How NOT to Lose Weight – Starving, So Your Kids Can Eat.

How NOT to Lose Weight –
Starving, so your kids can eat.

by Boyd Jentzsch

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Ramona was a single mother with three children, two of them pre-school age. She worked two minimum wage jobs in South Chicago to support her little family. Despite her mother’s advanced diabetes, grandma would take the bus over to watch the kids while Ramona worked. On days when grandma was too sick to come over, Ramona either had to skip work, or her oldest daughter had to stay home from second grade to watch the other two.

One day grandma had an emergency doctors appointment and couldn’t come over until “noon at the earliest.” Ramona’s oldest daughter was already in school. She needed cash so badly that she couldn’t afford to take any more time off work. Besides, in that cold Chicago winter, Ramona feared she could lose a job she desperately needed if she was late or missed another morning.

food bank limited food options

She crossed the hall to press her elderly and reluctant neighbor to “look in on the little ones” from “time to time.” With no credit and no cash to feed her kids, Ramona felt she had no other choice. Two pre-school kids home alone… with a TV set for a babysitter… a reluctant neighbor across the hall… walking to work in the snow that heart-rending morning, Ramona could only pray with each step she took that her children would be safe until grandma arrived “around noontime.”

After all these years that wrenching decision, made on a dark January morning, still haunted her. But it was just one day among many in those lean years, as Ramona opened up and shared more with me.

Feeding America, and Ramona
I met Ramona a few years ago when I was in Chicago on a blustery Spring day to meet top executives of America’s Second Harvest. Now called Feeding America it is a premiere resource to feed the hungry in America. According to the latest data, in the majority of states one in six American kids is “food insecure” – their parents don’t know where their child’s next meal is coming from.

Feeding America is the largest network of food banks in the nation. Yet it is just one of hundreds of food banks in every part of this great country (and still there is not enough food to go around).

shopping food bank

For America’s hundreds of thousands on food stamps, Food Bank supplements an otherwise meager cupboard – a last resort.

Receiving donated food from major food manufacturers and grocery store chains, as well as supporting scores of local food drives, they feed those who would otherwise go hungry. For America’s hundreds of thousands on food stamps, it supplements an otherwise meager cupboard – a last resort.

Starving to feed her kids
During those lean times, when the kids were still quite young, Ramona started getting extra food from America’s Second Harvest, (now Feeding America), South Chicago’s main food bank. Many days, especially at the end of the month before her next paycheck came in, and after the food stamps were all consumed, Ramona’s “supermarket shopping” consisted of whatever was available at the food bank. For several days each month it was the ONLY food her family had. Without a credit card, when the food wouldn’t stretch, Ramona didn’t eat.

I got a chance to talk to Ramona over a quiet box lunch in Feeding America’s Chicago conference room. A bright and cheery woman in her mid-forty’s, she now worked at Feeding America, after years of being one of it’s recipients.

Ramona had taken night classes working on her college degree in social work. It took her most of 12 years to get it done, while working at a variety of part time jobs, usually two a day. Studying late into the evening after the kids were in bed, around finals time the lights didn’t go out until the wee hours of the morning. Ramona knew the only way she was going to be able to break the cycle of hunger and deprivation for her kids was to get a degree. “I had to learn my way out of it,” she said.

feeding familiesBut there were days, she told me, many, many days, when education seemed like an indulgent luxury. College meant less time with the kids, and less money for necessities, when the kids desperately needed more of both.

All during this conversation with me Ramona was very matter-of-fact. Her dark eyes would peer into mine as she wanted me to understand the great pride she had that her kids were doing so well at school. She opened her wallet pictures to tell me something special and dear about each.

Shopping for food at a food bank
Then Ramona said something surprising. Knowing my background, and why I was there, she said,”You know, starving so your kids can eat is the surest way I know to gain weight.”

She explained how frequently her food stamps would run out about three weeks into the month, so she would take them to the food bank to “shop.” Sometimes the only food on the partially empty shelves were starchy boxed foods, canned vegetables full of salt, sugary cereals, or foods with high fat content. “Healthy” eating wasn’t an option. Eating was – whatever you could get.

Then, when finally the food stamps came again, feeling deprived and hungry, Ramona’s family ate more then they should. Fresh produce, she said, was their favorite, and rare “treat.”

starving so your kids could eatRamona gained about 80 extra pounds in those lean years, she told me matter-of-factly. Her kids had become overweight, too. Now only a couple of years off food stamps, she had lost some of her extra weight, and was intent on losing the rest. One thing she knew for sure, “Not eating is the best way I know to gain weight,” she repeated.

