Get Fit For Life
Thanks to Healthy Kids and Teens, these families are learning great exercise and eating habits. Yours can, too.
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In January, 2011, Karl Chambers Jr. wasn’t making any New Year’s resolutions. He expected his days to be as tedious as they had been the previous year, when he spent more time asleep than awake. When not at school, he lay in front of the television. “I was tied to my bed,” he recalls, not an exciting outlook for a 17-year-old approaching high school graduation.
Karl’s weight had steadily ballooned since middle school. In those years, he won trophies playing football. Yet at home, fried foods, pork, and soft drinks were staples at the dinner table. By twelfth grade, Karl’s weight had soared to 365 pounds and the teen was in denial. “I didn’t see a problem. I was comfortable, eating, and being lazy.”
His poor diet and exercise habits led to a health crisis. During his senior year at East High School, Karl was diagnosed with Type II diabetes, which the doctor attributed to his morbid obesity. “You have to take diabetes medicine or you’ll die,” his physician told him. Despite this warning, Karl took his medication sporadically. “I was rebellious. I felt I was too young to be that sick.”
Karl also suffered with sleep apnea so severely he was chronically late, often missing school altogether. When he didn’t attend P.E., he missed chances to exercise. Karl’s parents and sister suffered with obesity too and were not practicing healthy behaviors to improve their condition.
Creating Healthier Habits
But the new year would bring changes and lead his entire family towards a healthier lifestyle. When school resumed in January, Karl was encouraged to participate in Healthy Kids & Teens “Camp Get Fit,” after-school program. Sponsored by United Healthcare Community Plan, Healthy Kids & Teens encourages students to become health champions for themselves and their families.
In bi-weekly classes, teens in the after-school program participate in physical activity for 30 minutes and learn about fitness, health, and nutrition. Karl started with hip-hop abs (similar to Zumba). “It was hard, then I started looking forward to it.” Karl learned to monitor calories and to stem his appetite by drinking water. By May, he was 20 pounds lighter and could walk around the mall without getting winded.
He graduated from high school that spring, but a seed had been planted. He wanted to get back into shape. “I threw in some cardio, cut calories, and lost 40 pounds over the summer,” he recalls with a smile.
Karl’s enthusiasm was contagious. His father, Karl Sr., joined him for walks and weight-lifting, 11-year-old sister, Skyler, began walking a mile every day with her dad and brother. As the family’s cook, mother Alisha dropped pork and soft drinks from the menu and instead, added lots of vegetables.
For more than a year, Karl stuck with a 1,500-calorie a day plan, exercising enough to burn 2,500 calories. His goal was to lose two pounds a week. His efforts paid off — he dropped 132 pounds in 18 months. Today, former classmates don’t recognize him. At 6’1”, he’s down to 232 pounds.
Gone is his diabetic medication and the sleep apnea. “I now sleep well and feel great!” And the 20-year-old isn’t about to get off track. Push-ups, sit-ups, weights, and walks keep him in shape, and he plans to lose 40 more pounds. With energy to spare, he works at AutoZone and has a sideline business fixing up cars.
His dad lost 50 pounds, his sister 20, and while his mother struggles to keep a regular fitness routine, Karl will continue to guide her.
“Healthy Kids got me started,” he says. “They kicked off every thing. My advice is to get active and be responsible when you eat. You’re never too young to catch a disease.”