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How one mother helped her obese daughter lose weight

17 Feb

The Heavy, Dara-Lynn Weiss

“There is no truth, there is only perception” Gustave Flaubert

I’ve been thinking a lot about perception lately. How we perceive the world, how we are perceived…it’s truth mixed with subjectivity mixed with judgement.

So it’s fitting that I stumbled upon a book written by an amazing women who was a victim of perception. By the end of the book I couldn’t believe how inaccurately she has been portrayed; disbelieving but not surprised.

Her name is Dara-Lynn Weiss and about a year ago she featured in a Vogue article discussing her decision to put her seven-year-old daughter on a strict diet with the sole purpose of helping her to lose weight. It didn’t help that the essay she had written appeared in Vogue, that she was packaged as an upper class New York mum and that the photo showed her and her daughter looking like the last thing they needed to do was diet. I remember reading it in shock. Putting kids on a diet? Can’t she just play netball or something?

But this was an active little girl with a huge appetite and a skinny brother.

The outcry to the essay was just as swift and the judgement harsh. She was irresponsible. She was materialistic. She was teaching her child to rely on her looks too heavily. She was obviously a vacuous and misguided woman.

Far from the truth. As far as you can get.

Dara-Lynn faced a dilemma many of us are familiar with. She had a clinically obese child. Her son could eat what he wanted but her daughter paid for her voracious appetite with uncontrollable weight-gain and the associated nasty treatment at school. Concerned friends and family suggested Dara-Lynn help her daughter lose weight. Dara-Lynn didn’t know where to begin.

She tried to do it herself. She’d always fed her family healthy foods with occasional treats but what she quickly learned and something I realised over 12 years ago when I first tried a calorie restricted diet. It’s not so much what you eat, but how much you eat. When it comes to weight loss and weight gain a calorie is a calorie. There’s no magic pill.

Dara-Lynn came across research I too had stumbled upon and felt fascinated and validated by. Mark Haub, a professor of human nutrition at Kansas State University went on a “Twinkie Diet” to prove that people can lose weight eating anything as long as what they eat doesn’t exceed the calories they need to eat for weight loss. Not only did he lose 11 kilos, his health improved, his cholesterol lowered and his blood-work showed improvements in his saturate fat count.

The other new information she discovered that when it comes to diet vs exercise, most experts conclude that exercise doesn’t necessarily lead to weight loss. If you eat too many calories, no amount of exercise will help.,9171,1914974,00.html

This mother of an obese child had limited success in managing her daughter’s weight in a world where it’s just not possible to control our child’s diets constantly and where one excessive meal a day can easily undo any weight loss. I myself know that one bad day of eating with abandon takes at least three days of restriction to correct.

So Dara-Lynn turned to an established program which focused on helping children lose weight and then she continued on her own until her daughter reached a ‘normal weight’. You need to read the book to understand her journey and she deserves a bloody medal. She knew she was the only one who could help her daughter and she did it with the judgement and stigma associated with placing a child on a diet.

The happy ending is that not only is her daughter a ‘normal weight’, she can make the right choices for herself now. She knows she can only have a treat twice a week and she knows she has to be careful how much healthy food she eats to. Dara-Lynn has empowered her daughter to be in charge of her own health and I can’t help but think that her daughter will be able to use this skill in other areas of her life.

The book is called The Heavy and it is a brilliant read for any parent or anyone who has struggled with weight. And it’s a wake-up call.

Managing our growing obesity crisis is going to require us to take a hard look at how we eat, how we socialize, what we teach our children and how we deal with weight issues. Just as Dara-Lynn explains, a diabetic child or a child with food allergies doesn’t suffer from the stigma an over weight child does and yet each is a serious health issue which requires careful management.


Bryce Courtney doco on Monday 26 Nov, ABC1

22 Nov

Whenever I freak out about the fact that I’m not a best-selling novelist yet, I comfort myself with the fact that Bryce Courtney didn’t experience his first real success until well in his fifties, with The Power of One.

I’m thirty-six years of age so I figure I have time. If only I could finish a first draft…

I am so sad that Bryce Courtney won’t be with us any longer. I can’t even bring myself to start reading Jack of Diamonds yet. I think I’m saving it for later. I think that’s how I want to spend the weeks after…reading his latest amazing novel with a box of tissues because even if it’s a satire, I will be crying my eyes out.

For the next few months I plan to re-read my favourite Bryce Courtney novels and I’m delighted by the fact there are several brilliant ones such as Jessica that I have not yet read.

Bryce Courtney didn’t live a perfect life and never claimed to. He experienced limited success overseas with only The Power of One but so what? I’d be perfectly happy to just do well in Australia. He was born in South Africa but became a naturalised Australian. He and his work belongs to us.

