Return of the Monster Mom

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Remember Dara-Lynn Weiss, who was called “Monster-Mutter #1” by a German newspaper, and lots of other uncomplimentary names by the press all over the world? This was last spring, when Vogue magazine published what Weiss wrote about childhood obesity in regard to her own daughter Bea, and how she put the girl on a diet at age 7.

Her program was loosely based on that of Dr. Joanna Dolgoff, who distanced herself by saying that her ideas had been misunderstood and misapplied.

Well, Weiss is back, with a book called The Heavy, which is a venerable film industry term for “the bad guy,” a very appropriate choice. And of course it is about weight, the issue that made Weiss the target of so much criticism, and initiated what Deirdre Donahue characterizes as a raging debate.

And indeed, the memoir’s author told the USA TODAY reporter:

It’s not really about weight loss. It’s more about the challenge of modern parenting where decisions are judged so readily.

At the same time, she says, it is the story of a difficult decision prompted by parental love. Even in preschool, Weiss says, Bea “approached food differently,” and was too frequent a visitor to the snack table. By the age of 7, she was in the obese range, almost 30 pounds overweight.

In her own family, as she grew up, Dara-Lynn readily admits that she was the sibling with the warped relationship to food and body image, always thinking she was too big, and always struggling with some reducing diet or other. Her two sisters, she says, had a “normal” relationship with food.

And what about Bea’s father? If Bea has any fat genes, they came from his side of the family, or so Weiss broadly hints.

Having an overweight daughter made Weiss feel as if her friends were looking down their noses at her. Fat daughter = bad mother, is how the stereotype goes. Donahue’s interview with Weiss is presented in question-and-answer format, and here is one of the pairs:

Q. The biggest surprise in the book was how you were doing everything right. Your family ate home-cooked dinners together. You picked your kids up at school because you work part-time from home. As New Yorkers, you walk everywhere. Her friends were all skinny. How could your daughter have a weight issue?

A. This was not a lazy child. She didn’t eat unhealthy food. People make assumptions about obese children or their parents. She was a child with an enormous appetite… She has a brother a year younger, same parents, same food, who doesn’t want to eat sweets.

No one can accuse Weiss of neglect, or of failure to make an attempt at providing a healthful food environment. And still the daughter was obese and the mother felt judged. Then, when she tried to fix it, the whole world came down on her. Where is the justice?

The author of The Heavy learned one thing — an article about putting your child on a diet attracts more emotional and negative reaction by appearing in a fashion magazine than it would have done in the pages of a more domestic- and parenting-oriented publication. On the home front, the Weiss advice for parents of obese children is to not ignore the problem or hope it will just go away. Sometimes, she says, parental love involves “being the heavy and doing unpopular things that you know are right,” and goes on to describe one of the changes a conscientious parent will make:

Let’s bake cookies! Let’s go get cupcakes. It’s a real switch — a challenge — to think, let’s go play in the park but not to bring a picnic or to go the movies and not get a big bag of popcorn.

The obstacles that obese children and their parents are up against are unthinkable. You don’t know the access children have to food, the size of the portions, the numbers of times a day that you are presented with food because it’s a celebration or a reward. It’s so difficult to be part of the event but not to allow food to be involved.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “In ‘The Heavy,’ Dara-Lynn Weiss on childhood obesity,” USA TODAY, 01/15/13
Image by Oneras (Mario Antonio Pena Zapateria).

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OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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