Author Dara-Lynn Weiss’ airs her dirty linen in public in a controversial new memoir, “The Heavy: A Mother, A Daughter, A Diet.” She shines the light on a most important topic: How can we prevent our kids from becoming overweight? The Heavy chronicles the journey of a mother’s struggle to help her young daughter to get healthy. We first met Dara-Lynn and her daughter, Bea, last April in a Vogue essay from the overbearing mom’s point of view. Bea was deprived and publically shamed. It wasn’t pretty. The blogs condemned mom.
For sure, we need extensive interventions to curb the childhood obesity epidemic, but does the solution lie in a rescue by mom as the food police? The research does not agree. Dietitian Evelyn Tribole, co-author of the book Intuitive Eating, outlines the studies nicely in this video, Warning Dieting Causes Weight Gain.
She shows how the act of dieting, independent of genetics, is a cause of overweight. Deprivation diets can lead to food obsession, binge-eating, and more weight gain. Dieting is passed down from mothers to daughters. Dara-Lynn had strange practices of her own with frequent weigh-ins and juice cleanses to keep the numbers in line. Studies show that a mother’s over-concern about her own size is later expressed in her daughter’s negative body image and feelings of low self-worth.
Parental role modeling influences a child’s eating patterns in positive or negative ways. During the early years, children learn what, when, and how much to eat based on family beliefs and behaviors. Effective parents model sitting down to cooked meals, eating vegetables and fruit, choosing milk over soda, and playing outside in the fresh air. Research shows that strict limits on “bad” food only increase the desire for more. Better to buy fewer sweets than trying to control intake.
Dara-Lynn’s little Bea “lived to eat” and she became fat. Some people are just wired like that. Parents are responsible for providing healthy food but children determine how much they will eat. Dara-Lynn’s struggles began when she tried to control the portions. Better to minimize temptation by leading a less fancy life.
Children, and all people, have an internal appetite control system that works well unless upset by exposure to sugary foods. Children who are offered wholesome foods learn to regulate their intake. The system falls apart with repeated exposure to sweets. Parents need to keep themselves and their kids on a regular schedule and a diet of food that is wholesome, balanced, and somewhat plain. Turn off the TV to encourage mindfulness. With adequate exercise, children gravitate to their personal best weight. Parents must then choose to be pleased, whether or not they prefer the aesthetics.
In the end, little Bea did lose weight. But every yo-yo dieter has intervals of being slim.