Tuesday, November 29, 2011

On Weigh-In Tuesday, weighing in on Cleveland's obese foster child

I'm weighing in today, with the number on the scale, and with my opinions.  Specifically, my opinions about what makes weight loss harder, what makes it easier, and how my experiences relate to the case of Cleveland's obese foster child.

First: Hormones & The Long Haul
When I hopped on the scale last Tuesday, I was up.  By a pound.  Again.  I hadn't eaten terribly, but I still wasn't logging what I ate, and my exercise had slowed a bit.  It's very frustrating to confront my challenges again and again and again.  I try to remember that this is a life-long journey, not a race. I remind myself that so long as I'm committed to taking care of me, speed does not matter - only persistence.  It's hard not to feel frustrated.

Aware of my frustration, my mother-in-law recently pointed me to an article in the LA Times.  Apparently, a medical study found that "subjects who shed weight on a low-calorie diet were hungrier than when they started and had higher levels of hormones that tell the body to eat more, conserve energy and store away fuel as fat."  Even a year later, the subjects' appetite hormones hadn't returned to normal.  The good news is that perhaps the study will help scientists find a way to help those who've lost weight maintain their loss.  The bad news is that until then, those of us who are struggling to maintain or lose more after an initial loss... we just have to fight what our bodies are telling us, keep active, and stay on our journey as best as we can.

Second: The Team Approach
Tom's been home since last Wednesday night - for Thanksgiving plus a week of work hiatus (he goes back next Monday - and I'm reminded what a difference it makes being one of a team on this journey.  While he's working, we're still a great team... but I'm alone in making our dinners, planning our menus, doing our grocery shopping, cooking for myself.  I go to the gym alone.  To Slimmons alone.  (I see dear friends there, but it's not the same as arriving with my best friend.)  And since I'm a freelance writer, I work at home alone.

But since Wednesday, it's been much easier to do everything I was struggling to do.  We've cooked together.  We've exercised together.  We planned our meals and grocery-shopped and discussed our plans.  We've also done a lot of work together.  It supports the very first thing that Richard Simmons ever said to Tom and I.  He said, "you have to do this together, or it doesn't work."

Together with Tom, I was able to come back down a pound - even on Thanksgiving week.  Soon I hope to be back to my 70 total lost, and move on from there.  But I have to be patient with myself, and I have to be pretty vigilant, thanks to hormones that are constantly telling me I'm hungry.  I never used to feel this way.

On the Cleveland Situation
Perhaps you haven't heard yet, but there's a debate swirling around a Cleveland social worker's decision to remove a child from his parents' custody because he was obese.  The child was an honor student and involved in activities at his school, but he is now staying with foster parents.

Apparently, the state worker was trying to work with the parents, but claims that they weren't following doctors' orders.  The parents dispute that claim, that they bought him a bicycle and were working with him. 

The Cleveland Plain Dealer article includes this quote from the mother:  "Of course I love him. Of course I want him to lose weight. It's a lifestyle change, and they are trying to make it seem like I am not embracing that."

The article also states that the mother is overweight herself, and that when she "found out that other kids and a sibling might be giving her son extra food, she tried to put a stop to it."

It sounds to me like the family was torn.  I don't know the specifics of the situation aside from the story, but all I can think about is how the Team Approach helps everything.  And if a sibling - or a struggling mother - isn't doing everything they can to help their loved one (or worse, actively sabotaging them), then it's going to be that much harder for their loved one to succeed. 

One other quote from the article stuck out to me - it flashed like a blinking red light.  "Last year, the boy lost weight but in recent months began to gain it back rapidly." 

It sounds to me like the foster child from Cleveland - like the scientific study suggests - has his appetite hormones out of whack after a weight loss.  It's hard for me to control myself in this situation as an adult.  How much harder would it be for an eight-year-old?  Without his parents?  Without his friends, in a new school, with life upside-down?  I know how my eight-year-old self would have handled it. Hell, I know how my twenty-eight-year-old self would have handled it.  I'd eat.

Is it sad that an eight-year-old is over 200 pounds, and suffers from sleep apnea?  Certainly.  Does it need to be addressed?  Yes.  Are the parents responsible?  Absolutely, to the extent that they are able to control their son.

But does the child need to be removed from their custody?  I'd say no.

While he's in danger for future comorbidities from obesity, he only has apnea, and has been treated for it.  While a parent can encourage and schedule healthy eating and exercise, there is nothing they can do to stop their child from, say, buying crap at school.  Stopping at a convenience store on the way home.  Swapping their healthy apple for processed junk from friends.  I cite these three examples because they are, in fact, things I did as an overweight child.  I remember that our cafeterias had some good salads... but candy, sugary sodas and fresh-baked cookies (3 for a dollar!) were sold at our high school store. Other kids didn't have a problem resisting them... but I did.  I know there were others like me, too. 

