'I'm a Better Mom--and I Broke the Cycle of Obesity in My Family'

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Editor's Note: Growing up in North Carolina, Brandy Blackburn (BBANGEL1214) ate doughnuts and cookies for breakfast. She was "the fat kid since kindergarten." Fried foods and sugary sodas were ubiquitous, and exercise wasn't a part of her life. After ballooning to more than 300 pounds by the time she graduated high school, she had let her weight get in the way of many aspects of her life--including her career path. Giving up her childhood dream of being a doctor ("Well, who wants to listen to a doctor who is morbidly obese," she thought.), she graduated college, got married and gave birth to her daughter, Melody, now 4. Her daughter was her wake-up call. Brandy, now 25, joined SparkPeople and lost 177 pounds--surpassing all her goals! She was such a successful member that we presented her story to People, and she was part of the magazine's most recent "Half Their Size" issue, as an example of our program's success.

Here, Brandy shares the story of how she lost weight, broke the cycle of obesity in her family, and is working to help stop childhood obesity and "be a voice for kids like me."

By Brandy Blackburn

I was going to ride a roller coaster with my husband, and I couldn't fit on the ride. I was horrified and I just kept thinking, "What if this had been Melody's first roller coaster ride?" She would be standing there watching me do the walk of shame back down the stairs. So that day I decided something had to change. She couldn't grow up like this.

When I was little, my doctor told my mom that we needed to get my weight under control. I didn't want to do it, and she didn't push it. I would much rather have been mad at my mom for a few months than have to go through everything I did with my weight for years.

As a parent, I now understand you don't want to hurt your children's feelings, but being a parent isn't easy, and it's our job to protect our kids even if it is something like their weight and bad eating habits. I know the habits I teach my daughter today are the ones she will teach my grandchildren because I had taught her my bad habits.

Someone has to break the cycle, parents have to get educated on what their children are eating, and school systems really have to put physical education/healthy eating back as a priority. In so many school systems, health education classes and physical education classes are gone. Teachers don't have time to take kids to recess because we are so focused on test scores. Yes, it is vitally important for our students to learn their core subjects, but I also think there is something very valuable about learning healthy habits. So many parents have to work full time or even two jobs to support their families, and these healthy habits can easily be overlooked in the grand scheme of money and time.

Both of my parents are severely overweight. I grew up eating junk food, not working out, drinking tons of sodas, lots of fried foods (I am from North Carolina), so I never had good eating habits. I just thought eating cookies or doughnuts for breakfast was normal. I realized I had to create Melody's "normal," so that she had the good habits I never had. She is a very active little girl and loves it. She even loves going to the gym with me. In fact she is a huge motivator because she helps get me out the door when she is begging to go (they have a class for kids that she loves).

Our family meals have changed for sure, too. There is no more frying, we eat wheat pasta, the vegetables aren't covered in butter, and I actually cook dinner. Before I knew how bad it was for me, I just fixed food from boxes, but now I cook with Melody.

We are definitely a healthy family now. We love to go hike and we like to go in the canoe at the lake. I would have never done those things. When I was overweight, because I was too scared to get in and out of the boat. Fear and my weight got in my way.

When I was younger I wanted to be a doctor, but everyone told me I was too heavy, that med school was very physically demanding and that I'd never survive. So I got my degree in psychology. Last year (before we moved) I was working at an elementary school as a fifth grade tutor who helped kids gear up for the state tests. There, I saw many kids who were in the same battle that I was at that age, and I could identify with them. I was the kid who had been picked on and tortured, who tried to put on a happy face. Then I'd see the kids' lunches and be horrified by the candy and cookies and leftover pizza--even the school lunches weren't healthy. I'm sure some of the kids I tutored didn't like me for it, but I refused to give candy as a prize. If you were getting a reward from me it was a new pencil or a new sticker.

I can identify with these kids, but helping them is a very touchy subject. There isn't really an appropriate way to turn to another parent and say, "Hey, you need to do something about your child's weight," even though in my head I just keep thinking "please do something, please save your child." I feel like maybe my advice would be better received with a medical background (not just a psychology background), which is why I have decided to become a nurse.

I'm shifting my life into the health field. I'm applying to nursing schools, and I'm also working on becoming a Spinning instructor. Since we moved, I'm staying home with my daughter, but someday soon, I want to start helping other children again. For now, I'm setting a good example, and so are my daughter and my husband. I've also inspired two friends to join SparkPeople, and they've lost 40 pounds and 60 pounds, respectively.

Since losing the weight, I'm a much better mom. I remember the first time Melody went into the tunnel play structure at a fast food joint. I was terrified.

"If she gets stuck, I can't go get her," I thought.

"Oh, let her go, if she gets stuck, I'll go get her," my friend replied.

