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    Posted July 21, 2014 by
    Rancho Cucamonga, California
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    Your 'Aha' weight-loss moments

    The Pain of Childhood Obesity—The Year I Changed It All


    CNN PRODUCER NOTE     Linda Roche started her weight loss journey the summer after sixth grade and never looked back. "It was being able to walk fifty feet without people watching you and whispering, that was the major shift for me," she said.
    - slmas12, CNN iReport producer

    My love affair with food began early. There was nothing I wouldn't eat. My father grew up poor during the depression and made sure we always had a steady stream of cookies, cakes, candies and ice cream in our 70’s home. I was raised in a stressful environment. Both of my parents had mental health issues that kept our home in an uproar and while they fought constantly, I found solace in food. Mashed potatoes, milkshakes and hamburgers were my constant companions and by the time I started kindergarten I already had serious body image issues.


    Although looking back I was only a little chunky, I felt fat compared to the other kids. When our class took a field trip to the fire station in town, I hung back in the group as firefighters lifted each child into the front of the fire truck to ring the bell. I just knew in my five-year old mind that I was too heavy to lift. As I maneuvered around the group of kids I managed to “miss” my turn.


    As the elementary years progressed I continued to eat and gain weight. I was placed in an experimental multi-age class that combined third, fourth and fifth graders. There I met my best friend who was skinny as a rail. Together, kids referred to us as “skinny and fatty”. While the teasing hurt I didn’t know how to change things. Whenever I went to other kids’ houses I was always more interested in what we were having for snack than actually playing. Because my mom did not make dinner every night my sister and I became expert at frying foods and cooking with the toaster oven at nine and ten. We’d grill hot dogs and hamburgers and make hand cut french fries for the two of us.


    Our elementary school was a polling place for voters and our PTA always sold baked goods on Election Day to raise money. On the day before a presidential election our teacher asked if anyone knew what “tomorrow” was. My hand shot up and when he called on me I confidently said, “Bake Sale”! Everybody laughed, but that’s where my priorities were. I couldn’t wait for lunch. When all the kids commented on how awful the cafeteria food was, I chimed right in, but secretly I loved it. Sloppy Joes, pizza buns, chicken fricassee—I ate it all. While others wasted mountains of food I practically licked the tray clean. Although lunch included dessert much of the time, I’d still buy an ice cream sandwich to top it off when I got the chance.


    Gym class was always the worst for me, changing into the one-piece red and white striped gym suit was embarrassing enough. Getting picked last to be on a team hurt even more though. Kids were not the only ones insensitive about my weight though. Adults could be just as cruel. I remember my girl-scout leader once called me a pig when I asked for a second snack and a new friend’s father remarked that I was a “fatty” when she brought me home after school. In fifth grade the school nurse weighed and measured our entire gym class. When I stood on the scale the nurse was shocked. I had gained 16 pounds over the course of about eight months.


    After sixth grade my family prepared to move and that summer I stayed with my grandmother in the Midwest. She was sympathetic to my weight issues and had struggled with her own problems in that area as well. She taught me how to weigh and measure my food and count calories. She bought me Tabb to drink instead of sugary sodas and helped me stick to a reduced calorie diet. She also encouraged me to exercise. I did sit-ups, jumping jacks and walked every day. The weight began to come off and by the end of the summer I’d lost 22 pounds.


    When I started at my new school in the fall I felt more confident about how I looked and had no trouble making friends. As the year wore on however I stopped paying attention to what I ate and began to gain back the weight. The following year I continued to eat and only got heavier. I made a couple of half-hearted attempts to diet, but couldn’t seem to get motivated. All along I was getting picked on for my weight and was feeling worse than ever about myself.


    The school bus was the worst part of my day. From the bus stop teasing to the short ride to and from middle school it was torture. The boys on the bus ridiculed me daily with names like, “Mack Truck” and “Tub-O-Lard”. All I could do was suck in my stomach and try to disappear. I desperately wanted to wear the same kinds of clothes as other kids, but quickly found out that certain styles were off limits for “fat girls”. My new corduroy pants and midriff top were met with howls on the bus as one boy sneered, “It’s amazing what they can do with Jello these days”. I’d daydream about a better life. In the world I’d created in my head, I was thin and no one noticed me for my weight. I’d walk the halls of school and blend in with the other kids without whispers and sneers. By the end of eighth grade I was a miserable 4’ 10”, 150 lb. teenager.


    I vowed that when summer began I was going to focus on losing weight for good. With high school starting in the fall I told myself that I’d get a fresh start with new kids and a new appearance. The first day of summer vacation I started counting calories again making sure to chart my progress on the refrigerator door. I made up meals ahead of time and put them in tin pie pans with foil in the refrigerator and freezer. I measured out the portions and wrote the contents and the calories on each meal so I could choose from a variety of lunches and dinners. I also got really active. I walked; roller-skated or skateboarded everywhere that summer. I played baseball and kickball in the neighborhood and swam every chance I got.


    I started noticing how loose my clothes were getting and how much more energy I had. Soon I had to start buying smaller clothes. I kept up my routine and reduced calorie diet and lost 40 pounds by the beginning of school. Everything was different. I was different. For the first time in my life I felt normal in a group of kids. No one ridiculed me on the bus and I actually looked forward to school. I sat confidently for class pictures and no longer dreaded walking the halls. I went on to lose another 10 lbs. that year for a total weight loss of 50 lbs. I was never teased after that and stayed trim throughout the rest of high school.


    Through the years I’ve gained and lost weight, but continue always to work at it. And while I have high school children of my own now, I’ll never forget the thrill of ninth grade, blending in with the other students, no longer the butt of fat jokes and ridicule, free to be myself.

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