My son was an average-sized baby but by the time he was two, it was clear he was going to be a big boy. He was a huge two, not exactly overweight but definitely tall for his age and stocky.
I wasn’t worried though. I figured he was going to be tall like his father and grandmother, who was 6’ tall herself. By the time he was 10, he began to grow out of his cute, chubby kid phase and started to become a short, overweight tween, with awkward fitting clothes and bifocals. I could see that he was starting to identify himself as well as an overweight kid.
By the time he was 12, his pediatrician was very concerned. My son was significantly overweight, and we could no longer sit back hoping he would grow out of it. He was at risk for a variety of health issues that could severely impact his quality of life into adulthood.
I felt like I had failed him but I had no idea how to help him. I spent many nights crying in my room because I knew people were judging me and worse, I knew people were judging him. He was becoming more withdrawn. He stopped caring about school and his self-confidence was non-existent.
As a family, we had healthy eating habits but it wasn’t enough. I had no idea how to motivate him to exercise. I bought a family gym membership, but he needed structure so I signed him up for football. He lost some of the weight, but there were drawbacks: the season was short and risk of injuries high. He played football for one more season before calling it quits. The weight came back with a vengeance. He was now a very overweight teen.
I wanted him to commit to a healthy lifestyle, not just short term weight loss.
Committing to a Healthy Lifestyle
The summer following his freshman year, he traded his bifocals for contact lenses, but he was still so overweight that by now I was in full on panic mode! I had just given birth to my daughter so I was off work for the whole summer. I was determined to help him get fit.
The challenge was finding a structured, rigorous physical activity that didn’t feel like punishment to him; I figured if he enjoyed it, he would be more likely to commit to it long term. I wanted him to commit to a healthy lifestyle, not just short term weight loss. I’d always told my son that he is a “whole person” made up of different parts and that he needs to take care of his physical self as well as his spiritual and intellectual selves; I believe there has to be harmony to be whole.
In between nursing sessions with my two month old, I happened to be browsing our neighborhood newsletter when I saw it: Annual Junior Crew Learn to Row Week! I didn’t know anything about rowing, and I was hesitant but desperate. Rowers always seemed to be in top physical form and although overweight, my son was a proficient swimmer (we had tried swimming to help him lose weight at some point) so he met the basic requirement.
He was furious when I signed him up, but I wasn’t going to back down. He said he would walk home if I dropped him off and I thought, “Well, at least he’ll be up off of the couch and moving.” The program was only a week so I convinced him to give it a try. I was there every morning snapping pictures and taking videos while he was annoyingly nonchalant about the whole thing.
Never Going Back
But at the end of the week, he asked if he could sign up for an additional three weeks. I knew he was hooked! The upcoming camp was Monday to Friday, in the wee morning hours. I thought I was dreaming … he actually wanted to get up at 6:30 am during the summer … to work out?!? Who was this kid?!?
Flash forward one year and my 16-year-old has lost over 50 pounds, his self-confidence is renewed, and he has improved tremendously in school.
Yesterday, we were driving home from some errands, and I asked him how he feels compared to this time last year. He said, “I hate looking at old pictures of myself. I wasn’t happy. I never want to look or feel that way again.” This was a huge hurdle for us to overcome and it took a lot of effort and commitment from the whole family but we’re in this together. When it comes to parenting, our children’s failures may be our failures, but their successes are ours as well!