

The Heavy: By Dara-Lynn Weiss. She’s the “Vogue” mom who put her chubby daughter on a diet so the kid would look better at upscale Manhattan parties – or so Weiss’ bad press would have you believe.

The truth is very, very different. I definitely do not agree with everything this modern mother has done, but I have to say that after reading the book, I’m a convert. But not to everything she does and all her methods. Some of what she does is bad. Very Bad. I’ll tell you what in a minute.

A Mom Puts her Overweight Daughter on a Diet

The story of “The Heavy” was first published as an article in Vogue a couple of years ago. The article chronicled Dara-Lynn’s monitoring of her seven year old daughter Bea’s food intake. Over the course of the year, Bea managed to lose around fifteen pounds, bringing her weight from obese to normal.

The book was so controversial because many people frown at the idea of putting a kid on a diet at all. Weiss tells many horror stories, such as dragging her kid crying from a plate of cookies at a birthday party (in front of other parents) and having a fight with a Starbucks server over too much whipped cream.

Was She Too Strict?

The idea of parents displaying a “hard line” when it comes to saying no to a hungry is kid is never popular. Take this opinion from the Australian press today: “The idea of a child going hungry is barbaric. It’s also totally unnecessary. If we weren’t all so caught up on the aesthetics of our children’s bodies rather than their health, we would never even consider it, let alone put it on prime-time TV. If we encourage our kids to be active, to play outside and to eat healthy food because it’s good for their growing bodies, bones and brains, and not because they need to hit some arbitrary figure on a weight chart, then we have done our job.” Kasey Edwards, Sydney Morning Herald.

She obviously has not read The Heavy. In this book we see how it’s actually a lot more of a struggle than many of us realise. Anyone who has tried to lose weight or who has battled a weight problem themselves knows that it’s a battle that never ends. It’s a constant up-keeping of standards, it’s a life-long war. Weiss tried the old “healthy food and exercise” thing with her kid for a long time before admitting defeat. It was not the quality of the food that was the problem, according to Dara-Lynn. It was the portions and the calories going in.

In one scene she watches a parent looking over at Bea worriedly as Bea eats a 100 calorie snack pack of some preservative-filled cookie treat while the other parent’s child is eating a ‘healthy’ granola bar. Dara-Lynn points out that the cookie bag contains 30% fewer calories than the nut-filled granola bar, but society’s perceptions are to judge.

My Own Struggles with My Weight as a Teen

I was a chunky teenager, but thank god I was fairly normal as a young child. It’s so awful to feel like you’re different when you’re a kid. Some kids seem to have it so easy, they can eat what they want and not gain weight. Some kids like Bea (and me) have trouble controlling their intake of food; have large appetites and trouble self-monitoring.

I grew out of it; in fact I was sonly overweight between the ages of heavy puberty, about 14 to 17. It was a miserable time for me. My weight-gain was down to the same thing that Dara-Lynn Weiss’ kid had trouble with. Junk food. Yes, you heard me right. Weiss quite clearly had some poor eating habits in place with her daughter, things like regularly making chocolate cookies with each other and indulging in too many of them. Not that that activity is that bad, but probably not the best bonding exercise for an overweight child.

Was Junk Food to Blame?

Weiss speaks of her own struggles with weight and her love of junk food. For me, this was a red flag. But as with anything, the reason Bea became overweight was a combination of factors, not just a large appetite, not just genetics, not just a love of junk food, not just being greedy or because she was growing. It was all of those things, really.

Incidentally, Weiss’ other child (a boy) is a normal weight. One reviewer points out the fact that when you’ve got a fat kid, you really can’t win: “The damned if you do/damned if you don’t predicament came into sharp relief when Weiss raised some of these issues in a Vogue article. Critics came out in full force, and Weiss unwittingly found herself at the centre of an emotional and highly charged debate on childhood obesity.” Random House review.

I also took exception to how Weiss gave her kid upwards of three servings of fruit after dinner when she was ‘hungry’. I think it’s important to teach kids to understand that it’s OK to be hungry sometimes. Eating too much and too often is just a habit. But that’s just me giving my 2 cents!

Passing on Our Body Anxieties

Kasey Edwards recently said in the Sydney Morning Herald, “It’s bad enough that we fat-shame adults for our entertainment, whilst pretending to be “concerned”, but setting our fat-phobic sights on children is indefensible. Passing on our own food and body anxieties, and getting in first with the bullying by forcing children into diets and extreme exercise regimes isn’t the solution.”

It’s a difficult world to negotiate. If you know an overweight child, then I strongly suggest you read this book. It’s a totally a great read if you are interested in weight loss or the issue of obesity in our culture. It’s well written, concise and covers an interesting range of scenarios.

 

 

 

2 Comments

  • Valerie says:

    Hi Alycia,

    I have enjoyed some articles on your website but have to disagree with you here.
    The concern should never be primarily on having too many calories. In fact, I think this is what causes a lot of disordered eating.
    It’s about getting calories from the right place. For many people this includes eating more fat, less carbs, and aiming for less processed foods. Unfortunately society has for the most part created this craze for low-fat and low-calorie foods as better. At the end, it’s about carbs. The more carbs, the more likely you are to be hungry and miserable later. Look up the ketogenic diet sometime. I did not go on the diet to lose weight but instead to improve mental clarity and function (control my epilepsy) and it’s been great. It DOES however, help you lose weight. I know I’ve had problems nourishing my body and this has helped me and a lot of others.

    -Valerie

    • Alyce Vayle says:

      Hi Valerie.

      Thanks for your email – yes, that’s how I was raised, “eat as much healthy food as you like”, and, “never focus on calories”. I have to say that as an adult now (and over 35!) that I have finally realised that this way of eating did not work for me. Low calorie foods are not better (as you say), what’s better is consuming fewer calories. Long story short – if someone is too heavy, if they want to lose weight, then simply cutting back the amount of food they eat is the way to go. I agree with you that whole, real foods are better, as is a focus on protein as you mention. I am also not a fan of “low calorie foods” but there are many awesome foods that are naturally low calorie – popcorn and potatoes among them! Thanks for taking the time to comment and I will check out the ketogenic diet as you suggest.

      —Love, Alyce

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