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Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Review: The Heavy by Dara-Lynn Weiss

A review!

The Heavy: A Mother, A Daughter, A Diet by Dara-Lynn Weiss
As many people did, I first heard about this book after author Dara-Lynn Weiss published a controversial essay in Vogue about putting her 7 year old daughter on a diet. The comments were terrible and like many mothers I wondered if she did the right thing. I can't even recall if I read the essay or just posts about the essay, but I was intrigued. There was quite a backlash (read this) against the author, and many portrayed her as selfish and shallow. So when the book came out and a friend mentioned she just read it and liked it, I wanted to read it (thanks for the loaner, Gail!).

The book is much less sensational than I expected. The author presents valid reasons for putting her daughter Bea on a diet. She was in the obese category and she did not want her daughter growing up with associated health issues. However she also didn't want to give her daughter a complex about food and weight (something I'm guessing most mothers are concerned about), nor stunt her growth.

Weiss's family does a medically supervised diet, with doctor visits and weekly weigh-ins, at least for the short term. They didn't like the doctor's office and ended up doing the rest on their own, but that's immaterial. The whole family goes on a diet together, though Weiss' daughter quickly figures out it's mainly for her (Weiss aptly points out to Bea that the entire family needs to eat healthier - mom's weight yo-yos, dad is overweight and the son...we'll he's a normal weight and really doesn't need to be there).

Weiss puts it all out there - all her neuroses and negative portrayals of herself doing things she later wasn't proud about, the strictness of making sure her daughter doesn't consume extra calories (which includes behavior when dealing with play dates or parties that make her look bad), and substituting unnatural sweets (like fat-free Cool Whip) for actual food, because they contain less calories. We've all been there (well, maybe not the fat-free Cool Whip) - only Weiss is one of the few who will admit it. She also does what some parents have criticized her for - exposing her daughter's life to the public when she's not at an age of proper consent, but Weiss addresses that as well. It's a matter of perspective of how you might handle this, and how Bea will deal with it later, but from what I've heard (friend of a friend who lives in their building), Bea is a lovely girl and the mom is quite nice as well.

I give Weiss a lot of credit for not only going through with the diet to get her daughter to a healthier place, but teaching her daughter to self-moderate. The process looked painfully difficult, as you can imagine trying to tell your child NO constantly - there are so many other NOs aside from food, that for a kid who likes to eat, this is even more difficult. And meal planning. It's hard enough going on a diet yourself, but try getting a 7 year old to understand this type of eating.

My main complaint about the book was that it was too long (you may be saying the same thing about my review!). At 232 pages, even though it was an easy read and the type was large enough, I think the story could have been told in a much shorter format. Like a long magazine article (NYT Magazine length). It just couldn't hold me the entire book, even though I finished it. It got to be a bit to suffer through along with them.

If you're wondering (spoiler alert!), Bea gets to a healthy weight. By healthy, I don't mean "thin" but within her normal range.

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