Vogue Diet Mom Controversy: How to Talk to your Daughter about Weight

by Lian on April 2, 2012

On Chaos Chronicles podcast 510, I talked about the controversial article in Vogue by Dara-Lynn Weiss about putting her 7 year old on a diet. I had the opportunity to read the Dara-Lynn Weiss article before the controversy hit the web, so I went in unbiased. My first thoughts when I read the article were this:

1. That little girl will spend her whole life watching her weight.

2. That mom needs to get her own eating issues under control so she can better help her daughter over the long haul.

I was sympathetic to the mom Dara-Lynn Weiss. Her daughter was obese, according to her doctor, thanks to a lifetime of loving food . As a result, Dara-Lynn worked with a nutritionist who put her daughter on a sensible eating plan for children modeled on Weight Watchers.  She increased her activity and watched her snacking. On the surface, this mom was being pro-active about a real medical condition faced by her daughter and using the medical approach to deal with the problem. Along the year-long journey,  this mom faced one obstacle I’ve been talking about  for years: the overabundance of cookies, candy, cupcakes at every event attended by children. All in all, I thought she was trying to do the right thing, but maybe her methods could have been more holistic, upgrading the eating habits of the whole family along the way.

Is Dara-lyn Weiss a perfect mom? No, she is honest about her own weight issues and admits to scarfing down cupcakes in secret while withholding the forbidden food from her daughter. ( Much of the media and online pile-on around Vogue Diet Mom centers on her “depriving her daughter of cupcake”, as if  the daily eating of cupcakes is a right for every American child. )

The whole controversy  reinforces to me the odd relationship we have with kids and weight in this country. When they are babies, parents and grandparents brag about the birth weight of the baby, as if that signifies superior intelligence or genes. But we also see parents of overweight kids being stripped of the custody of their kids.  Mrs. Obama is mocked for her efforts on behalf of healthy eating and getting kids moving while parents go to battle at PTA meeting for the right to bear cupcakes at in-class birthday parties.  In the middle of those two positions, we see lots of American kids headed towards a lifetime of weight issues and a very scattershot approach to dealing with the real public health issues.

What’s worked with your kids when talking to them about the issues of weight? Moms of daughters, do you find yourself tip-toeing around this topic? Does it bring up issues for you you thought you’d dealt with in high school?

I’d love to  hear from Mom and Dads who have successfully worked with their kids to get them into a healthy weight range . Let’s help each other help our kids.

Embracing my Chaos, Lian

Related Links:

The Vogue article is not available online, but you can read articles about the article here from the New York Times and here from Time Magazine by Judith Warner.

Institutionalized Snacking

Institutionalized Snacking Part 2



alicia April 9, 2012 at 7:43 AM

I am glad that you commented on this article and issue. I grew up like the 7 yr old girl in this article. I was aware and interested in food for as long as I can remember. I grew up with a “tiny” mom and skinny brother but I got another gene. (I’m 5’9″ 1/2 and “larger”now at 40 yrs old). I WISH my mother was able to regulate what I ate when I was young. I don’t think she knew how to back then although I have a picture of her sitting in bed when I was young reading a book about helping the overweight child (in the 70′s!) She still, to this day, has never dieted herself. You DO know that you are larger than the other kids as a child but, of course, a child wouldn’t know what to do about it. I think that explaining to your child that they will feel better, be able to wear clothes that they like better (most girls like clothes) and being light hearted about it plus teaching moderation might work. Make it known that they will not be completely deprived but let them be involved in the choice of when they’ll eat their “goody” for the week. They will not suffer from it near as much as they will from the pain that they get from cruel comments from children and adults alike, not being able to fit well into the trendy clothes of the day, and not being picked for the sports that they may want to play that would actually help their health.

pat in o.c. April 5, 2012 at 8:53 AM

Speaking from personal experience, the problem of overweight children is a big problem in the hispanic community. The rate of diabetes among hispanics is 2x that of whites, and a great number of those are children these days. Overweight latino children are a bastion of health issues…and most of it is preventable w/some minor diet & lifestyle changes. It does take a change in the entire family diet, & that’s hard to sell to latinos. But, a lot more veggies, less candy & soda, wheat over white whenever possible, a bit less fried food v. baked, & a little more exercise v. tv watching….but, that will take the whole family. It’s a sad and scary problem for an entire generation of latinos in the U.S.A. A generation with many developing diabetes as a child or teenager, frightening.

