Local parents take charge of their family’s health
BY DR. NIMALI FERNANDO
FOR THE FREE LANCE–STAR
Betty and Steve Brown and their son, Johnny, have made the kind of dietary and lifestyle changes that pediatricians wish for all of their patients.
Over the course of a year, they’ve knocked sugary treats off their grocery list, starting cooking more meals at home and taken other important steps to lead healthier lives.
The result has been a complete transformation in the lives of this couple and their previously overweight son.
I recently met Betty at a grocery shopping class I teach for my nonprofit, “The Doctor Yum Project.” As the class started, Betty described how she and her husband changed the way their family ate, leading to a dramatic improvement in their 7-year-old’s health.
“It started with him,” Betty said, pointing at her husband, Steve, a Marine. “Steve was the one that decided that we needed to make a change.”
A year earlier, when the family was living in Betty’s hometown of Dallas, a pediatrician told Betty that her son Johnny was overweight.
“I didn’t want to hear it,” said Betty, a nursing student. “I was in denial.”
But one day while playing at the park on the monkey bars, Johnny slipped, fell and broke his wrist. Everyone told Steve it was just an accident, but he said he realized his son’s weight might have played a part in the injury.
“I felt like he was just hanging, and his muscles could not support his extra weight,” Steve said. “If he weighed less, he may not have fallen.”
That became a turning point for Steve, who decided that his family needed to make a change. Betty said she wasn’t ready for the change, but she eventually got on board in a big way.
Back in Texas, Johnny had spent much of his time with his grandparents, who—like many grandparents—indulged him. He also was eating fast food many times a week and helping himself to snacks and candy whenever he wanted.
But when the family moved to Virginia last year, the Browns changed everything. They removed soda, juice, sugary snacks and treats from the family’s grocery list. They also set some ground rules about eating.
“We not longer let him go to the fridge and the pantry whenever he wants,” Steve said. “He has to let us know when he wants to eat.”
The family also stopped eating out so often and began cooking more and eating meals together.
“We eat a lot of vegetables now,” Betty said. “Instead of ground meat in my spaghetti sauce, I now use vegetables like zucchini and squash. It took a little while for Johnny to get use to the vegetables, but he really likes them now.”
Asked about his favorite veggies, Johnny smiled. “Lettuce and corn,” he said. “My favorite fruits are apples and bananas.”
Johnny’s parents said they’ve been amazed by the change that’s come over their son since they changed the family’s diet. Their son, whom they described as previously being irritable, became calmer, happier and more motivated. He also went from reading below grade level to reading a year above grade level.
Along with changing the family diet, the Browns became more involved with Johnny’s schoolwork and signed him up for after-school activities. He joined a running club at Lee Hill Elementary, which, coupled with the change in his diet, led to a complete transformation in his physique.
As a 6-year-old, Johnny wore size 10–12 clothes, Betty said. A year later, the 7-year-old is now wearing size 6–7 clothes.
Johnny also has benefited from a major boost in self-esteem.
“He used to be really shy to take his shirt off at the beach or the swimming pool,” Betty said. “Now his just takes his shirt right off and jumps in the pool.”
At one point when he was losing the weight, he told his parents, “I like the way I feel. Look, my belly is gone!”
Another byproduct of the family’s new eating habits was a change in the family’s finances. A food bill of $1,000 a month for groceries and restaurant tabs was trimmed down to an amazing $300 per month. The Browns keep their budget down by being really mindful about how they spend their money on food.
“We couldn’t believe how much we were spending and wasting,” Betty said. “We now plan out our meals, and we try to eat everything we buy.”
The Browns saw that obesity was preventing their son from having a full life, and they want others to see that parents can make a change.
Looking back, Steve said, “I realized I had to make healthy choices. It had to start with us. It’s not easy at first, but if you keep your head up, you will see great results.”
Dr. Nimali Fernando is a pediatrician at PL Pediatrics in Fredericksburg and founder of the Doctor Yum Project. Visit doctoryumproject.org for contact information.
SIDEBAR: TAP INTO LOCAL CHILDREN’S HEALTH RESOURCES
My website, doctoryum.com, is an effort to promote healthy eating and combat childhood obesity. To expand the reach of that site, I started a nonprofit, The Doctor Yum Project, earlier this year with a team of health care professionals and parents who also care about kids’ health.
Our mission is to lower the rates of childhood obesity and diet-related illnesses by partnering with families to raise children who eat a healthy, whole food diet.
Twice a month we offer a grocery shopping class in two area grocery stores. Families can sign up on our website, then get a shopping tour where they will learn about ways to get organized, shop for healthier food and save money. To learn more about our grocery shopping classes and kids cooking classes, visit the doctoryumproject.org.
We also touch on some of the ways families can raise healthy eaters in our “Prescription for Healthy Families” found at doctoryum.com, under “topics.” The prescriptions include:
- Teach kids to drink water.
- Eat fruits and vegetables with every meal and snack.
- Buy foods with ingredients you understand.
—Dr. Nimali Fernando