Childhood History…when Obesity Repeats Itself
“Mom, please will you write me a note to my PT teacher excusing me from PT class”… say what? I remember physically pulling back, recoiling, and glaring at my 14 year old, with déjà vu knocking on my minds door.
He’d suffered a brief head cold a few days before and I recall asking him if he was still not feeling too good, all the time fully understanding the real reason for the note request. I obliged, and he was excused from the PT class that time around. As a mother, this bothered me, that I had to fib my sons’ way out of exercising once a week, during valuable class time. What was he doing while his classmates were keeping fit during that one lesson held outside, aimed at improving coordination, overall health and fitness and social skills? But I understood. You see, this was me, around 34 years ago – fat, very fat, obese actually, unfit, creating every excuse in the book not to participate in physical training at school. I used to bunk PT class, write notes from my parents, cry and feign illness, do anything to avoid wearing the regulatory shorts and T-shirt, as I was ashamed and embarrassed to expose my fatness. Just like his mom, my son felt every bit then as I did way back in my school days.
Mahir, my son, was born at 34 weeks in-utero, weighing a small 2.24kgs at birth, as my earlier blog posts describe – he came early due to my insulin and pill diabetes days, diagnosed after a near miscarriage when I was 8 weeks pregnant. He developed well during his formative years, graduating from babyhood, to toddlerhood and early childhood as a healthy, normal weighted boy, fitting into societies mould of normal by regular health standards, evinced by his health record. He was a picky eater and Head Chef would lovingly play into his eating habits, creating meals that he enjoyed, ensuring that our food stocks catered for his special eating requirements – and as he grew, so did his appetite and the “special foods” list increased based on his preferences. I merrily shopped to cater for my eldest sons’ wants, ignoring warning signs that he was having too much of this, and none of that based on the standard healthy foods pyramid. I was blind to the recommendations of health professionals who define what we should and shouldn’t eat. I was happy that he was eating, and based on my traditional Indian upbringing, it was my duty as a mother to feed my child, and to ensure that he was well fed, by definition, I was doing a great job as a mom. It was about the same time that I embarked on yet another diet, to unshackle me from the plagues of my obesity and its opportunistic diabetes. Mahir was turning 12 the year that my fitness and health took priority in my life.
On the cusp of teen hood, he engaged in after and outside school activities as most regular children do. He hated the outdoors then, and would complete his home work, and head on straight into his passion of X-Box gaming. Very much his pride and joy, he saw himself as this hip hard core gamer, often playing live online games with his mates. For me as a parent, I was happy that my child was in our home, away from the street dangers, and in my mind, safe out of harms way. “Are you hungry Mahir” I would often ask when checking in on him. He’d respond that all was good, he’d snacked on crisps and chocolate and that he’d make something for himself when he was hungry. I was good with that, as my then independent son, who’d often cook for himself, was okay, in my thinking.
This was also around the time that I picked up on my blog and as a (healthier) foodie enthusiast, began blogging my recipe creations that assisted me in my weight loss. I was often asked on Facebook, after sharing my daily food log, in pictures, if my family enjoyed the same meals as I did. The answer was always a resounding No…as they still continued to enjoy an unhealthy lifestyle, especially food. Mahir did attempt following my lifestyle for about 2 weeks, but he lost focus of the bigger picture and returned to crisps and chocolate and deep fried fresh potato chips and battered, coated and crumbed chicken and store bought sausage and McDonalds’ burgers and curries with rice and melted cheese sandwiches and bread and roti…and, and, and, all the ands that eventually led his weight to creep up to an unhealthy almost 105kg by age 15.
