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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Paying it Forward

My health scare in January has led me to reevaluate a lot of things in my life. I took advantage of the month I was off work to examine my priorities and determine whether they were in line with my values. Since then, I've made the appropriate changes. Some decisions were easier than others.

For instance, I realized that not only do I love my job and people for whom I work, but working at the Tracy Press also fulfills me. Truly, I'm a lucky person. Few people are lucky enough to love what they do. I need to appreciate being among the few in this case.

Loving my job was an easy realization to come to. The more difficult ones have to do with what I want outside of professional circles. There needs to be more to me than just a journalist. After all, having interests outside of our careers is what makes us well-rounded as humans. It gives us context and passion -- all things that are very important.

One thing I know for sure is that I want to take a more active role in advocacy for the obese. More than 60 percent of U.S. residents suffer from the disease of obesity, which means every man, woman and child in this country is touched by the disease. Yet even today, it remains one of the few areas where discrimination is prevalent and accepted. And that has to stop.

Having lost almost 200 pounds, much of which I had carried on my 5-foot, 3-inch frame since childhood, I have two choices: I can let my "normal" exterior fool me and those I meet by pretending I never had a weight problem, or I can use the experience and my newfound energy and mobility to help others. I've chosen the latter.

Childhood obesity has reached epidemic proportions, and it's time more people speak out against it as well. The Tracy Hospital Foundation has embarked on an education campaign that includes billboards around town. They help, but more has to be done. It's not fair or realistic to leave the fight up to medical professionals, schools and legislators. As someone who suffered through childhood obesity, I think I have a lot to bring to this particular fight -- and I intend to make my voice heard.

The first step I plan to take in my personal fight against obesity will be participation in the American Society of Bariatric Surgeons' Walk From Obesity. The nationwide event raises money to fund obesity research and advocacy efforts. Walks will be scheduled all over the country in September and October. Specific dates and locations will be announced in May. Keep reading here for more details.

3 comments:

Andrea said...

As an obese person at the beginning of my own weight loss journey (not surgical, just dietary and lifestyle changes because I don't think I would qualify for surgery at 212 pounds) I applaud you for this, for becoming more involved and trying to get the idea that obesity discrimination is okay eradicated.

As a parent, I'm constantly wondering what to do in my struggles to get my son to eat (he's usually too busy playing and is in the 10th percentile for weight at his age) without instilling in him unhealthy behaviors like "clean your plate" and "eat it all gone". Do you have any suggestions, or experiences from when you were a child that you know created certain habits and behaviors that contributed to your obesity problem? I learned from my own childhood that food is expensive and shouldn't be wasted, and that eating the food on a dinner sized plate is a good portion size. I know now that's not always right, that it's okay to throw away what I can't (and shouldn't) eat, and that a dinner size plate is pretty big really.

I think a very important part of fighting the obesity epidemic is teaching our children about food boundaries and nutrient-dense food over junk. I'm terrified that my child may grow up thinking that as a growing boy, he needs to eat, eat, eat. The more I learn about how our behaviors are learned from patterns in our childhoods, the more I want to make sure I instill the proper patterns in my son. Any suggestions or research you've seen to that effect?

Tonya said...

Andrea,
Let me first commend you for recognizing the role you play in forming your son's lifelong eating habits. Not all parents understand how important their example is to their children.
Beyond that, it sounds to me that you're on the right track. I, too, was raised to clean my plate and to show my appreciation for abundance by not letting anything go to waste. Those are internal beliefs that I still battle against. My new frame of mind is that I pay for the right to do whatever I want with my food -- and if that means throwing it away, so be it.

As for your son, I don't know how old he is but I would guess that parents worry way more about their kids' eating than is necessary -- and they get way too caught up in statistics. The human body is a marvelous thing; it will make sure it gets whatever nutrients it needs for survival.

The best thing to teach your son is that food is fuel -- nothing more; nothing less. And you do that by allowing his body to tell him when he's hungry.

Right now, childhood nutrition education seems to encourage parents to offer three well-balanced meals at set times each day where the child joins the family to eat. The child shouldn't be forced to linger...in fact, one brochure I read said 15 minutes is plenty of time for the average 3- to 5-year-old child to eat to the point of satisfaction...forcing them to eat longer encourages overeating.

In addition to meals (especially if you worry your child is not eating enough), you can offer one to two healthy snacks each day. But keep in mind that children do not need adult-size portions. A quarter or half of an apple with a tablespoon of peanut butter is plenty for a 3-year-old.

Andrea said...

That's exactly how old my son is, three. He gets two good meals at daycare and one at home at night, so I don't worry about him getting enough. But he's very small for his age and has resisted eating for a whole day or two at a time because he doesn't want to stop playing. What I'm most afraid of is that I won't recognize when he's had enough and I'll end up trying to get him to keep eating when he shouldn't because I've forgotten that his stomach is only as big as a baseball right about now. These are the battles I'll fight with myself for a long time, especially now when I'm trying to reprogram my mind to know what a correct size portion is, both for me and for my child(ren).

P.S. I don't know if you got my email, but my older sister Tanya Rose used to work with you at the Tracy Press. She's the one who pointed me your way after some emails we sent back and forth over my dietary changes. Just thought I'd let you know.