Finally getting her college degree, she went to work for Feeding America, with a passion for helping others eat – to make sure kids got fed, and their mothers too, when they have no other option.

Her story and countless others like hers finally got the food producers and grocery stores to find ways to bring more fresh produce to the shelves of America’s food banks. There is never enough, but at least there are a few more “treats” to go around.

Eating less and healthy weight loss
To eat less is not a weight loss strategy for many among us. It is survival. It is saving the food you would eat so your children can eat. And, in addition to the reality that this type of weight loss leads to weight gain, it is also a tragedy that hunger is all too present – and hidden – among us.

Hopefully, as you read this, you don’t need to eat less just to feed your children.

But, there is a lot of truth to what Ramona said. Your body undergoes a lot of changes when you don’t eat enough consistently. Your body needs a rich assortment of nutrients from a wide variety of sources. And the fresher that food is, the less processed it is, the better it is for your body. And for your weight.

 learning to shop food bank child

When I talk about eating less, here, it means lowering the number of calories you consume, but not drastically. If you are overweight and cut 200-300 calories out of your daily diet, you will lose weight. Going from 2200 calories a day to 1900 is not about starving yourself. (Going down to 1000 calories a day is stupid and counter-productive. And the hCG- style of just 500 calories a day is a dangerous form of insanity…but, I digress.)

When you consistently over-eat by just a little, you gain a little, steadily. When you eat a little less regularly, you lose weight, steadily.

Eating less means making wise food choices. It is about being aware of not only what you put in your mouth, but how much.

Losing weight is a mindful choice. A choice you make one bite at a time.

Without credit or cash, eating less like Ramona could force you to face hunger. If your situation is a bit better off than that, eating less (in the right way), is a sure path to healthy weight loss. Isn’t that what you have been looking for?


PS: Ramona’s story touches me every time I revisit it. Sadly, her story is not the only one like it. There are tens of thousands of others like her’s. And more every day. If you would like to help feed a family or two through their challenging times, donate to your local food bank. Or contact Feeding America. Put fresh produce on someone’s table tonight. If you don’t help the kids, and their desperate moms, who will?

Learn more about food insecurity in America here:
Witnesses to Hunger: A portrait of food insecurity in America

Five Shocking Statistics About Hunger

Childhood malnutrition has long lasting effects

PPS: For those of us concentrated on managing our weight by eating less, it is heart wrenching irony to know that for too many, eating less is not a choice. For their kids, not knowing what mommy is going to make for dinner, going to bed hungry, or skipping breakfast is a way of life they live daily. And tomorrow will not likely be any better.

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© 2014 Boyd Jentzsch. All rights reserved.

-by Boyd Jentzsch
View Boyd Jentzsch's profile on LinkedIn
Boyd, a recovering Attorney, turned to weight loss research 20 years ago when he lost his mother to the lifelong effects of obesity. He has spent the ensuing years searching the science, and formulating a comprehensive metabolic map of the body — the only complete map of its kind. The map reveals the causes and effects of obesity and related chronic lifestyle diseases. It shows the only proven pathways to preventing and losing excess weight. From that unique foundation, he and his team created a weight loss education program that has helped tens of thousands to lose weight and keep it off. Plus, they created innovative and fun fitness and nutrition education programs for elementary school children, proven to reduce the early bio-markers for childhood obesity. HEART PLAN is a collection of his observations over the years of the emotional impact and motivational challenges nearly everyone faces when trying to keep lost weight off permanently.

See the Chapter Summary to Remember here.

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  1. Rebecca Swenor says

    It is true about the starchy foods. Great info thanks for sharing.

  2. What a beautiful post! Ramona sounds like a great mom putting her kids before her own. Thank you for educating us about food banks, I had no idea the way they worked.

  3. What a story. I read most of it through tears. I take so much for granted. Thank you.

  4. Savannah miller says

    Thank you for sharing Romona’s story. She sounds like an amazing and strong woman 🙂

  5. Thank you for sharing. It is such a reminder that there are others out there that are struggling.

  6. That is some story.. I honestly would not know what to do if i was in her situation about leaving the kids home with the neighbor across the hall who didnt see to want to do anything.. I have gone through struggles but nothing like what she did.. I am happy that she was able to get out and get educated to make a nice life for her and her family. She is an inspiration!

