by Melissa Rollock
Right out of the womb, 17-year-old Cherise Babb had a weight “problem”. She tipped the scales at a whopping 10 pounds when she was born.
Her mother, Nutrition Officer at the National Nutrition Centre, Dianne Broome, had gestational diabetes when she was pregnant which resulted in Cherise’s high birth weight.
It seemed that the odds were stacked against the aspiring business manager from the start. However, as she got older, she shed her “baby fat” and was at a healthy weight for most of her childhood – that was until she went through a difficult emotional patch in her life.
“I was going through a lot and I was depressed and that was how I coped – I ate. I would eat two packs of Ramen Noodles with cheese and ketchup at two o’clock in the morning. No exercise whatsoever,” Cherise confessed during a recent interview.
Slowly, the weight crept on until she weighed 144 pounds at just five feet tall. However, her wake-up call came when her mum, a diabetic, had to go on insulin injections to control her diabetes.
“I don’t think my mother actually knows this but when the doctor switched her from pills to the insulin, I was like…” she said, pausing, “I saw my grandmother taking insulin so I thought only old people had to get those injections so it was scary for me to see [my mum] having to take insulin. There’s a history of diabetes and hypertension in my family so that was another motivating factor. Plus, it was getting a bit too ridiculous. I am five feet tall and I was 144 pounds. My joints weren’t holding up too well under the weight.”
Cherise made a decision that was beyond her years – she chose to take responsibility for her own health. The determined teenager used all of the technology at her disposal to research everything from healthy diets and recipes to yoga, pilates and kick-boxing. And, from there, her transformation began.
With money being tight, she looked for affordable exercise options. She certainly couldn’t afford to join a gym. So, she began her exercise routine by running up and down a series of steps that lead from West Terrace to Fitts Village in St. James.
“There are over 100 steps I think. That is where I started… I added pilates, yoga and kick-boxing to my routine so I do some of everything,” she asserted.
As for her diet, Cherise cut her portion sizes significantly and added a lot more fruits and vegetables to her meals. Instead of eating a heaping stack of pancakes for breakfast, she opted for fruit and downsized her two portions of macaroni pie in one sitting, to just one. She also replaced meat in her diet with peas and beans which, she says, are higher in fibre and protein than meat. Plus, they are less costly.
“I replaced [high fat foods] with healthier options. I still eat though – like the other day, I had pizza and ice cream. I don’t eat meat anymore but then again, I was never a big meat eater to begin with. Don’t get me wrong, I still eat macaroni pie but I eat lots more vegetables and I eat [other] carbohydrates but in smaller portions,” she pointed out.
Prior to her new lifestyle, Cherise believed that food made her happy. She realised that gorging on high fat, high sugar foods was not the answer. She now has more energy and isn’t riddled with anymore of the aches and pain that the excess weight placed on her body.
“Emotionally, it made me happier. I realised that if I took control of [my weight] and saw it through to the end, it gave me something to focus on and it took my mind off of the problem that made me turn to food in the first place.
“I had a high self-esteem before but it is even better now. Adopting this new lifestyle gives me something to look forward to every day and when I’m finished exercising, I feel a sense of accomplishment,” she said, beaming.
She added: “When I started living healthier, it wasn’t that difficult of a transition. I always knew the information because I spent every summer at the National Nutrition Centre’s Summer Camp since I was four years old. I knew about calories and sodium, I knew how to read labels, so it wasn’t hard.”
Cherise’s mother, Dianne, couldn’t be more proud of her. In fact, her daughter has influenced her to eat healthier and exercise more often. Her hectic job as a nutrition officer, that is the officer-in-charge at the National Nutrition Centre, sometimes doesn’t allow her to stick to a strict diet or exercise routine. Admittedly, she sometimes neglects herself while looking after others. However, that has all changed since Cherise started on her new path.
“I am very proud of her; doing it all on her own is an achievement. I guess, indirectly, I had an impact on her even though I didn’t realise it. I’ve found that it calls for a lot of determination and persistence.
She sticks to her diet every day and even when we go to restaurants she still makes the right choices and doesn’t go off course.
“Recently, I lost several pounds. I started eating what she was eating – more fruits and vegetables, reducing my calorie intake, watching the types of fats I consumed rather than eating on the run. Nowadays, with our busy schedules, we don’t usually have the time to eat right but we have to find the time. So, I have joined her on her path of a healthier lifestyle and when she is doing her exercises, I do mine as well. She is very persistent,” she said, throwing a cursory glance at her daughter.
Cherise has advised anyone considering making a change in their diet or lifestyle to do so safely.
“I don’t think it is worth it to [starve yourself to lose weight]. You are either going to make yourself sick or gain back all of the weight. I think everyone will be better off just doing it the healthy way. You can still enjoy food when you’re living a healthy lifestyle,” she stressed.
Typically, she does about 30 minutes of intense exercise six days a week. Cherise has managed to stick to her new lifestyle for over a year and she does not plan on turning back. She has gone from 144 pounds to 104 pounds – an impressive weight loss of 40 pounds.
Most of her friends from her alma mater, Combermere School, do not even recognise her when they “bump” into her on the street. They naturally assume that her mother – because of the nature of her job – placed her on a diet. They are shocked when they discover that she did it all on her own.
Cherise never really enjoyed Physical Education at secondary school because, as she puts it: “It seemed to cater more to the athletic types”. She suggested that schools make PE more exciting for all students by introducing unconventional exercises such as pilates, kick-boxing and yoga.
While Cherise and her mum are happy with her achievements, the outspoken teenager admitted that some of her relatives were not pleased with her new look. She now has to deal with comments such as: “You are too skinny!” or “You need to eat some food!” But she believes it is this mentality that has contributed to the escalating obesity figures in Barbados.
“That’s the mentality of most people… You have to be big to be considered healthy in this society,” she said.
Mum, Dianne offered some advice on eating healthy. She has advised that persons first reduce their caloric intake. This may be achieved by cutting back on portion sizes. The nutrition expert also suggested monitoring one’s fat consumption by opting for “light, low fat or fat free” products.
One major step in reducing fat in one’s diet, she pointed out, was reducing the amount of red meat in the diet. Additionally, choose water over sugary beverages and make sure that when you sit down to eat, half of the plate is full of vegetables. As for snacks, choose fruit instead of biscuits or chips which may increase your sodium intake.
“During this week (Nutrition Week), we are talking about Eating for Less, you can concentrate on your peas and beans which are low in fat and are very versatile. You can use them in stews, pies, patties and fritters. So when you do that, you substitute them for meats.
Also watch your salt intake and salty foods. Read your labels. Eat lots more fruits and vegetables and increase your water intake. Once you do that you are on your way to a healthier life,” she emphasised.