Breanna Bond swims lap after lap for the Clovis Swim Club, and the longer the distance, the better the seventh-grader performs.
Watching her swim, it’s impossible to picture this Fresno 13-year-old as anything other than a fit and trim teen. But she hasn’t always been.
Four years ago, Breanna weighed 186 pounds. On the school playground she couldn’t grab one monkey bar and swing to the next. “I tried, but I could never do it,” she said.
She was one of thousands of obese children in the central San Joaquin Valley who appeared destined for obesity-related health problems later in life. To think that in middle school she would be a cheerleader, on the water polo team and competing in 500-yard swim races — and winning — was unimaginable.
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But Breanna would lose 76 pounds — 40% of her body weight — in 14 months, beginning when she was 9.
Obesity in U.S. children ages 2 to 5 decreased from 13.9% in 2003-04 to 8.4% in 2011-12. CDC
By the time she was 10, she was almost 60 pounds lighter. On the first day of fifth grade, she was unrecognizable to some of her longtime classmates who thought she was a new girl in class. Before that school year ended, she had reached her goal weight of 110 pounds.
Breanna’s story of how a bullied obese child became a confident teen with Olympic swimming ambitions is the subject of “Who’s The New Kid,” a new Tyndale House Publishers book that will have a launch party Wednesday in Madera. Written by her mother, Heidi Bond, and writer Jenna Glatzer, the book shows how Bond helped her daughter lose weight and keep it off without help from doctors, fad diets, medication or surgery.
“This is the best gift I could give to other mothers,” Bond said as she talked about her book, which includes easy-to-make healthy recipes, exercise tips and other practical advice for parents. “I know the fear and helplessness that they are feeling, and I want to share our journey.”
The weight-loss help is needed in the central San Joaquin Valley: More than 40% of fifth-, seventh- and ninth-graders are overweight or obese.
Bond was convinced her daughter would weigh more than 200 pounds by the time she was 10, if something didn’t change. In kindergarten, Breanna weighed 100 pounds and each succeeding year she gained 20.
Increasingly worried about Breanna’s physical and mental health, Bond and husband, Dan Bond, watched as year after year their daughter’s weight increased and their once bubbly, honey-blond little girl became withdrawn.
Breanna didn’t complain, but she was bullied at school, including getting punched in the back by a boy and struck in the face with a basketball, Bond said.
News about Breanna’s weight loss has spread nationally. She was first featured in a Bee story in August 2012 and later that year on CNN. She’s been on “Good Morning America” and the “Today” show in Australia, and her story was featured on “The Biggest Loser” with her mother.
Breanna has been asked a lot about bullying. She doesn’t like to dwell on the ostracism and taunts, but last week she explained the feeling of helplessness when she tried to speak up for herself. “People won’t listen to you. They don’t care about your opinion.”
The Bonds had reason for concern about Breanna’s physical and mental health: According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, obese children are more at risk for high cholesterol and high blood pressure, which increases the risk for cardiovascular disease. And they are at higher risk for diabetes, for bone and joint problems, sleep apnea — and for bullying and poor self-esteem.
60% of obese children ages 5 to 17 had at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease CDC, 2012
It’s vital to get weight off obese children, said Lisa Herzig, a Fresno State associate professor and director of the university’s dietetics program. In obese children, the growth plates seal, she said. “These kids are not going to grow in height, they’re going to be shorter in stature, heavier kids,” she said. “And that’s really going to put them at greater risk for future disease.”
The Bonds recognized Breanna was severely overweight by the time she turned 3. They took her to doctors. “We knew there was a problem, but what do we do?” Bond said.
Breanna’s pediatrician assured the anxious parents she would “grow into” her body. The Bonds weren’t convinced. They began making appointments with specialists for tests to rule out a medical reason for Breanna’s obesity. A thyroid test came back fine and the doctor suggested a dance class. A holistic doctor suggested a psychologist. They saw an endocrinologist who ran tests that found nothing medically wrong, but gave Breanna’s parents a warning: “You need to do something or she will develop Type 2 diabetes.”
Heidi Bond felt helpless and hopeless. “No one had a plan for us.”
Adults who need to lose weight have “Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, “ she said. “Adults have gyms…kids have nothing.”
The Bonds had to learn the recipe for health and fitness. They were junk-food junkies, munching on potato chips and candy. Enchiladas, fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy were meal staples. They didn’t exercise.
And they didn’t know children can’t lose weight alone.
Nutritionists and dietitians know the family has to be involved for children’s weight loss to succeed. “You cannot do it without the support of the family,” Herzig said. “We cannot emphasize that enough.”
