This article first appeared in the Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star on Sunday October 28th.
Over the course of a year, they’ve knocked sugary treats off their grocery list, starting cooking more meals at home and taken other important steps to lead healthier lives.
The result has been a complete transformation in the lives of this couple and their previously overweight son.
I recently met Betty at a grocery shopping class I teach for my nonprofit, “The Doctor Yum Project.” As the class started, Betty described how she and her husband changed the way their family ate, leading to a dramatic improvement in her 7-year-old’s health.
“It started with him,” Betty said, pointing at her husband Steve, a Marine. “Steve was the one that decided that we needed to make a change.”
A year earlier, when the family was living in Betty’s hometown of Dallas, a pediatrician told Betty that her son Johnny was overweight.
“I didn’t want to hear it,” said Betty, a nursing student. “I was in denial.”
But one day while playing at the park on the monkey bars, Johnny slipped, fell and broke his wrist. Everyone told Steve it was just an accident, but he said he realized that his son’s weight might have played a part in his injury.
“I felt like he was just hanging, and his muscles could not support his extra weight. If he weighed less he may not have fallen,” Steve said.
That became a turning point for Steve, who decided that his family needed to make a change.
Betty said she wasn’t ready for the change, but she eventually got on board in a big way.
Back in Texas, Johnny had spent much of his time with his grandparents, who—like many grandparents—indulged him. He also was eating fast food many times a week and helping himself to snacks and candy whenever he wanted.
But when the family moved to Virginia last year, the Browns changed everything. They removed soda, juice, sugary snacks and treats from the family’s grocery list. They also set some ground rules about eating.
“We not longer let him go to the fridge and the pantry whenever he wants,” Steve said. “He has to let us know when he wants to eat.”
The family also stopped eating out so often and began cooking more and eating meals together.
“We eat a lot of vegetables now,” Betty said. “Instead of ground meat in my spaghetti sauce, I now use vegetables like zucchini and squash. It took a little while for Johnny to get use to the vegetables, but he really likes them now.”
Asked about his favorite veggies, Johnny smiled. “Lettuce and corn,” he said. “My favorite fruits are apples and bananas!”
Johnny’s parents said they’ve been amazed by the change that’s come over their son since they changed the family’s diet. Their son, whom they described as being irritable previously, became calmer. He became happier and more motivated. He also went from reading below grade level to reading a year above grade level.
Along with changing the family diet, the Browns became more involved with Johnny’s schoolwork and signed him up for afterschool activities. He joined a running club at Lee Hill Elementary, which coupled with the change in his diet, led to a complete transformation in his physique.
As a six year-old, Johnny wore size 10-12 clothes, Betty said. A year later, this 7-year-old is now wearing size 6-7 clothes.
Johnny also has benefited from a major boost in self-esteem.
“He used to be really shy to take his shirt off at the beach or the swimming pool,” Betty said. “Now his just takes his shirt right off and jumps in the pool!”
At one point when he was losing the weight, he told his parents, “I like the way I feel. Look, my belly is gone!”
Another byproduct of the family’s new eating habits was a change in the family’s finances. A food bill of $1,000 a month for groceries and restaurant tabs was trimmed down to an amazing $300 per month. The Browns keep their budget down by being really mindful about how they spend their money on food.
“We couldn’t believe how much we were spending and wasting. We now plan out our meals, and we try to eat everything we buy,” Betty said.
The Browns saw that obesity was preventing their son from having a full life, and they want others to see that parents can make a change.
Looking back, Steve said, “I realized I had to make healthy choices. It had to start with us. It’s not easy at first, but if you keep your head up, you will see great results.”
To learn more about the free Grocery Class offered by our nonprofit, The Doctor Yum Project, visit “Classes” on our website.