We’ve all been hearing the statistics about child obesity. Yes, the number of obese children is staggering. Rather than think about the problem in terms of numbers, statistics and data, we need to think about it from the child’s perspective. What he or she is feeling or experiencing. That’s the story we don’t hear much about.
Meet Taylor LeBaron, a former obese teenager. Taylor wrote a book called “Cutting Myself In Half – 150 Pound Lost One Byte at a Time”. Taylor personalizes what it’s like to be an obese teenager and the story of how he lost l one half of his body weight over the course of a year and a half by approaching healthy eating the way he would a new video game.
At the age of 14, Taylor weighed 297 pounds. He had trouble finding clothes that fit, became winded after just a few minutes of walking, and was the target of fat jokes. He was over the weight limit for amusement park rides and bunk beds, and knew he was facing a lifetime of health-related issues like high blood pressure, osteoarthritis, and type II diabetes if he didn’t make some drastic changes.
Carrying 150 excess pounds is difficult for an adult, but especially for a 14 year old boy. Taylor also carried some oversized emotional and physical worries–things his family never imagined. They were too close to notice, and he was too embarrassed to share his feelings or ask for help.
Taylor’s family didn’t think of him as obese. As Taylor tells it, “Why didn’t my family realize I was obese? Because a chunky kid can turn into an obese teen so gradually that the people closest to them don’t notice.”
Taylor’s story in his words
You may not see your own child as obese. But check the charts. If the calculations say “overweight” or “obese,” your child probably feels a lot like I felt. And looking back, I wish I’d told my family:
• “I’m scared.” I was terrified of weight-related diseases. I knew overweight kids could have heart disease, high cholesterol, and type 2 diabetes.
• “The teasing hurts.” I laughed along with the kids who teased me, but years later, I still remember every hurtful word.
• “I don’t fit in.” My weight placed a huge barrier between me and my thin peers. The more isolated I felt, the more I turned to food for comfort. And the more I turned to food, the bigger and more isolated I became.
• “I want to be thin.” I acted as if my weight didn’t bother me, but I promise you, it did.
• “I blame myself.” I didn’t blame my family for my extra pounds. I felt wholly and miserably responsible.
• “It’s hopeless.” When I thought about how much weight I needed to lose, it seemed useless even to try.
• “Please, please talk, but I may not listen.” I was terrified and knew I needed help. I was also self-conscious and embarrassed. But I would have listened–eventually–if my family had approached me about my weight.
I was terrified and discouraged, and I dreamed of being healthy. Ultimately, I realized that I didn’t need a fairy godmother to make my dream come true. It was up to me. My turning point was when I stopped blaming circumstances and took responsibility for my own fitness. I believe that taking responsibility is the key to getting fit, and that puts parents in a difficult situation.
What’s Taylor’s advice to parents?
1. Show and tell them: “You’re amazingly amazing.” Don’t take it for granted that your child knows you love them just the way they are. Tell them they’re super cool. Funny. Smart. One of a kind. How much they weigh has nothing to do with how much you love them. My family did that, and it’s a major reason I’ve been successful in getting and staying fit. I know I deserve to be thin.
2. Proceed with caution, but proceed. You’re pointing out something painful and sensitive, so don’t be surprised if your child backs away. There’s no easy way to approach fitness without making your child feel singled out and threatened, but approach it anyway.
3. Never give up. Don’t threaten, embarrass, or criticize your child. Approach the weight issue a little at a time, but remember that obesity is a health problem that needs to be addressed.
4. Don’t alert the media. Some people say that if you plan to get fit, tell your friends and you’re more likely to stick with the program. That may work for adults, but obese kids think differently. They may prefer to experience a little success before announcing what they’re doing. Let your child take the lead.
5. Let them build the house. You can supply the tools–books, websites, health discussions–but the best plan will be the one they develop themselves.
6. Let them pick vegetables. Take your child with you to the grocery. Let them choose one each of several fruits and vegetables that they’re willing to try.
7. Make sweating fun. Exercise doesn’t have to be running on a treadmill. It can be baseball, hip hop dancing, or bicycling.
8. Skip the scale. Instead, focus on lifestyle habits like packing healthy lunches for a month or exercising 30 minutes a day for two weeks.
9. Use non-food rewards. Reward your child for reaching fitness goals by letting them have a friend spend the night or stay up an hour later on Friday night.
10. Set the example. Get the whole family involved in an active, healthy lifestyle. Even thin family members need strong bones and a healthy heart.
Click on the image below to check out Taylor’s Book