How a Mother Taught Her Daughter to Eat Like a Slim Person

Ranked #5,364 in Books, Poetry & Writing, #129,194 overall

Just mention that you are reading a book about a mother who puts her obese seven-year-old daughter on a diet and you’ll get a lot of (negative) comments from people who insist they would never read such a book. However, the book addresses not only how difficult it is to diet in a culture where we surround ourselves with food, but how miserable it is to impose constraints on children whose world revolves around cupcakes in school for every classmate who has a birthday and other “special” opportunities to eat.

Your hackles may already be up after reading that a mother put her seven-year-old, Bea, on a diet. Isn’t that giving the child unhealthy issues about food and body image? But, Bea’s doctor labeled her as obese with blood pressure of 124 over 80. Mom, Dara-Lynn, looked at her daughter’s health and realized that Bea was heading down a path that could only get worse if mom didn’t step in and change her daughter’s food habits.

The funny thing is, Dara-Lynn says that her family were fairly healthy eaters without being obsessive. Mom and dad wouldn’t talk about foods being fattening in front of their kids so to not instill any confusing thoughts about some foods being ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ They didn’t let their kids eat lots of fast food or allow them endless sodas. However, dad was obese, giving Bea a good chance of inheriting a genetic propensity for being obese. Add on a large appetite, and Bea was a fat seven-year-old perhaps destined to become a fat teen and adult.

The Heavy is not just a memoir of a mom putting her daughter on a diet, but her commentary on a cultural obsession with food. And, not just food, healthy food. As a fat kid who grew up into a fat adult, I’ve lived through numerous “rules” to healthy eating. For most of my life, I used margarine instead of butter, because margarine was “healthier.” Eggs were too high in cholesterol to eat more than once a week (oops, that changed). I ate low-fat cookies as part of a low-fat diet when doing so was supposed to make me low-fat. This book is a reminder that, yes, you can eat healthy foods, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you are going to lose weight.

As mom Dara-Lynn discovered, the healthy lunch program proposed at Bea’s school didn’t come with a calorie count even though the experts who spoke to the parents about the lunch program emphasized that healthy foods were equated with preventing obesity in children. However, when mom spent time online trying to estimate calorie counts for the lunches, she knew that they would have nearly twice the calories daughter Bea should eat.

Yes, mom took both kids to a nutritionist whose plan was supposed to help Bea lose 1/4 to 1/2 pound a week (Bea’s brother was a picky eater who wasn’t interested in food and who was slender). Mom started reading calorie counts, trying to give her daughter snacks and treats that were low-calorie but also weren’t depressing. This meant 100-calorie snack packs along with fresh fruit instead of the 500-calorie snacks some parents were giving to their kids (and Bea when she was on a play date). When it came down to it, to help her daughter feel like a normal little girl, Dara-Lynn would offer her daughter packaged snacks.

When you think that people would support a family assisting a child to make proper food choices if the child had celiac and couldn’t eat gluten, or was diabetic and had to watch what they ate, or had a peanut or dairy or shellfish allergy; you realize that a mother trying to help her young daughter battle the disease of obesity is doing the same thing – giving her daughter calorie-appropriate options.

Helping her daughter to lose weight and learn to make better choices on her own meant incorporating more healthy foods into the entire family’s diet, but also realizing that “healthy” is not synonymous with “low-calorie” or “diet-friendly.” As I mentioned, this is something that I have found difficult to reconcile with my own diet. I’ve followed a healthy vegetarian diet at times without losing much if any weight. So few diet books nowadays even talk about counting calories … in fact they laugh at the process (as long as you follow Atkins, The South Beach Diet, Paleo-Diet, Mediterranean Diet, de-tox diet, etc.).

This is a heart-wrenching book to read at times because at times I can identify with the mom looking at her own lifetime of food issues while trying to instill a lifetime of good eating habits in her daughter and at times I can identify with seven-year-old Bea who knows that she’s different and that she will always have to be vigilant about her weight.

I understand that you don't want a child to develop food or body issues by bringing up dieting, but maybe if I child understood that they type of food they eat matters and that trying to sample every food offered at a buffet or school function isn't the best option for maintaining a healthy weight, then they could learn a lifetime of good eating habits.

I don't think that there is any easy answer to helping children avoid obesity as kids or later as adults. I wish that I had developed better habits connected to portion control when I was younger (along with listening to my body's signals for hunger and satisfaction).

