The Heavy

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I almost called this post “How to Give Your Kid an Eating Disorder.” I was turned off by the title of this book: “The Heavy: A Mother, A Daughter, A Diet.” I had a lot of mixed feelings about this book and the topics it brought up. I don’t know if there is a way to discuss the book without coming across as judgmental. So I want to start off by apologizing if I sound that way.

My mixed feelings were hard to decipher. I like weight loss memoirs and as someone who has lost 100 pounds, I can relate to the journey. You would think I’d love this book. Unfortunately, I did not.

The book is about a mother who has an obese child. Bea is about 6 or 7 in the beginning of the book and is classified by her doctor as obese. That’s pretty heavy for a 6 year old. I could relate to Bea feeling self-conscious, embarrassed and sad because of teasing. I wasn’t overweight as a kid–even though I THOUGHT I was. I didn’t gain weight and actually qualify as “overweight” until I was about 17.

“For the prior three decades, I had not attended a party, sat down to a meal, gone to the bathroom, or been physically ill without, on some level, silently calculating how that action would affect my weight. I’d be miserable with the flu, but a little voice inside of me would see the silver lining that the loss of appetite I was suffering meant I might be losing weight.  [pg 28]”

That above quote was by the author, the mother. She went on to describe pretty disordered eating patterns that she had most of her life…juice cleanses, fasting to drop weight quickly, etc etc. She talks about how she struggled with being overweight but she was 115 POUNDS instead of 100. What?!?! What kind of delusions is this woman under? 115 pounds?

“While the occasional peculiarities of my diet weren’t causing me serious physical harm. Bea’s way of eating was legitimately dangerous. She was on track to spend her life being overweight and battling the problems that come with it: high blood pressure, diabetes, difficulty moving, heart disease, poor self-esteem, social isolation, depression. [pg 30]”

This broke my heart so much. I found myself getting really angry with the mother. And this is where the judgmental attitude comes across. I kept thinking “what kind of mother lets her 6 year old daughter eat so much she’s OBESE?”

“But occasionally I’d give in to her please for a square of coffee cake, mainly because I wanted to eat half of it. [pg 33]”

Okay, I know what you’re thinking. Where were MY parents? Trust me, they were there as I was gaining my weight. I think it was the approach and what my parents said that made me rebel and do the exact opposite than what they wanted. I felt criticized and judged; I felt shamed and restricted. I never felt like I was taught the right way to eat, or portion control; I was just taught “food is bad” and food was something to be hidden. Also, to be fair, I was already an adult and moved out of the house when I truly gained the bulk of my weight. That wasn’t really in my parent’s control. I don’t fault them for that, maybe just their approach.

But what about the mother in this book? Was she not aware that her very young daughter was gaining weight so quickly? It was also a turn off that the writer apparently thought her and her husband were perfect parents in every way.

“Jeff strongly believed that the whole family should be in it together. It shouldn’t just be Bea who went to nutrition doctor appointments and adhered to a new eating plan. It should be all of us. So that Bea wouldn’t feel singled out… [pg 42]”

 

This was actually good. I was glad that the husband suggested the whole family do the weight loss plan together. I think that’s how it should be. It should be a family goal to be healthy and everyone should support each other. I don’t think one family member should be singled out and SHAMED. But of course Bea still felt singled out because her younger brother got to eat a lot more food than she did.

I really hope that someday when I have kids I can teach them healthy eating and exercise without giving them a complex. I don’t want to shame them, or teach them that foods are bad, or make them feel self-conscious about their bodies. I want them to be healthy like I am now.

“‘I want to be able to do it myself,’ she whimpered. ‘I know I need to lose weight, but I wish I could just do it myself.’ [pg 46]”

She’s SEVEN. Seven years old. That’s a weird statement for a seven year old to make. Are they even aware of something like that at that age? I sure wasn’t.

