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Book Review: "Cutting Myself In Half"

By It's My Life on February 17, 2010 5:10 PM | No TrackBacks

Imagine being 14 years old and weighing nearly 300 pounds. That's officially what they call "morbidly obese," which means your weight is actually a life-threatening condition. It also means 3X size t-shirts and size 44 jeans, and not fitting into the desks at school.

For Georgia teen Taylor LeBaron, this was reality. Maybe it's reality, or close to it, for you or someone you know.  After all, health experts estimate that 9 million kids and teens in the U.S. can be considered overweight.

Cutting Myself.jpgThat's why Taylor, now 17, has written a really cool new book called "Cutting Myself In Half: 150 Pounds Lost, One Byte at a Time" (HCI Books). Over the course of 18 months, Taylor lost more than half his body weight by creating something he calls The Ultimate Fitness Game to track calories, get exercise, and keep himself motivated. "Cutting Myself In Half" is partly a memoir, with Taylor recounting his old habits, what gave him the courage to change his life, and some of the challenges he faced; the other part is a practical, hands-on guide for other young people to want to get fit.

We found Taylor's honest voice and realistic approach to be refreshing, and it's hard not to be inspired by someone who was able to lose over 150 pounds. If you want to change your eating and exercise habits, you'll appreciate this sound advice from a teen who's been there, done that. IML chatted with Taylor about his journey and what he hopes other young people will get out of the book.

IML: You talk about this in the book, but what were some of the things that contributed to you being overweight at age 14?

At 14 I consistently wore black and hid behind dark sunglasses.jpgTaylor: I was living a life that was totally the opposite of healthy. A healthy lifestyle requires regular exercise, wise food choices, and correct food quantities. I spent most of my time working on my computer and playing video games instead of riding my bike. I made bad food choices. And I had no idea what a serving size looked like. 

IML: What were some of the excuses you made for yourself to avoid dealing with your health?

Taylor: I told myself I was a big guy, built FORD tough or like a football player. But if I was so tough, how come I was panting for breath when I climbed the stairs to my bedroom? I blamed my DNA. I told myself that I had the fat gene, so I was destined to be overweight. But I was the one who chose not to exercise. And I was the one who said, "Supersize it!" each time we stopped for fast food. Life changed for me when I stopped making excuses and took responsibility for my own fitness.

IML: What were the toughest moments you experienced during the time it took you to lose the weight?

Taylor: Getting started was tough. I felt like I had so far to go that a little exercise and a few diet changes couldn't possibly make a difference. Now I know that fitness is like a major snowstorm. A snowstorm can shut down an entire city. But a snowstorm is just millions of fragile snowflakes. They're only powerful when you put them together. One workout session isn't much by itself, but put a lot of them together and you have powerful results. Another tough time was when I'd been working hard for several months and no one noticed the difference -- not even me. It was tempting to quit when I didn't see immediate results. But after awhile, it was like I reached the top of the rollercoaster and the rest of the ride was downhill. Once I lost enough weight for people to notice, fitness became fun.

IML: You had some pretty stressful things happen in your life during this period and you found ways to deal with them without using food. Do you feel like you're better at handling stress now? What are some other tools you've picked up that come in handy when facing even just everyday stress? 

Taylor: I have definitely had some unusual stressors in my life, and I gained extra pounds in response to the stress. But that was because of my own bad choices. Stress doesn't cause weight gain. It's the way we respond to stress that can put on pounds. Once I learned to use exercise to deal with stress, I actually lost weight during one of the most stressful times of my life! Now when I feel stressed, all I want is to lift weights or run on the treadmill. I can feel the stress melt away when I exercise. Kids have lots of stress, some big and some small. There's not a lot I can do to reduce the stress, but I can attack it head on. Exercise is my weapon against stress.

IML: How have your friends reacted to your book? Has it inspired anyone you know to "answer the call"?

Taylor School Picture 2009.jpgTaylor: My friends have all been supportive. I've even heard from kids I went to school with five years ago, saying they saw me on TV or read my book. My friends at school don't treat me any differently. I'm just Taylor. Everyone knows I'm committed to fitness, though, and I get some good-natured teasing when I turn down birthday cake and junk food. But I think a lot of my friends have become more fitness conscious after reading my book. My kid brother has decided to start playing the Ultimate Fitness Game (that's what I call my fitness plan because the prize is a whole new lifestyle). Maybe facing his weight now can help him avoid some of the challenges I faced.

My mom (always my best friend!) is now my workout partner, and she's lost 75 pounds following my plan. And I've had contacts from dozens and dozens of new friends (from age 10 to a lady in her seventies) who have read my book and answered the call to fitness. It's exciting to have even a little part in helping people choose a fitness lifestyle. 

IML: What would you say to other kids and teens who may look at your book and think, "Ugh, not another weight loss book that makes everything sound easy! It's not!"

Taylor: I agree! Getting fit is tough. But it's not as tough as a lifetime of obesity. I think my book is more than a weight loss book. It's a book about total fitness, and everyone needs that. A naturally thin person who eats junk food and doesn't exercise will not have a healthy heart and strong bones. Everyone can play the Ultimate Fitness Game (UFG) with a goal of becoming healthier. One person who wrote to me said she was so thin that if she lost any weight, she'd disappear. But she started UFG so she could encourage her boyfriend, and now she's excited about getting healthier herself. 

IML: You were lucky in that your family was extremely supportive of everything you did. Some kids aren't that lucky -- especially if their parents are also overweight and don't have the same commitment to change their lives. What's your advice for kids like that?

Taylor: Having support at home is great, but you can find encouragers in a lot of places. Websites like this one, for instance! Just hearing that others are struggling with the same problems can be a boost. I have a blog on my website (www.cuttingmyselfinhalf.com) and I love it when kids write. We encourage each other!

You can find neighbors and friends and teachers to encourage you, too. And once you start losing, the people who notice and take time to say "way to go" become a special group of encouragers.

IML: How do you think your life would be different right now if you still weighed 300 pounds?

Taylor: I'd still be the same person on the inside, with the same goals and dreams. But I'd have less chance of fulfilling my dreams.  Extra weight can hold us back physically, socially, and professionally. Getting fit has opened more doors that I ever imagined. People don't take time to look past the extra pounds to see the amazing person in each of us. That's lousy, but that's the way it is. We can't change people, but we can change the way they respond to us by getting rid of the extra weight.

Finally, people see Taylor instead of a fat kid. I'm free to be me without worrying about how people are responding to me. At one time, my future opportunities were hindered by my weight. Today, my opportunities are only limited by how big I want to dream.

IML: Thanks, Taylor! Good luck!

Taylor: Thank you!

If healthy eating habits, fitness, and weight loss are on your mind, check out IML's You Said It pages on Food Smarts, My Exercise Time and Eating Disorders.

IML's Rating: A-



 



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