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Comments

Were you a chubby kid? Did you lose the “baby fat” as you got older … or not? If you have a weight problem as an adult, do you wish that someone had guided your eating habits as a kid?

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  • cjdever Jun 19, 2014 @ 8:34 am
    I love the idea of the portion control measuring tool. I'm in Canada, so I can't buy it through your lens, but otherwise I would. I didn't even know such things existed - an excellent "go with" for your lens topic!
  • Arachnea Mar 31, 2014 @ 6:13 pm
    this is a great lens. i don't have children, but understand this is important. i've known many people whose family life style as children encouraged healthy eating. because of this early "education" they were healthier and fitter as adults and more conscientious of diet. since children learn what they live, this is often an overlooked part of their upbringing.
  • loveableone Mar 31, 2014 @ 4:42 am
    This was an interesting post. I think our aim in life should be to eat healthy but tasty meals, We should not have to live a miserable life of always counting calories. There is always a way to improve on those foods we see as unhealthy so we do not feel deprived from eating what we like.
  • sybil-watson Mar 30, 2014 @ 6:08 pm
    I wasn't chubby until I broke one of the vertebrae in my back in 6th grade and gained a whopping 10 pounds - that was enough for other kids to start picking on me for being chubby. I feel for Bea and I think her mother is doing the best she can to help her to be healthy and happier.
  • WeeCatCreations Mar 31, 2014 @ 9:37 am
    Thank you for sharing your story.
  • rikka-korte Mar 30, 2014 @ 4:28 pm
    I was not a chubby kid, but I was average. I can really relate here though, people tell me all the time that my 4 year old daughter is overweight and that I should put her on a diet. As a parent it is heartbreaking.
  • Graceonline Mar 29, 2014 @ 10:54 am
    Genetics and circumstances favored me as child, in terms of leaving me skinny and wiry, although no one would guess that to look at me today. My favorite foods as a child were fresh garden fruits and vegetables, which I craved and could never get enough. I still crave them today and wish the farmers and supermarkets hadn't bred all the flavors and juices out of them in order to make them more shippable and give them a longer shelf life.

