Success Story: Stuart Dooley

Meet Stuart

Now 14 years old and a starter for the Bellarmine Prep water polo team, Stuart Dooley spends four hours each day in the pool, practicing this physically demanding sport. While Stuart has always participated in sports, he used to be one of the slowest kids in the class, says his mother, Heather. By the time he was in sixth grade, she says, “They would run a mile in PE every week and he was always toward the back of the pack. He felt that his weight was hurting him. And he was being teased at school about being fat.”

Because the Dooleys are an active family, they didn’t really notice that Stuart was gaining weight. “He’s always exercised—he’s been swimming since he was very young—and he’s always eaten whatever he wanted, just because the food was there,” comments Heather. “He never really thought about the food choices he was making. At school they always have junk food around—and when they were around, Stuart would eat them.” By the summer of 2002, the Dooleys finally noticed that Stuart had a real weight problem. “Some friends of ours had gone through the Pediatric Weight Control Program (PWCP) with their son. They were very successful and suggested that Stuart try it,” recalls Heather. “My husband and I looked at each other and realized, all of a sudden, that our son was more than a little pudgy.” A family-based, group behavioral program, the PWCP helps overweight children, adolescents and their families adopt and maintain lifelong healthy eating and physical activity habits. After finding that Stuart was 42% over the recommended weight for his height and build, which qualified him for participation in the program, the Dooleys were put on the waitlist and were accepted into the program in spring of 2003.

“For Stuart, the whole program was about awareness of how to make healthy food choices. It wasn’t mom and dad telling him what he could or could not eat. He had to internalize it himself,” says Heather. “And, it isn’t a ‘quick fix.’ It took work, it took time, and it wasn’t easy. They are really trying to change a lifestyle.” The biggest challenge for the Dooley family was finding the best way to support Stuart in his weight loss goal by changing how the family ate. Says Heather, “My husband and I tend to be able to eat what we want, so this forced me to re-evaluate the foods in the house and only have healthy food available. I also took a hard a look at recipes and what was really in them!” For the Dooleys, the PWCP’s “Stop Light Program” was the key to success. The program classifies foods in three categories: red-, yellow-, and green-light foods, based on the number of calories and nutrient values in the food.  “We’ve never been a household with a lot of processed foods, but cookies, chips, candies—the classic ‘snack’ foods—were around all the time,” remembers Heather. “I went through the red-light food list, and I would just not buy red-light foods. And we got all the fat and sugar out of the house.” Beyond eliminating the red-light foods, Heather had to replace these foods with healthy alternatives. “I started to buy more fruits and vegetables,” says Heather. “But just having them in the refrigerator doesn’t help: you have to make them accessible. You have to cut them up and put them out on the counter, which takes a lot of time. If you don’t have the healthy food prepared and ready for them to eat, kids won’t eat it. It’s not easy to keep your family eating healthy!”

 At the end of the six-month program, Stuart lost 5.5% of his body weight and felt healthier. But now that they had the tools they needed, the family continued to make changes and see the results. Stuart now weighs 20% less than when he started the program and would no longer even qualify for the program. And he focuses on getting some exercise every day. “As a family we are always asking each other ‘What exercise did you get today?’ so even if it’s shooting baskets for 15 minutes or walking around the neighborhood, he has to get out and do something,” says Heather. “And he’s no longer the last kid running the mile in PE!” Heather attributes the success of the program to the fact that Stuart had to take ownership of his weight—and his eating decisions—himself. “If we had tried to do this without PWCP, there would have been battles and resistance. With the PPWCP, we just provided the opportunity for him to learn from someone else. Stuart had to internalize the decisions about what food he ate so he realized it wasn’t really worth having that last brownie.” When asked what he thinks makes the program work, Stuart says, “Having the positive support from your parents or guardians is so important. It gets the entire family involved and you’re not just on your own. It takes work to stick with it and not give up, because you don’t see the results right away. But when I stuck with it, and started exercising more, the results came.” Thanks to the PWCP, Heather says, “Stuart is now a phenomenally healthy, fit 9th grader. The program really helped nip this problem at an early age and set the stage for a healthy lifestyle. Now, Stuart is more careful about what he eats than we are!”

Learn More

Learn more about the Pediatric Weight Control Program and other weight control and loss programs at LPCH: