My girl was obese at 3

As her daughter's weight began to spiral out of control, worried mum Candice started a desperate search for help.

Candice Fearn, 42, Maleny, Qld

I watched my daughter spoon the meat and mashed potato into her mouth.

As the last morsels disappeared from Hayley’s plate, I braced myself.

And sure enough, my three-year-old let out an angry wail.

Throwing the spoon across the room, that wail became a blood-curdling scream.

I flinched at the sound. What was happening to the sweet girl I knew?

Hayley seemed to be addicted to food and I had no idea what to do.

Weighing 36 kilos, I could barely even lift her.

She was 19 kilos over the normal upper limit for a child her age and the only clothes that fit her were made for 10-year-olds.

As Hayley was too big for her pram, when my partner Andrew, now 44, and I went out shopping we had to hoist her into a supermarket trolley.

But that wasn’t all.

Hayley’s personality was changing too.

Mealtimes were always followed by tantrums these days and treats and sweets only made things worse.

My girl had gained weight quickly from the moment she was born.

I remembered how she breastfed so eagerly she gained 900g in just 10 days when she was two months old.

Doctors were perplexed by her growth spurt and advised me to feed her less.

But even when I tried, it didn’t seem to make any difference.

As she grew, I stuck to the foods I’d been advised to give her – cereals, meat, mashed potato, pumpkin and pasta.

But Hayley’s relationship with food was very different to that I’d experienced with my older kids, Amanda, now 22, and Bryce, now 21, or younger daughter Isabella, seven.

Even so, it did strike a chord with me.

I’d had my own weight struggles too. I was born big and growing up, I developed an unhealthy approach to mealtimes.

Despite taking steps to change that and become more active, these days I still weigh over 100 kilos at 170cm tall.

Hayley and Candice (Credit: Supplied)

I don’t want Hayley to struggle like I did, I told myself.

So, I went in search of help, but it wasn’t easy.

Despite seeing many doctors and dietitians, people were quick to judge.

One time, I took Hayley to hospital for a bladder infection, and the doctor snapped his fingers in my face.

‘If you don’t start changing your diet and changing what you do, she could be gone like that!’ he scolded.

My cheeks burnt with shame. I was humiliated, but I didn’t know where I was going wrong. I desperately wanted to help my daughter and I needed someone to show me how.

One dietitian suggested we keep a food diary for Hayley.

But when I handed it back, I knew she felt I hadn’t been truthful.

‘Hayley isn’t eating junk food,’ I insisted. ‘I’m only feeding her wholesome foods and fruit’.

But the judgemental comments continued.

‘Ever heard of salad?’ I heard someone mutter under their breath another time.

‘That’s disgusting,’ said someone else, glancing at my girl one day.

That night I sat on the couch, put my head into my hands and cried until there were no tears left.

I wanted to help Hayley, all I needed was some support.

It was then that my girl toddled over and wrapped her arms around me.

She knew something was wrong. ‘I will help you get better, my baby,’ I wept as she snuggled up in my lap.

As her mum, it was my duty to give her the life she deserved.

The next morning I woke up on the sofa with Hayley’s arms still wrapped around my waist.

It felt like a new day and I was determined to give my daughter a fresh start.

Heading to the library I pulled out every book on childhood nutrition I could find.

I read for hours and learnt, for the first time, about how foods with a high glycemic index (GI) can have a powerful impact on some children’s weight.

Armed with the new knowledge, from that day I changed Hayley’s diet.

Realising I’d been giving her way too much fruit and juice – which together was adding up to the equivalent of six pieces a day, I began reducing the number of high-carbohydrate foods she was eating.

Then I cut them out completely in the afternoons and evenings.

Hayley is now happy and healthy (Credit: Supplied)

I didn’t want it to feel like a strict diet, so I turned it into a game for Hayley and she helped me in the kitchen.

Instead of white toast and cereal for breakfast, Hayley had some poached eggs with wholegrain toast and spinach. Together we laid it out on the plate to look like the sun.

Hayley loved working with the colours and shapes of fresh vegetables.

Another day, she created a happy face to reflect her own beaming smile.

Soon, Hayley’s tantrums stopped and she had more energy than before.

Wanting to make the most of that, we put a climbing frame in the backyard to encourage her to be active.

Within the first two months of changing her diet, Hayley’s weight went from 36 kilos down to 25 kilos.

At first I was worried she might be sick, but doctors confirmed she was in good health with her new diet.

As she grew up her weight stabilised and now she is a happy and healthy 11-year-old girl and her weight is well within the recommended body mass index (BMI).

She still loves food, but now she has a keen interest in nutrition.

Whereas before she used to gorge on comfort foods like meat and potatoes, now she will refuse to eat them without something green!

She also loves fixing up healthy plates for everyone in the family.

My fight for my girl has also enabled me to help myself.

I’m now in my second year of an advanced diploma in nutritional medicine and I’m eating more healthily than ever before.

Wanting to help other mums who may be going through what I have, I wrote a book about the lessons Hayley and I have learnt.

Childhood obesity is on the rise in Australia, and I want parents to know it does not have to grow out of control.

You can help your children, and give them the fantastic future they deserve.

Fat trap

– Childhood obesity is becoming increasingly common in Australia.

– A report released last year found nearly a quarter of children aged two to four were overweight or obese.

– Health experts have linked obesity in children with eating foods that have a high glycemic index (GI) as they increase the blood glucose levels in the body.

– Fruit and fruit juices have been found to contribute to the rise in obesity rates as they have a high GI.

– The recommended daily fruit intake for a four-year-old is one piece, and two pieces for a 10-year-old.

Candice’s book ‘With Love We Lost: A successful journey through childhood obesity’ is due to be published by Balboa Press.

Originally published in that’s life! issue 28, 2014

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