I managed to fit in some reading a few weeks back and read The Heavy by Dara-Lynn Weiss.
Having seen some interviews with her on YouTube and having read articles and parts of her original article in Vogue, I wasn't sure what I was going to be reading: Was she going to be honest? Was she going to tone things down about how she interacted with her daughter and I wouldn't get a real picture of what she did? Would I be appalled or even angry at her approach? Would I even be able to finish the book or would I be as bothered as other people were (other people who, in many cases, hadn't even read the book and were throwing out their judgement)?
These concerns came from, not comments people made about her, but her own contradictions between how she presented things in the article to how things came across in the snippets from the book. Truthfully, I can't say how much she toned things down for the book, but given how nuts people went after the article came out in Vogue, I can't blame her if she did. So many people seem to use the (semi-)anonymous internet as a means to act very hurtfully. (I hope nothing I wrote previously was hurtful!)
But I digress. Back to the book.
We see around us on a daily basis the struggle adults have with their own weight, of trying to lose even just 5 or 10 pounds. It is no easy feat for many and to maintain the weight loss is even harder. Some don't succeed at all, despite trying many different things.
So, what do you do if it is your young child with the weight problem and needs to lose closer to 20 pounds over the course of a year to be a healthy weight? Or rather, how easy is it going to be to make the weight loss happen?
And that is what The Heavy is all about.
Dara-Lynn Weiss shares in this book how she dealt with her young daughter's weight problem, but also to my surprise so much more: How inconsistent society can be with their expectations and judgements, how a woman (her) with her own body image issues (and some somewhat-admitted neuroticism) finds herself struggling with helping her daughter get to a healthier weight, how schools determine what should be in cafeteria lunches, how a family deals with the situation of one child having to watch what she eats while the other doesn't need such attention and more. It is not a book telling people how to help their overweight child lose weight; in fact, she is quite honest and open at times about how she wondered if what she was doing was the right thing and feels she's in no place to actually guide someone else through the process. She feels her approach worked in the end but does not in any way suggest that all parents with overweight children ought to do the same. At the heart of it is the story of a real mother dealing with the real struggles of helping her overweight child attain a healthy weight and all the ups and downs that came with it.
It is so easy for many of us, especially those of us with kids who don't have weight problems, to "know" how to fix Weiss's problem. "You just do this, or that and it will work." Well, she thought she knew, too, and it didn't work. Weiss found herself faced with a 7-year old, food-loving child with weight that kept going up. The turning point happened when her daughter's blood pressure was officially high. A 7-year old with high blood pressure? I think any parent reading could relate to the fear that that could instill. Children aren't supposed to have high blood pressure. It's "supposed" to be a worry for us adults, not our kids. And that is when Weiss's, and her daughter's, journey began.
One important truth Weiss brings up in her book over and over, because it kept happening to her over and over, is how judged parents can be and just stuck no matter what they do. What she found consistently is if someone's child is overweight and they allow them to eat certain foods, they are just as judged when they put their foot down and don't allow the child to have "just one more cupcake" at a birthday party or things like that. "You're damned if you do and damned if you don't" was very much her experience time and time again. I can only imagine how frustrating it was for her, trying to do her best to help her daughter get to a healthy weight while getting looks for giving her calorie-reduced items (like diet pop or 100-calorie snack packs--approved on the nutritionist-designed plan) and turning around and being berated for not letting her daughter have extra dessert with far more calories. What we let our children eat or not eat seems to be more emotionally charged than many other parenting issues. (Anybody catch the reaction people were having to Gwyneth Paltrow writing about what her children don't eat? Yikes.)
Did her approach really work toward healthy eating? No. Absolutely not. But that's not what the book is about, so as much as I urgh over her approach--which she didn't even design--I liked the rest of the book too much to not declare it a book worth reading. The program she followed is all about calorie restriction and learning to figure out what you will eat at any given moment based on what you've eaten during the day and what you anticipate eating, kind of Weight Watchers-like. Part of me wants to find fault with this, especially in having an 8/9-year old girl (as her daughter is by the end of the book) master this, and yet, is that not what I do on a daily basis with my fruits and vegetables consumption? Or when I'm trying to watch my intake of grains? Or when I find I'm going crazy with sweets? I can not find fault with her on this without my being a bit hypocritical. Her daughter was able to eat and eat and eat, regardless of whether it was healthy or not; she did need to learn to curb that tendency and focusing on the calories definitely helped that.
Did Weiss's daughter have to go on a serious calorie focus to learn to eat just one cupcake now and then rather than two at every chance? No, probably not. Did her daughter's weight qualify to treat it as though she were a diabetic or food-allergic? No, I don't think so, but that's where some of the neuroticism comes in a bit. Could her daughter have done better with something else that focused more on healthy eating and less on being concerned with trying to get the extra weight off by an arbitrarily decided deadline and trying to make the daughter feel "normal"? Perhaps. But, I'm not Dara-Lynn Weiss, I don't have children who have ever had the love of food her daughter does, and I'm not living in a situation with an overweight young child who likes to (over)eat and where there are birthday parties at school almost every week where the amount of food consumption goes unchecked and pizza Fridays and so forth for her to engage in.
Could Weiss have done things differently? Yes. Might they have been better? Who knows? In the end, none of us is perfect, we don't know for sure what would have worked for this family and we have, really, no right to expect a mom to do the perfect thing or even to know what "the right" thing to do is all the time. Should she have continued to not do anything because of her neuroticism and just let her daughter's weight get even more out of control? "No, but she should/could have...," I can hear someone saying. No, no, no! Of course she could have done this, that or the other but to pretend there is one single way to help a child in this situation that we all should know about and we ought to be judged for not living up to that standard is completely unfair to everybody. She did the best she could with the knowledge she had. We can come up with ideas of what we would do or suggest to someone in that situation, but we really need to learn to back off and stop thinking our ideas are what others should do in such situations.
Many of us spend so much of our lives being aghast at the imperfection of people's emotions and choices and forget to look in the mirror sometime. Her story was a good one to remind me to not get on my high horse and look down upon her. Because, after all, she is just another mom like me: imperfect and doing the best she can with what she knows and can do with her kids. Really, can we ask more of her?
Could I write a post about all of my disagreements with her thinking and approach, with my concerns about how her daughter will turn out? Absolutely. But I can appreciate her story all the while disagreeing with her.
Read the book. You don't need to agree with her approach nor be unconcerned about her views at times. But the book is not about the approach. Read it because she's an imperfect parent daring to be open and imperfect in a time where we are so easily critical of imperfect parents (and people) and it's actually refreshing to see that someone else is imperfect, too.