Editor's Note: This is the first installment in an occasional series that will follow for one year the progress of the Journal's four families in the Fit Family Makeover program.
BY GINNA PARSONS
TUPELO – Kim Wood had been heavy all of her life. She struggled with her weight all through high school. She gained 65 pounds with her first child and 21 with her second.
When she tipped the scales at 305 pounds, she knew she had to do something drastic. So in November 2002, Kim underwent gastric bypass surgery, a procedure that decreases the size of the stomach and reroutes part of the digestive track.
“I had gotten down to 292 pounds before the surgery,” she said. “And since then, I've lost 120 pounds.”
Kim still wants to lose another 20 to 25 pounds, but more than that, she wants to tone her body. What she wants most, however, is to learn and adopt healthy eating habits and pass those habits on to her two children, Kylie and Logan.
And that's where Fit Family Makeover comes in.
In January, the Daily Journal told readers it was looking for families to participate in a year-long fitness program that would combine healthy eating habits and regular exercise. The North Mississippi Medical Center came on board, offering the families a year's membership to its Wellness Center as well as its Right Weigh nutrition classes. Dr. Trudi Zaplac Porter, Tupelo psychologist, offered her services to deal with mental roadblocks, such as emotional eating.
Four families answered the call for the Fit Family Makeover: the Woods of Mantachie, the Pauls of Pontotoc, the Warrens of Baldwyn and the Boisseaus of Tupelo.
Beth Frick, a registered dietitian in the education department of NMMC who is leading the Right Weigh classes, is excited at the prospect of four families embarking on a year's journey to better health.
“This is a good way to get the whole family involved,” Frick said. “A big result out of this to me would be for the kids to have a good idea of a healthy lifestyle and good eating habits they can pass on to their own children.”
Over the past two decades, rates of childhood obesity have more than doubled in the United States as kids exercise less, eat unhealthy foods and consume larger portions.
“I hope the Fit Families will make healthy choices and stay with this plan,” Frick said. “So many people stick with a plan for a couple of weeks and then go back to bad habits. But if you make healthy choices long enough, you get to enjoy the benefits. And when you get to enjoy the benefits of doing something, you do it again.”
The Right Weigh class Frick is leading is a 10-week course in behavior modification that stresses a low-fat balanced diet based on the USDA Food Guide Pyramid, drinking lots of water every day and keeping a food diary and an exercise diary.
“A lot of people know most of the right choices to make,” Frick said. “There's enough info out there now. But for a healthy lifestyle, you have to make the right choices. And some of those are tough choices. Meal planning does require a little thought and effort.”
Christina and Jerry Paul of Pontotoc both thought they needed to lose some extra weight. While their two sons, Trey and Jesse, don't have weight issues, neither has healthy eating habits. And Jerry has health problems associated with an unhealthy lifestyle, such as diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol.
“We thought we needed to make an example for the boys to show them the real world of food – they're very picky,” Christina said. “Jesse will eat corn, green beans and broccoli. Trey will eat brown rice and three or four green beans.”
Before joining the Right Weigh classes, the Pauls were already practicing some healthy eating habits.
“We always bake, broil or grill. We don't fry anything,” Christina said. “We were already on the right path. But we needed a larger variety of things to offer. We were in a rut.”
Christina, a secretary at Bassco Foam, said that two weeks ago, a typical family meal would have been spaghetti with meat sauce. No vegetables. No salad.
Today, she might prepare baked chicken with rice and green beans. And no dessert.
“Sweets are my thing,” she said. “I personally believe when you go out to eat, you get a dessert. Now, I'm not going to say I'll never have dessert again, but not every single time.”
Jerry Paul, a communications technician with ITC Delta Com, would like to lose a few inches in his waist and get off the insulin he takes to control his diabetes.
“I'm a midnight muncher,” he said. “I'll get up and eat ice cream or a bowl of cereal.”
Jerry's other problem was right around the corner from his house.
“I have every morning religiously gone to Hardee's to get two bacon, egg and cheese biscuits and head to the office,” he said. “Now, I cut that corner off my route. I take yogurt, fruit and water for breakfast.”
“The first two weeks have been hard,” Christina said. “It's been a conscious decision on everything. I'm hoping in a month, it will be more habit and not so difficult.”
Before Christmas, Joyce Warren of Baldwyn got laid off from her job at Delta International. At home all day, Joyce began to pick up weight.
“I was snacking on junk food during the day,” she said. “Then I'd wake up during the night and snack on something before I'd go back to bed.”
For her husband, Duane, snacking wasn't the problem.
“I was eating a lot of meat and not a lot of vegetables,” said Duane, who draws disability due to high blood pressure and heart problems.
And portion size was a big issue with both. They were both eating way too much.
