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On thin ice

Author's exercise in parental tough love sure to raise some readers' ire

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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 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 recalls 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-foot-four 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.

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

When a Starbucks barista informs Weiss that 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 was important. Consistency for consistency's sake was an important part of it," she says.

In The Heavy, the 41-year-old is candid about her own weight struggles, from experimenting with laxatives 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. 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."

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, 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 says.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 7, 2013 C6

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