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Mom who wrote of putting 7-year-old on diet feared further backlash with memoir

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TORONTO - Dara-Lynn Weiss was initially thrilled by the chance to write an article for Vogue magazine about how she helped her seven-year-old daughter lose 16 pounds.

But instead of celebrating the publication of her story in the April 2012 issue, Weiss was bowled over by the intense backlash and torrent of criticism in response to the article.

With plans already in the works to devote an entire memoir to the subject, the decision of whether to proceed with the project at all weighed heavily on the mother of two.

"There were many days where I said: `Nope, I'm not putting myself through this, I'm not putting my family through this,'" Weiss recalled in a recent interview. "I think what I have to say is very important, but I don't want to be the lightning rod for this incredibly sensitive issue and subject myself to all this backlash in the name of being honest.

"I really had to push myself to say, `You're already out there. This story is already out there.'"

"The Heavy" (Ballantine Books) offers an unflinching portrait of Weiss and her unconventional approach to helping her daughter, Bea, in her battle against childhood obesity.

Bea was four feet, four inches and weighed 93 pounds when Weiss decided to help her daughter shed pounds through a strictly regimented, calorie-counting diet. But she adopted strategies some may perceive as unorthodox, such as incorporating processed foods into the mix.

Weiss wrote of giving Bea a 100-calorie pack of yogurt-covered pretzels during a playdate, refusing a fellow parent's offer of a more nutritious cereal bar because it packed a greater caloric punch.

When a Starbucks barista informs Weiss that the calorie count of Bea's hot chocolate with whipped cream comes to 240 calories, she takes the half-consumed beverage and tosses it in the trash.

"There were moments I could have relented and let her have that little extra thing that would have made her happy, that would have made my job easier," said Weiss. "But in the long run (it) would have absolutely ensured that we did not get her healthy — I won't say ever. But certainly within the year it took.

"She was looking to me to set the limits and if some days I said, `OK' and some days I didn't, I lose authority very quickly as a parent. And that that was important. Consistency for consistency's sake was an important part of it. So that's how I approached it," she added.

"Indeed, any one given situation made very little difference in the big picture. But the cumulative effect of all of those moments was very powerful, both in terms of her food consumption and my management and parenting and the issue."

The 41-year-old is candid in "The Heavy" of her own weight struggles, from experimenting with laxatives in her teens to dabbling in various diets.

"I couldn't not parent around this issue because I had my own issues," said Weiss. "I did my best to improve my eating habits, to improve how I talked to myself about my weight. But the hardest thing to do was just to talk about this at all.

"When Bea was in a situation where we had to talk about this, I was very worried about my competence to do that," she added. "And I can only say I do my best, and if people that think my issues seep into my parenting around this issue, they're probably right. But I don't know how else to do it."

Weiss said she has given thought to how her now nine-year-old-daughter will feel about the publication of such an intensely personal story.

She said she believes and hopes that when Bea revisits the book when she's older that she will be "incredibly proud" of how her mother depicted her and how Weiss was able to help her lose weight.

"I think there are a million ways that I come off questionably in this story, but that Bea only comes off as inspirational and amazing and the great kid that she is," she said.

"(I) hope that at that point there isn't any shame around childhood obesity; that it's treated as a problem and a disease, and one that needs support. But that the idea that declaring that a child is struggling with obesity is not something that anyone would think needs to be kept private or secret; that it's treated as a medical condition."

While she braced for a second wave of backlash with the release of "The Heavy," Weiss said she feels the "support versus criticism" balance has shifted since the release of the Vogue article, saying the memoir is a more nuanced look into the process.

She acknowledges not everyone will agree with her approach or methodology. But she hopes the takeway from "The Heavy" is for parents to realize not everyone will see eye-to-eye with their child-rearing approaches — regardless of the matter at hand.

"You're not always going to make decisions that make your children happy in that moment and that's what being a parent is. It's not always fun. It's not always easy," Weiss said.

"Being imperfect and being willing to be unpopular are part of doing the right thing," she added. "I hope that people will be inspired by this to make mistakes and do the tough thing when they know that's the best thing for their kids."

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