Mother Puts Daughter on Crazy Diet in ‘The Heavy’

You’ve probably heard about author Dara-Lynn Weiss. She’s the New York City mom who put her 7-year-old on a strict diet and wrote about it for Vogue magazine last year. Her severe methods incited an online uproar. Sadly, Weiss got a book deal out of it.

I just read The Heavy: A Mother, A Daughter, A Diet, and I feel sick to my stomach. Weiss goes into excruciating detail about how she forced her daughter Bea to lose weight. The little girl had been gaining for several years–where was her mother then?–before the pediatrician told Weiss, “I think it’s time” to do something. Bea was in the 99th percentile on the chart and technically obese. I repeat, the child was 7.

I was a chubster in elementary school. My parents called me their “little beer barrel.” I lost some of the weight in middle school, and I lost all of it in high school when I became bulimic. I’m past that now, but I’m vigilant about what I eat and how much I exercise. This is my healthy way of dealing with my body issues as a grown up, and more importantly, as a mother.

My twin daughters are 7-years-old now, and that’s why this book gives me the shakes. Weiss has weight issues of her own, and she admits that she hates to exercise. She’s not modeling healthy behaviors for her daughter, but I get that. Nobody’s perfect. What really bothers me is that Weiss let her then 6-year-old eat corn chowder soup in a bread bowl (1,000 calories) or nearly a pound of watermelon for her snacks. A child will get fat if you buy her this much food and then let her eat it. When my girls ask for snacks, I give them a Clementine or apple slices or pretzels. Weiss contests that her daughter wouldn’t stop consuming food and was always starving. It’s the parent’s job to say, “I know you’re hungry sweetie, but you just had your snack, and we’ll have a delicious dinner in a few hours.” It’s not hard. I have three young children, and I use these exact words regularly. Kids won’t suffer if they wait for the appropriate times to eat their food in sensible amounts. Weiss contends that her daughter couldn’t “self-regulate.” Well, who can? A parent’s job is to teach a kid how to eat, what to eat, when to eat and when to stop. I do not think self-regulation is easy at any age, but we have to try.

Yes, I’m being judgmental. I feel entitled to my opinon because I was a chubby kid, and my mom let me eat Nutty Bars for breakfast, lunch and dinner. That did me no good, and it won’t do my children good. So we don’t eat like that. We are not against soda or Doritos or birthday cupcakes from Shoprite. We just don’t consume those kinds of foods often.

The most disturbing part of this memoir, for me, is how Bea is forced to be on a restrictive Weight-Watchers-like diet with her mother hovering over her constantly counting calories. First of all, why would Bea need to know she was on a diet in the first place? If the doctor told me one of my kids needed to lose weight, I would offer less food gradually without telling her. If she asked why her snacks were smaller, I’d tell her that the whole family is on a mission to eat healthier. Why burden a first grader with the seriousness of dieting? Kids don’t need to know everything. Second, Weiss gives Bea Snackwell’s 100-calorie packs and Diet Coke but won’t let Bea have a salad. Weiss tells Bea, “I’m sorry…It’s got a lot of dressing on it.” (This happened in front of company, I will add.) Weiss consults a nutritionist, but clearly not a modern one. Mark Bittman, Jamie Oliver, Michael Pollan and other experts write about the importance of whole foods and the evils of processing and chemical additives. If Weiss and her family are having health problems–why didn’t she get up to speed on this stuff? Why see a nutritionist who green lights Diet Coke?

I feel deep empathy for anyone who suffers from weight issues–especially involving kids. But this book is a dangerous read. Weiss publicly humiliates Bea by counting her calories in front of everyone, and she gives her daughter questionable foods. When she writes the Vogue article, she allows Bea to be photographed against a psychologist’s advice. (To Weiss’ credit, she regrets that now.)

At least there is a happy ending to this book. As Weiss said on The Today Show yesterday, Bea is 9 and maintaining a healthy weight. That’s great. I just hope this over-the-top, obsessive mother doesn’t cause lifelong damage to her own daughter.

For a different view, read why one mother supports Dara-Lynn Weiss: In Defense of the Mom Who Put Her 7-Year-Old Daughter on a Diet

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  1. by Kim

    On January 16, 2013 at 7:33 pm

    Thanks for the warning, I`ll avoid this one. My mom let us snack on just a lot too, but she insisted we understand what was and was not healthy for us, moderation, and encouraged ANY preference for fresh stuff.
    I had a thing for fresh veggies,my sister fruit, and one brother, for fatty comfort foods. While we were all chubbish in high school, he was overweight. Come his junior high years Mom started requiring we eat steamed veggies with our dinner, and we started running laps around our 2 acre yard as discipline for screwing up rather than grounding us. Got him back to a normal weight by high school without humiliating him or really singling him out.

  2. by Kim

    On January 16, 2013 at 7:34 pm

    Thanks for the warning, I`ll avoid this one. My mom let us snack on just a lot too, but she insisted we understand what was and was not healthy for us, moderation, and encouraged ANY preference for fresh stuff.
    I had a thing for fresh veggies,my sister fruit, and one brother, for fatty comfort foods. While we were all chubbish in high school, he was overweight by 11. Come his junior high years Mom started requiring we eat steamed veggies with our dinner, and we started running laps around our 2 acre yard as discipline for screwing up rather than grounding us. Got him back to a normal weight by high school without humiliating him or really singling him out.

  3. by Kim

    On January 16, 2013 at 7:37 pm

    Thanks for the warning, I`ll avoid this one. My mom let us snack on junk a lot too, but she insisted we understand what was and was not healthy for us, moderation, and encouraged ANY preference for fresh stuff.
    I had a thing for fresh veggies,my sister fruit, and one brother, for fatty comfort foods. While we were all chubbish in high school, he was overweight by 11. Come his junior high years Mom started requiring we eat steamed veggies with our dinner, and we started running laps around our 2 acre yard as discipline for screwing up rather than grounding us. Got him back to a normal weight by high school without humiliating him or really singling him out.

  4. [...] Mother puts daughter on crazy diet in “The Heavy” (Parents.com) [...]

  5. by colleen

    On January 18, 2013 at 2:02 pm

    Not all children are the same and you should count yourself lucky. I have 2 girls one is 22 and one is 8. The older one never had any weight or food issues. She ate when she was hungry and that was it, as an adult she is the kind of person that forgets to eat. The younger one is the exact opposite her world revolves around food she equates every experience to food she wants to be a chef when she grows up and when i ask her where she would like to go (thinking a park or something) she will say Costco so I can have samples and the lunch. I never take her to fast food but we do go to sit down restaurants once there she will order more food than myself and husband if we let her. My point is she consumed with food and is always always hungry! Its not fun being the mom who has to say no so much but I have to.

  6. by Ana

    On January 23, 2013 at 11:01 pm

    It seems to me that the writer of this article has a problem understanding people and how the knowledge process starts. I’m sure she might be a role model mom who had never made mistakes in her entire life, right? Wrong! I think that the mother faced a problem and was brave enough to recognize the mistakes she had done so far. And did the best she thought to help her kid and reeducate her food habits before it was too late. Everybody needs to start at some point, and I’m sure if the mother knew better, she would have done better. But she did what she thought would help the kid the most. You seem very judgmental, negative and bitter. But I think that you too think you’re actually doing good. In my view you’re just exposing her mistakes (that were not terrible), instead of recognizing how much it must have hurt her to do put her child in such a strict diet. And she still did it for her child’s sake and health. It wasn’t perfect, but neither are you.