Saturday 27 December 2014

'I put my 7-year-old daughter on a diet'

The Manhattan mum condemned for 'fat-shaming' her obese daughter by going public with her dieting battle

Dara-Lynn and her daughter Bea, as featured in Vogue.
Dara-Lynn Weiss has been vilified in some quarters for putting her daughter on a diet.

The little girl sat in the pediatrician's examining room, her chubby arms folded protectively across her chest and her mother waiting anxiously by her side.

The pediatrician walked briskly into the room. Glancing at her notes she made a matter-of-fact statement: "She's four-foot-four and 93 pounds."

The numbers spoke for themselves. Suddenly Dara-Lynn Weiss faced a terrifying and irrefutable fact: her seven-year-old daughter, Bea, was now clinically obese.

High time, everyone agreed, to get some much needed help.

Dara-Lynn Weiss's desperate struggle to control her daughter's obesity is the subject of a controversial new memoir, The Heavy: A Mother, A Daughter, A Diet that has put Weiss at the centre of a storm of criticism about the merits of putting a child so young on a diet.

Each year about 45 million Americans go on a diet. But in March 2012, when Weiss went public with her struggles to keep Bea's weight under control in an article in Vogue magazine, she was excoriated in the press as the ultimate control freak mother, a neurotic calorie-counter who was "fat-shaming" her daughter and setting her up for a lifetime of yo-yo dieting.

"The fact that the article became this lightning rod of emotional opinion and searing criticism of my parenting was something that I did not expect," Weiss (42) told the Irish Independent. "We do judge each other tremendously as parents; it is a very public sport and that makes tough decisions all the more difficult."

Bea's escalating weight had been a concern for Weiss and her husband since her third birthday. Weiss noticed that Bea's relationship with food was unlike other children – a little obsessive, a little too close for comfort.

"She had a huge appetite and could eat enormous portions," said Weiss. "She thought about food a lot and she talked about food a lot. She never seemed satisfied with what she had eaten and always wanted more."

"She just plain ate too much."

Concerned, Weiss made adjustments at home. She introduced more fruit and vegetables and ensured that Bea got enough daily exercise. But despite these careful modifications, nothing seemed to work. Her daughter's weight just climbed and climbed.

Finally Bea's pediatrician recommended a childhood obesity specialist, a Manhattan-based doctor who operated a dieting programme for kids that was very similar to Weight Watchers. Weiss, who publicly acknowledges her own lifelong battle and preoccupation with weight, liked the diet's sensible approach: ensuring that Bea had an appropriate amount to eat but that she could still indulge in the odd treat.

"There was no cutting out of carbs, or limiting of fats. There was no elimination of foods that kids are likely to eat; the pizza, the cake, the ice-cream. One just had to be aware of healthy limits and I liked that," Weiss said. "I did not want to make Bea feel like she could not participate in all the food that every other child was enjoying."

But limiting the food intake of a child who could wolf down several plates of pasta in one sitting was going to be a challenge, and Weiss knew that in order for the diet to work she was going to have to become 'The Heavy'.

Bea immediately saw through the ruse. She complained when she saw that her dinners were now half the size of her younger brothers. She whined, complained and begged for more food, says Weiss. It was exhausting, heartbreaking. Could she really be doing the right thing Weiss wondered?

"She would cry and say, 'I am the only one' with this particular problem," Weiss recalls of her daughter's struggle to accept her situation. "Her awareness of it, of how big of an ongoing problem it was and of how isolated she felt, that was very painful."

"I had to remember she was a kid and that I was asking for adult-size levels of maturity and responsibility from her."

Irish Independent

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