If you’ve never read Bryce Courtney before definitely start with either The Power of One or The Potato Factory. The hairs on your arms will be raised as you read them. He perfectly captures beauty, love, struggle and terrible suffering in such a way that you forget to be impressed with his skill as a writer and you just lose yourself in the story.

I for one will be glued to the TV on Monday 26 November, 8pm on ABC1. ABC has the best shows of all and their documentaries never disappoint. Bring your tissues…

La Dolce Vita,

Jo Abi

Stopping an addiction is like lifting a sheet from a mirror

15 Nov

Stopping an addiction is like lifting a sheet from a mirror and looking yourself in the eye shouting, “Who are you! Who are you?”

I make quite a few questionable choices in my life (getting married before dating many/any others, starting a new uni course with three children under ten) and beginning a new eating plan on the day FOUR major university assignments are due is another clunker on my part.

I am feeling every single little bit of stress, worry, uncertainty and doubt that comes with completing an assignment and sending it off to be judged, marked and assessed by someone who doesn’t factor you feelings into the process. Times that by four. And being a Creative Writing course, I feel like the very base of my existence (expressing myself through words) is being judged. You, Jo are a FAIL, a PASS, a CREDIT, a DISTINCTION, a HIGH DISTINCTION. Not my work, me.

I have friends who have dealt with addictions. I use food to control/numb my feelings. Friends have used food, alcohol, drugs, sex, work. I’ve read about people who pull their eyelashes out, who chew their nails. We all have something we do. No-one has their shit together as much as they want you to believe.

Laying yourself bare without a crutch is the ultimate act of bravery because you do have to face every single moment of your life both good and bad, happy and sad, bored and exciting. You can’t eat badly forever, you can’t get drunk every night, you can’t use drugs for a prolonged period of time, you can’t travel forever (or can you?).

I’ve always thought that you have to be happy on your own, with no crutches before you can bring your best to a long-term relationship, parenthood, even to your choice of career. Do you constantly fill your days with busy-work? Can you sit still? Can you enjoy a long conversation with a friend? Can you disagree with your partner without it becoming a deal-breaker?

My husband changed from night-shift to day-shift this week and forgot to tell me. I know. Stoopid. He does this. He tells me everything except the part I really need to know. There I am expecting him at 1pm so I can go to work and he’s not due until 6pm. To say I lost it is an understatement but after I had a go at him on the phone I was over it. It was what it was. He arrived home, we moved on. He didn’t feel the need to feel hurt and I didn’t feel the need to eat an entire bag of chocolate bullets (should licorice be eaten any other way?).

The Lite n Easy macaroni cheese is as divine as it always has been.It was my dinner and my eating is done for the day. That’s it. No stress-eating allowed. I know, mac and cheese isn’t a typical weight loss food but at the risk of repeating myself or sounding like a walking billboard, Lite n Easy teaches you how to eat normally without feeling deprived. You’ll be a bit hungry than usual for the first few days but you’ll quickly adjust.

I have sent in two of my assignments, I have almost finished the third and then the biggest assignment, the worst, will see me staying up until way to close to midnight editing editing editing. It’s due before midnight. My hands are about to spasm, as they did when I wrote my first (and only) book. I can do it, I can  do it, I can do it (WITHOUT MINT CHOCOLATE).

La Dolce Vita,

Jo Abi

What was I thinking?

11 Mar


I’m not sure quite what I was thinking when I thought enrolling in uni was a good idea. I suppose one of my motivations was the fact I had been thinking about it for years and waiting until I had time. Then I woke up and realised I’d never have more time to study. Just like you never have enough money to start having kids so you may as well just do it, you may as well just enroll and figure it out as you go along.

I have enrolled in my Masters in Creative Writing which sounds pretty exciting. I am doing two subjects – Creative Writing which is an absolute pleasure and joy. Literary Theory – not so much. If I listened to the lecture for Literary Theory ten times I still wouldn’t completely understand it. I find myself typing words into Google to find out their meaning and then missing the next point. It’s like she’s speaking a different language. I feel like I need to do a course to learn how to do Literary Theory. I feel like I’ve missed a step.

In Creative Writing I enthusiastically post opinions and pieces of my writing. In Literary Theory I stall, I hesitate, I begin with..”I’m not sure if this is relevant…” or “I may have missed the point…” or “I might need to read this a few more times..”. I feel like I’m trying to walk though mud. I feel so totally out of my depth that I really could cry.

It’s only been two weeks but I can’t imagine it getting easier. I can, however imagine it getting a lot harder.

