Saturday, January 19, 2013

"The Heavy" by Dara-Lynn Weiss


When Dara-Lynn Weiss' article appeared in the April 2012 edition of Vogue she never imagined that she would become one of the most talked about (and most of the time, not in the good way) moms in America.

In the article titled "The Weight Watcher," Weiss shared how a trip to the doctor in which she found out her daughter was obese led her to put the seven year old on a "diet."  Cue the uproar.  People were calling her a horrible mother, a selfish woman who put her own issues onto her daughter, fat-shaming the little girl.  But now in Weiss' new book, The Heavy, she has the opportunity to share the whole story, to speak of what she did and how she did, and to address the uproar she caused.

When I first started reading Weiss' Vogue article, I was fully prepared to dislike her in the same way that others have.  But by the end of the article I could see glimpses of a mother who was really trying to do what was best for her child (I wonder if the article had been in a completely different publication if it would have had a different response.)  I jumped at the opportunity to read this book to see if it painted a different picture of the controversy and it did just that.

Weiss wasn't a woman who just looked at her child, thought she was fat, and decided to do something about it.  Her paediatrician told her that her daughter was obese and needed to lose weight.  No parent wants to hear that about their child, even if they had already noticed it.  They then consulted a well-regarded nutritionist who put not just her daughter Bea on an eating plan but the entire family.  The nutritionists directive was simple - she needed to consume less calories.  

Too often, I think we're quick to judge people when we don't fully understand how they got to their position.  And Weiss found this out very quickly.  Every parent (and non-parent) was quick to tell her why her daughter was overweight and what she should do about it.  But the reality of it was, Bea was an over-eater.  She ate more than other children her age and she had difficulties regulating her food choices.  She was still an active child, the food she ate was well-rounded nutritionally, she was just eating too much.  And thus, she needed to consume less if she was going to get out of the obese category on the growth charts.

This book isn't just about Dara-Lynn and Bea's journey.  Along the way Weiss learned some alarming things about the way we eat, about how we view food, and the epidemic of child obesity that is sweeping North America.  

One thing I learned from this book is how there is no one way that is right to feed every child.  And as parents, we need to investigate our food choices beyond what the packaging and current trends tell us and figure out what is right for our child.  Weiss' focus with Bea was on calories.  So, 100 calorie snack packs of treats were allowed.  This allowed Bea to have the treats other kids were eating while not affecting her weight.  And yet, for every person that said she was depriving her daughter of treats, there was a person saying she shouldn't be giving her child processed foods.  But even organic versions of treats presented trouble - brown rice syrup, a common sweetener, can contain high levels of arsenic for example.  As Weiss states in the book, "I'm damned if I do, damned if I don't" (p. 91.)

Even the people we see in the media taking part in the fight against child obesity can lead us astray if one isn't paying close attention.  Weiss uses the example of celebrity chefs who produced cookbooks and organizations aimed at getting children to eat healthier.  And yet, their recipes, while nutritious and great for getting kids to try new foods, were very high in calories.  For children who are overweight or obese, these recipes are not going to be of benefit to them.  In Bea's case, these recipes would add to the problem.  And yet, it wouldn't be wrong of parents to assume that these recipes are appropriate for their child's needs given the dedication of these chefs to fixing the problem.

One of the most interesting things I learned from this book is that even restaurants that provide nutritional information for their foods continue to present pitfalls when making good food choices.  Weiss found herself in Starbucks buying her daughter a drink.  Kids drinks are listed on the menu as being 120-210 calories, drinks that range from apple juice to hot chocolate.  And yet, when she ordered Bea a hot chocolate and got definitive information from an employee, she found out that the drink Bea had in her hand was 240 calories.  The menu information didn't include the whipped cream they didn't inform you is automatically added to the drink.

These are only a few examples of things Weiss found out on her journey, of the difficulties the world presents to us when making food choices, and how important it is for us as parents and a society to address the issue of child obesity as soon as we can.

If you read the Vogue article, you should definitely pick this book up to gain a better understanding of this story.  The three or four pages it was given in the magazine was clearly not enough.  For all readers, I suggest holding back judgment until you've gotten through the book.  I saw in this book a different woman than I saw in the article.  And the book was not written in response to the article and its backlash, it was already a work in progress when the magazine hit the stands.  This is a very interesting book that looks at the whole spectrum of making healthy food choices for our children as well ourselves.  I think this is a very interesting look at child obesity and the ways in which we can fight it, because it doesn't seem like we're doing enough yet.

I received a copy of this book courtesy of Random House of Canada.  The opinions expressed above are purely my own.

3 comments:

  1. I'd really like to read this. You never know what kind of journey a person is on do you? Especially if you only read a short article about something they are struggling with. This is an important issue and I'll look forward to finding a copy of this. Great review!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you! She's definitely getting hit hard by the media with this book. But all I could think of was "what if it were my child?" Until we're in that position, it's really easy to be critical.

    ReplyDelete
  3. This does sound interesting. It's always so easy to judge from your own self-righteous throne, isn't it (and I include myself in this comment although I'm trying not to be that person)? I know that if the media and the public were to focus on me there are probably things I do, especially parenting-wise, that would cause an uproar too but we all do the best we can with all the information we have at a particular time and that's all that can be asked.

    ReplyDelete