TODAY   |  January 26, 2013

Mom speaks out after putting 7-year-old on diet

A mother who wrote a book describing her efforts to get her young daughter to lose weight caused controversy. Now two years later, Dara-Lynn Weiss tells TODAY’s Erica Hill her daughter lost 16 pounds and has kept it off, but it “continues to be an incredibly difficult journey.”

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> there's so much talk about people being overweight and obesity, it begs the question what would you do if your child was overweight or obese. one mother decided to take action to get her 7-year-old daughter slimmed down when she learned that her daughter was, in fact, obese. that set off a major controversy when she wrote about her tactics in a national magazine. we'll speak with her in a moment.

>>> first, here's a little background -- it's an issue touching families across the country. more than 23 million children and teens in the u.s. are overweight or obese.

>> i think the fact that we're so silent on the issue is also contributing to the problem. in fact, a study showed parents would rather talk to kids about sex or drugs or anything other than weight.

>> one manhattan mom did speak up. daralynn weiss penned a controversial essay for "vogue" vogue about the strict diet she chose for her 7-year-old daughter. writing, "it is grating to have someone constantly complain of being hungry." weiss said she stopped letting her daughter "enjoy pizza fridays when she admitted to adding a corn salad as a side dish one week." she went on to say, "there have been many awkward moments at parties when bea has wanted to eat, say, both cookies and cake. and i've engaged in a heated public discussion about why she can't." critics swiftly piled on. one headline read, "mom puts 7-year-old on a diet in the worst "vogue" article ever."

>> when a child 's weight is compromising their health, we need to be very careful with what we say and what we do. we don't want a child to look at food as the enemy.

>> dara-lynn is author of "the

heavy: a mother, a daughter, a diet."

>> good morning.

>> you decided ton share any picture of bea, your daughter who you call bea, not her real name in the book. she lost 16 pounds over the course of the initial i doet. how is she -- initial diet. so how she, and i don't mean physically but emotionally with all the attention your family has received?

>> it's interesting. i think she's somehow been shielded from the attention because of her young age. it's not something -- she's aware that i've written a book about our journey and that we were in a magazine. i don't think day to day she feels like a public figure which i'm happy about. she has indeed maintained a healthier weight which is, of course very important. she has incorporated new habits and new kind of controls over her eating into her lifestyle independently as she's gotten older. she's 9 now. she's as much a happy, confident child as she ever was. we still have a fabulous relationship. so i feel great about -- it was an -- continues to be an incredibly difficult journey to help a child with abeesity, but i feel -- obesity, but i feel good about it.

>> we get a better sense in reading the book than in the article of what the journey was like for your family. you said you don't come across great sometimes in the book. that's because you said you wanted to be honest about it. some of the things you talk about, you say -- probably a lot of parents feel this way, i know i do at times, sometimes you feel like bea is a much better child than you deserve. and you talk about your concern over her loss of innocence did. this take away some of the innocence from your daughter at a really important age, 7, to all of a sudden put her through this?

>> that was one of my greatest concerns. coming to this, you think about childhood and the freedom to enjoy an ice cream cone and a piece of cake and not have to think about it. and we as adults it's difficult for us to manage our food and feel insecure about our weight. we would never want to put a child in that situation. i did struggle with that. i think it was -- you know, she is aware of this issue in her life. and that she can't eat the way she wants to. but i think that's important for her to maintain her health.

>> some of these issues have controlled you for a long time. which you also write about. and you were concerned about, obviously, passing that on to her.

>> sure.

>> do you notice that at all, that she is overly concerned or consumed by foods and her weight?

>> there's -- i think there's a definite difference in -- between how she approaches food and thinks about food which is in a kid-like way. like, i wish i could have that. mommy doesn't let me. i can't have a second cupcake, but i wish i could. and cupcake is evil, cupcake is trying to trip me up. i think she has a healthy respect for limits and food without going into obsessiveness which is something i think i suffered from.

>> some of the backlash is how public you were with her at parties, making a big deal so everybody knew what bea was going through. do you regret your tactics at all?

>> i don't know if you describe them accurately. i think in the way that any parent at a birthday party will tell a child , you know, you've had your piece of cake , i think that's enough. that's a good parenting limit. we expect that was parents that your child shouldn't just be consuming junk food with abandon. i felt that somehow as the parent of an obese child that action was so much more judged and that it became a moment where people felt i was drawing attention to bea's obeseited rather than just -- obesity rather than just parenting. which parents of healthy kids do, parents of kids with nutritional needs, diabetes and have to watch sugar. i did feel a bit of a dis disenfranchisement in that it was public. it felt like a big deal because of my child 's issue where this is something all parents do.

>> thank you for being here.

>> it's been great to be here.