The subject of childhood obesity has come up a lot in the past year. With efforts from the highest places in government even getting in on the topic. For me, the issue hits home in a lot of ways.
When I was 11 years old I gained close to 70 pounds in one year. Prior to that I had been an active, thin child. I was involved in sport, dance, playing outside. My parents struggled with poverty throughout my entire growing up. We were homeless on and off, and thanks to the charity of some very kind people, it was rare that we were actually on the street. There were a few nights spent in cheap hotels and in our little Dodge Colt though. We ate when we could. Often, the food we ate was the cheapest we could get our hands on. I don’t remember having an abundance of vegetables, fruits and whole grains. The cheapest food back then, as it is today is junk food. We didn’t have great medical care either, it’s hard to get that when your father is a self-employed carpenter or working a part time job at a liquor store.
My parents did the best they could, considering the circumstances. They, themselves though started to gain significant amounts of weight as I grew up. As I’ve mentioned before, health in my family has not been so great. My Granny died young from type 2 diabetes, most of the women in my family have had type 2 diabetes, heart disease runs rampant in my family as does obesity.
But I am the last to blame genetics. We all learned how to eat horribly, leading to disease – if anything was passed down it was the lack of knowledge and understanding of when it came to food.
By the time I finished middle school I was over 200 pounds. I was still active, I was even on the volleyball and basketball team. But, no matter how physically active I was, did not make up for the fact that my eating was not that great. I soon learned to use food to cope with life. We went through a lot of hard times growing up, and food became a way for me to handle those hard times. My Granny would cook for us and that was love to me, to me it was nourishment, not just for my body but for my soul. Food meant that someone loved me enough to make sure I didn’t starve.
Being an obese kid was not easy. I got made fun of endlessly, was called every name imaginable. For several years I tried to hide as much as possible. During lunch I would go practice my violin in the auditorium, I kept to myself as much as I possibly could. When we moved to another state, I decided I’d take a new approach to my obesity, I would make fun of myself, and do what fat people don’t do – be social and active. I did the unthinkable, I joined an advanced P.E. class. A class that was completely optional – and had every cheerleader and jock in the school in it. I tried my best to fit in, and to make friends, and was rather successful to a degree. I found out that even in High School, people are not that bad once you give them a chance. But, while I tried to make up for the fact that I was obese, I cried myself to sleep most nights, I made deals with god, begging for some sort of hope when it came to my weight. I hated going to school because it meant I would have to worry about getting stuck in a desk and being mortified (which happened on more than one occasion).
Every health professional told me the same thing “eat less, move more”. It seemed so simple. I would get so angry, because that was ALL I had to do – eat less, move more. And I would, to the point where I would starve myself. I was in weight loss support groups by time I was 13 – weight watchers, Jenny Craig, TOPS, and Over-eaters Anonymous. I hated being fat, I would have done anything to be thin, anything to have had what I thought would have been a ‘normal’ growing up.
My issues with weight just kept going into my adulthood, but just got worse. I kept gaining until the point where I was over 400 pounds. As you know, I also ended up almost losing my life because of complications from diabetes.
Food, was something that was never talked about in my house. I mean, we are Italian we TALKED a lot around food, but never talked about food. We never sat down as a family and talked about nutrition or our bodies. We just ate what we had, and we ate whatever the school had. Food was just food, there was no good food or bad food. Sure, we knew that eating Doritos was probably less healthy than eating carrots, but it was never talked about or discussed it.
I believe that in order to see some major changes in this country we need to start talking about food. We need to listen to real scientific data to back things up, we need to get back to when it was normal to have fruits and veggies with each meal. We need to stop caring so much about convenience and start realizing that often that convenience comes with a very big price, often a price that means jeopardizing a life or a future.
I know that parents are busy, I know there are games to be driven to, rehearsals to attend, school functions to organize. But I also know that all of things do you no good when you are not healthy enough to enjoy them now or in the future.
It’s time that parents sat down with their children to have some serious talks about food, nutrition and what they put on their plates.
We can not let this run away anymore than it has, and we as a nation can not expect the government to clean it up or our schools. Start to make small changes and start discussing food in your house, read books about science based nutrition as a family, and decide that you will become educated about nutrition and you will be a family who cares for one another in one of the most simple, yet life changing ways.
I get an alarming amount of e-mails from parents who have children with high cholesterol (something that can not be controlled with working out or moving more), type 2 diabetes and other adult diseases that have now been proven over and over to be lifestyle diseases, not something that just happens. Children should not have to be subject to these horrible diseases (nor should anyone for that matter). We just have to do better overall when it comes to the healthy of our children.
*I tell people all the time to not take my word for all of this, it is important that you educate yourself (and your family) so that you know it first hand, rather than from a third source.
Some books for you to pick up, if you have children:
- Disease Proof Your Child (Dr.Furhman)
- The China Study (Dr.T Collin Campbell)
- Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease (Dr.Esselstyn)
- Dr.Barnards program for reversing diabetes.