Mary Grove still remembers the moment she realized that her family’s weight–and life–had to change. One afternoon two and a half years ago, her son Ben, then nine, pulled his new yearbook out of his backpack. There among the smiling faces of his fourth-grade class was a fat kid. A very fat kid. Her son. “I couldn’t believe it,” Mary says. “I was like, Who is that kid? I didn’t realize he was so heavy until I looked at that picture.”
Ben, with 140 pounds on his slight four-foot ten-inch frame, wasn’t the only one in the family with a problem. His brother, Alex, then eight, was four feet seven and 150 pounds. And Mary herself, at 41 and five eight, weighed 279. “I never thought I’d be fat and 40,” she says. But in her 30s–after she got divorced, obtained sole custody of her two boys, and returned to school to earn a master’s degree in education–the pounds started piling on. No wonder: Her hectic schedule spelled diet doomsday. “I was running the kids back and forth to babysitters, running to class, spending a lot of time in the car, and not thinking about what I was putting in my mouth,” she recalls.
The same laissez-faire attitude prevailed at the Jacksonville, Florida, home the family shares with Mary’s sister, Mickie, 51. “It was a food free-for-all,” Mary explains. “Nobody really watched what they ate. The four of us could polish off nearly two large pizzas.” After the yearbook epiphany, Mary decided to gradually broach the topic of losing weight to her sons. When Alex came home from school in tears after being teased about being overweight, she gently told him, “Well, Alex, you are. We all are.” Over the next year, the family gradually “worked up the motivation” to slim down. Then, when Mickie–five nine and 245 pounds at the time–was diagnosed with type II diabetes, everyone agreed it was time to really do something.
A friend from church mid Mary that he, his wife, and his daughter had all joined Weight Watchers and were making progress. Inspired, the Groves attended their first meeting on April 30, 2001, and met the 40-some people who would form their weekly support group.
“The hardest thing was getting started,” says Ben, a well-spoken 12-year-old. Among other challenges, the family had to get used to keeping a food journal and learning the program’s well-known Points system, which assigns a numerical value to every type of food imaginable.
Armed with nutrition information from Weight Watcher the Groves cleaned out the cupboard. Candy bars were replace with oat bars. Potato chips (for points per ounce) were swapped for pretzels (two points per ounce). Mustard (no points) trumped mayonnaise (three points for three teaspoons And high-calorie sodas went down the drain. While many substitutions were subtle, the Grove boys’ new eating habits did not go unnoticed school. Ben, for one, had to defend his decision to pass up eating brownies with the guys. But “mostly, kids understood,” Ben says. “I told Alex that it’s better to be picked on for losing than for gaining.”
Weekly weigh-ins showed that the family’s junk food boycott was working. With every star they earned for losing five pounds, the boys wet quick to thank their mom, says June Day-Negron, leader of the family Weight Watchers group. “And the were so proud of her.” For Mary, a major part of the weight-loss equation was daily exercise. Fitting it in meant leaving her teaching job at 3:15 sharp so she could pick up the boys from school and get to the YMCA by 4:00. Thirty minutes on the treadmill and 25 minutes of weights later, she would head home to start supper (no longer to be eaten in front of the TV). “I wasn’t as hungry after working out,” says Mary, “and I had a lot more energy in the evening to make dinner and the next day’s lunches.”
Ben quickly noticed the benefits of trimming down during his twice-weekly flag football games. “When I was fat, things didn’t go so well,” he says. “But when I lost just ten pounds I was able to do way more.” Alex, too got a boost on the field; as he slimmed down, he was picked to play receiver and even quarterback, instead of the more stationary center position.
One year after they attended their first Weight Watchers meeting, the Groves reported an amazing group loss. Alex had dropped 30 pounds, and Ben had lost 41. Their aunt Mickie had shaved off 66 pounds, and their mom, a staggering 126 pounds! So far, the scale has held steady for Mary and Ben. In fact, Mary says her older son is still strict with himself, planning days in advance to sacrifice enough calories so he can enjoy pizza or fried chicken at church get-togethers. As a result, she has encouraged him to loosen the reins a little.
Alex, meanwhile, has struggled. Like his aunt, he gained back about ten pounds–probably, Mary says, because he got nervous during the state’s standardized-testing period this past spring and cheated on his diet. “I try not to get on him too much, but it’s hard not to,” she adds. Mary gets frustrated when she finds candy wrappers around the house or when Alex claims he can figure out a food’s points just by looking at it. His big brother, on the other hand, takes a gentler approach, remembering vividly how crushing it was to look in the mirror and dislike what he saw. “It’s been harder on Alex,” Ben explains. “He’s just a kid. So sometimes I’ll just say, `Don’t worry, Alex. We’re all doing this together.'”
Then Wonder why our children are bulking up? Just compare what kids
eat today with what they ate 20 years ago. And look at how active they
are–and were. The changes are pretty dramatic, except in one
surprising area: TV. Kids today are glued to the tube about
23 hours per week–one hour less than their 1980s
–Delia Hammock, M.S., R.D.
THEN Amount of sugar, honey, and other sweeteners (per day) 26 teaspoons Number of snacks (per day) 1.1 Number of meals eaten away from home 17 percent Number of meals eaten at a fast-food restaurant 1 in 10 Typical soda size (boys) 7 ounces Typical soda size (girls) 6 ounces Largest soda at a 7-Eleven 32-oz. Big Gulp Average size of a bagel or muffin 2 to 3 ounces Largest serving of McDonald's fries 4 ounces Time spent playing computer or video games None High school kids taking a daily gym class 42 percent NOW Amount of sugar, honey, and other sweeteners (per day) 34 teaspoons Number of snacks (per day) 1.8 Number of meals eaten away from home 30 percent Number of meals eaten at a fast-food restaurant 1 in 3 Typical soda size (boys) 19 ounces Typical soda size (girls) 12 ounces Largest soda at a 7-Eleven 64-oz. Double Gulp Average size of a bagel or muffin 4 to 7 ounces Largest serving of McDonald's fries 7 ounces Time spent playing computer or video games 7 hours per week High school kids taking a daily gym class 27 percent