Dara-Lynn Weiss was thrust into the national spotlight last year when she put her 7-year-old daughter on strict diet — and wrote an article for Vogue about it.
The Manhattan mother of two caused an uproar when the controversial article was published, detailing the diet plan that Weiss had her elementary-school daughter on and her methods for keeping her on the path to a healthy weight. Now, Weiss’ daughter is nine and at a healthy weight.
Weiss spoke with NBC Todayabout Bea’s (not her real name) progress. “She’s doing fantastically well,” Weiss told Matt Lauer on Tuesday. “We’re very happy to report she’s maintained a healthy weight. She’s really made positive changes in how she approached this issue.”
For Bea, however, the change is “bittersweet.” Weiss notes that when asked if she likes how she looks now, she says yes. “Even so,” says Weiss, “the person she used to be still weighs on her. Tears of pain fill her eyes when she reflects on her yearlong journey.”
” ‘That’s still me,’ she says of her former self. ‘I’m not a different person just because I lost 16 pounds.’ ” Weiss continues, “I protest that, indeed, she is different… that fat girl is a thing of the past. ‘Just because it’s in the past,’ Bea says, ‘doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.’ “
“‘That’s still me,’ she says of her former self,” her mother continues. “‘I’m not a different person just because I lost sixteen pounds.’ I protest that, indeed, she is different. At this moment, that fat girl is a thing of the past. A tear rolls down her beautiful cheek…’Just because it’s in the past,’ she says, ‘doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.'”
Weiss admits to publicly shaming Bea. The 41-year-old mother writes of having “heated discussions” with Bea at parties because the child wanted cake and a cookie. She admits to “deriding” her daughter for eating “an inappropriate snack” at a friend’s house. Weiss even admits to depriving Bea of meals when she made poor food choices throughout the day, once denying the 7-year-old dinner because she ate 800 calories worth of Brie, chocolate, bread, and filet mignon at her school’s “French Heritage Day.”
Once, Weiss recalls, a Starbuck barista couldn’t clarify the caloric count of a kids’ hot chocolate. The “calories are listed as ‘120-210,'” Weiss writes, “Well, which is it? When he couldn’t provide an answer, I dramatically grabbed the drink out of my daughter’s hands, poured it into the garbage, and stormed out.”
A doctor’s visit — and the comments of a boy at Bea’s school — allegedly started the journey in which Bea lost 16 pounds and was rewarded with a photo shoot in Vogue and lots of new dresses. At 7 years old, Bea was 4 feet, 4 inches, and weight 93 pounds, putting her in the 99th percentile for weight in her age group. By the next year, she had grown two inches and lost 16 pounds, putting her back into a healthy weight range.
Since then, Bea has gained an appropriate amount of weight, says Weiss. “It was interesting,” says the mother, “after spending a year trying to always lose weight to have a year where it was healthy to gain weight.”
Weiss chalks all the criticism up to the “damned if you do/damned if you don’t” approach, knowing that for many parents of obese children, the struggle is always there. How do you help a child lose weight without damaging their self-esteem?
“I didn’t come to this situation saying, ‘Well, we’re just going to police this in every public situation,’ but as the parent of an obese child you become aware of how frequently they’re presented with challenges,” Weiss said. “And at age 7, they can’t necessarily be responsible for responding appropriately.”
Now, Weiss says, she doesn’t have to monitor Bea as much.
Weiss landed a book deal out of the whole experience. In her novel, The Heavy: A Mother, A Daughter, A Diet, she chronicles their journey to a healthy weight for Bea, admitting that she has always struggled with her relationship with food.
While her book is coming at a time when about one-third of the nation’s children are overweight or obese, experts are uncertain that Weiss’ method was wise.
“When a child’s weight is compromising their health, a parent is going to go into action, but we need to be very careful with what we say and what we do,” child development specialist Robyn Silverman told TODAY. “We don’t want a child to look at food as the enemy.”
In an interview with USA Today, Weiss notes that Bea’s problems with food started early on.
“She was in preschool when we realized she approached food differently. She had an unusual relationship with the snack table, more ardent than the other children’s. At her checkups, her weight was heavy but not unhealthy. But age 6, the doctor said there was a problem. We could no longer think she would grow out of it or see what happens. It wasn’t getting better.”
Weiss’ advice for parent’s struggling with kids’ obesity?
“It is such a challenge, so much more complicated than conventional wisdom would you have believe. Don’t be rendered silent or ignore the issue hoping it will go away. Having love for your child sometimes mean being the heavy and doing unpopular things that you know are right.”
What do you think of Weiss’ methods? Do you think that her daughter have a healthy relationship with food and fitness as a result of these strict years?