'I'm a Better Mom--and I Broke the Cycle of Obesity in My Family'

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Editor's Note: Growing up in North Carolina, Brandy Blackburn (BBANGEL1214) ate doughnuts and cookies for breakfast. She was "the fat kid since kindergarten." Fried foods and sugary sodas were ubiquitous, and exercise wasn't a part of her life. After ballooning to more than 300 pounds by the time she graduated high school, she had let her weight get in the way of many aspects of her life--including her career path. Giving up her childhood dream of being a doctor ("Well, who wants to listen to a doctor who is morbidly obese," she thought.), she graduated college, got married and gave birth to her daughter, Melody, now 4. Her daughter was her wake-up call. Brandy, now 25, joined SparkPeople and lost 177 pounds--surpassing all her goals! She was such a successful member that we presented her story to People, and she was part of the magazine's most recent "Half Their Size" issue, as an example of our program's success.

Here, Brandy shares the story of how she lost weight, broke the cycle of obesity in her family, and is working to help stop childhood obesity and "be a voice for kids like me."

By Brandy Blackburn

I was going to ride a roller coaster with my husband, and I couldn't fit on the ride. I was horrified and I just kept thinking, "What if this had been Melody's first roller coaster ride?" She would be standing there watching me do the walk of shame back down the stairs. So that day I decided something had to change. She couldn't grow up like this.

When I was little, my doctor told my mom that we needed to get my weight under control. I didn't want to do it, and she didn't push it. I would much rather have been mad at my mom for a few months than have to go through everything I did with my weight for years.

As a parent, I now understand you don't want to hurt your children's feelings, but being a parent isn't easy, and it's our job to protect our kids even if it is something like their weight and bad eating habits. I know the habits I teach my daughter today are the ones she will teach my grandchildren because I had taught her my bad habits.

Someone has to break the cycle, parents have to get educated on what their children are eating, and school systems really have to put physical education/healthy eating back as a priority. In so many school systems, health education classes and physical education classes are gone. Teachers don't have time to take kids to recess because we are so focused on test scores. Yes, it is vitally important for our students to learn their core subjects, but I also think there is something very valuable about learning healthy habits. So many parents have to work full time or even two jobs to support their families, and these healthy habits can easily be overlooked in the grand scheme of money and time.

Both of my parents are severely overweight. I grew up eating junk food, not working out, drinking tons of sodas, lots of fried foods (I am from North Carolina), so I never had good eating habits. I just thought eating cookies or doughnuts for breakfast was normal. I realized I had to create Melody's "normal," so that she had the good habits I never had. She is a very active little girl and loves it. She even loves going to the gym with me. In fact she is a huge motivator because she helps get me out the door when she is begging to go (they have a class for kids that she loves).

Our family meals have changed for sure, too. There is no more frying, we eat wheat pasta, the vegetables aren't covered in butter, and I actually cook dinner. Before I knew how bad it was for me, I just fixed food from boxes, but now I cook with Melody.

We are definitely a healthy family now. We love to go hike and we like to go in the canoe at the lake. I would have never done those things. When I was overweight, because I was too scared to get in and out of the boat. Fear and my weight got in my way.

When I was younger I wanted to be a doctor, but everyone told me I was too heavy, that med school was very physically demanding and that I'd never survive. So I got my degree in psychology. Last year (before we moved) I was working at an elementary school as a fifth grade tutor who helped kids gear up for the state tests. There, I saw many kids who were in the same battle that I was at that age, and I could identify with them. I was the kid who had been picked on and tortured, who tried to put on a happy face. Then I'd see the kids' lunches and be horrified by the candy and cookies and leftover pizza--even the school lunches weren't healthy. I'm sure some of the kids I tutored didn't like me for it, but I refused to give candy as a prize. If you were getting a reward from me it was a new pencil or a new sticker.

I can identify with these kids, but helping them is a very touchy subject. There isn't really an appropriate way to turn to another parent and say, "Hey, you need to do something about your child's weight," even though in my head I just keep thinking "please do something, please save your child." I feel like maybe my advice would be better received with a medical background (not just a psychology background), which is why I have decided to become a nurse.

I'm shifting my life into the health field. I'm applying to nursing schools, and I'm also working on becoming a Spinning instructor. Since we moved, I'm staying home with my daughter, but someday soon, I want to start helping other children again. For now, I'm setting a good example, and so are my daughter and my husband. I've also inspired two friends to join SparkPeople, and they've lost 40 pounds and 60 pounds, respectively.

Since losing the weight, I'm a much better mom. I remember the first time Melody went into the tunnel play structure at a fast food joint. I was terrified.

"If she gets stuck, I can't go get her," I thought.

"Oh, let her go, if she gets stuck, I'll go get her," my friend replied.

Two years later, I'm the mom that goes in to fetch stuck kids, I'm the mom that is with all the kids jumping in the bounce house, and going on rides with them at the amusement park. I'm the fun Mom I wanted to be and I'm getting to enjoy my daughter.

I was always worried about embarrassing her because of my weight. I'm sure I'll embarrass her plenty when she is a teenager, but right now she just thinks it is awesome that I can go play with her and her friends when other moms can't. At my heaviest, I couldn't go up the stairs without being winded let alone run around the park and chase after her.

I'd love to say that starting this journey got my parents on the right road, but if people aren't ready they aren't ready, and I don't think my Dad is there yet. My Mom however, just finished reading The Spark she just finished week 1 and set up her account on SparkPeople. I'm really hoping this is the beginning of something good for her. I was home last weekend, and she was cooking much healthier and asking me for tips.

What steps have your children taken to improve their health since you started your own healthy journey? How have they influenced your decisions to get healthy? What is the most profound change you've witnessed in your family since joining SparkPeople?