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The mother listed out the foods on their new “diet” and one thing that stood out was that her son ate a slice of pizza for an afternoon snack and Bea had homemade s’mores (two chocolate graham crackers and a marshmallow toasted in the oven). “They were delicious and she ate them almost every day. [pg 61]” Hmmm…I don’t know about those snack choices for a pre-dinner meal. Something about it just rubs me the wrong way.

Mid-way through the book, Dara-Lynn said she bought some sugar-free whipped cream to top strawberries with for only 20 calories. She was so excited about it and it made me wretch. Again, I used to be the person that are tons of processed junk food, then I was the person who ate processed LOW-CALORIE junk. Basically, food with chemicals. I’m not that person anymore so the idea of giving a kid fake food filled with chemicals is just gross to me.

“Instead of looking for whole grains and organic ingredients, I now compared calorie content, fat grams and portion sizes….I wasn’t happy that the reduce calorie content also brought with it maltodextrin, aspartame, artificial flavors, red 40, yellow 6 and blue 1. But I accepted them because the snack better served the purposes of our larger goal. [pg 84]”

How do you feel about that statement? Do you disagree or agree it was the right move?

There was a part in the book where Bea had a bunch of treats and food at a school festival and when she got home, the mom made her eat a light dinner. It was a salad with nonfat dressing and fruit for dessert. I felt badly for Bea. Her mom wasn’t teaching her how to eat in a healthy way, she was teaching her that if you go over your calorie allotment for a meal you need to starve yourself at the next meal!

“It was the most severe food-cutting move I’d ever considered, but I went ahead with it. I knew she had ingested more than enough food to make it through the rest of the day. A child who eats 700-800 extra calories at lunch is not going to starve to death if she does not get dinner. [pg 144]”

She then says “The efforts I had to take to steer Bea through these obstacles were overwhelming. I hadn’t signed up for this. [pg 145]” What? Yes you did! You signed up for this when you decided to have children. Parents are supposed to teach their kids to exercise, eat healthy, know their manners and abc’s. It’s all part of it. School certainly doesn’t teach kids the right way to eat. TV doesn’t. Their friends don’t. I so don’t get this woman!

Saturday mornings was when Bea weighed in. She woke up and was hungry and the mother said “Pee, take off your clothes, and weigh yourself first. [pg 161]” The kid threw a tantrum, saying she didn’t want to weigh herself and the mom said “Sorry, you have to.” Man is that disordered. She also ranted about how almonds, yogurt and salmon were unhealthy.

If you can’t tell, I pretty much hated this book. While I found some interesting things in it here and there, most of it made me really angry and really sad for this girl growing up with an unhealthy mindset about food. There was so much about this book that disturbed me and I didn’t even go into it all.

QUESTION: Have you read this book? What did you think?

35 Responses

  1. Wow, I have not read this book but just reading your recaps and quotes makes me kind of want to hate the mom. I understand that childhood obesity is becoming a HUGE problem nowadays and I do firmly believe that it is the parents responsibility to prevent that – I would say until the age where kids start driving and you loose control over where they are all the time. But I don’t think it should be about “dieting” and calorie counting, it should be about teaching your kids healthy eating habits. The part you mentioned about the highly processed low-calories foods really struck a cord with me. It bothers me so much when parents (or just regular adults) go to these foods because they are “better” than the high calorie processed foods…but they don’t realize all the awful chemicals and such poor nutritional content (outside of calories) that they have. Foods that are low calorie, but offer poor nutrition, are just as bad! Instead of teaching America to diet and calorie count and deprive themselves, we should be focused on clean and healthy eating – nutritious, whole foods.

    I feel like this mother hasn’t taught her daughter anything except how to deprive herself and to have a horrible self-image.
    Logan @ Mountains and Miles recently posted..Race Report: Marine Corps 17.75k

    1. Thank you for the insightful comment, Logan. I felt the same way. I think parents can prevent childhood obesity if they give their kids tools to figure out what is healthy. I consider myself fairly smart and I seriously had no idea what a serving size was or what healthy eating was until I was in my 20’s and trying to lose weight. I just didn’t know!

