I've been following Michelle Obama's childhood obesity initiative since its inception, so I thought I'd write an open letter to Mrs. Obama, while discussing the whole issue of diabetes in America.
Because whether we want to believe it or not, diabetes and childhood obesity are inextricably linked.
Dear Mrs. Obama:
I've been following your childhood obesity campaign with great interest because, at 54 years old, I am your walking poster child for the future of childhood obesity. Want to see how an obese child turns out in 50 years? I'm your bad example.
Yes, that cute little chipmunk-cheeked girl up there is me, at about 3. Here's another picture at about the same time. I'm the cutie on the right.
First off, I want to say two things that are very important: 1. I was (and still am, thank God) the child of loving, caring parents who spent ALL THEIR LIVES concerning themselves with issues related to my weight. So I was not neglected or left to make awful choices (until I had access to a car and my own money.) Both parents had awful histories in the family with diabetes (types 1 and 2) and obesity. Neither parent wanted that for me. Their fought that fiercly. 2. Never did my parents and family NOT do things to try to help me stay fit.
All that is important because I don't blame my adult obesity and all that has come with it on anyone at all. I'm know I can totally blame myself for the choice part of it -- I believe I was destined for some things to happen no matter what my parents did. I think the dye was cast before any of us knew it. And it's been an uphill battle ever since.
But I am convinced that I probably could have avoided a lot of this if I MADE BETTER CHOICES -- I honestly wish I just didn't like food so much. If I voluntarily said no to foods when I understood what that meant. If I'd thought that my vision would be more valuable than oh, a bag of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. Cause if I had it to do over, I'd do it a lot differently.
First thing you need to know is many obese children don't know they're obese until someone starts telling them they're fat and unhealthy. That was, at least in my case, the way I felt.
In the Spring of 1963, as I finished kindergarten in Rome, Georgia, I weighed a little bit more than 100 pounds. In my graduation picture, you'll see I'm more than twice the size of some of my classmates. I'm not sure I knew WHY i suddenly couldn't have any treats or sweets (and why my mother watched my diet like a hawk) but I went with it. I was barely six and on my first diet.
By the first day of first grade, the chart on the back of that graduation photo suggests I weighed 55 pounds. Or, "normal weight" for a girl my age.
The pictures of me through my youth -- when I was a baton twirler and a basketball player and on drill team and was active in sports -- look to me like I'm average. It's something I ALWAYS wanted to be.
In fact, I'd still like to be average. Normal. Typical.
But I wasn't. And I never have been.
But I am convinced, Mrs. Obama, that you are right, that an imprint and predisposition to obesity gets set early, and it stays with one for life. But it also includes CHOICE in it. The balance of two -- who you're destined to be, and who you actually are -- is the world's most delicate medical balance. I know because it has stayed with me my whole life, and it is the reason I am fighting adult-onset diabetes now, for almost 30 years. I battle autoimmune disorders -- that I can't change. But what my choices do to those disorders -- like do I really NEED to eat that Reese cup -- that is a choice I could -- or should --make.
It's a battle I'm losing. I envy people who beat the battle of the bulge. especially those who were obese as a child. Heck, I envy everyone who beats that battle.
So today is World Diabetes Day. And I started this blog post with, if I knew then what I know now -- how would I do things differently?
Well, for one, I'd hope my doctor would worry more about blood work than the scale. That turning-point moment came a good bit when I was in 6th grade -- I never remember a screening for diabetes, just worry that I weight 125 pounds and was 5'7. Too much on the kid's chart. I look at pictures of me then and wonder how encouragement, rather than punishment, from my doctor could have changed my course?
And again my sophomore year of college, when my first A1C suuggested I was pre-diabetic. I didn't know what that might even mean in the future, let alone that day. I remember my then-boyfriend saying, "My Mom's a diabetic, and she's just fine."
I became diabetic during my pregnancy with Jeffrey in 1982, and permanently so in 1991. I had my first issue of diabetic retinopathy that year. It was followed by all kinds of diabetes-related issues.
Can I honestly say with with a lot of confidence right now, today, on World Diabetes Day: If I knew then when I know now, might I have prevented so much damage to my system? If I'd understood all the crash diets of my life -- all 500 of them -- would I be a different person today?
I'm hoping yes, but all things considered, probably not. Look, food for me has always been an alluring hidden treasure, a treat, a reward. I have a pretty spotty relationship with food, as is depicted in the first post I wrote on this blog in 2007.
But hindsight being 20-20, I wonder if I could have stuck to the regime that would have allowed me to beat the ravages of diabetes if I'd known I'd have no stomach function and would be going blind at 54? If the ghost of Health of the Future (think It's a Wonderful Life or maybe A Christmas Carol) had appeared to me in oh, 1975 and said, "this is where you'll be". Because all I can do now is try to keep it in check. I can't reverse or repair the damage.
But the answer is a probably a sad no.
I mean really. Why didn't I listen to those who warned me, scared me -- to what all that meant? Did I need someone to show me a pamphlet with the ravages of diabetes, so I'd see how I'd end up (you know, like those anti-Smoking brochures with the guys with the brown lungs and stuff).
I was stupid, and I made stupid choices -- especially since 1982, because more than anything, I DID NOTHING I should have.
That is my hindsight. That is my burden. That is my BIGGEST regret in life.
So today, in 2011, where diabetes and associated childhood obesity are rampant, someone has to break though to those who can prevent this kind of horrible outcome.
You are offering a great wakeup call, but it needs to be louder and longer and MORE.
Sad to say, I didn't listen to mine until it was too damn late. I pray every day that I can keep the damage in check. I work hard EVERY day to make those right choices in balance with all I'm going through.
And Yes. I listen now.
And I wish I could.
On World Diabetes Day, like you, I call to those who CAN DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. All the stats today say that Type II diabetes is rampant today, even among children. Children who are eating the wrong foods, not exercising.
There has to be a Tipping Point. A Come to Jesus moment. An awakening.
I ignored mine. ALL of mine. I try not to ignore them now, today.
You. Don't you ignore yours.
With much love,