Some soy & tofu is very good…………..& I was skeptical.
I Love ‘Silk’ Soy Chocolate milk – the best. (The vanilla -not so much).
‘Tofutti’ products are amazing – tofutti sour cream and cream cheese! Great stuff! Trader Joe’s soy ice cream, love it. Not due to any desire to lose weight…just good old fashioned lactose intolerance w/milk, sour cream, & ice cream.

Joan A. Martin April 4, 2012 at 5:55 PM

Hello, I simply wanted to take time to make a comment and say I have really enjoyed reading your site.
http://www.businesstraveltours.com is my website.

mari (Bookworm with a View) April 4, 2012 at 2:39 PM

I have fond memories of college visits with our son. We did a mother/son trip, visiting severals school, hockey scouting etc… Good luck!

I hope I’m a rare exception but I remember my mom comparing me over and over to one of my friends (as young as 5/6 years old). She used to say “Becky wears a 6 slim, you a 6 regular” By size 6… I mean little girl sizes not adult! So I have been aware of every pound my entire life. This certainly instills food issues.

Lian April 4, 2012 at 12:12 PM

Good comments, all. First, for those of you who expressed sympathy/understanding on the college tour, I accept! It appears to be happening, thanks to non-stop nagging. I can not wait for them to leave next week– my husband and my son.

Now, onto the weight issue, every comment underscores my point: WE ARE A NUTTY COUNTRY WHEN IT COMES TO WEIGHT! A million messages about fat vs. skinny– and the ones that seem to get through our the ones that hurt us the most. Even if the message is “eat healthy”, we hear restrictive diet.

Clearly we all– and I mean me too– bring our own lifelong relationship with weight and food into our discussion with our kids about weight. It sounds like the group that posted has thought about this issue a lot in terms of their own kids– which can only be a good thing.

More comments, Please. Would love to hear from a parent who successfully dealt with a child’s weight issue.


patty s April 4, 2012 at 5:18 AM

Ma Schmidt, I think my mother is related to yours…similar circumstances.

I have also struggled with weight my whole life. I have weighed as much as a hundred pounds more than I currently do. I’ve also weighed fifteen pounds less than I do now (divorce diet a la Helen of Pasadena’s experience)–and I’m working hard to get back to that weight.

For my kids it’s been all about being healthy. I have never said anything derogatory to any of them, and I never will. That said, I can understand the frustration and worry over a child who is overweight. My son inherited his parents’ weight issues, and he will also struggle his whole life.

Lian, thanks for tackling the tough subjects!

patty s April 4, 2012 at 5:11 AM

Here is what I received in my U of M alumni newsletter:

Losing Weight Isn’t Child’s Play
Children derive many physical, social, and emotional benefits from participating in organized youth sports, but thanks to the pervasive presence of snack foods at most events, losing weight isn’t one of them. That’s the conclusion of a study by researchers in the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health. A team led by Toben Nelson reviewed 19 studies comparing sport participants with nonparticipants on weight status, physical activity, and diet. Nelson’s team found that nearly half of overweight adolescents ages 12 to 17 participate in organized physical activities, but there was no clear association between participation and body weight. While youth involved in organized sports were likely to consume more fruits, vegetables, and milk than their nonactive peers, they were also more likely to eat fast food and drink sugar-sweetened beverages. Researchers suggested that consumption of snack food offset any possible weight loss benefit for participants.

The research appeared in the November/December 2011 issue of Current Sports Medicine Reports.

ma schmidt April 3, 2012 at 8:58 AM

This is BIG for me, as my mom did a horrible job (i.e., she’d hold a piece of bread up to my thigh when I asked for the bread basket) and now I’m taking off of what has become a constant 25 lbs. since birth….I’m on weight watchers and have joined the gym (and down 12 pounds!) My little is 7 and very healthy – no concerns – though she likes sugar and LOVES a snack while watching t.v….(her favorite food is also Sushi and she loves the Kale from her daddy’s farm). I try to talk to her about habits (ice-cream is a sometimes thing” “studies show that it isn’t healthy to eat while you watch t.v.”) She’s aware of “fat = bad” from school — believe it or not saying “you’re fat” is a put down even in second grade. So, what I’ve done is emphasize that I’m working to be HEALTHY – that ultimately, exercise and healthier eating is better for me and makes me feel good. I ALSO get explicit about the advertising industry and the whole “skinny = good” thing – so, for example, when watching a movie in which the fat person is the “funny one” – I challenge that and ask her “why is being fat so funny?” “why aren’t the fat girls ever the most popular?” Also I point out how UN-natural models (and barbie) are and try to make her aware of the reality being forced on her. I think she gets it but my hope is that somewhere it’s being really put into her mind so that as she gets older she’ll be aware. Sorry so long – but this is REALLY on my mind….

