A junk-free year: 7-year-old on a diet

dara-lynn-weiss-225.jpgFirst aired on the Current (04/02/13)

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She didn't let her daughter have dinner one night after the seven-year-old had an 800-calorie feast at school for French Heritage Day. She stopped her daughter from participating in Friday pizza lunches at school after the girl admitted to having a corn salad side dish along with her slice one week. She yelled at a Starbucks employee when he couldn't tell her how many calories were in her daughter's hot chocolate, and she poured the drink in the garbage before storming out.

She is the little girl's mother, who wrote about putting her daughter on a strict, Weight Watcher's style diet first in a controversial Vogue article and later a book, The Heavy. 

The very public telling of her obese daughter's year-long diet did not go over smoothly with all readers. Many were outraged at Dara-Lynn Weiss's account of calorie counting with Bea, which is not her daughter's real name due to privacy reasons. People have called Weiss cruel and abusive for monitoring her 93-pound, slightly taller than one metre girl so strictly.

Weiss, whose daughter gained 23 pounds the year before she started the diet, defends her actions. She told CBC's The Current that she feels she has given her daughter the tools she will need to make good decisions about food and eating when she is an adult. Plus, Bea lost 16 pounds (and gained a few inches in height) during the year of the diet, which Weiss says "was what stood between her and a healthy weight."

Shelly Russell-Mayhew, a registered psychologist and associate professor of educational psychology at the University of Calgary, said she was uncomfortable with how publicly Weiss spread Bea's story.

TheHeavy2.jpgWeiss admits she could have been more thoughtful about the Vogue article. When the magazine approached her to write the story, she says she acted too naively. "I was thrilled that they were interested. I thought this is such an important issue," she said. Then came the backlash as readers fired back at Weiss over her parenting skills.

"There's no criticism or judgement that hasn't already occurred to me in this process, quite frankly," she said. "So, I come to this as just a mom and not an expert, and someone who every step of the way was concerned that I was not doing the right thing."

She says part of the reason she chose to write about Bea's diet is because she found it surprising that her actions were at all controversial. To her, it seemed "like a no brainer" to seek the help of a childhood obesity specialist and put Bea on a diet to help her achieve a healthy weight.

Bea, now nine, is not aware of the controversy surrounding the book, says Weiss, or the negative responses geared at her mother.

Win a copy of The Heavy

We'll be holding a random draw to giveaway one copy of The Heavy. Email cbcbooks[a]cbc.ca with the subject line "The Heavy" by Friday, Feb. 22 to enter. Contest rules available here.

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