A Seven Year Old On a Draconian Diet

A few of you have referred me to the story of Dara-Lynn Weiss and her 7 year old daughter, a frightening story that’s sort of the Tiger Mother of the thin-obsessed.

For those who haven’t read the piece, or some of the outraged responses it has provoked, Weiss’s piece in the April edition of Vogue magazine (not available online) tells how the writer, who admits to having her own lifelong “issues with food,” having tried many diets, used fear, shame, and ridicule to coax her seven year old daughter into losing weight, after a pediatrician appointment revealed that she was in the 99th percentile for weight.

Jezebel calls it the “worst Vogue article ever.” Here’s a taste of some of what Weiss did to her daughter:

I once reproachfully deprived Bea of her dinner after learning that her observation of French Heritage Day at school involved nearly 800 calories of Brie, filet mignon, baguette, and chocolate. I stopped letting her enjoy Pizza Fridays when she admitted to adding a corn salad as a side dish one week. I dressed down a Starbucks barista when he professed ignorance of the nutrition content of the kids’ hot chocolate whose calories are listed as “120-210″ on the menu board: 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.

Weiss says she has spent the past three decades “[hating] how my body looked and [devoting] an inordinate amount of time trying to change it,” so it’s really no surprise that she would pass this fear and loathing on to her daughter.

And of course, now Weiss is writing a book, cringe-worthily titled The Heavy, which will published by Random House.

I’ve got to say that I have few words for how sad and reprehensible I find this story.

Maybe it’s because I’ve read too many stories of life-long eating disorders and self-loathing that begin just like this.

Maybe it’s because the wisest eating advice I’ve encountered focuses on eradicating shame and guilt and instilling joy and confidence in yourself and your children.

Maybe it’s because this is such a distortion of what the feeding relationship between parent and child (yes, and between God and people!) is supposed to be.

I’ll let you know when and if I find more words. Meanwhile, what are YOUR thoughts?

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16 thoughts on “A Seven Year Old On a Draconian Diet

  1. What is she doing in Starbucks? If she knows how many calories are in the hot chocolate, why bother going there? Is it to make a scene? This will affect her kid more of a negative way because of how the mother is outwardly handling it (ie how she treated the Barista and Friday night pizza). She can make the pizza healthy by using whole wheat and adding veggies and giving thin slices. Sorry, I didn’t read the whole article but I would have probably been mad.

  2. The mother sounds like she is awfully afraid of calories. And she is completely inappropriate in handling her fear. And it does seem like she is damaging her daughter. But I understand her in some way. It is so difficult as a mom to find the right words to encourage your child in eating healthy amounts, especially if they are prone to eating too much. I would love to here about good resources for parents in dealing with this problem.

  3. Rachel, when I read that article yesterday I was steamed, and like you I am having trouble articulating why. I think for me it comes down to the fact that this is child abuse, pure and simple. It’s not exactly like I typically see in my courtroom (those cases usually involve sexual or other physical abuse), but it is the type of emotional and psychological abuse that can harm a child and stay with them throughout adulthood.

    Thanks for taking this on. I’m looking forward to your upcoming piece at her.meneutics on the subject too.


  4. Pingback: Parent of an Overweight Child? *Sensible* advice, for a change « Eat With Joy!

  5. Overkill is the word that comes to mind. This mother has no balance from letting it get to the 99 percentile and then freaking out. Childhood obesity is a problem i watched a little girl grow up obese and die of obesity related problems at age 16. But we are focusing in an unhealthy way on it we will end up with opposite problem. I hope this little girl can learn a healthy view of food before she reaches adulthood.

  6. Pingback: Shaming Children for Eating Snacks « Eat With Joy!

  7. I am shocked that so many people think that Dara-Lynn Weiss’s actions are going to cause psychological problems to her child, without taking into account the very real and sad psychological problems that obese children frequently suffer from, and that perhaps this little girl already had. The Wikipedia page on Childhood Obesity says that obese children are teased and bullied, and suffer from depression and low self-esteem. If the little girl cried because she was teased by a boy in school, then she was already in or going to be in that situation. Her mother had the choice between leaving her in that situation, maybe helping her learn to put up with it, or actually empowering her to change it. She chose the latter: she taught the child that the problem could be solved by hard work and will power. I think it is not at all certain that her actions caused the child more psychological problems than the obesity itself.

    As for the mother’s actions creating the possibility of an eating disorder in the child, it seems to me that the child already had an eating disorder, one that many people, adults and children, do suffer from: addiction to carbohydrates, most likely. So Dara-Lynn was trying to wean her from an existing addiction. There may be a risk of driving her to some different eating disorder such as anorexia, but I think that is fairly unlikely; like Dara-Lynn herself and many, many other people, carbohydrate-addicts tend to be weight yo-yo-ers, sometimes yielding to temptation and gaining weight, other times exercising self-control to lose weight. The result is probably less dangerous than either the extreme of becoming obese or the extreme of anorexia, and it does have its rewards.

    I do agree that Dara-Lynn should probably never have let the child reach such an excessive weight in the first place, and that once she heard the “wake-up” call, she reacted with both hysteria and a somewhat vulgar desire for the spotlight (what else can be expected of a “socialite”?) But I can’t blame her; people do not choose to be hysterical, and if the spotlight makes her feel rewarded for putting in a difficult effort, then why should she not be rewarded, even if it is certainly not the reward that I would choose? I think that what Dara-Lynn did had to be done in the only way she could.

      • Is there any objective definition of “good parenting” other than “doing the best you can with what you’ve got”?

        If I had an obese child, I would do the diet thing and look on it as teaching empowerment and self-control. It would be hard, and even harder if the child was continually receiving high-calorie food at school, in the form of big lunches, snack times, class birthday parties, special outings and pizza fests as rewards for good behavior (as Dara-Lynn Weiss describes for her child’s school). Dara-Lynn was told by her child’s preschool teacher that at age 4, her daughter would stay eating at the snack table all by herself when all the other children had long since run off to play.

        Seriously. What would you do in that situation? What IS good parenting?

      • I don’t fully place the blame on Dara-Lynn for her behavior–we live in a culture that’s unreasonably panicked about fat/obesity. But restricting/shaming children in relation to food does more harm than good, period. It sends the message that they are unacceptable as they are, and, ironically, leads children to be inordinately FOCUSED on food, as it sounds like Bea was/is.

  8. Maybe. The article says that Bea was getting obese because she kept on eating sweets and snacks and cupcakes and large portions, she was always hungry. Do you think that that also came about as a reaction to Mom’s behavior? It could be, but I’m not convinced, since I suffer from the exact same thing, yet my mother always prepared the healthiest food ever and gave us celery and carrots as snacks, but on the other hand delicious desserts. We were never deprived, we were all very slim, active kids, and no one ever had to make us self-conscious about our bodies or our weight. Yet the “always hungry for sweets and carbohydrates” phenomenon just set in with me all by itself at a certain point. I feel for Bea and for her mother. It was hard for Bea to undergo the humiliating moments, but knowing that you’re out of control and other people think of you as fat and greedy is very humiliating, too. It does relieve the situation to learn control, even the hard way.

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