The news tells us every day that we have an obesity crisis in this country, that children are fatter than ever. Today I share with you an article I wrote a few years ago on the painful topic of overweight children. To this day I am still wounded by the pain of growing up fat, and my heart breaks for all of the chubby children out there. No matter how thin and healthy WLS makes me, I don't think I'll ever escape thinking of myself as "Little Fat Girl."
Thanks for joining me today,
Our Chubby Children
We know that children are becoming obese at an alarming rate. We know fat kids become fat adults. We know that obesity is the second leading cause of preventable death in this county. We know that obese children will be faced with huge health risks that will compromise their quality of life as adults. We know that obese children are the target of hate and ridicule by other children. We know that fat children are shunned by their peers. And we know it is the parent’s responsibility to make sure their children do not become obese dooming them to lifetime of disease, heartache and suffering.
One of the most painful things about obesity is we seem to get it from our parents and pass it along to our children. I know a woman, Diane, who could not celebrate her bariatric success because she had a teenage daughter who came home from school day after day to hug a giant pillow and cry - her classmates called her “Fatty-Cathy”. Cathy is fat, or as her parents like to call her “stout.” Racked with guilt Diane asked “How in the world can I celebrate my weight loss when my own daughter is suffering? I feel pretty guilty about it. I’m her mother. I have fed her and taught her bad eating habits. I’ve actually written notes to excuse her from physical education classes. I gave her my genetic background, then I made the worst of it.”
As if “normal” teen-parent relationships aren’t difficult enough, imagine having a mother beside herself with guilt and a daughter angry and jealous over her mother’s weight loss. When I asked Cathy how she felt about her mother’s new figure and improved health she was angry. She said, “How do you think I feel? She is wearing the cute clothes my friends wear and I have to order fat lady clothes from a catalog. I wear my dad’s old raincoat because we couldn’t find a cute coat in my size. How do you think I feel?” she wept.
Even though she has pleaded earnestly to have surgery, Cathy’s parents are strongly opposed to the 16-year-old having bariatric surgery. They believe the family can learn from Diane’s life-long battle with obesity and make small steps to improve Cathy’s health, ultimately resulting in weight loss.
They are cooking healthy meals together and monitoring portion sizes. They are learning to read nutritional labels. There are no more late night pizza deliveries and “super-size” is off limits. Diane and Cathy have identified that they are emotional eaters. Now they are talking about their negative emotions rather than fostering them with high-calorie, high-fat out-of-control eating. They are working to improve physical fitness as well, walking together three nights a week. Diane doesn’t want bariatric surgery to be Cathy’s last and only hope. “I want to make things better for her, I don’t want her to suffer like I did all those years. I want to correct what I’ve done wrong by feeding her too much of the wrong things. I don’t want her to go through surgery. ”
Cathy has reluctantly made lifestyle changes along with her parents. After three months of improved eating habits and exercising she is down 10 pounds. Her BMI is 39, she started at 41, just at the cusp of qualifying for surgery. Dad has joined the fight against fat as well. He’s lost almost 20 pounds. “I’m proud of her,” said Diane, “and I tell her everyday. I think we are getting closer. I want so much to save her from feeling the pain.”
We know that children are copycats: they are more likely to do what their parents do, not what their parents tell them to do. Given that, Cathy’s parents are doing the right thing for her by adopting a new family lifestyle that will ultimately improve the quality of life for all of them. Bad eating habits are not impossible to break and exercise is not impossible to incorporate into our daily lives. Diane’s surgery was simply the catalyst this family needed to overhaul years of destructive habits.
Cathy’s parents have realized, by way of their own health crises, that eating is one of the most fundamental health-related behaviors that can be controlled. They are working together to improve the quality of life for the entire family.
As for the emotional issues: Diane’s guilt and Cathy’s jealousy; they are doing their best to work through those issues on their own. But Diane admits it is stressful at times and family counseling may be in order. “Years down the road I don’t want us to be a mother and daughter who never speak to each other because we didn’t resolve these issues. I think there is a chance here for us to become closer.”