      I definitely ate the low calorie processed stuff in order to manage my calories. It didn’t take long for me to figure out that it wasn’t healthy.

  2. I have not read this book but man I don’t think I could at all, what a distorted, emotionally scarred relationship with her body and eating habits this little girl is going to grow up with. I was not taught healthy food choices or portion control or proper physical activity as a child but my mother NEVER made me feel that I was not good enough or unloved, confidence and acceptance of who you are as a person should be valued more than what you eat and how much you weigh. I am totally on the same page as you with all of this! how awful
    Robyn recently posted..Eight Weight Loss Essentials

  3. After reading this, all I can say is “Wow!” I know for me, my parents didn’t have a lot of extra money so we didn’t have cake, cookies, treats that my friends did. So when I got access to them, I ate all I could and then some! But I was a four season athlete, and at the time, I could eat a Suzy-Q for breakfast with a coke, have pizza for lunch and chinese for dinner – no problem!

    It wasn’t until I got a desk job after college that I gained my weight – about 75 pounds in two years!
    Biz recently posted..Turns out my hair is too thin to look like Jody Foster.

    1. I’m with you Biz–my parents were super strict with food and didn’t have the “fun” junk food in the house, so I ate it in spades when I went to friends’s houses.

  4. Oh man, this is maddening. I think about this a lot because I got a lot of effed up messages, and I’m still trying to figure out how I could have made it through better. My stepfather used to tease me about my fat thighs but would then wake us up and make us eat ice cream sundaes that he had so thoughtfully gone out and gotten for us – so that he could eat ice cream. If we didn’t want it, we were “ungrateful.” That’s effed up.

    I think as a kid, if your parents are screwed up, you’re kinda effed until you’re old enough to figure it out for yourself and get the help/education you need unless someone intervenes. Sad fact of life.

    1. Wow, that’s so sad about your step dad. Sounds like a very codependent, sabotaging thing. He could eat ice cream without giving you a freakin’ complex. I’m so sorry you went through that. Stuff like that sticks with you.

  5. I haven’t read the book but based on the quotes you shared, the subtitle definitely should be “how to give your child an eating disorder.” How long before Bea is sneaking and hoarding food? Or becomes one of those girls who has just a yogurt and a diet coke for lunch?

    What I really can’t believe is that this mother thinks nothing of giving her kids s’mores or pizza for a snack but turns down a salad with eggs, tuna and (gasp!) olive oil for a dressing when offered to Bea. Where did this woman get her whacked sense of nutrition? Do the kids eat fruits and veggies? Or is a banana too fattening?

    Does Bea ever go for family walks or bike rides or hikes? Is she in sports or dance?

    Ack. I have all these questions but I don’t want to read the book! LOL

    I can’t believe this mother wrote a book and thinks she’s done something good for her kid.
    Christi in MA recently posted..Ten on Tuesday – Random Edition

    1. I know!!! You bring up so many good issues.
      1) Good point on hoarding. The severe restriction and shaming is what lead me to hide food and binge. I see the same thing happening to Bea.

      2) Agree 100% that the mom has some wacky ideas on what is healthy. It really bothered me that she wouldn’t allow them to have avocados or salmon because they were too “Fattening.” Nuts.

      3) I don’t remember if there was an physical activity done as a family or if Bea did it on her own.

  6. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on this book. I haven’t read it, and don’t plan on it as I think it would just make me way too angry. I was about Bea’s age when my weight started to be an issue, so I have a soft spot for kids dealing with being overweight, and it just breaks my heart to think of the damage that’s already been done to this little girl’s self-image and relationship with food. I wasn’t terribly overweight until I was in my early 20’s, but always seemed to struggle with losing 20-30 pounds from the time I was 7 until I graduated from high school. But thanks to my parents and my pediatrician (he was an ass) I learned to be ashamed of how I looked from a very early age, and my weight became my identity..still is, but I’m working on it. My weight and food issues are similar, I’m sure, to many others here, so I won’t go into all the details here, but will just say that parents need to realize how impressionable and sensitive kids are, and need to understand how the things they say stick with their kids for a life time.
    LisaH recently posted..veggie fried quinoa

    1. Yes, weight and weight loss as your identity was how I grew up as well. I’m sorry you had a similar experience. Shaming just does not work. When will people realize?

