So long junk food; so long bullies

Staff - stltoday.com - 03/07/2012
Success Stories

A year ago, Nick Turnbeaugh, 17, looked into a mirror pondering adulthood. "I looked at myself and said, 'If I'm this heavy now, what will I be when I'm 30?' "

Today, Turnbeaugh weighs 163 pounds, which is 87 pounds lighter than his peak weight of 250 pounds. His new weight is perfect for his 5-foot-11-inch frame.

Now he likes the guy in the mirror. "I never realized what I used to look like," he said. "I'm astonished at what my body can do now.

"I'm getting more confident."

Last semester, his grades jumped from middle C to a B average, the highest grades he has ever achieved.

Experts say physically fit youngsters do better in school, for any of a number of reasons, from being clear-headed and healthy to being less self-conscious and distracted by teasing or bullying.

Turnbeaugh said to make the change, he had to hate obesity more than he loved junk food. And he hated what obesity had done to his life.

Turnbeaugh's weight had set his life off balance for as far back as he could remember. The most wrenching times were when other children teased him.

"I had to change schools in junior high because it got so bad," he said. "People don't realize, that really hurts."

He added, "When I was with my friends, they'd get the girls and not me. It wasn't fun."

A LOVE FOR EATING

Turnbeaugh said he has always loved food and eating.

Mark Turnbeaugh, a single father of three, recalled Nick at age 5 eating an entire loaf of bread at a local steakhouse.

The high school student estimated he made about 10 previous attempts at weight loss. Each lasted a day or two.

The weight began to take its toll. Climbing steps shortened his breath — even though he was an athlete.

He played center for the high school football team. But, he recalled, "The weight never let me reach my full potential."

He and his father butted heads more than once about his health.

One day, though, the teen went to his father to discuss his new commitment.

"He has never had the willpower," Mark Turnbeaugh said. "But this time, I could see it."

Dad's main advice, "Don't do anything that he couldn't keep up."

'CUT OUT THE JUNK'

Turnbeaugh said he had gained weight by eating too much and not exercising enough.

So, he planned to eat less and "cut out the junk." His intake dropped to 1,500 to 1,800 calories a day of more nutritious food.

"Dad taught me to have a balanced diet," Turnbeaugh said.

Breakfast had been leftovers — pizza or chicken nuggets.

"At lunch, I used to pile my plate with junk — two burgers, a wrap and fries — and I'd eat it even if I wasn't hungry any more," he said. "And then, I had a soft spot for sweets and sodas. I'd have a frozen pizza and potato chips for dinner."

Breakfasts have now morphed into the likes of a protein bar and soup.

"My dad makes my lunch for me now," he said. "A sandwich and fruit. I haven't bought a lunch for almost a year."

He eats dinner with his father and younger brother and sister. The family eats smaller meals with more vegetables and fruit.

"I can eat a regular dinner because of all the calories I saved during the day," he said.

"It's so easy to be healthy now," said his father. "We're all on the same page."

That also means water or low-calorie drinks; no sodas.

"We never ate a lot of fruit," Turnbeaugh said, "now fruit is everywhere."

Turnbeaugh runs several times a week. He joined a fitness club.

The weight started coming off in mid-spring last year.

But then there was an unexpected problem: Football season arrived and he still played center.

"There I was at 175, 180 pounds playing against 300-pound nose tackles," he said. "I just got as low as I could and did my best.

"The coach just said try to slow 'em down."

TOUCHING OTHERS

Shortly after the football season ended, he'd reached his goal weight.

His weight loss has touched others.

"It's got to be 100 people who've asked how I did it," he said. "My grandmother lost 20 pounds and said it was because I was an inspiration. My aunt lost 30 pounds."

His brother, Tony, 15, began going to the gym with him. Sister Katie, 13, was already into fitness.

Now a high school senior, he's done with organized sports; it's unlikely any college will come looking for a 163-pound center.

He's planning to major in business, then attend school to be a chiropractor.

He's speaking out because he wants other young people to keep trying if they need to lose weight, he said.

"I tried 10 times and the 11th time it worked," he said. "It's easy to make the change if you get into the right place."

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