My twin sons were raised with a simple philosophy: food is delicious medicine we put in our body every day. Jacob and Zachary learned to love food other kids wouldn’t touch – fruits, vegetables, whole grains, herbs, spices, and sushi.
Neither boy had ever eaten meat or seen the inside of a fast-food restaurant. What could go wrong?
We arrived at the doctor the summer after they turned twelve, for their check-ups, and were told that Jake and Zach, 5 feet tall and 119 lbs., were overweight.
I won’t pretend the doctor’s news surprised me. My husband and I could see that our children were getting a little chubby. Still, Dr. Wilde’s announcement made it all the more real and terrifying.
“How did this happen?” I asked. “How in the world did my two organically-fed children get fat?”
Dr. Wilde had been their doctor since the boys were six months old. He knew us. But he still went through the usual reasons for weight gain.
“Do you have potato chips, packaged cookies, cakes, ice cream, or candy in the house?” he asked.
“We don’t buy junk food,” I told him. “I haven’t had a potato chip since Reagan was in the White House.”
“No juice or soda?”
I stared at him.
“Are you joking?” I asked.
He stopped to think a moment. This wasn’t going to be easy.
“Are they still playing sports?” he asked. “A half-hour every day?”
“They played basketball, soccer, track, and flag football this year. During summer, they’re on the neighborhood swim team.”
Dr. Wilde sighed. And he thought medical school was challenging.
“I bet they don’t watch a lot of television or play computer games all day either, right?”
“No way,” I said. “Not on my watch.”
“Okay, then, you’re not going to have to make drastic changes. Just analyze what you’re doing and where you can do a few things differently.”
I was up for the challenge. Jacob and Zachary knew they were bigger and also wondered what to do about it. They noticed skinny friends eating donuts and cupcakes; why were they so different?
“It’s frustrating when thin kids burn through calories and never pay attention to what they eat,” I said. “Unfortunately, those same kids never develop good eating habits or learn portion control. When they get older, their activity and metabolism slow down. That’s why so many older people are obese. It’s hard to change a lifetime of bad eating habits. Believe it or not, you guys are lucky. You’re learning at an early age to eat healthy portions of nutritious food. I’m hoping this will help you your whole life.”
“Yeah,” Zachary sighed. “It’s working great so far.”
I read books and scoured the internet, looking for answers that would prevent the emotional scarring that comes from a childhood without Doritos. We watched television shows and documentaries. I analyzed our mealtime choices, almost at my wit’s end, when it finally hit me. A new school year right around the corner, I realized with stunning clarity that a solution might be within reach.
“They ate school lunches last year,” I told my husband one night with horror and pain in my voice.
He took off his glasses and stared at me.
“I know,” he said. “They still talk about pizza days as the highlight of their 6thgrade year.”
My heart sank. That’s where I’d failed my children. When they left elementary school and started a middle magnet program, I stopped making their lunch every day. This might have been the problem. Therefore, a few days before the beginning of 7th grade, we had a talk.
“What kinds of lunches did you eat last year?” I asked.
Jacob got a glazed, dreamy look in his eyes.
“Pizza, grilled cheese sandwiches, usually some chips and a cookie,” he said. “But always a side salad with Ranch dressing.”
“We’re doing things differently this year,” I told them.
I made egg salad, tuna, or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, sometimes pasta in their thermos, sometimes cheese and crackers. I always threw in an apple, orange, or peach, plus a cheese stick and yogurt tube with veggie chips or popcorn. These were delicious and healthy meals. I occasionally wrote a little love note to distract them from friends offering Hostess snacks and spicy Cheetos.
Within six months, they grew a few inches taller and got down to a healthy 106 lbs. They have kept that proportion ever since. Jacob and Zachary feel better and have more energy. We look at pictures from that time in their lives and are amazed at the difference.
Recently, the AMA declared obesity a disease, citing environmental and genetic factors that are beyond a person’s control. I reject that notion. As parents, we are more powerful than commercials, peer pressure, or convenient and carb-filled school lunches. We don’t have to give in to anything, and our choices are completely within our control.
Even if it means fewer pizza days.