  7. Blergh computer error. My parents put me on a diet when I was in middle school. I was probably 30 pounds overweight…but in the next few years I grew…oh approximately 10 inches. I think that really screwed me up, because before that I ate like a normal kid and after that I always saw myself as fat (always will). I’ve never been considered obese, but I have been “overweight” for most of my adult life. I have a really hard time separately emotion from eating, especially sadness and shame. I wouldn’t want to read the book you reviewed, and I don’t know how I would raise my children. I’d like to think I would encourage healthy, wholesome eating, since I know I feel best when I do that…and movement/exercise is wonderful. But it is so tough.
    hannah recently posted..Summertime…and the livin’ is easy

  8. I did not read this book but did see numerous segments where she went against a panel of health professionals and parent groups bashing her for this. No one mentioned the things she wrote about. At first I thought no big deal, she put her kid on a healthy eating track and wrote a book about it. Knowing what you’ve read, she’s off her rocker.

    I went through a ‘fat’ stage at age 15 (mainly gained weight before my height could catch up) and was treated horribly by both parents and siblings. The fact that I came out of that phase without an eating disorder sometimes amazes me.

    I think parents need to realize the emotional scars their kids will have from this will never go away.

    1. It amazes me that THIS book got published, especially when she was not popular with healthy professionals and parents.

      I’m glad you didn’t come out of your teens with an eating disorder and I’m glad your parents didn’t influence that. Hopefully the scars are dull and don’t effect your life now.

  9. “Fear that she did more harm than good” – I should hope so! The sad thing is that this is probably common place around America today. People have no idea what healthy eating and living is. The worse part is how these habits are passed down to the younger generations. I have to admit, I grew up eating crap and the only way I could get away with it was I was into athletics so my metabolism was souped up, but the minute I had a knee injury and could not be as active, I ballooned upward. It would have been nice to learn to eat healthy from the beginning.

    1. I think they should have more athletic options for kids who don’t want to do group sports. That’s what held me back. I didn’t want to do group activities for fear of being picked last!

  10. I have not read the book but I did see an interview with her (was it on Dr Oz?) where she talked a bit about the book and the diet. The mother admits to having battled all kinds of weight issues as a kid and adult and how she wanted better for her daughter.

    While I won’t say I agree with all / any of her methods, a couple things do strike me as positive. First, she was doing what she could to tackle the obesity issue. It wasn’t the mother diagnosing her daughter as obese, but a Dr. So we’re not looking at a mother who vainly thinks her daughter should be willowy instead of pudgy here.

    Knowledge comes to people at different times. We all cringe on her choice of health foods (highly processed garbage) but the reality is MOST people eat that type of stuff and think it is the better of the two evils. Most people are not that knowledgeable. Sometimes I take that for granted based on what I know only to realize most of my co-workers thrive on sugar-free, fat-free desserts and culinary creations. That’s why the market is so big. I can’t fault her for that because at one point I did the same things too.

    I suppose I’d rather have a parent who cared enough about me to make it a family priority. Of course there are all kinds of self-esteem issues, etc that go along with being overweight and being on a diet and I think it’s better that the girl’s parents were doing something. So often you hear about people doing nothing – is that better?

    Had I been the mother I wouldn’t have written a book about that. Not only does that open her up to a high level of scrutiny but I wonder what it does for the daughter (moreso than the actual dieting) to have it all splashed over kingdom come. To be honest, that bothers me more than anything else she did.
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    1. Thank you for another viewpoint.

