- Associated Press - Saturday, October 18, 2014

HERSCHER, Ill. (AP) - Sixteen-year-old Kaytlyn Harsha heard the whispers in the hallways at Herscher High School. The 5-foot-5 sophomore weighed in at 225 pounds last May, and she knew her classmates noticed.

“I didn’t really get called any names, but I knew people were talking,” she said. “I knew I was fat, and I knew it wasn’t good for me. I knew there was heart disease and diabetes in my family, and it was like I was just fast forwarding myself to get there.”

To be fair, Kaytlyn was going through some traumatic times. During the course of three years she lost an aunt and uncle, a grandmother and her father, Michael. She was on prescription drugs for her depression.

“I could spend an hour and a half trying to find something to wear, and it would always be the same things: Sloppy T-shirts and sweatpants.”

But Kaytlyn had an ally ready to help her out of this abyss when she was ready to change: her mother, Kelli Bonomo.

“My peak weight was 288,” she said. “That was in 2002, and I decided to start making better decisions about my nutrition.”

Improved diet and exercise took Kelli, 38, to the other end of the health spectrum. By 2007, she was competing in women’s bodybuilding on a national level. For the past seven years, she has coached other fitness clients. And for the last four years, she has been a nutritional consultant for Nutrition 360, a national weight loss and fitness program.

“I knew I could help Kaytlyn, but I couldn’t just force Kaytlyn to get involved. She would fight it then. It had to be her decision,” Kelli said.

“And I was too preoccupied with food,” her daughter said. “I was always craving the worst junk food, the fattiest foods. I was always hungry for some fast food fries. And they still smell good to me.”

But Kaytlyn is on the program now, eating smaller portions and sensibly balancing carbohydrates, proteins and fats. She doesn’t count calories. And she isn’t afraid of enjoying an “off-program” meal now and then.

“I’m weighing about 190 now. I’m wearing jeans I haven’t fit into for two years,” she said. “But I have a way to go: My goal weight would be between 150 and 160.”

Meanwhile, her mother is bolstering Kaytlyn’s growing self-confidence with time-tested advice:

(asterisk) “You can’t outrun your fork. That’s what I tell people who think they can do it all by just increasing your activity level. Nutrition is the biggest factor.”

(asterisk) “Life will always show up. You can eat sensibly, but there are going to be parties and other events that revolve around food. When those things happen, you just maintain those days. And you get back to making progress the next day.”

Kelli uses some of that advice with her 40-plus clients. Some are local and others are spread across the nation. She does some of her counseling over the phone.

Back at Herscher High, Kaytlyn’s grades are up and she notes that she seems to have “more friends who are boys.”

“I’m definitely more self-confident, more outgoing,” she said. “Before, when I was so heavy, I just wanted to hide it all. I would hide myself.”

Kelli smiles as she hears Kaytlyn tell her story. With her own history of weight gain and loss, she had the credibility to lure her daughter into a healthier lifestyle. But she’s seen other families fail at the challenge.

“I think parents recognize when their children are overweight, but they’re not well-educated on nutrition themselves,” she said. “They fall for some kind of fad diet, and they set their kids up to fail.”

According to Kelli, the key to weight loss and sensible eating is blood sugar stabilization with a balanced diet. And a balanced diet requires some meal planning and some time for preparing a variety of healthy foods.”

“We do our food prep for the week on Sunday afternoons,” she said. “It has to be a routine, or your meals become a grab-and-go thing with too many carbs.”

Kaytlyn is off of her medications now. Kelli noted that several of her clients have kicked their prescriptions for attention deficit disorders. It changes more than your waistline, she said, “when you kick pop-tarts, cookies, chips and cola.”

“My life is definitely better now,” Kaytlyn said. “But this had to be my decision. And I think it has to be that way for other kids, too.”

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Source: The (Kankakee) Daily Journal, https://bit.ly/1rx151d

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Information from: The Daily Journal, https://www.daily-journal.com

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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