I have already shared part of my story with you, how I was an overweight twenty something who decided enough was enough. The part of the story I have not shared with you is the fact that I was also an overweight child. With the launch of Michelle Obama’s campaign to fight childhood obesity, I thought now would be a good time to share a little more of my history.
The photo to the right is me at about age eight. I do not know what my top weight was as a child. I do know I was teased mercilessly. I do know that I wore either half sizes (the nice way Sears sold husky clothes for girls), women’s clothes in a bigger size than I wear as an adult today or clothes my mother made for me. I also know when we took swimming lessons in the third grade I had to wear the next to largest size swimsuit provided by the public school system. Everyone knew what size it was because they were all color coded. Black was the largest. I wore green.
Food was a great struggle in my house for a couple of reasons. One, it was just me and my mother and money was scarce. I remember being able to get a lovely product called a Banana Flip for a quarter at the discount bread store. Spongy yellow cake and a creamy banana flavored filling. I think I had one with my lunch 2-3 times per week. The only vegetables I can remember were potatoes, peas and corn. All cheap, as was the butter they were covered in. My daily beverage choices included Hi-C and Pepsi. I refused milk, unless it was chocolate or strawberry. Another staple, and favorite, was grilled cheese sandwiches made with government cheese and white bread, also from the discount bread store.
Ironically, my mother was also overweight and constantly battling it. I assume she was eating the same foods I did, only because I do not recall anything different. I do remember her boxes of Figurines. Anyone else of my generation remember Figurines? A wafer like meal replacement bar before Slim Fast was popular. I loved them and ate them as snacks.
My mother did the best she could with the resources she had. At least, she did the best she thought she could with her resources and willful child. Then something changed. I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.
I was very ill for the period prior to my diagnosis. I could not eat and therefore I lost weight. Not a weight loss plan I would recommend for anyone, but I did lose weight.
I was in the hospital for over a week. During that time my mother and I were required to take a diabetes education class. A large part of the class was basic nutrition and how I should best eat to maintain my weight and manage my diabetes. I remember learning a point system, very similar to what they do in Weight Watchers today.
When I finally came home from the hospital my mother performed a 180. We started a food log to show to the doctor on follow up visits and to keep track of my calories for the day. We started measuring everything. She tried as best as she could, still with limited resources, to provide better foods and nutrition for me. Gone were the Hi-C and Pepsi. Well, the Pepsi stayed in diet form. (It was only when I started my journey as an adult did I make the switch to water). Juices were in, 100% juice not the juice drinks from before.
She stepped up and did what she had to do as a parent to make sure I did what I needed to do for my health. She did some things that, as a parent, were probably hard to do. No more trick or treating for example. She found a way for me to have a birthday cake without all the added sugar. When we went out to eat with my grandparents for pizza she limited my intake to 2 slices to prevent my glucose from spiking. At Christmas she made sure there was plain ham for me without the sugary glaze my grandmother loved.
My point is when faced with a potentially life threatening health situation for her child she stepped up and did the right thing. It was not always the easy thing, but it was what she had to do to keep me healthy and manage my illness in the days before carb counting and insulin pumps. Sadly I do not see enough parents doing the same with children who are obese. Obesity is a potentially life threatening condition that is affecting millions of children. We, as a country, have to step up and do something about it. It starts with each adult making better choices for themselves and for their families.
I myself am not a parent, so I know it may seem out of place for me to give parenting advice. However, the only way we are going to get a handle on childhood obesity is more parents stepping up and doing the right thing. I know this because I had a great example in my mother.