Yesterday, at 2:00, I had my last client guest of the year. I was visited by the young Haitian princess Atabei. I have had the pleasure of working with her over the course of the past year. I was granted permission to be in her highness’s presence because her royally endowed figure put her by age sixteen very close to 300 lbs. Now, she is almost eighteen. She is not the heaviest of my young clients but I do particularly worry about her because she has Type 2 diabetes.
As we know from many fairy tales, life is not always easy for the crown-wearing crowd. Atabei has had a not so rosy past and has been fending for herself for a very long time. She has a queen mother and an older prince brother who love her–but who are caught up in their own problems to have much time for her. She navigates most of her medical care essentially on her own. Unfortunately, Medicaid doesn’t pay physicians for castle calls.
Like many royals and commoners alike, Atabei was used to eating in a bacchanalian fashion and was not subscribing to my pedestrian nutritional guidebook. She mainly craved and consumed foods that in her own giggly adolescent words were magically delicious. For those of you who may not know what that means, Lucky Charms, Toaster Strudels, and Dunkin’ Donut Munchkins are magically delicious, while whole wheat bread and oatmeal are not.
Progress was very slow, but she got a lot of credit for what we call just showing up–despite multiple challenges and limited ability to change her food environment; and she was succeeding at what I like to refer to as weight gain stabilization–she wasn’t losing weight but she wasn’t gaining either. Being evicted from the castle and landing in a motel does not usually lend itself to being able to focus on one’s eating habits and feeling good about oneself. Still, despite a few missed appointments here and there, she kept coming and she kept journaling. She was never too shy to hide her utter disgust at some of my suggestions and held tight to the foods that comforted her.
Eventually, I began to encourage her to get over to the local YMCA, where I have a partner in crime–Ben. Ben’s a little wiry guy, but as the wellness director responsible for youth programming and as a trainer, he is deeply committed to catching any kid–no matter how big- I can throw his way. Patiently, he serves to help re-knit the self-esteem that has been unraveled from so many through the art of attention and physical activity.
After a few failed attempts, Atabei gathered her horses, got in her coach, and proceeded over to the Y. Yesterday was the first time I had seen her in a while. She arrived in her radiant beauty, sans tiara, more alert and positive than I have ever seen her. She has only been going to the Y for a month, but she is already enjoying that her endurance and strength have increased. She is drinking a lot more water, is less obsessed and possessed by her old magically delicious foods, and is shocked to realize she can now choose to leave food behind. Gradually, she has made some significant diet changes which will help heal her insulin resistance. I had to almost stand on my desk and shout for her to acknowledge this. But, when the scale confirmed what I already had, her beautiful princess smile widened even more.
At the end of the session, I helped her set some of her goals for the new year. She had never before been able to even imagine that there was a possibility for change that she could empower herself. Now she finally could. What did I ask of her? That she keeps really listening to her body and seeing what it actually needs; and that she does not give up on herself. She will try–she does like to humor me.
When the clock struck three and she stepped off the curb in front of the building, she may have looked like just another poor, black, fat kid– but things are not always as they appear in the kingdom. Blessed be. Tres Bonne Annee, Atabei!
Please acknowledge the health and dietary impacts resultant from our huge cultural and environmental challenges and inequities–and honor your own small victories. Cheers.
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In health, Elyn
Elyn- I continue to enjoy your elegant, humorous, insightful and well written muses. Wishing you a joyful new year. love ya
There are fairy godmothers who roam the earth and help girls, young and old, see their true selves. I am honored to live next door to one. Thank you for sharing this wonderful and inspiring story as we turn the calendar on another year. Best wishes for a peaceful 2011.
I love the fairy godmother!
Oh wow, I do not remember reading this story but what a celebratory post! I would love to know how things are going for her 10 years later
Dear Anne-Marie. Thanks for reading. That young woman did touch my heart. It would be nice to know she has found a gentler path. So many lives I had the privilege to encounter in my work. This summer, at a crafts fair in the Berkshires, I stopped to talked to an exhibitor. Crazily, the conversation led to us finding out that her son had come to see me when I worked at Skidmore. I remembered who he was due to a musical instrument he played.