So, what can we do?  How can we help this generation of children get healthy, and stay healthy?

For starters, while this branch of the government is removing obese children from their parents, other branches are approving french fries and pizza as vegetables.  (Not even veggie pizza, people.  Any pizza with tomato paste - a tiny fraction of what goes into a pizza's calories.)  It's Regan and ketchup all over again.  Nobody's banning food advertisements.  How many late-night tacos were born of TV commercial taunting?  Who, as a kid, didn't want to go to McDonald's to get the latest toy?  Why are we still allowing it to happen?

The answers lie even beyond the ridiculousness of school cafeterias food and marketing.  But they're not easily addressed.

It would help if there wasn't such a stigma attached to being overweight.  Shame is often a chief reason for overeating - a vicious circle I was trapped in for years.

It would help if there wasn't such a stigma around therapy.  Everyone can use guidance.  Nobody is "normal."  And it's the very thing that helped me begin to address my health.

It would help if sports - especially competitive sports - weren't jammed down every kid's throat.  I have no hand-eye coordination.  I wasn't strong.  And I was scared of every ball ever thrown at me in gym class.  I was never taught to kick the kickball.  I was tossed aside on the no-cut basketball team.  And I was forever losing every race.  The lack of positive reinforcement from teachers taught me to hate gym class.  The negative taunting from my classmates taught me to fear exercise.  So, for a long time, I didn't do it.  I didn't realize that the dancing I loved as a kid could be good exercise as an adult.  I didn't know that the swimming that made me so happy on vacation could make my every pool workout feel like a vacation.  Not every kid is a softball star... and not every kid wants to be.  Maybe parents (maybe even schools) should consider an activity program for those kids who are averse to sports.

It would help if parents who struggled with disordered eating would do everything they could to address their own habits before passing them along to their children.  And that, my friends, is what I'm doing right now.

To the kiddo from Cleveland:  I hope you find your way back to your family, and that they can be a united team to help support you.  And I hope that they, along with the others around you, can help you to learn to take good care of yourself.

And everybody reading this:  I hope that you're taking good care of you, too. 


  1. Thank you for sharing your struggles with gaining when you don't log. While it's discouraging to see the scale go up it's encouraging to see I am not alone with gaining when I stop logging despite still measuring. I seems it's much easier to have a snack that may not be the wisest choice for the daily menu if [general] you don't have to be accountable to the log.

    The Cleveland situation is a failure on so many levels. True, we don't know the full story but it does seem the social worker overstepped their bounds. The child was getting treatment for his apena, he wasn't being force fed (that we can tell), his parents were working to change eating habits (as far as we can tell) yet the loss wasn't as significant or as fast as the social worker felt it should be. Was there any medical feedback involved or was it just a decision made by one person? How sad, for the child, for the parents and for another child under her case load that is being starved every night as a form of abuse.

    I can't pinpoint why since there are no mentions of bullying but this entire entry reminds me of the book Blubber, by Judy Blume.

    You're never alone in this and if you feel that you can't talk to Tom during the day due to meetings or workload feel free to shoot me a message.


  2. I'm glad you blogged, because I was just about to check in with you yesterday to make sure you were ok. I didn't have time to read yesterday but saw that you had posted.

    The Cleveland kid is just a tragic story all around. You're right in discussing the societal factors, as the deck is stacked against him and all other people with eating problems.

    From what I've been hearing, candy sales and soda machines have been removed from some schools in the last few years (my high school removed theirs something like 7 years ago). Who knows how widespread that is, but I think things are sloooooowly getting better.

  3. I know how hard it is to keep up with staying healthy when you don't have that constant right there when you need it support. When my cousin and I decided to get fit together we had the convenience of getting off work at the same time. His house was on my way home so I would just swing by. We'd work out, have our protein shakes, take our supplements, and drink lots of water. Afterwards I'd shower and head home to continue my work at home. It was easy. It was convenient. It was fun. After months of awesomeness, my cousin's work schedule and days off changed and I left the office job I was working at. Working out was no longer convenient. Doing it alone sucked. Trying to coordinate a good time to meet up and workout became difficult and I lost all motivation. It's so hard to get started or keep going when you don't have that constant convenient support and comradery from a close friend or loved one. I totally understand how less exciting it is for you to do Slimmons without Tom. I miss you tons and I hope you have wonderful holidays! Happy solstice! :) 2012 is coming soon and I plan to see you much much more this coming year! We've got a blog to upgrade and tons to talk about <3