From Overweight to Healthy and Strong - My Teenage Son's Weight Loss Journey
Please consult with your child's physician before beginning any weight loss or exercise program.
No parent wants to believe they may be contributing to the unhealthy habits of their children. I learned that what I considered "love" may have been contributing to my teenager's weight problem.
Wake Up Call
I have a vivacious, fun loving, 14 year old son. He came into this world a healthy 7.5 pounds and 21 inches long. And has always been in the 90th percentile on the growth charts. And up until about the third grade he was at a good weight in proportion to his height, even though he was always the tallest kid in his class. I don't know what happened at that time, or why his weight began to exceed his height percentile on the growth chart. I do know that I, being a good Greek mother, fed him well. And I encouraged him to clean his plate. And I doted on his every need - supplying all his favorite snacks and eating out at his favorite restaurants. Whatever my little man wanted, he seemed to get. What I didn't realize is that these weren't needs being met, they were wants and cravings that were creating an overweight, unhealthy lifestyle for my son.
My husband kept telling me there were issues that needed to be addressed. We put him in football, and hired a trainer to help him get in shape. He enjoyed the trainer more for the social aspect, and hated football. We were at a loss. In an attempt to sweep it under the rug, I just thought, he will grow taller and thinner.
I come from a tall, large family. My brothers and father were all over 6 feet tall. My grandfather was 6'3" or 6'4" and built like an offensive guard. I attributed my son's size to his genes and figured it would all work out someday.
Someday came in the form of a visit to the doctor for his camp physical. His regular Pediatrician was booked so we made an appointment with another one of the doctors, Dr. M, who my daughter said was gruff. He is an old school doctor who genuinely cares about his patients and their well-being... if that is gruff, I will take it all day long!
When we look the other way, things sneak up on us. My son had gained nearly 20 pounds that year. And when I came into the room after his check up, I could tell by the look on his face that he was not a Happy Camper. Dr. M began to tell me that my son was at risk for developing diabetes because of his weight, most of which he was carrying around his middle. He was deeply concerned that if he did not take steps to change his lifestyle that this weight problem would skyrocket and as an adult would be even harder to change. He said my son reasonably needed to lose 40 pounds. 40 pounds!! 14 years old with 40 pounds to lose? Okay, Doc, tell us how to do that. And he did.
Food Journals and Labels
My son began keeping a food journal, writing down EVERYTHING that went into his mouth. He also began reading the labels on the foods he was eating. What he found was staggering not only to him, but to me and my husband too. His diet was so unhealthy, and the portions so large, he would have to work out 5 hours a day to just work off the calories and fat that he was consuming.
He became a fanatic about checking labels, and opting for healthier options for some of his favorite treats. An apple a day became a mainstay, along with carrots, salads, and healthy grains. He eliminated soda completely from his diet, along with sugary treats and drinks. His protein sources were lean meats and he learned to love hummus. He used Stevia to sweeten tea, drank more water than he had in his entire lifetime up to that point, and low and behold the pounds starting coming off.
Instead of dousing his pizza or wings in 6 servings of Ranch dressing, he turned to spicy sauces with no fat. He did not eat half a pizza, he ate one or two pieces. He cut cheese out of his diet almost completely, and opted to get his calcium and dairy from Greek Yogurt in his fruit smoothies. All these little adjustments made a huge difference on the scale. And as the pounds came off, he was assured that he was doing things right.
I met with the Nutritionist at the Pediatricians office and discussed ways I could help my son. What foods were good and healthy options for lunch at school, and for our boating outings. I came out of that meeting with a clear understanding that as the mom, the grocery shopper and the chef I had the ability to not only help my son, but our whole family, eat a healthy diet.
It was also at that meeting that I was introduced to the USDA Plate Food Chart. (See photo.) Seeing the portions laid out in this format brought it all home to me. Keep in mind, this plate is not the size of a normal dinner plate. It is more the size of the plastic kiddy plate with dividers we use to feed our toddlers!
Exercise with a Passion
My son was always active. He worked out, rode his bike, played basketball and ran around like all kids do. But Dr. M told him, you need to work a little harder and get your heart rate up. My husband helped him figure out an exercise routine that included cardio and strength training. He began using the treadmill and upped his speed, his incline, whatever it took to get his heart rate up to a healthy point that was actually in the fat burning and cardio training range.
I remember the first time he finished his workout, and had broken a sizable sweat. I told him, you found it... your exercise place. This exercise routine, which he did and still does faithfully, at least 5 days a week for an hour or more, propelled his weight loss.
He was losing a healthy 3-4 pounds per week, consistently. We were two months into the new lifestyle and he had lost 20 pounds. We had created a health monster at this point. And that was a good thing!
Consistency and Praise
As my son began to lose the weight, people really took notice. All the well wishers made him feel more confident and even more determined to accomplish his goal.
When we went back into the Pediatricians office so he too could meet with the Nutritionist and she could evaluate how he was doing, he had grown two inches taller! In a matter of months. Was he standing taller because of the weight loss? Maybe a little, but he was now almost 6'1" tall. And according to their scale had lost 32 pounds. She was floored! She told him he should be a motivational speaker for other teens struggling with their weight. And basically by the end of our meeting she said, I don't need to see you again, you are doing awesome, keep it up, and she was going to report back to Dr. M. The height growth and weight loss pretty much put him back into line with his growth chart, and he actually came back onto the page. But he knew Dr. M wanted a 40 pound drop, so he was going to get to that point.
A couple weeks ago my son received a note from Dr. M in the mail. He said he had heard from the Nutritionist about his success and was so proud of him. He knew he could do it all along and he was happy that my son was on his road to a healthier life.
I can't imagine what my son would have done if Dr. M had not been the one to see him that day. He has had countless people tell him he needed to get in shape, and eat better. But something that was said triggered something in my son's head to really make a difference and a change. Maybe the word diabetes scared him. Maybe the word obese brought it all into perspective. Whatever it was, I am so thankful for the change and fact that that my little man, who is now towering over me, is at a healthy place with his body.
He still has about 5 pounds to lose, and I know he won't stop until he gets there. His clothes are too big, an issue we never had in the past. And he carries an exuberance and passion on his face and in his manner that just makes one smile. I could not be more proud of him, and hope someday he can help other teens recapture their healthy mindset on their way to a brighter future.