Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Heavy: A Mother, A Daughter, A Diet - Dara-Lynn Weiss

UGGHHHHHHH YOU GUYYYYYYYYYS. So hey, remember how I had a daughter that one time? And I was like, Awesome, this is going to be WAY easier than raising a boy? Because I AM a girl, so I know ABOUT girls, whereas boys...I mean, what even?

And so I was breastfeeding and as long as breastfeeding is easy for you, breastfeeding is easy. But now she eats like a people and I am like, Crap. Because I have to make decisions now, decisions that will affect her long-term health and body image and relationship with food and you guys it is all so terrifying.

The Heavy did not help. Because Dara-Lynn's food philosophy jives very neatly with MY food philosophy (things like 'made of real food' > 'low-fat but mostly chemicals') and she's more or less trim just as *I* am more or less trim, and yet, her daughter was fat. So Weiss put her on a diet. DID I MENTION THAT THE DAUGHTER WAS SEVEN? This is where the book makes you all like

Even my non-Harry-Potter posts are Harry Potter posts.

But, ok. A year prior, her daughter Bea had been diagnosed 'kind of fattish' so Dara-Lynn tried, you know, casually introducing more veggies and fewer treats and whatever, but then a year later Bea was pronounced 'really concerningly fat' (i.e. 'obese'). And so if half-hearted, subtle measures don't accomplish anything, do you wait until she's THIRTEEN and has a history of being The Fat Kid and is dealing with Puberty? Or do you put your SEVEN-YEAR-OLD on a diet and face the judgement and stern disapproval of family and friends (and the audience of Vogue for whom you, rather inadvisedly, wrote an article about same) and then write a book to explain why you did what you did?

This book made me gnashy to read. What made me the GNASHIEST, though, is that Weiss may not be right, but (as she points out like a thousand times [to her credit, I had forgotten each time until she pointed it out again]) I am in no place to say that she is wrong. And I kept feeling in my GUT how wrong she was. She'd be giving Bea 100-calorie snack-packs and I am like, THOSE ARE NOT FOOD, and then she'd be like, There is a difference between healthy eating and weight-loss eating, and Bea's medical imperative was to lose weight.

And then on top of that, she still wants Bea to have a childhood and a positive relationship with food, so they struggle with birthday parties and play dates and it is HEARTBREAKING and also maddening because all her friends are like, Oh, just let her have a second brownie, she's a KID. And in any scenario outside this book I would be like, DUDE YES LET ALL THE CHILDREN HAVE SECOND BROWNIES but now I'm all up in Weiss' head and involved in her daughter's struggle and you just want her to succeed and you are like, Be strong, Bea! Do not eat that brownie!

After all this waffling felt disturbingly gratifying to finally and firmly disagree with her about something. She's all like, Why would you exercise when that will just make you hungrier? To which I say, Yes, but then you get to EAT MORE THINGS. And her daughter constantly complains about being hungry, which is one of the hardest parts both for Weiss and for the reader, because how do you tell a hungry 7-year-old that she can't have more dinner? Especially in front of dinner guests? And I'm like, MOAR EXERCISE = MOAR EATING. Problem solved. (But again, how would I know?)

This book is giving me the sad-eats.

In a book about something this important and little-discussed (What To Do [Or NOT!] When Your Kid Is Fat), the writing is kind of beside the point. I will say that Weiss is a thesaurus-writer, all '[g]iant eyes with never-ending lashes blinking languidly onto tumescent cheeks,' but I stopped noticing after a while because I had so many OPINIONS.

I don't even know how to rate this, because I disagree with parts of it SO STRONGLY but UNDERSTAND HOW MY DISAGREEMENT MAY BE INCORRECT and I think it's important to open the discussion on Fat Kids And How To Deal, or we're all going to be in Weiss' shoes and I'd rather not.

Requisite ass-covering: book received from publisher.


picky said...

Great review. I love that you struggled with this because duh. How could you not? But imagine the writer's own struggles.

I've been off and on trying to be primal (and reading a lot about it, too), and one of the things it stresses is the type of exercise. Because yeah, you do a bunch of cardio, and you're starved. But do targeted exercises and/or lifting, and you're not nearly as hungry but still getting the benefits of exercise. It's an interesting correlation and one I had never really thought about.

Jessica Howard said...

What a tough book. I tend to agree with you/the author on eating - but I'm trying to lose weight right now, so yup there are 100 calorie packs in my pantry, and yup, I'm busy keeping them away from the 2.5 year old and giving her "real food" instead.

But lucky for me, Eleanor's 97th for height and 50th for weight - and always has been. So maybe I will never have to deal with issues like this?! (HOPEFULLY!)

Sandy Nawrot said...

I don't even know what to say really. Nobody in my immediate family has a weight problem (I'm probably the closest to it, but I work hard at it not defeating me). And because of my history and metabolism, I will always have to work out and eat reasonably. And I see how that affects my 15 year old daughter. She watches me. And she is about this big around and she never eats anything. Drives me frigging nuts, but I ignore her teenagery behavior and just make sure I don't see bones sticking out, and hope that hunger will make her eat. So it goes both ways, and IT ALL SUCKS. And OMG the bulimia that is going on at her school. I swear, I just want to close my eyes, go to sleep, and wake up when she is 18.

hapax said...

Friends had the opposite problem with their daughter: she had this weird metabolism thing which made her seriously underweight and it was almost impossible for her to not waste away like Augustus-who-would-not-have-any-soup, and Mom and Dad were always like, "Here, would you like whipped cream or syrup or both on your Twinkies?" and perfect strangers were always WE ARE JUDGING YOU YOU HORRIBLE PARENTS and my friends were being forced to choose between watching their baby starve or handing out little cards explaining her medical history...