I know I’m just freaking out and I’ll probably figure it out. I will probably do pretty well in Creative Writing. If I just ‘pass’ Literary Theory I will throw a party.

La Dolce Vita – Jo Abi

Why do I buy diet books?

24 Dec

Diets don’t work. I know this with every fiber of my being. Dieting leads me to an unhealthy and draining cycle of famine and feast. I stick to the diet for a few days, even a week, and then I feast on a scheduled cheat day or just because I can’t stand the deprivation any longer.

I’ve never been happier than since I quit dieting and stopped weighing myself. It was so scary at first. The first day I took back control of my meals outside of ‘feast’ day and started my day without weighing myself felt a little like being adrift. I wasn’t sure if the current would take me somewhere good or bad. Would I eat in a healthy and enjoyable way or would I let loose and gain more weight than ever before? My calorie-counting-app is forgotten.

The first day went well, then the next and the next. I now detest the thought of weighing myself. What’s the point? I can tell if I’m bigger or smaller by how my favourite jeans fit. Weighing myself just makes me feel like crap. Even when I lose weight I only feel happy for a few minutes before I set myself a new unattainable goal. I might weigh myself a couple of times a year but not every morning or even every week. It’s so freeing. The scales no longer set my mood for the day. In the shower I can think about the day ahead, not about how the number on the scale is wrong.

The bottom line is that I am thirty-five years old and over the course of my adulthood I have read every diet book I could get my hands on. I know how to eat healthily. I know how much to eat. I know I need to exercise when I can. I know what to do. We all basically do. It’s not about fads or eating organic. It’s about eating as well as you can as often as you can, enjoying occasional treats and exercising in a sustainable way. It’s about you being in control of your own health, not a book or a doctor or a dietician.

Then why am I so excited by the release of the book The Petite Advantage Diet by Jim Karas?

It seems that while I have successfully let go of the need to count calories and weigh myself obsessively I haven’t yet released my search for the latest dieting tip. Here’s the difference though. When I read diet books now or articles and interviews I read to learn. I use the information as advice, not instruction. I read them not to follow them to the letter and change my entire life as diets want you to do. I read them so I know what they are about, so I can pick up tips if I like them and so I can disregard other advice with some semblance of knowledge. It actually makes me appreciate my new-found freedom from regimented diets.

The Petite Advantage Diet hasn’t even been released yet. It’s out on 27 December and I have pre-purchased my copy. I first became aware of it while watching The View on Foxtel. Jim Karas has probably helped many people with the books he has written and with his work with patients. I have read all the samples of the book I can find. It certainly seems to make sense. But it is so strict. Two days of 1100 calories and then one of 1600. Who wants to count calories!

I’m not against diets and diet books. I just wish everyone realised they have to find what works for them and they need to make small and gradual changes, not abrupt and unsustainable ones. Read any book you like, but don’t change your entire life drastically. For example, after reading this book I have learned that I might benefit from eating a larger breakfast and a smaller dinner. I might do that some days if I feel really hungry in the morning. I was also interested in his advice about cardio. He advises against excessive cardio and I learned this myself years ago. The more cardio I did the hungrier I became. But I don’t go to the extreme of cutting out all cardio. What stupid advice. What about my cardiovascular health? So I have reduced it. Instead of 40-60 minutes of cardio I do 20 minutes on my cross trainer and then I do 20 minutes of calisthenics like pushups, crunches, lunges and stretches. I don’t do this every day and I don’t always do them on the same day. I do them when I can. If I’ve had a big meal or some extra birthday cake I might throw in an extra 20 minutes of cardio but no more. It works for me and you need to figure out what works for you. When I can I jump on the trampoline with my kids, chase them with a water pistol and play soccer with them at the park.

Most of my exercise can be done at home. Once a month I might go to my local gym for a spin class but only casually. There’s no way I’m becoming a member. I don’t need a baby sitter, special clothes or equipment to maintain my weight. I have my well-worn cross trainer and my recordings Total Body Sculpt with Gilad which I swear by. My triceps are awesome!

So read everything and do what you can. Weigh yourself if you feel the need to but not every day. Enjoy life and good food. Drink some water every time you have coffee or tea. Take a multi-vitamin as a back-up. Start your day telling yourself you are beautiful and doing your best. Then do your best to eat healthily over the course of the day and know that if you ate a little too much and exercised too little you can always do better tomorrow. Do you really need someone to tell you to eat more fruit and veg? You only like apples and carrots? Eat them every day if you like. Do you want some chocolate? Have some and enjoy it. Enjoy life.

