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.
The rest of my family hasn't changed how they eat, but lots of times I come home after they've already had dinner, so I make my own meals. Sometimes my grandmother complains about how I'm eating differently -- she thinks I have an eating disorder! -- but they are impressed that I've lost so much weight.
Today I'm 17, 6 feet 1 inch tall, and I weigh 185 pounds. I feel good. If I had to tell other obese teens one thing, it's this: It's really easy to change your eating habits. Teens get hooked on candy and soda, but it's just as easy to drink mineral water instead. Don't get it in your head that you can't fix it. You can. Sooner or later you'll end up losing the weight. Believe me, if I can do it, anyone can.