Mom defends daughter’s diet in ‘The Heavy’
“There are people who say, ‘You’ve done a terrible thing, I think your daughter is going to suffer for this. I think you’re horrible.'”
When Dara-Lynn Weiss wrote an article for Vogue’s April 2012 issue about putting her 7-year-old daughter, Bea, on a diet, she became the Internet’s most-hated mom.
The reaction was vicious. One blog called her selfish, disgusting and some things that you can’t say on the radio.
“My first reaction was total shock. Who are they talking about?” says Weiss, who chronicled her family’s struggle in a new book, “The Heavy: A Mother, A Daughter, A Diet.”
“I wondered, am I truly this abhorrent person and a terrible mother?” asked Weiss. “Or is there something about this issue, something about this story that makes people respond this way?”
Bea and her mother’s journey began with a visit to the family pediatrician.
“Bea had certainly been overweight for a few years leading up to that, but it was the first time the doctor said it was something we should be paying attention to,” she recalls.
So the family spent a year trying to watch what Bea ate. They failed miserably.
“She gained 23 pounds between the ages of 6 and 7, blood pressure was up over the course of that year,” Weiss says.
It was time to call a professional. Weiss consulted a pediatric nutritionist who helped construct a diet tailored for Bea.
“I knew that Bea was eating healthfully. Her issue was knowing when to stop,” Weiss explains the diet tried to strike a balance. “Cut the calories, but still allow for birthday cake on birthdays, or pizza at pizza parties.”
It wasn’t an easy road.
One of the hardest things for Bea to take was watching her brother or friends consume more than she was allowed to eat at mealtimes. This started at the breakfast table.
“Every morning, if we got bagels, she would get a mini one and her brother would get a full-sized one. And that unfairness was very hard for Bea to take,” Weiss says.
“She came to understand that it wasn’t just me being mean, or that I liked her brother better, but that we each have different nutritional requirements.”
As in many households, it fell to mom to enforce nutritious habits.
“I had to be the ‘heavy.’ I had to be the one who said ‘no’ and said ‘I know it’s not fair, but, I’m sorry,'” says Weiss. “I didn’t relish that role, but it was certainly one I felt was my job as her mother.”
Weiss faced resistance from an unexpected source – other parents – who criticized the ingredients in Bea’s snacks or judged Weiss for not letting her daughter eat whatever she wanted.
“I found that I was judged no matter what I did, and that’s why I ultimately decided I had to do what I felt was right,” she recalls.
“Certainly people are critical when your child is overweight, but I was shocked about how critical people were anytime I tried to curtail her eating.”
Bea is 9 years old now, a few inches taller and a healthy weight, but her diet is still on her mind.
“She said once, ‘It makes me feel great that I went on this diet and got healthy and that I eat better now, but it still makes me feel different and makes me feel sad that this is a problem I have,'” Weiss says.
“I try to tell her just as a parent that all kids have some way in which they struggle.”
Weiss says making good food choices will be a lifelong issue.
“We were just at a birthday party this weekend, and there were cupcakes and cake, and I don’t know why there has to be both.” She laughs. “And some kids can eat both and be healthy. Bea is not that person.”
In The Heavy, Dara-Lynn Weiss lays bare delicate, often painful truths about her and her daughter’s fight to shed pounds.
Today in the era of picture-perfect Facebook families and Pinterest moms curating their online image. The intense backlash Weiss encountered for her Vogue article might be proof that the most shocking thing to see in a parenting book is honesty.
“People expect a more polished sort of public display of parenting. People do burnish what they show. And my revelations were all the more shocking because I refused to do that.”