      You are right and the author never implied in the book that it was HER diagnosis of obesity. It was definitely the doctor that brought it to her attention and while I disagree with most of her methods, it’s good she was addressing it. Too many people stick their heads in the sand until it’s too late. (i.e. ME!)

      Healthy eating and exercise should definitely be a family priority and I didn’t disagree with that part of the book. What I disagreed with was the emotional toil, the shaming, the restriction…

  11. I DID read this book a few months ago because I too have a daughter (7 then and recently turned 8) who was almost the same size as Bea. My daughter packed on almost 10 lbs over the recent holiday season and I was really concerned. Before I began reading the book, my daughter and I began a quest of “healthy eating”. The word fat was never used, however, we had frank discussions about how we could be healthier and what healthy choices would be. We both took up swimming at the pool in our local gym which became a fun mother/daughter thing. We switched out cookies etc. (when did I start buying all that crap anyway?) for fruit and yogurt and veggies. I began making lunches everyday instead of the hot lunches the school provides (btw, those turned out to be the biggest culprit in her bad eating choices). Interestingly, her friends at school became envious of her cold lunches wishing they had cucumber slices to dip in lowfat ranch or the lowfat mac n cheese packed in a thermos. She lost 10 lbs in a month just reducing portions (no seconds or thirds at dinner), reducing processed foods to almost none and some moderate exercise. We did weigh ourselves every few weeks which were super exciting moments full of high fives and excitement. If she had a party to go to I did not restrict her from joining in the festivities, food etc. I absolutely did not want her feeling deprived. Btw, I ended up losing 25 lbs too so it was really a win/win for us both!

    All that being said, I read this book out of curiosity and was so angry by the time I was finished!!! The few things that really just irked me were, as you said, the processed crap food she was feeding her daughter and so proud of herself for calorie counting. The unlimited fruit concept was ridiculous. When in life is anything unlimited? Anything in excess is NOT a good thing. The mom would whine for pages at a time about how “starved” her child was and would perpetuate the unhealthy mindset that her kid must eat constantly. I remember one part where she gave her daughter a banana and I believe some nuts or something as an after school snack and then a few minutes later on the way to the dietician’s office for a weigh in the child was “starving” and stopped off to buy her a ridiculously huge portion of watermelon. I think it was something like 12 or 16 oz. of cut watermelon. I mean seriously? I just wanted to scream at the book…tell her no!!! Use your brain lady…sometimes you just have to tell a child no. Ugh…I think I’m all over the map even trying to articulate my point here and just writing this has my blood pressure rising lol. Don’t even get me started about her policing her daughter at birthday parties and such and actually being irritated at others for feeding her daughter. I’m surprised she didn’t just plunk down a sign where ever her daughter went that read “DONT FEED THE CHILD”…(kinda like don’t feed the bears). Suffice it to say, I think this woman did WAY more harm than good and while I do believe her daughter was overweight and it needed to be addressed, I definitely felt there was just as much impetus to soothe the mother’s vanity.

    1. YAY! I am so glad someone who read the book commented. I want to talk to someone about this book so badly but I also didn’t want to make someone read it and get them as angry as I was!

      I think it’s great you were proactive with your daughter and never used the word fat. I think that’s such a horrible word that demoralizes. I love that you made swimming together a mother daughter thing. What you did is exactly what I was wanting to do with my future kids. Give them a healthy example, encourage better choices, without giving them a complex.

      Congrats on losing weight too!

      I’m with you…I had a hard time articulating what I found so offensive about the book…it was just so much that rubbed me the wrong way. I was angry the entire time I read it and when I was done I felt sad for Bea because her mother did so much damage to her. In my opinion, of course.

      Thanks again for your comment.

      1. I saw your heading and I felt the same way…lol…YAY!!! I’m dying to hear someone else’s take on this horrid book!! I actually called friends, etc. complaining about this book, which they hadn’t read, because I was so appalled and frustrated 🙂 Let’s never set a lunch date with this book as the subject of conversation…I fear we’d never make it home again.

