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'Too Fat for 15': Morbid Obesity and Teens

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The second season premiere of "Too Fat for 15: Fighting Back" will be aired on The Style Network channel March 7. The teens, who generally range in age from 14 to 17, are student-residents at Wellspring Academy, a weight-loss boarding school for overweight teens and young adults.

Wellspring Academy states:

Students gain skills and motivation to transform their lifestyle while residing on one of our campuses and continuing their middle school, high school, or college education. Wellspring students achieve amazing results, even if they have tried a wide variety of teen weight loss programs without success in the past. We utilize an integrated approach to fitness and weight loss which includes diet and activity management, with culinary, nutrition, fitness and aerobic training to enable participants to learn lifelong skills. Behavioral changes are reinforced with cognitive behavioral therapy, training students on the self-regulatory behaviors required for long-term weight control. This includes use of a Self-Monitoring Journal to record everything a student eats throughout the day.

"Morbid obesity" is medically defined as a person who is 50 to 100 percent above their ideal body weight or has a B.M.I. (body mass index) value greater than 39. That these teens have gotten to such a desperate point in their lives is a sad commentary on personal values and self-esteem. Hit by life's problems at a young age, they turn to the one thing that offers no criticism: the comfort of eating. The term "comfort food" becomes an all-too-real substitute for love.

The premise of the show chronicles the missteps, small defeats and eventual triumphs of a group of teens who have come to be residents at the weight-loss academy. It is a reality show in the strictest sense of the word, since the reality of morbid obesity is that it can become a death sentence. Losing the weight is choosing to live, and these kids -- at a very young age -- have made the choice to live healthily.

Anyone who has ever dieted can understand the struggle these teens are facing; it's hard work. An article I wrote, "Saying Good-bye to the Fat Girl: Losing Weight Only for Myself," chronicling my own efforts to finally reach a desired weight, appeared in The Huffington Post not too long ago. I reached a goal I set for myself, lost the 22 pounds I wanted to lose and felt good about me. Being thin was not my goal, but being a healthy weight was, and that is the aim of the teens in this show.

This week I spoke with two of the students at Wellspring Academy -- Carsyn and Tanisha -- as well as John Taylor, who is a physical wellness instructor and educator there.

Carsyn was an athlete until her sophomore year in high school. Playing the strenuous games of soccer and volleyball kept her weight down. But she found that she was not playing for herself; sports weren't her passion. She played them because her parents are star athletes in their own right, and it was expected of her. Sports-related injuries eventually sidelined her, and she began gaining weight.

"When I stopped all the activity that sports offered," says Carsyn, "the weight crept up."

Her mom heard about Wellspring Academy, and a decision was made to enroll Carsyn. Carsyn's hope is that her self-confidence and esteem will return when she reaches her goal weight. Coming from a family where both parents are athletic, she feels additional pressure. Sadly, her relationship with her mom has suffered due to her weight gain. At an initial weight of 203 on her 5'3" frame, she is one of the smaller residents of Wellspring Academy.

Carsyn, a well-spoken and ebullient young lady, told me that she has completely embraced the lifestyle offered by Wellspring -- a lifestyle that includes healthy eating and exercise.

At a height of 5'5 1/4", Tanisha arrived at Wellspring barely able to walk and support the 510 pounds on her body. Within 18 months, she was down to 350 pounds and ready to start her second year at the academy. The loss of 160 pounds has made an enormous difference to her, physically and emotionally.

Tanisha's weight was primarily due to Blount's disease (a bone disease) in her legs. Surgeries and bed rest prevented her from being as active as most children are. Ironically, the weight gained from enforced inactivity and eating threatened to damage her legs all over again.

Her uncle learned about Wellspring on the internet and suggested it to Tanisha's parents. Initially, Tanisha was not happy about coming to the academy, but within a short period of time was won over by the positive atmosphere and the need to begin a healthy life.

Asked about the peer support at Wellspring Academy, Tanisha told me, "We are all supportive of each other; we root for each other and are happy with others' successes."

Generous and kind-hearted, Tanisha says the program has taught her that this is not a diet but a way of living. Her family, she says, also supports her goals and is "slowly coming to see the light" in their own lifestyle choices.

John Taylor, or "John T." as he is called, is the student physical wellness educator. A former obese child (due to a botched surgery performed at the age of five for an ear tumor, which led to temporary loss of equilibrium), John weighed 200 pounds at the age of nine. His parents, he says, both suffering from obesity themselves, were not sensitive to their young son's feelings and needs.

John's saving grace was a grandfather (whom he idolized) who had been a fantastic star football player. Working to improve his body though exercise and good eating habits, he reached a healthy weight by the age of 14.

John T. has been at Wellspring for five years. His desire to help children with morbid obesity is a fulfilling and rewarding job. John's firm belief in a healthy life includes mental health as well as physical changes. His positive reinforcement and can-do attitude ensures that there are no exercise slackers. It is a mind-set that seems to work.

John also believes in having his charges practice "good selfishness": "I tell them this is the time for them to be selfish and help themselves. I would like to see these kids not get to the point where they have to adjust their lifestyle because their body no longer will do what they want it to do."

Tune in to see the second season of "Too Fat for 15: Fighting Back." The kids are engaging, and their goals are strong and positive. This is a reality show well worth watching because the reality is that there is so much at stake.

To read more from Kristen Houghton, peruse her articles at KristenHoughton.com and visit her Keys to Happiness blog. You may e-mail her at kch@kristenhoughton.com. Read the book that's sweeping the country, "And Then I'll Be Happy! Stop Sabotaging Your Happiness and Put Your Own Life First."

Around the Web

Too Fat for Fifteen: Fighting Back - mystyle.com

YouTube - BBC Georgia's Story - Too Fat for 15 part1.mov

Too fat for 15? – The Joy Behar Show - CNN.com Blogs

Style Network Picks Up Too Fat for 15 - FoxNews.com