Looking back, I missed out on so many things due to my weight and body size. I wore a pant suit to the only school dance I ever went to. Not because I loved pant suits but because I didn't look good in those fancy dresses. I often wonder what my childhood and teenage years might have been like if I would have felt comfortable participating like the other girls. Instead, I spent most my years dancing with my weight insecurities.
As a result of being so overweight, what I suffered from the most was very low self-esteem. While I wanted to live in a Howard and Marian Cunningham family on the hit show "Happy Days", I didn't. I wore my low self-esteem on my body in terms of many excess pounds. I desperately wanted to fit into cute clothes and into the popular crowd of my peers. Neither one of those things ever happened for me. I was always on the outside looking into the life I wished I had. As an adult, low self-esteem and depression were issues that I've had to work on diligently. I worried about how all of this would impact my future as a mommy.
I agonized over childhood obesity long before I even became pregnant. Having children was years away, yet I thought about it regularly. Would I pass my obesity on to my future children? One day, I vividly remember walking by the television, CNN was covering a report about high predictors to childhood obesity. The report identified that having one parent that was obese is a predictor. It stopped me cold to hear that fact. My worst fear was playing out on CNN!
Before I had my surgery, I was taking three medications for Type 2 diabetes! With a family history of diabetes and my own Type 2 diabetes, I would be contributing the dreadful disease to my children's gene pool. I questioned the health that my children had to look forward to in their own lives. With all of those unhappy memories, suffering low self-esteem and depression, as well as health issues, I entered mommyhood wishing for so much more for my own sons.
As a new mother, I was committed to do everything I could to improve the health of my sons despite a less-than-desired gene pool lurking with diabetes, heart disease and other co-morbid conditions. When I said I was committed to doing everything, I meant it. My decision was made, I had weight loss surgery.
My weight loss surgery didn't just improve my life but the lives of my sons and husband too. When I had surgery, I immersed myself into my health and the health of my husband and sons. I became a student of my own healthy choices which extended to my family. From having surgery, my sons inherited the knowledge that I absorbed like a sponge.
Thankfully, my sons were very young when I had my surgery. With the conscientious efforts I made from my own childhood obesity issues, they were healthy little boys that were active, played sports and ate healthy the majority of the time. Just as important as their physical well-being was their mental well-being. I knew this began by being aware of what I said and how I treated my boys. I wanted them to have the high self-esteem that I'd only wished for.
Together, as a family, we learned the importance of protein, making sure we ate sufficient protein, difference in fats and that a carb isn't just a carb. We also learned that drinking a minimum of 64 ounces each day excludes sodas – diet and regular, and that there isn't a beverage better for our bodies than water. My sons also get lots of positive, self-esteem enhancing feedback and talks with me. When they encounter a problem, we brainstorm about ways to overcome and deal with it. When they experience their emotions, they know healthy strategies to cope with them, including being able to talk to me about how they feel. To cope with my emotions as a child, I ate a dozen cookies and then rearranged them hoping no one would know. My sons may run a dozen laps as a coping strategy to sort out or deal with their emotions.
Knowledge Is Power
As a family, we watched the show "Jamie Oliver's ‘Food Revolution' " and it was fantastic. My sons obtained so much knowledge from it. Now my younger son is concerned about eating processed food (Thanks Jamie!). He is a very picky eater but has widened his list of acceptable foods to include a wide range of fresh fruits and vegetables. Do you know how most chicken nuggets are made? Check out Jamie making chicken nuggets using the parts of the chicken that no one would ever knowingly eat. (Disclaimer and warning – It is gross! I will never eat a commercial package of chicken nuggets!)
My younger son (the picky eater) enjoys cooking. For dinner, I made a broccoli side dish and he helped me with it. This (formerly) picky eater ate a big spoonful of the broccoli! Since he prepared the majority of the dish, he felt ownership of it and ate it. A mom s-c-o-r-e!
From the broccoli victory lesson, we went a step further and planted a container garden this summer. We grew zucchini, tomatoes, green bell peppers and jalapenos. Both of my sons checked it every day, watered it and nurtured the plants. My younger son was very excited to give his daily report on how the plants were growing and the status of the harvest. He loved showing me the vegetables he'd nurtured and grown. The validation and pride of ownership (remember the broccoli dish) my son has is very rewarding. I know he will remember this experience. He has an attitude that it is fun to grow, prepare and eat fruits and vegetables. It has been such a success that we're going to plant a small garden in our yard for the fall.
A few years ago, we moved from a school district in California that was experiencing budget problems. As a result of budgetary cut-backs, the school no longer had formal physical education classes for the kids. Another contributing factor to the childhood obesity epidemic we are experiencing in this country. The good news is that the school district we moved into is very different. There is a full-time physical education teacher and classes at all of the schools.The school system also has a program for the kids that arrive before school starts to walk the tracks in the playground. The kids have cards and for each lap, they get a stamp or special shaped punch in the card. They are rewarded for various numbers of laps they walk. The kids and parents love this program. I have walked with both of my kids. If a parent walks with the child, the child gets credit for two laps! What a great way to motivate and incentivize families.
Another fun program our school district has added is the Fear Factor Vegetable or Fruit of the month. This is where the school has added more fresh food choices to the lunches through this promotion. It is a challenge for students to try a new vegetable that is not usually served and then get feedback as to whether or not the majority of students like it. It is a very fun way for kids to try new fresh foods and by the benefit of peer pressure they end up liking it. My kids have loved this challenge!
Fast Forward to Now
My sons are now 15 and 12 and are very gratefully at a normal healthy weight. They have a healthy relationship with themselves, their bodies, their weight, food and activity. They are involved in all sorts of activities and have a positive foundation of healthy food choices. At their ages, I did not have this luxury upon which to become a healthy adult. My sons are creating a new cycle of physical and emotional health. I am aware of any warning signs of low self-esteem, depression along with medical issues that may come up. My boys aren't stuffing their emotions through food and living their lives on the sidelines. My sons’ psychological well-being isn’t stunted and their physical health is on the way to living a healthy, fit lifestyle. Again, so far…so good.
I realize I am not entirely out of the woods as a mom but I feel optimistic that the cycle of overweight and obesity as a child and teen has ended with me. I now realize that I am more than "such a pretty face" laden with weight and mental health issues. I am Cathy Wilson, a changed person that took control of her life and made a positive impact on her children.
Beyond that, working on this September newsletter issue has touched me so much. Reading your survey responses, doing research on this topic, reading the other authors articles and digging down deep to write and share a piece of my struggle with childhood obesity has made me more aware than ever before. I can't stop thinking about families and children and their fight with obesity. I am thankful for your voices, I am thankful for this opportunity because I am now determined to speak up about childhood obesity.
If you feel as passionate about childhood obesity awareness as I do, then please join me in my goal of speaking out.