Two years later, I'm the mom that goes in to fetch stuck kids, I'm the mom that is with all the kids jumping in the bounce house, and going on rides with them at the amusement park. I'm the fun Mom I wanted to be and I'm getting to enjoy my daughter.

I was always worried about embarrassing her because of my weight. I'm sure I'll embarrass her plenty when she is a teenager, but right now she just thinks it is awesome that I can go play with her and her friends when other moms can't. At my heaviest, I couldn't go up the stairs without being winded let alone run around the park and chase after her.

I'd love to say that starting this journey got my parents on the right road, but if people aren't ready they aren't ready, and I don't think my Dad is there yet. My Mom however, just finished reading The Spark she just finished week 1 and set up her account on SparkPeople. I'm really hoping this is the beginning of something good for her. I was home last weekend, and she was cooking much healthier and asking me for tips.

What steps have your children taken to improve their health since you started your own healthy journey? How have they influenced your decisions to get healthy? What is the most profound change you've witnessed in your family since joining SparkPeople?

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Excellent blog!! Thank-you so much for sharing your story!! Report
Very motivating to continue my journey. thank you for sharing Report
Thank you for sharing your story!! It encourages me to keep trying to be a good example for my children and make more healthy meals. Report
Good for you for making it happen!!!

I still want to do that interview! Report
What a great mom! Report
Great day Report
What an inspiration! My child has stopped eating out so much, because I'm not eating out! He is learning to cook healthy meals too! He's in great shape alread, takes after his father, and is continuing to make healthier decisions! Report
I just love reading this kind of upbeat story! Thanks! :) Report
I think you have done something VERY important for your kids! I grew up in a family that wasn't as "Fried foodie", but they did use food as a reward. While I know that they didn't realize what they were doing, I don't blame them for my current weight problems, but it's important to take note of things and learn from them. Honest self examination can be hard to do sometimes, but seeing ourselves and what we are doing that impacts others, is the only way we can change! Great job! Report
Brandy is such an inspiration to me. I have the article from People hanging on my wall in my office. Each day that I look at it, I tell myself that I can look that great someday. I have lost 15 lbs. since Jan 1st. I love Sparkpeople, and am so thankful that we can all motivate eachother. I know I haven't lost a lot, but I am determined to keep it off. Thank you, Brandy, for all of the inspiration that you have given me, and many others. Report
I weigh 276 lbs., and while my height has always helped me look much thinner than some, it was also a way for me to deny the issue. I could ignore it and say "I'm tall and big, it's ok". When I had the problems you did, like the stairs and having a hard time chasing down my son, I realized I needed to get out of denial. I've only been working on this for a few weeks, but I already feel a change in my energy and mood. Thanks so much for your inspiring story, such things help me stay so motivated! Report
Very good job. I don't have children but I can hopefully inspire my mom and the friends I have that share this problem, some a lot worse than mine. I've lost about 6 lbs in a month and I have about 50 or so to go.. I'm very positive, it feels like this is it. Cheers! Report
My husband and I desperately want kids and we have been trying for three years. When we finally get ours, we will concentrate on making "healthy" their normal. I definitely want to change how I was raised, as I was like you. Overweight since childhood.

I had also hoped to inspire my parents to take better care of themselves, but you're right....people will change when THEY want to.

Thanks for the inspiring article! Report
You are an inspiration. Report
This is a great free site that I found by accident every one is so positive. I was always thin until middle age. Also have a thyroid condition which makes it harder to lose weight.The hard part is adjusting to a new way of eating from how you did when you were younger, then I could eat anything and not put on weight. I even had a hard time putting on weight as a teenager. My how the body changes over the years! Report
Thank you for sharing! You are an inspiration. I am from the South, too, and have had bad eating habits. I grew up thin and kept most of the weight off until my children were teenagers, then I changed jobs, gave in to some health issues and became more sedentary. I had always been the mom all the other kids knew because I was there and I was involved, but now I was embarrassed, and I withdrew to the sidelines. I miss being the person I was and am working now to get back there. I must have set some decent habits in my daughter -- she lives in a dorm at college, chose to leave her car at home and walks several miles every day. She makes very good choices with what she eats. She even decided to take a ballet class "for fun" this semester on top of all her required credits (she's a double-major, psych and English Lit, with a minor in French) and does yoga a couple of times of week. She was the person who wanted me to join SparkPeople so that I could be her buddy! I am grateful for some of the things we can do for our children! Report
I can relate to your story - except on the later in life end. I didn't start this journey until my children were grown and out of the house. My biggest disappointment is my children have not been inspired. My youngest - is a little, but she's moved across the country and can't afford some of the healthier meals, but is walking more - to save money and has dropped a little bit of weight (had to take her pants in for her - hurray) - but my oldest daughter who has all the bad habits that I taught her (sadly typed) yo-yo's starts and stops different diets. She's influenced strongly by her BF who is an extremely negative person. She belongs to sparkpeople and doesn't use it, I've given her a copy of The Spark - but I'm sure it sits.
I've had numerous people tell me I've inspired them, but the people I want to inspire most are not inspired.That breaks my heart. I'm happy for those that feel I've inspired, but I so want health for my children and feel sad that I taught them bad habits and now they are not close to me to teach them the good habits I've learned. Report
Way to go!You have done amazing!! Report
Power story. Keep inspiring. Report
Thank you for your story. I now know that I can do this! Report
Congratulations on your success. You are an inspiration to everyone. Enjoy the time you spend with your family. You deserve it.

