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Health & Parenting

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My WebMD: A Teen Overcomes Obesity

How one teen lost weight (and gained confidence) through nutrition, exercise, and persistence.
By Ricardo Mejia
WebMD Magazine - Feature
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

I started gaining weight when I was about 11. I just wasn't very active. I would come home from school every day and watch TV. My parents are from El Salvador -- I moved here when I was 7 -- and they're very protective. They didn't feel comfortable having me out and about after school, so I became quite sedentary. And my diet wasn't good: Most of the time we ate frozen, packaged foods and a lot of sweets. It was just more convenient for us.

By the end of my freshman year in high school, I weighed close to 250 pounds and I was only 5 feet 8 inches tall. When I walked I couldn't breathe well, and I could feel my heart pounding in my chest. Going up and down stairs was difficult. When I had gym class, I sometimes found it difficult to run and pass the fitness tests. But I tried my best.

A Teen Decides to Lose Weight

I decided I needed to lose weight when I was 15. I was wearing pants that had a 36-inch waist and 30-inch length, but even they were so tight they were uncomfortable. Plus, I knew that there was diabetes on both sides of my family.

At that age, I had a little more independence. I decided to join my school's dragon boat team. Dragon boats are large, wooden, and very team-heavy boats, so I was getting a lot of exercise -- not just the paddling, but running, push-ups, and sit-ups. It was more exercise than I had ever gotten in my life. I started feeling strong and healthy.

By my sophomore year, I was down to 200 pounds. At that point, I joined the swim team, too. I don't know how I kept up my grades, but I did. My grades have always been very consistent, but the fact that I had to keep my grades up to stay on the teams was a big, big motivation. My life was changing in a really good way.

I started reading articles in sports magazines about how it's important to eat well, so I changed my diet, too. I began eating peanut butter and green apples. I stopped eating packaged foods. My pediatrician sent me to a nutritionist who taught me a lot. She would tell me to keep going, keep trying, and that helped too.

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