  7. Healthy foods are expensive. It is sad that when people struggle they affordable and cheap foods are the most processed and less nutritious. What an inspiring story of hope, it is great to hear about someone pulling themselves out of a tough situation.

  8. Thank you so much for sharing Romona’s story, I am on a diet right now and this was just what I needed to read today. Thank you again.

  9. Great blog. Thank you for the info on food banks. Keep the eye on the ball.

  10. I am so moved by Ramona’s story. There are so many starving people here in the Philippines, and I wish we had food banks that could help them, particularly the young kids.

  11. Her story is inspiring on how she work to get her degree. Starving is not healthy and can cause weight abnormalities too.

  12. What a great program. I know when we were growing up, my mom went hungry often to feed my sister and I.

  13. Thanks for sharing this inspiring story.

  14. Katrina A. says

    I can relate to her story. I’ve gained more weight now for a similar reason. But it’s not just single mothers with lots of kids that face this struggle. People from all aspects of life have gone through this kind of thing.

  15. Great post to bring awareness of how people wyo use food banks can eat healthier.

  16. we have a really good food bank in our county and serves patrons well, but the county on the opposite side does not and I hear about struggles people have with it

  17. She has a lot of personal valuable experience so her words mean a lot. It’s definitely a bad idea to starve oneself or change too drastically.

  18. Thank you so much for sharing this post and Ramona’s story. Such an important topic.

  19. What a huge problem this is. It’s so sad times have come to this. We all need to realize how blessed we truly are.

  20. I’m so grateful to have what we do, we struggle a lot of the time. But it could always be worse. Great Post thanks for sharing!

  21. lisa jones says

    Yes We All Take Life For Granted Sad But True Great Story!!

  22. katrina G says

    It’s so sad that families have to live like this, that moms have to go hungry to feed their kids. I have gone through this before, but luckily not to this extent. If we are low on food in the house, i always make sure my kids eat first as much as they want then i will eat. I also try to remember to give to food banks. a few times a year the post office collects while on their mail route and in the winter to get into see the lights at the park they take canned goods. we fill up bags to give.

  23. My grandmother’s name was Ramona. I loved the story and I can relate to some of it, coming from a very poor country, while I realize there is so much good to do RIGHT her, perhaps around the corner. Thank you for educating people about weight loss, food insecurity, and personal strength.

  24. What an amazing and inspirational story – thank you so much for sharing! And I never thought about how those “easy to get” starchy foods could hurt over the long term…very interesting.

  25. It’s a little sad that we would have to think of others who starve in order to motivate ourselves to lose weight, but some people actually do it. Such a sad story this is and those kids and their faces! Breaks my heart a little.

  26. What a touching post and I enjoyed reading it. It is good to know what resources are out there for folks. Thanks for sharing.

  27. Lisa Jones says

    That’s Why I Am Constantly Donated Food & Supplies When I Get A Lot Of Free Or Almost FREE Stuff To The Soup Kitchen, Church & Kids Schools Every Little Bit Helps!!

  28. It’s just not eating less, it’s eating right.. eating less Twinkies isn’t gonna make it any better than eating the amount you were in the first place.. Eating at least 6 meals a day, to build that metabolism up, which in return helps you lose weight. But starving yourself doesn’t help you rather than makes it worst for you.

  29. Thank you for sharing this beautiful story!!!

  30. Hi,

    I understand what you spoke about regarding the food stamps and being able to get lots of junk that helps obesity.
    I have never been to the food bank so I don’t know but am certain it is not all that great. I know that they are trying to include more vegetables or fresh produce now. As vegetarians it is not easy with food stamps.

  31. great post ..thanks for sharing!

  32. I can definitely relate! There is no food bank within 100 miles of my home, there is a church that gives food across the state line about 30 min but I don’t own a car. Obviously I have no money for food I don’t have money for transportation and I starve it out to make sure my kiddos don’t go hungry. I’ve stolen food before, and there won’t be a last time. I walk 2.5 miles each day to make it to work and can usually get a ride home so I don’t have to make the 5 mile long round trip. I pay most of my bills, I live without hot water and a vehicle. Rain, blazing temps, and nearly foot deep snow and devastating windchills-there is a miserable scenario for all seasons and I walk through each of them. This is not only to get to work and home. This is to get food. I load our little red wagon and hope I make it home without breaking/spoiling our precious food. Life is very difficult but one day I hope it will be better.

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