    Your review is excellent. You've dealt with a highly sensitive subject with compassionate sensitivity for both the mother and the child. If I were a parent struggling with helping an overweight child make her or his way in the world, I would want this book.
  • visit2goa Mar 29, 2014 @ 5:44 am
    great.. post
  • visit2goa Mar 29, 2014 @ 5:44 am
    great.. post
  • visit2goa Mar 29, 2014 @ 5:44 am
    great.. post
  • Kylyssa Mar 28, 2014 @ 2:21 pm
    I was skinny as a kid but got fat once I developed hypothyroid disease in my thirties. I've noticed a lot of food advice tries to be one-size-fits-all and all people are different. Most women may be able to maintain a healthy weight at 1,500 calories a day but I'd pack on pounds. I gained most of my fat eating less than that before I started getting treatment and hormone replacement. I can only imagine encountering an equally unfair reality such as some kind of genetic obesity that requires constant calorie monitoring just to avoid getting fatter - as a child! My mom would have had to be able to see into the future to know she should have taught me to eat a healthy, restricted calorie diet most people would lose weight on strictly for maintenance. I could never have stayed healthy as a child eating as I do now as I was underweight eating normally so I'm not sure how my parents could have helped. Great review!
  • WeeCatCreations Mar 28, 2014 @ 6:26 pm
    Thank you for sharing your story.
  • Brite-Ideas Mar 27, 2014 @ 9:22 pm
    congrats on ROTD :)
  • karendd123 Mar 27, 2014 @ 8:08 pm
    I was a chubby kid. I really wish someone had helped me with my eating habits. Although there were times my mom tried.
  • DeniseMcGill Mar 27, 2014 @ 5:34 pm
    This sounds like a perfect book for today even if it is a "hot button" issue. I was an average kid, not skinny but not really chunky either but puberty changed everything. Suddenly I would shoot up 20 pounds and spend a year working to get it off only to shoot up again. I've been on this roller coaster, it seems, all my life, but I think it goes back to some unhealthy eating habits formed early on that didn't make a difference when I was younger. We would rush though meals, ate lots of fried and fatty foods and very few vegetables. My father's side of the family was obese so I should have seen it coming. I do wish I had better guidance about "healthy" eating as a child.
  • WeeCatCreations Mar 27, 2014 @ 8:07 pm
    Two of the neighborhood kids (8-to-11-ish) are obese and I always want to go up to them and tell them that now is the time to learn and practice habits for life because of the difficulties I've had as a fat adult. I don't have a relationship with the family, so I would never do this, but there are times I wish I could talk to them about their weight in a caring way.
  • MarcellaCarlton Mar 27, 2014 @ 4:19 pm
    My mother and grandmother were heavy adults, but I try to eat the appropriate portions of food. I don't eat breakfast or lunch (maybe a piece of dry toast), but I do eat dinner at about 5:00 each day. I'll also have dessert-usually fruit. I keep busy until bedtime so that I don't eat more. I drink tea and water for beverages. I weigh the amount I'm supposed to. I was a super skinny teen at only 90 some pounds as a high school student. No one ever mentioned that I was fat, I just knew I didn't want all those jiggly bit hanging off of me.
  • Lewisgirl Mar 27, 2014 @ 3:05 pm
    I enjoyed reading this review! Nice job!
  • TeacherPat Mar 27, 2014 @ 2:37 pm
    I was a chubby teenager who had no clue about what to eat to stay slim. I became thin in my 20's due to medical issues, otherwise I would probably still be chubby. I do wish someone had guided my eating habits as a teenager.
  • Sundaycoffee Mar 27, 2014 @ 12:34 pm
    The truth is that 80% of things you find in grocery stores nowadays are not healthy and will most likely make you fat. And it's a pity that the food industry focuses especially on children, luring them with colorful packages and games and cartoons, while the product itself makes them sick and obese.
    For sure parents should be aware and should teach their children healthy eating habits.
    But I think this also is an ethical issue that needs to be addressed at higher level, too.
  • bloomingrose Mar 27, 2014 @ 11:26 am
    Interesting, questions with no easy answer come up with this issue. Still, it is very important that we start the discussion to help our ballooning population.
  • LiteraryMind Mar 27, 2014 @ 10:45 am
    My mother always called me "chubby" growing up. We used to shop for my clothes in what they called the "chubette" sizes a.k.a "no waist". I always felt guilty as if I had done something wrong. And yet, every day when I came home from school my mother gave me a full box of chocolate chip cookies and a glass of milk. I have a weight problem now -- no surprise there.
  • WeeCatCreations Mar 27, 2014 @ 8:00 pm
    I so understand!
  • partybuzz Mar 27, 2014 @ 10:35 am
    I certainly applaud this woman for wanting her child to be healthy and teaching her to eat healthy. There's nothing wrong with that. I wish more parents would do this.
  • KathyT Mar 27, 2014 @ 9:37 am
    Excellent review! I never had any weight issues at all until the last 15 or so years - and it's all of my own making. I don't have children of my own, but if I did, I would most certainly guide them into eating healthier (actually, if I had children, I'd probably be inclined to halt the habits I currently have that have contributed to my own weight gain).
  • angliterario Mar 27, 2014 @ 9:18 am
    I think that even if we try to "avoid" talking about foods that will make us fat in front of our kids, it doesn't make any difference because when the time comes they will be exposed to media screaming skinny is the perfect body and fat is yucky. It's good to see that there is someone courageous enough to write a book about teaching a child how to eat healthy at a young age. More importantly, I think as parents it's our duty to teach our kids that not all genes were created equal, so some of us wll always be fatter than the rest, but that doesn't mean that it's a bad thing as long as we know we are eating healthy - and we are healthy in terms of not having any ailments like a high blood pressure, etc. - and learn to love ourselves as we are.
  • WeeCatCreations Mar 27, 2014 @ 7:59 pm
    You have many good points. This is a difficult situation.
  • grammieo Mar 27, 2014 @ 9:03 am
    No, although I always felt like I was fat! Don't know where that came from, This is a problem with many, many facets, and no one size will ever fit all. Thanks for this review!
  • Susan52 Mar 26, 2014 @ 6:25 pm
    Your passion for the topic really comes through in this great review. The topic is so current and so important. Thank you for sharing the book - and your heart. (As for me, I was a skinny kid, which comes with its own set of challenges.)
  • WeeCatCreations Mar 27, 2014 @ 7:57 pm
    As a child, I always envied the skinny kids. As an adult, I realized that they have their own trials.