In 2011, a family friend suggested Heidi Bond enroll Breanna in a swim class. It was worth a shot, Bond thought. After a month, she weighed Breanna, hoping and expecting the scale would show good news. It didn’t. Breanna had gained weight.
Bond was ready to give up on Breanna losing weight, but a walk along the Clovis Trail kept her going.
Bond, a naturally wiry, thin woman, had never exercised, but a neighbor invited her on a walk, and she accepted. She enjoyed herself and on another day took Dan, Breanna’s younger brother, Nathan, and Breanna on an after-dinner walk. Bond expected Breanna wouldn’t make the 3.8-mile loop, but her daughter was able to complete it, although she grumbled.
It was a shaky start toward health and fitness, however, Bond said. “We came home and ate a bowl of buttered popcorn.”
But for the next few weeks, the family took an occasional walk, and Breanna continued to swim. On a whim, after a spaghetti dinner, Bond decided to weigh Breanna. She had lost six pounds.
Everything clicked, Bond said. Every day, she and Breanna walked. “I knew I had the formula to save her life. I would walk as fast as I physically could and she had to stay up with me.”
Breanna protested, and the skin between her legs chafed as she walked, but her mother kept her going. “I walked every step with her,” Bond said.
Now, Breanna is seldom inactive. Cheerleading at Granite Ridge Intermediate, playing on the school’s water polo team and swimming with the Clovis Swim Club take up most of her free time. Lifting a leg onto the back of the family couch last week, Breanna half-teased her mom, “Can I take ballet?”
Changing the family’s diet involved chucking the junk food out of the cupboards, and Bond had to learn how to cook healthy low-fat meals. In the beginning, she relied on frozen entrees.
In addition, “Subway sandwiches were a staple for a while,” Dan Bond said.
Heidi Bond now cooks from healthy and simple recipes, she said. She’s taught Breanna how to make snacks that are low in fat and sugar. Breanna’s favorite — “brownies.” They’re made out of nuts, pitted dates, cacao powder, Bond quickly explained.
Eating healthy at home is easy, but it’s difficult to avoid fat-laden and sugary foods at birthday parties and other occasions. Breanna tells herself, “no, no, no,” because she knows she’ll regret the indulgence. “You think, ‘Oh, I wish I never did that,’” she said. “You gain a pound by doing that and you only gain 30 seconds of satisfaction.”
Breanna doesn’t need to measure her success on a scale today: Her endurance in the swimming pool is proof enough of her fitness.
When Clovis Swim Club coach An Baxter began coaching Breanna in September, she had no inkling that four years ago Breanna had trouble walking up stairs without panting for breath.
“She just looked like a healthy 12-year-old girl,” Baxter said. “She’s very outgoing, very energetic.”
Breanna placed in the top eight in the Junior Olympics finals for her age group, 11- and 12-year-olds in the 500-yard freestyle, she said. “She’s in very good shape. That’s why she can do the distance.”
Calorie guidelines for children
Varies depending on growth and activity level
- Ages 2-3 (boys and girls): 1,000-1,400
- Ages 4-8 (girls): 1,200-1,800
- Ages 4-8 (boys): 1,200-2,000
- Ages 9-13 (girls): 1,400-2,200
- Ages 9-13 (boys): 1,600-2,600
- Ages 14-18 (girls): 1,800-2,400
- Ages 14-18 (boys): 2,000-3,200
— Mayo Clinic
Book launch party
- What: “Who’s The New Kid?” book signing and party, fitness classes, jumping
- Where: SkyWalk Trampoline Arena, 10432 Highway 41, Madera
- When: 5-8 p.m. May 20
Recipes from “Who’s The New Kid?”
For the pizza:
1 teaspoon olive oil
4 pieces lavash bread
1 cup pizza or spaghetti sauce (store bought is fine as long as it’s fat free and low in sugar)
1 cup shredded reduced-fat mozzarella cheese
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
For the toppings:
1 small onion, chopped
1 cup nitrate-free ham, cut into thin strips
Chunks of fresh pineapple
Mushrooms, sliced thin
Bell peppers, cut into thin strips
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Arrange all ingredients on the counter. Drizzle the olive oil onto a large baking sheet and spread with a paper towel, or line the tray with nonstick foil. Arrange lavash on the tray. Spread sauce on top of each piece and sprinkle with cheese and basil. Add as many healthy toppings as you like. Bake until cheese is bubbly and the bread has reached desired crispness.
Yield: 4 servings
Contains 5-8 grams of fat, depending on the toppings you choose.
Pineapple delight (a favorite of Breanna Bond)
3/4 cup frozen pineapple chunks
2 Tablespoons nonfat milk, almond milk, or soy milk
Put pineapple and milk into blender. Blend until smooth. Enjoy!
Yield: 1 serving
Contains 0 grams of fat per serving.