This story was a great inspiration. Report
Thank you for your story. I too grew up as an obese child. Unfortunately my biological son did too. He still struggles with his weight as an adult. I am finally learning to eat healthy. I have 3 adopted children. Luckily they do not have any weight problems but I am trying to teach them to eat healthier and be more active. It helps me when I see other people have lost over 100 pounds on their own. It gives me strenghth to feel I can do it too. Report
you are an inspiration! children are an inspiration! Report
Thank you for sharing your inspirational story. One of my motivations is my children too. I want them to have good eating and exercise habits. This is best learned by example. Report
Very inspiring! My boyfriend's little brother eats junk junk and more junk. If fact, as I write this he has a bag of lays in his lap. I try so hard to teach him that those foods are crap but he is extremely stubborn and his mother doesn't help. Very uneducated and not interested in learning. It really frustrates me and actually stresses me out. He is diabetes waiting to happen at 10 years old. Any suggestions on "reversing the trend"? Report
Thank you for sharing your story, I'm inspired and now have even more desire to keep pushing.
Thanks for sharing your story. I need this type of inspiration from time to time to keep me going! Report
Thank you for sharing your story. I find it hard to imagine being able to run around without being in pain. I think it is one of the things I am most looking forward to when I reach goal! It's wonderful to see what is possible with SparkPeople!
Congratulations on your success story. My late husband was a diabetic and for years we ate a totally different diet than that of my son's friends. They learned to eat healthy foods but after he passed, it was like we all threw everything we knew to the wind. Now we are working to get back to that place we were 20 years ago. Knowing and doing are just now the same-we have to have that "spark" to do what we know we should! They are married with families of their own now and one has a diabetic daughter so hopefully we can all help her with this journey as it is a matter of life or death! Report
Thank you for inspiring me! Report
I love to read people's stories of success. Yours is a great story, but even more importantly, it serves as a great inspiration for many others who have the same need you did. i am also so excited to hear that your mom is stepping up to make some changes. Next year we will probably be reading her story of success! And with her making the changes she is, it can't help but make some positive changes for your dad as well. Great job! Report
wow, what an amazing and inspirational blog. thanks you. Report
Wow!! What a tremendous accomplishment for you. We are proud of you at SparkPeople. Keep up the great work! Thanks for sharing, too! Report
What an amazing story.......you are an inspiration to us all. I am very proud for you and of you!!! Report
Keep it up. I love what you've accomplished and your goals for the future. You will make a huge difference. Report
Everything you wrote will be exactly what I will write when I make it to my goal. I want to be a role model for my kids and I want to experience the race with them not watching them from the sidelines.
You are an inspiration! I'm happy for you!
Lisa Report
I'm so teary-eyed right now... Your story really touched my heart. You've changed your family's future and sounds as if you are poised to change the futures of many. Blessings to you now and in the future! Report
WOO HOO! Report
Great job! You are setting an excellent example for your little girl. :) Report
You are a true inspiration! Report
Congratulations on your life changes. You are an inspiration! Report
Congratulations with your weight loss and your change of mind! You are a WINNER! Report
That's awesome that you are creating a new 'normal' for your family! Report
What an inspirational story and a legacy that you are leaving for your daughter and future children. Report
Thanks for sharing! I agree that parents really need to teach their kids healthy ways to eat and exercise because schools just aren't doing it anymore. Report
Very inspiring story. I'm trying to do the same thing with my grandchildren. Maybe now that Michelle Obama has gotten on the band wagon of heatlhy kids, you can be a carrier of her news. It wouldn't sound so much like you pushing your own ideas on the kids. You can make it sound, I don't know, maybe patriotic? Report
Thanks for sharing your story. I had a similar experience wanting to not only avoid embarrassing my kids but to be able to be more active with them. I lost 90 pounds and climbed Mt. Whitney with my son. It was an amazing thrill. Now 5 years later, the weight is still off and my young adult kids are focused on their own health and fitness. I'm so grateful! Report