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Advice from a former fat kid
dennis Wyatt web
Dennis Wyatt

OK. I confess. I was 5-foot-10 and weighed 260 pounds in the seventh grade.

I was what everyone called a fat kid. My mom, though, politely called me "chunky."

Rest assured that if the folks who make a living doing government reports had teamed up with the moral police and issued a dire warning that I was the reason the nation was going to hell, I wouldn't have lost weight.

You can bet your last tofu wafer that it wouldn't have motivated my mother to pressure me either. Nor would you have seen my mom send me to a fat farm or hire a personal trainer as some parents are now doing to get the pounds off their kids.

There is only one reason why 99 percent of the population gains weight - they take in more calories than they consume.

You don't need a $10 million government study to determine that, nor do you need someone to point out the obvious. Yet that is exactly what happened recently when still another predictable report on childhood obesity was rolled out. It came with all the anticipated knee-jerk spasms from elected leaders, pontificating from commentators, and indigent pronouncements from the moral police that our youth are getting too fat and that McDonald's, potato chips, computers and TV are all to blame.

I dropped my weight - 70 pounds - the summer between the seventh and eighth grade. I did indeed cut calories, eliminated junk food and - shock - started exercising. I was down to 190 pounds and had grown an inch. After a few days of the "gee don't you like yourself better now," I fully understood why I wasn't motivated to do anything about it before. It was because of all of the people who felt it was okay to ridicule a kid because they were fat and to tell them non-stop he needed to lose weight. I particularly appreciated it coming from alcoholics, child molesters, and others of the same ilk who were obviously about as perfect as they were going to get.

I started putting the pounds back on after high school thanks to bad habits and trying to juggle full-time college, full-time work, a part-time business, and serving on a school board concurrently with a couple of other causes. By the time I turned 29, I was carrying close to 320 pounds on a 6-foot frame. I ended up dropping down to 190 by the time I turned 30. I'm now at 170 pounds and have been in that neighborhood for the past 10 years.

I tell you this because I think I'm more of an authority on what it takes to lose weight on an individual basis than all of the self-important health gurus and government bureaucrats combined.

Here is what helped me:

• The fact I had mandatory PE classes with good PE teachers who taught lifestyle activities for exercising and not always competitive games that relied on skills and coordination.

The message stuck with me although I didn't put it to use until I was 30. Mandatory PE was deep-sixed by many in the same crowd now having a coronary about obesity.

• Realizing that the people who nag you about it are jerks.

Dump on a kid enough and they will fulfill your prophecy. It's as simple as that.

• It isn't my mother's fault.

I'm the first to tell you my mother did everything she could to have at least dinner on the table. But as a widower with four kids who had her own business, she worked often 10 to 14 hour days seven days a week. Some would call her a bad parent because she didn't feed us the George Orwell way which means as government dictates.

• Here's the big one: Self -confidence.

I was always in the "accelerated" groups in elementary school but I wasn't exactly an outgoing kid. But once I had the chance to experience a few things besides the basics I could excel in - and fail in - I got a good feel for who I was.

This may surprise those hell-bent to make public education from K-12 an exclusive college preparatory or teaching to state test experience, but it was opportunities that were available in the seventh grade that made the difference. They included a full period of art (I actually was real good), a science program that encouraged you to think out-of-the-box instead of just pounding in fact after fact, an elective band program (I even stunk on the Sousaphone), sports programs ( I really stunk), and an English class structured partly around journalism (The jury is still out on that one).

I knew I was supposed to pay attention in school and do my work. But it wasn't until I had the opportunity in school to get out of my comfort zone and either fall on my face or excel in an elective or be challenged to push beyond the idea school was just about getting straight ‘A's in a core subject that I developed self-confidence.

A kid with self-confidence - whether he is skinny or overweight - can do things that will amaze even the most cynical adult.

Without self-confidence, it's difficult to motivate anyone to do anything including a kid to pursue a healthier lifestyle.

This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt and does not necessarily represent the opinion of Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.