chpdlivr April 3, 2012 at 7:32 AM

OK, Lian, I think I’m finally on your bandwagon when it comes to kids and snacks. I’m not sure why I resisted for so long. I’ve battled weight/food my whole life. It’s such an emotional issue…….and I want to thank you for helping me to see the positive in the Vogue Diet Mom story. You are right, she was just trying to do right by her kid. I think I’m one of those “kids” you talked about who just had (has!!) a “thing” for food. There’s always more to it than one issue.
I was driving home when I listened to the end of the podcast……the part where you said that your husband was taking your son on the college tour. After all you’ve told us about Berek and his travel “issues” I literally said out loud “are your freakin’ kidding me?” I’m sure the actual trip will be fine, but the planning will make you crazy!

One more comment…..I have NEVER thought that you say too much about medical/doctor visits. It’s like a friend just chatting with other friends….

Enjoy your time off……you’ll be missed!

Nancy Davis April 2, 2012 at 10:10 PM

My daughter is tiny….maybe not underweight to the degree the doctors have ever pushed us, but at the consistent 25%height/25%weight line on the chart since birth….she’s now 12 1/2.

As my dad said to me, “you’ve never been skinny.” He called me chunky in college (fairly, to be honest)……my mom criticizes my weight to this day….I’m 44. Yet, when I was at my lowest 5’2″ and 117 lbs., she criticized my “obsessive running” and when I wouldn’t eat her cornbread and biscuits when I visited.

Our country has major, major issues. We should all get back to REAL food that has ingredients we can pronounce and recognize when they are in front of us. We would all benefit.

BTW, love your produce box deliveries.

Tara April 2, 2012 at 5:48 PM

I have a very complicated relationship with food and weight and have weighed as much as 400lbs, lost 200, and gained some of it back when baby came and I stopped running and lifting weights…and sleeping. I am worried about passing my issues with food to my son. I know what did not work for me as a fat child, and I’d like to think that I can avoid the pitfalls with my own son. I feel like I can make sure that he eats healthy and gets in plenty of activities without bringing up weight.
I was tortured as a child by family, friends, teachers and strangers because of my weight and at the age of eleven I was institutionalized, taken out of my home for seven months and placed in a program to lose weight. I lost 60lbs and gained 80 by the time I reached high school. I really don’t think I would have gotten that large if I wasn’t made to feel like waste of space because of my weight.
I think the answer today, is the program called Health at Any Size, which de-emphasizes weight and instead focuses on eating healthy and getting plenty of movement. When I lost weight, I was still fat, but also very healthy. While I respect (LOVE!) Michelle Obama, I disagree with her program and it’s focus on obese kids. I think it targets them in a way that is damaging, makes them targets, and lowers their self esteem. A kid who hates himself is going to have a tough time developing those healthy habits-at least this was true in my case. When it comes to Mrs. Obama’s program I think there are those who just hate her and will mock whatever she does and those of us who have a genuine concern about the damage caused to overweight children by her well meaning program.
Focusing so much on weight gives the perception that only fat kids need to worry about their health. There are kids (and adults) who are naturally thin with atrocious habits, they need healthy habits as much as any fat person. (No offense meant to anyone who is offended by the term fat, it’s what I prefer to call myself, hate the word obese).

That said, I had to laugh at the part about snacks. Lian I use to disagree with you about that, but my son was diagnosed with a milk and egg allergy and I’ve already had to request people not give him snacks and he’s only 10 months old. I thought about all the years ahead of me having to deal with snacking on sports teams and classrooms with the cookies and cupcakes that my son can’t have and shouldn’t in any case…all the snacking is just not necessary! I’m and totally in agreement there, with or without the allergy.

Sorry for the epic novel length post, I think about this stuff often.

Margaretk April 2, 2012 at 2:40 PM

Hi Lian, My comment is about your College search section of the podcast. We went throught this last year with my son, who was applying to Vocal Performance programs. Similar to the sports path, he needed to make an audition tape to send to farther flung places, and to schedule auditions at more local colleges. I spent the whole year on edge, trying to make sure he met all the deadlines and made it to all the auditions with a clean shirt, and there were some narrow finishes there. He ended choosing a small private liberal arts college (Willamette) over a large public university. A music scholarship helps cut the pain of the private college tuition. He seems pretty happy there. The good news on the other side is that this year I have so much more free space in my head, without all his looming deadlines and decisions keeping me up at night! Good luck in your search!

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