“I'd fix greens with salt pork, a pan of cornbread, cube steaks and mashed potatoes,” Joyce said. “I was cooking too much for three.”
Since attending Right Weigh classes, Joyce prepares more healthful meals that are still satisfying to her family, like greens, corn, baked chicken and cornbread.
Ideally, Joyce would like to lose 30 pounds over the course of the year. Duane wants to drop about 20 pounds, build some muscles, lower his blood pressure and get rid of his stomach. Joyce lost 3 pounds the first week; Duane lost 1.
Brittany, the Warrens' 13-year-old daughter, likes the exercise part of Fit Family because she wants to stay in shape. She'd also like to learn what she needs to do to get slimmer.
“But I really want us all to get fit so we can do more fun, physical things together as a family,” she said.
The biggest obstacle for Angela and Gary Boisseau of Tupelo to overcome was their dining out habit.
“I never cook because of my schedule,” said Angela, a teacher and girls' coach at Mooreville High School. “When the cooking is done, Gary does it. If he cooks twice a week, we eat out five times.”
But eating out is really eating in for the couple and their two daughters, Brittany and Brooke.
“We get carryout and sit in front of the TV and eat,” Gary said.
One night might be pizza, one night Chick Fil-A, one night Chinese and one Mexican. Chili's. Applebee's. Logan's.
And on nights when Angela is coaching, the family dines on hotdogs, nachos or pizza at the game. Add to that Gary's obsession with sweets.
“I love anything with the words Hostess or Little Debbie on it,” he said.
Since joining the Right Weigh program, the Boisseaus (pronounced boy-saws) have changed their eating habits as much as possible during basketball season. They still don't cook very much at home, but they're making smarter choices at restaurants.
“Now, we have a grilled chicken salad or grilled chicken breast or a grilled chicken sandwich,” Angela said. “I try to get something semi-good for the girls. We don't want the girls to develop our bad eating habits.”
“And I don't want them to dread exercise like their father,” Gary added.
Angela's ultimate goal is to lose enough weight to get back into a size 8. Gary, who manages Sherwood Photography, would like to lose 50 pounds and get into good physical shape. They each lost 6 pounds the first week of Right Weigh.
Angela has begun to eat meals during the day, as well as a healthy meal before ballgames so that she's not starving when she gets home late in the evenings.
“I don't like breakfast and I wasn't eating lunch,” she said. “Then I'd get home at 10:30 at night and eat everything in sight.”
Gary has started taking a banana to work as a snack, Angela is eating fruit for breakfast and they're packing fruit in the girls' school lunches.
“I just want us to eat good food, not diet food,” Angela said. “I want us to make good choices we won't get tired of.”
Tim and Kim Wood of Mantachie each lost 6 pounds the first week of Right Weigh classes.
Kim, who had the gastric bypass surgery, was used to losing large amounts of weight weekly, but her weight loss had dwindled recently to a pound or less a week.
“I was still eating high-fat foods, junk food and eating out too much,” Kim said.
Tim, a self-employed carpenter, wasn't helping much.
“I'd get home at 5:30 and I'd be tired,” he said. “She doesn't get home until 7:30. Instead of me cooking, I'd run get us a hamburger or a box of chicken.”
And when Tim did cook at home, his choices – and portion sizes – were anything but healthy.
“For the four of us, I'd fix two boxes of Hamburger Helper,” he said. “And we'd have mashed potatoes, green beans, ice cream or pie for dessert and a gallon of sweet tea. We'd drink a gallon of sweet tea at the dinner table every night.”
To top it all off, Tim was consuming as many as six 20-ounce Mountain Dews a day.
Those days are long gone.
Now, dinner is a 3-ounce piece of low-sodium baked ham, steamed vegetables, roasted roma tomatoes and water or unsweetened tea. Dessert is a half-cup of fat-free sugar-free yogurt, half a banana and half of a graham cracker crumbled.
Kim, a registered nurse in the recovery room at NMMC, is largely concerned with the overall health of her entire family.
Her 10-year-old son, Logan, takes medicine for epileptic seizures and every time his dosage is upped, he gains weight. Tim has high blood pressure and a family history of heart disease, lung disease and diabetes. And her 15-year-old daughter, Kylie, struggles with her weight and gets little exercise.
“If the children were healthy, I'd be happy,” Kim said. “I don't want to see them teased or have name calling.”
The Woods have already incorporated several healthful changes into their diets since joining Right Weigh.
They trim skin and fat from meat, Kim's gotten rid of candy in the home and at work, they've substituted fresh fruit for snack cakes, Tim's given up his Mountain Dews, they exercise every day and they have learned to control their portions.
“Before if I was fixing dinner, I'd fix enough to have seconds and thirds and leftovers,” Tim said. “I'd eat supper with the kids and then eat another plate when Kim got home from work. Now, I cook four chicken breasts or four pork chops.”