Diego Summers first came to the Optimal Weight for Life (OWL) clinic as a 5-year-old boy with chronic asthma, muscle aches and a tough time keeping up with his friends on the playground.
Diego had always been taller and heavier than his peers, but a 6-point weight gain in less than one month prompted his mother, Nancy, to contact the OWL clinic for help managing his weight. While a recent course of steroids for his asthma was a contributor to Diego’s weight gain, a review of his diet revealed other culprits.
Diego was eating mostly refined starches such as crackers, waffles, muffins, white bread and sugary cereals. His portions were those of an adult and he was used to having a treat–cake or ice cream–on most days. Diego was drinking three cups of juice daily. He ate fruit on occasion, but would not touch a vegetable.
Over the next year and a half, Diego met regularly with a pediatrician and a registered dietitian in the OWL clinic to make small but consistent changes in his diet and physical activity level. His first goal was to eliminate all sugary drinks. Research has shown that the body processes liquid calories differently than it processes solid calories. In other words, a 350-calorie meal would leave you feeling full for a while, but a 350-calorie can of soda provides no satiety. Because of the effects of sugar in the body, it actually fuels the appetite.
Nancy also switched from white to whole grain starches and offered Diego more fruit to add fiber to his diet. She served smaller portions and over time, Diego was eating more age-appropriate amounts of food. He began adding sources of protein, such as eggs and peanut butter to meals and snacks to keep him feeling comfortably full for several hours. Finally Diego was able to pursue regular physical activity through the Body by Brandy program in Dorchester, where he now participates four times a week.
The key to his success, says Nancy, is that Diego is not alone. All family members, despite their weight, have made the same healthy changes as Diego. “It has to be a family thing,” says Nancy. (Family members) have to understand and be supportive. If not, it’s so difficult.”
Like all families attempting to make lifestyle changes, Diego has bumped up against obstacles along the way to better health. As a single parent who works and goes to school in the evenings, Nancy had to rely on family members who were not initially on-board with Diego’s new eating plan.
An asthma flare-up in the winter of 2011 left Diego not only inactive, but forced to take another course of steroids, which fueled his appetite.
Nonetheless, Diego and his family stuck with the plan and over time, have managed to slow down his rate of weight gain as he continues to grow. Diego is more energetic and is having an easier time keeping up with his peers. Indeed, when asked the best part about eating healthy, Diego is quick to respond. “Running up and down the stairs," he says. "Now, it's easy. I can run faster."