I read a recent interview with actress Kyra Sedgwick. She never weighs herself because she says the number is never right. Instead she chooses to do her best and since she stopped weighing herself every day she found herself not obsessing about food. She chooses not to think about food every minute of every day. She focuses on work, her kids and living life. She has freed herself. I am in the process. I hope you can free yourself too. You will do just fine.

La Dolce Vita – Jo Abi

Weight loss vs self-esteem

17 Oct

This is a book that every teenage girl must read. I bought this book after reading an interview about how Janet discusses her struggles with weight in it. I bought it because I wanted to read about weight loss. What I got was a much needed lesson on self-esteem.

I believe things in life come to you for a reason. I was a fan of Janet Jackson when I was a teenager but didn’t see past the songs I liked to dance to. I have been thinking about her ever since seeing her comforting her niece and nephews at her brother’s funeral. A month ago I attended my brother’s dance performance. The first song was Rhythm Nation and I could barely contain my excitement as I danced in my chair to the captivating, inspiring and funky sounding song that I had forgotten. And then this book came to me through the interview and I devoured it in one afternoon. I only wish I could afford tickets to see her in concert.

Janet Jackson has always seemed to me to be a strong, powerful, talented, beautiful and blessed woman. I have admired her music and her movies all my life. After reading the book I now know that she is all these things, but she is also a normal woman who struggled with exposing her talent, becoming a woman, striking out on her own and loving herself – curves and all. Her most unhealthy times when she dieted and over-exercised are the times of her greatest successes. When we see celebrities at their peak they seem confident, effortless, self-confident and everything else that we are not. It is both comforting to know that she is just like you and me and disconcerting that someone with so much still suffers. Isn’t success the cure for these things? Obviously not.

In a previous life when I was a radio announcer I was lucky enough to interview several celebrities and the vast majority of them were insecure and seem desperate for their most recent album/movie/book to do well. Despite any past successes they had they were constantly trying for future success. They could never stop, rest, say they’d done enough. It make me happy to be in my little life where small successes are so elating and failures are cured with a cuddle and a Mint Slice biscuit.

I have given this book to my sister to read and then I plan to read it again. I will give it to my daughter, my niece and my god-daughter as soon as they are old enough to read it and I will say the words to them that Janet needed to hear as a teenager. I will tell them that they are perfect just the way they are. I will tell them that true beauty comes from inside. I will remind them that health is more important than thinness. I will tell them there are loved, blessed and capable of anything. And as a thirty-five year old woman with a nasty, critical teenage girl taunting me in my mind, I will read it over and over again and keep it forever. I wish it were longer and I hope she writes another one. Thank you Janet. Thank you, on behalf of womankind.

La Dolce Vita – Jo Abi


How to Date a Dad

11 Oct

This is my book How to Date a Dad. I wrote it seven years ago and it took me seven years to write it. I will never be one of those writers who releases a new book every year, that’s for sure. In fact, I’m not sure I have another book in me. I have attempted to write another book since my first was published but I get about a quarter of the way in and writer’s block sets in. Then I give up and start buying and reading books at an alarming rate until every chair, desk and shelf in my house is decorated with piles of books. Thank goodness for e-books. I can download as many as my budget allows and there is no visual evidence that I am reading other people’s work instead of finishing my own.

Then it occured to me…how about How to Date a Dad as an e-book? I would love to see it available for download because I sold more copies overseas than I did in Australia and to have it immediately and internationally available would be amazing. I seeing an interview about a book and then five minutes later it’s on my phone and I am happily reading it for the rest of the day. But I really want to re-write my book before it’s released as an e-book. I want it to be perfect. When I wrote the original version there was so much going on in my family that I took out a lot of my own personal experiences out of fear. Now we are all older, wiser and have moved forward with our lives. Plus my husband and I have been married for seven years (seven seems to be a significant number in my life at the moment). I feel like I’ve earned the right to speak about my experiences dating a dad, marrying a dad and have children of our own. The writing is also embarrassingly bad. I love to write but I am lazy about improving my own work. It shows in the book. My re-write is so much better.

When you start thinking about something the universe tends to join the party. I sent an email to my publisher asking if I could buy any spare copies of my book and they responded saying they were considering releasing my book as an e-book. I begged them to use the new and improved version but it would cost to much. But if it sells well as a e-book I will be able to release the revised book with additional chapters on marriage and babies. So I will continue with my re-write – successfully distracting myself from the fact that I am yet to finish one of my many other books. How to Date a Dad is haunting me. I just feel it hasn’t reached its full potential yet. And my writing voice is a little clearer than when I wrote the original. Fingers crossed. You can still buy copies of How to Date a Dad and hopefully it’s available for download soon.

La Dolce Vita – Jo Abi

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