        1. I did the same. I complained to my boyfriend (i.e ranted) and he said “Why are you reading it?” LOL

          I think if set a lunch date re:this book we’d end up rioting at the author’s house. 🙂

      2. Jen, I’m glad to hear that you were able to help your daughter in a sensible way. You seem to have done what I have heard is a healthy approach — and it worked!! Another thing that frustrated me about The Heavy was the mom’s dismissal of exercise. The stupidest comment she made on that topic was that she understood that you should exercise if you have heart disease …. Seriously, isn’t it too late then? (Well, not really too late, but don’t you exercise to avoid getting heart disease?)

        I do hate that school lunches are so unhealthy. My son’s middle school had “double dessert day” every Friday. What the heck? And my daughter usually ate pizza and fries because those lines were shorter — and there was no one to remind her that she could grab an apple for no extra charge.
        Coco recently posted..Book Review: The Heavy By Dara-Lynn Weiss

    2. I’m so glad you told me about your review. You went into more detail than I did. I pretty much agree with your points. I had a hard time getting my head around the fact that Bea was just 7 and being forced to face the scale and have her mom’s mood depend on what the number said. Also, even though the Dad said they would be in it together in the beginning, didn’t he drop out? And the son never had to eat healthier, did he?
      Coco recently posted..Book Review: The Heavy By Dara-Lynn Weiss

  12. I’m so glad you told me about your review. You went into more detail than I did. I pretty much agree with your points. I had a hard time getting my head around the fact that Bea was just 7 and being forced to face the scale and have her mom’s mood depend on what the number said. Also, even though the Dad said they would be in it together in the beginning, didn’t he drop out? And the son never had to eat healthier, did he?
    Coco recently posted..Book Review: The Heavy By Dara-Lynn Weiss

    1. The brother was underweight, if I remember correctly, and was a really picky eater (only wanted to eat the same 5 things). They mentioned him once in awhile but not much. What bothered me was how Bea felt singled out because her brother didn’t have a strict diet like she did.

      Glad I found your review of this book!

  13. I am late to this conversation, but I requested this book from the library based on this blog entry, and I just finished it. I’m the mother of a 7 year-old who is not obese, but loves to eat, and a 3 year old boy who like the brother in the book is not as “into” eating. Enabling my daughter to eat healthy and get enough activity takes a huge commitment on my part and often I feel as if my husband and I are the only ones that love her enough to try to keep her healthy. So many others (family members, babysitters, even schools) want to spoil kids with food treats because it is an easy way to keep them entertained.

    The thing I did relate to in this book is how much food is available to kids. I’m not that restrictive…I just try to keep things reasonable and sometimes I feel like I’m fighting a losing battle against the birthday cupcakes, grandmother over-feeding, school cafeteria,summer camp, junk food excess. Somewhere along the way, we started worrying too much about our kids going to play outside, and not worrying enough about all the food they are surrounded by. Even organized programs for kids do it. I could not believe the food described in that summer camp in the book. I was a kid who loved to eat, and I remember losing weight as a kid at summer camp because the food was awful and I still had a great time and wanted to go back!

    I also read your comment above about more non-team activities for kids. I couldn’t agree more. Not being the “best” athletic was a stigma I carried through college that kept me from the joy of being active, which I finally discovered in my mid-late twenties. Now I’m in my later 30s and I’m so glad that activity is a part of my life.

    Anyway, I love your blog and I think you are a terrific example of a truly healthy person!

    1. Thank you for your input and taking the time to give your opinion on the book. I commend you for being committed to giving your kids healthy choices. I don’t have kids but I am around kids and I see the stuff their parents give them to eat.And then after school sports the treats are like candy and stuff. Things with lots of sugar and processing. It’s sad. I think things will change if more parents get on board with choosing healthier options.

      What kind of activities do your kids like if it’s not team sports? Like for me it was swimming. I loved that. My boyfriend wants to put our future kids in martial arts and I’m totally good with that. I think ANY activity is good!

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