...so yeah, being a parent can really suck sometimes.

Anonymous said...

I'm there right now with Allison and yes, I am terrified about her going through adolescence as the fat girl. When she asks me if I think she's fat it breaks my heart.

Yeah. Sigh.

Jenners said...

Oh man. This sounds like it would be perfect for a book club … though I can see lots of shouting ensuing. Not good to discourage exercising. I can see putting an obese child on a "diet" of good food and encouraging them to exercise but not on "diet" food that we shouldn't be eating anyway (processed and all that). Urgh.

Bybee said...

My mom still talks about the crash diet she was put on at 7. Awful.

Sarah said...

This book sounds so interesting (and makes me so happy I don't have kids and will never have to deal with this crap).

I have to say that the 100 calorie snacks are a great idea - it's really, really hard to get away from processed food, especially things like cookies and crackers that kids will want anyways. 100 calorie versions of those are at least healthier than the super-fattening cookies.

And even though I don't have kids, I do think that childhood obesity is getting kind of ridiculous so kudos to this woman for trying to help her daughter not stay on that path (though she really should encourage exercise, since kids don't get enough exercise anymore anyways).

Great review!

Bookgazing said...

I mean...really? The aim of her actions sounds like it is partly to stop her kid from having body image problems and she wrote a book about her being over weight? Yeah, I'm sure this will have no negative health implications related to weight at all, neither will it cause her problems at school. I would genuinely cut off a relative for doing something that as soon as I was old enough. I get the whole 'need to be free to write' thing but...wtf?

Anonymous said...

Ugh. From the perspective of "the obese kid" whose well-meaning mother put her on diets all through childhood, I couldn't sympathize with this author at all.

Here's how it goes down: doctors tell Mom that Girl is fat. Mom puts Girl on strict diets and reminds her constantly that she has a "weight problem." Girl grows into a teenager with serious self-esteem issues. Girl develops an eating disorder and starves herself down to skin and bones. Mom cheers. Girl gains the weight back. Girl becomes depressed, because she believes fat people are worthless and unlovable. Girl ends up in a psychiatric ward. Girl runs away to a college on the other side of the country. Girl struggles for years to feel comfortable in her own body and think of food as nutrition, not poison. And for the rest of her life, even though Girl has a perfectly healthy BMI, whenever she considers going home for the holidays, she thinks, "I have to lose ten pounds before Mom sees me."

So yeah, I would judge her. I would judge her hard. If this woman were really concerned with her daughter's health, she would just encourage her to exercise, not put her on diets and write books to justify herself. According to medical literature, not tainted by social biases, overweight people who stay active are healthier than normal-weight people who lead sedentary lives. Most parents who are concerned about their kids weight are, deep down, more concerned about their looks than their lifespans.

Anonymous said...

I am soooo struggling with this issue. I'm raising my granddaughter (moved in with me and my husband one and one-half years ago). She will turn 10 in a couple of months and is 41/2 feet tall at 123 pds. She has been through an emotional roller coaster ride with her parents so I have not pushed the lose weight thing very hard but I am already scared silly about her starting middle school in about 18 months! I just know if she starts heavy she will be teased endlessly. When I kept my granddaughter when she was younger, I knew her genetics would be working against her so I always kept a variety of foods around for her to choose from and I made sure we did something active for at least 2 hrs. every day and she was always at normal weight and loved sports and the outside. Unfortunately, her mother moved her away for two years and there were lots of moving from place to place and neglect. Thank God (literally) she is back with me and Papa. Now that she is heavy, she doesn't like the way she looks so she shys away from sports and things she used to love so it's like a vicious cycle! I love her so much and just can't stand that she has to go through the pain of being overweight when her self esteem is already low. She goes to a therapist and it has helped tremendously in so many ways but not in this area. Sometimes I think I should get tough with her about her eating but then I don't want to create an anorexic or bulimic. It is a hard road and until you have a child who s overweight (by a lot), you shouldn't judge their Mother's for trying everything in their power to help them in any way they can. I wish there was an easy solution but there isn't.

Ali said...

So, here's the thing: I have friends whose kids are diabetic or celiac or highly allergic to x, y, or z food. All of which create the need to put your child on a special diet, right? And you deal with them not being able to eat the cake or brownies or whatever at a birthday party by bringing an extra treat that they can eat. So, with obesity being a medical issue, I can sort of see the line of thinking to put a 7 year old on a diet for obesity. But I think you'd have to make family-wide dietary changes, instead of monitoring portion sizes in a weird, controlling way.

On the other hand, her "exercise makes you eat more" theory totally discredits her, in my opinion.

Also, am I wrong or is it kind of icky to launch a book career based on your child's eating issues?

Anonymous said...

It all seems like it's done out of desperation...and desperation (fear based)is never pretty. I think if her concern were her daughter's health she would feed her real healthy food and help her do healthy activities. I think she's chosen the path she has, especially the writing the book part, out of a self-centered pride. I know that sounds harsh, but like others commented, all of the backlash of this book and the pressure she's put on her child will only harm. So she'll get thin, but what then? There will be other symptoms. Weight problems are serious and hard. I'm not surprised to see a book like this out there and see it so widely discussed. It also reminds me of the Tiger Mother book in a way. Remember that one? "I will force my kid to succeed. Praise me. And oh... I'm right."