By this time, I had shed around 45kgs, had been off insulin and other pills for almost 3 years. My dear (now late) Mum, often discussed my boys welfare with me and it was often during our chats, as you noticed the physical changes in Mahir, that she’d encourage me to encourage him to eat healthy and participate in outdoorsy activities. She’d often too have similar chats with him, and I suppose as a teenager, healthy eating was furthest from his thoughts. Then in January 2016, my mum passed away. Mahir was devastated – we all were and our lives spiralled downwards as grief consumed us. I withdrew a lot into myself during 2016 and so did Mahir. Around mid-2016, he began asking me questions like “How long did it take you to lose your first 20kgs Mom”, “what motivated you”, “how did you begin”, “what was the plan”, and similar questions, knowing fully well how committed I was to my transformation, taking my own meals to relatives homes when invited, and to restaurant dinners too, ensuring that I kept to my eating plan.
So, I’d advise him on what I was doing and how it worked for me, mindful that I was in my mid 40s and he was just a kid. Two weeks after turning 15, Mahir decided that he was going to try out following a healthy regime. I recall the day he started, it was a Sunday, and we had special guests over for lunch. Mahir picked at his food, which was a mixture of healthy, real food and traditional Indian food cooked with refined oils and potatoes. He’d made a selection that suited him and ate like a bird – no potatoes or rice, none of the food cooked in refined oils and he attempted to eat a salad – he never ate salad before! Later that night he asked me to marinate chicken breasts for grilling the next morning, so he’d have healthy protein to take as his school lunch – different from the 4 slices of bread with unhealthy filling, to sustain him during the school day. This was the day that my 15 year old son decided to change his life around.
Tired of being physically tired, embarrassed about not being able to wear comfortable pants especially denim jeans – he was a size 44, larger sized than his dad who maintains his size 34/36 well, and felt uncomfortable wearing normal teenager clothing for the reason that he didn’t look good in them. His school pants and shirts were a size 44 too. Exactly the same as I was at his age, 33 years before. Déjà vu indeed!
Mahir researched eating habits and plans thoroughly, looked at countless uTube videos, worked out a menu plan based on the foods he enjoyed, read up on the causes of obesity in children, asked questions regarding the dangers of processed foods and sugar, and went on to devise his own eating and training programme. I have to admit that I didn’t take him seriously, until I began observing the small changes in his physical appearance, and also entranced by his regime change, his water intake, his food preparation, and alarmingly, that he began reading labels on food, paying close attention to sugar content, cholesterol and fat content and making comparisons in nutritional values. My son was on his way in changing his unhealthy lifestyle around!
I then realised that a number of factors influenced his decision, including being accepted by his peers, wanting to fit into the “correct” boxes that kids of his age fit into, taking cognisance of his physical appearance based on that of his mates and realising that he had the potential to turn his life around for the better.
It’s not quite 6 months since he began his life-changing journey and to date has managed to shed a mammoth 26.3kgs, bringing him within a hair’s breadth of his goal of 29kgs weight to lose. He has dropped sizes considerably – from a tight size 44 to a loose 34 at this time of writing, from a XXL to XXXL T shirt, to a loose medium. His concentration has improved, he’s fitness levels are phenomenal as he trains arduously hard, his confidence has grown in leaps and bounds and he’s now into school PT full time, with cricket as a 3-4 times weekly after school activity.
What about the Xbox gaming you may ask? Something happened! The day before the start of his new school year, he handed the Xbox console to us and said he may have use for it during the holidays, or not at all. This was a radical shift from being an all night gamer for the 6 weeks that he was on holiday. He didn’t stop playing at any stage during his journey, he just made healthier choices in the foods and liquids he enjoyed.
I look at Mahir right this very minute, filling his water bottle with just plain water and I marvel at my son…that he swopped Coke light and Diet Coke for water is one of the most phenomenal choices he has made, that he walks around with weights in his hands, lifting while chatting to us, that he prepares and cooks his own meals based on his meal plans and packs his own lunches, and that he has embarked on this life-saving intervention for himself, by himself, is a remarkable feat for a 15½ year old young man.
Then I think back on how my life was at his age…and I shed tears for the years that I lost out on, the years that I can never get back, the years of ridicule from peers and strangers and I smile wryly, with some regret but, smile whole heartedly too, knowing that I was loved, just as Mahir knows too….