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Reversing Childhood Obesity: The Power Is Within Us

August 24, 2016 | Community News, Community News and Media

Marisa Barcia, Program Director at the Garfield YMCA, has a free ride to the New Jersey Partnership for Healthy Kids (NJPHK) Annual Building a Culture of Health in NJ Conference on Wednesday, November 30, 2016.

Barcia entered the NJPHK Facebook contest answering to the query “How Would You Reverse Childhood Obesity?” Her response (see below) was selected as the first prize winner, providing her with the opportunity to attend the 2016 Conference that will focus on “Advancing the Population of Health Agenda.”

The question was personal for Barcia who has struggled with maintaining a healthy weight throughout her life and has seen her nine-year-old daughter, Valentina, face a similar challenge.

“The YMCA and other organizations are providing more opportunities for people to get well,” said Barcia, “but there has to be a spark that ignites that desire from within and that can be harder to come by.”

Barcia subscribes to the philosophy of “reach one; teach one,” meaning that the more personal and involved one person is in the welfare of another, the more opportunity there is to change behavior.

When her daughter’s weight began to climb beyond a healthy level, Barcia offered gentle encouragement and support. “I focused not on her weight, but who she is. I wanted to nurture her artistic side.” That evolved into using fruits and vegetables as art to create arrangements that were eye-catching and mouthwatering. It also offered an opportunity to talk about the importance of proper nutrition.

When Barcia’s mother died, it created a deep hole for her daughter who was missing her grandmother. This was a time when Valentina was apt to ask for ice cream and other treats to help her feel better. “No one is better to explore these issues than me, as her mother,” observed Barcia. So mother and daughter worked through this loss together and focused on making healthy choices.

Barcia also involved Valentina in her exercise. “We walk the track together, and it gives us the chance to talk about what is going on in both of our worlds.” When Barcia taught dance at the Y, Valentina came and watched, learning how to count music and choreograph dance routines.

“All actions are about building her security, her comfort, and her space. I want her to feel OK and not judged. I also want her to see that I care about her wellness. Eventually, Valentina stopped wishing for junk food and sugar. A breakthrough came when Valentina told her mom that she was not going to drink pre-packaged juice anymore. Barcia bought a juicer so they could make healthy juice together.

Valentina is now at a healthy weight for her age and height; Barcia is also fit. But the awareness to self-regulate and self-correct continues. “The inner voice of a child is the parent’s voice,” said Barcia. “It’s so important that kids hear a positive and supportive voice.”

For others who want to be the voice that guides their children in a healthy direction, Barcia offers three maxims:

  1. Have faith that you can do this. You will find a way or create that way. The body is resilient, and obesity is not a terminal diagnosis. It can be changed.
  2. You are enough. You are what your child needs and you have the answers.
  3. Get comfortable with getting messy. Let kids see success and also failure.

Above all, said Barcia, “Be open with your children. Let them see that mistakes happen, but mistakes can be turned around.”

Barcia will be sharing her lessons learned at the NJPHK Annual Building a Culture of Health in NJ Conference in November.

Marisa Barcia’s Facebook contest post: Change does begin with each of us. If we want to reverse the childhood obesity epidemic, this requires each and every one us in the fight to self-reflect first without concessions. Are we the best examples we could be? Are we honoring ourselves? Are we understanding and comfortable with our own confusion, fear, pressures, messaging? Until we shift from the hive mentality to self-reality (a hard, honest look), we won’t solve anything. In doing this, we wake up our inner child archetype. We will not win this fight from the vantage point of an adult. Children are more impressionable than we imagine, but what we forget is we were once too, and all of those impressions are stored in our self-being. We can be in the fight yet unconsciously perpetuate the unhealthy messaging we received as children. The understood fear experience through a child’s lens has the answers waiting. Every project and initiative we offer must be built through the lens of the universal truths. The hands that build them must be viewed through this lens too. Our kids aren’t broken. Our kids aren’t sick. The innate ability of the body to heal has to be the stronger belief that overrides all other expectations in our programs. The minute I look at a child with numbers that state they have an “issue” I have perpetuated the problem. This isn’t sticking a blind eye or rose colored glasses on our problems. How are we going to fix childhood obesity among every other issue we’re facing in the collective? Faith that we already have the answer, faith in healing not managing. If we’ve embodied this feeling of faith, we will win. I’m in the fight for myself. I’ve been all over the map. I created a daughter who was classified as obese. Three years later, she’s not. She still eats cookies. She is sedentary many weekends. What changed? The belief that this wasn’t a life sentence, that her body and capacity to know what true wellness is will be a louder voice than any others in its own perfect time in her life. That she got to see me in the struggle and open and honest about it created the safe space to explore her vulnerabilities and confusion. Mom and Daughter: 1; Obesity 0. We won.”


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