March Book Review : The Heavy by Dara-Lynn Weiss

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Most of this is already known but let me just preface this review by saying I am not a mother so I don’t have any overweight children. However, I have been working on getting healthy and losing weight, changing my dieting habits, and the types of foods I’m choosing to nourish my body with and the bodies of my husband and future children. I have done a lot reading, follow a lot of health nuts especially Jillian Michaels, and feel knowledgeable about the subject of healthy eating. Exercise on the other hand I don’t feel too knowledgeable about but I understand the concept of calories in, calories out and maintaining a healthy weight.

I think I may be a little late in the game or so says my findings after researching Dara-Lynn Weiss and her now infamous Vogue article and photo shoot with her previously overweight daughter, Bea. Dara-Lynn is the author of The Heavy and in the last few chapters of the book I learned that in the April 2012 issue of Vogue an article came out that was basically a mini-version of the book (before there was a book). After the article was published, Dara-Lynn became the subject of many awful blog posts, which she also addresses at the end of the book. She was scrutinized for putting her 6-year-old on a diet. Bea was 4’4″ and weight 93 lbs. She was in the 95th percentile of children her age so she was considered overweight. Before I read the book I had no idea this was already talked about. I have seen pictures and read the first few sentences of some posts when I Googled but I haven’t read any articles. I don’t want anyone else’s opinion of this woman and what she has done to sway mine. I’m sure I read the “whole” story, or more whole than the article could have said, so I want to address what I’ve read in the book only.

This book was sent to me from Random House. I registered the book club I used to have and now periodically receive free books, sometimes before they come out. This was one of them and I was so excited to receive it because I did so the day after I put it on my Goodreads “to-read” shelf. Overall, I am disappointed in the book and very glad I didn’t pay for it. Childhood obesity scares me. I was far from being an overweight child. I wore 00 in high school and through most of college. Then some things happened in my life and I gained 45 lbs over a year. It all caught up with me. I ate whatever I wanted, which was mostly high-sugar, high-sodium processed food, didn’t work out, and didn’t think I would ever get fat. In all honesty, I don’t consider myself “fat” but I am overweight and working to lose 25 lbs right now. I don’t feel healthy because of what I’ve eaten over the years that I’m trying to rid my body of now but it’s not an easy thing to change. Especially getting into a regular workout routine. I am very passionate about changing my and my husband’s lifestyle to a healthier one so that when we do start a family the foundation will already be in place. I want my children to grow up around fresh food, little to no fast food, and the “right” processed foods. I want exercise and activity to be a regular, daily occurrence. I feel like I have the great advantage of thinking about this before it becomes an issue. Of course there is always the possibility that my children will be overweight but if we start off the right way, I’m not sure how that would happen exactly. Again, I will say I do not have an overweight child but I do know some and I know their diets and what it has been like their whole lives. I see where nutrition and healthy eating habits falls on the priority scale and it’s not high. Anyway, back to the book.

Dara-Lynn starts off pretty relateable. She is a parent of a child who is struggling with personal issues; issues of self-esteem, body image, and trying to fit in. Everyone goes through this. Being a child with a weight issue is different. It’s harder because the weight is not just a superficial issue. There are potential health issues associated to how overweight a child is. Diabetes is one of them. From the beginning, I didn’t think what Dara-Lynn was doing was wrong. I still don’t. I think recognizing that your child has a weight issue and addressing it is important and life-saving. In this particular case, I disagree with almost everything she has done.

The nutritionist they decided to go to as a family to help teach them and guide them on their (Bea’s) weight loss journey has a “diet” plan is a combination of limiting quantities and limiting food options (like Weight Watchers and Atkins combined) using red, yellow, and green to determine what foods to eat. She doesn’t talk to the family about healthy food choices, just about another diet. Dara-Lynn likes this. Throughout the rest of the book, this is evident. “We never exceeded our green-light quota, but processed snacks accounted for three or four of Bea’s ten green lights per day.” She goes on to talk about the careful planning of buying Bea mini Oreo Cakesters that she was “delighted” to see in the store and a 100-calorie three-pack of mini Hostess cream-filled cupcakes versus organic cereal bars because of the lower calorie content. The best part, I think, about the “diet” they were on was the allowance of unlimited fruits and veggies. Dara-Lynn sites Dr. Atkins for “revealing to us how sinister most fruits could be”. I agree that fruits are sugary but versus a Hostess cupcake? Come on. After they got frustrated and eventually quit going to the nutritionist, Dara-Lynn created her own plan spin-off. The unlimited, anytime fruit snacks were the first thing she changed.

Other ridiculous things she says in the book are as follows:

“I’d prefer she drink Diet Coke instead of organic orange juice.”

“We don’t go to McDonald’s very often, but every time we do, I am increasingly convinced of its viability as a diet-friendly destination. People trying to stick to a particular nutritional regimen need two things from their restaurants: options and information. McDonald’s has both.” 

“[Exercise] is hugely overrated as a tool in weight loss.”

Bea’s voice really wasn’t heard until the very last chapter. “I need to lose a couple of pounds, especially since this summer I’m going to camp, where I’m going to be eating lunch in the cafeteria every day. But I’ll do it.” At this time, I believe she is 7. When they visit her at camp, they watch her order one piece of chicken and some broccoli, no starches, water, and, when she wanted dessert, she said she would ask for a quarter of a brownie, just to try it. Dara-Lynn says she was “bursting with pride” after hearing this. “Have an ice pop, Mom. The little ones only have twenty-five calories,” Bea says.

Dara-Lynn states, “We taught her how to eat properly, and she has taken those lessons and made them a part of her life.” What I’m reading is that she gave her daughter an eating disorder and now her life will never be the same. Truth is, none of us know how Bea really feels and what she really thinks about her weight loss and caloric restrictions. She could be very excited about eating “healthier” than she was before but teaching her to pick a highly processed, chemically altered snack pack with low calories versus a power food like a banana or salad with a natural, low-calorie dressing is just wrong. I really tried to be optimistic about this woman’s choices. I was hoping for some revelation in the end when her daughter didn’t lose but gained weight from the wrong choices she was making. But that didn’t happen. She lost 16 lbs. and, while that is fantastic, I think all the fuss was an overreaction. Change her eating habits and let the inches she will gain in her growing years help her to even out her weight. It would have taken more time but I think it would have prepared her better for her future. But, again, I’m not a mother of an overweight child so take it for what you will.

Had you heard of this woman before? Have you read the article or the book? What do you think of her dieting tactics?

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