CHIP 4 Teens camp ends on positive notes

Published: Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Will they or won't they? That's the question that remains to be answered now that teens Katina Goulakos and Adam Manning have completed the eight-week CHIP 4 Teens program, left the structured and positive environment of the camp and gone back to their daily routines.

Will they stick to what they learned about exercise and healthy eating, or will they slide back into old ways?

Time will tell, but both teens are buoyed by the positive reinforcement they experienced over the last couple of months.

Adam is encouraged by what he calls "a healthy increase in stamina," his goal at the beginning of the summer. "I wanted to be able to keep up with my friends," he told me, "and I've seen a noticeable improvement with that."

He also can't believe the reaction from family and friends when they see him: "I know I've lost some weight because my pants are almost falling off," he said with a laugh.

Adam loved the variety of activities. One of his favourites, tchouk ball, a variation on handball, kept him hopping. "It's something I want to play more of, for sure," he said.

His only concern for the future would be what he calls his "home alone" eating. "When no one is home and I'm hungry, I tend to grab whatever's there, good choice or not," he said. "I'll have to watch that."

He has even started cooking dinner, something he never did. "We learned how to make an awesome chicken dish which I made for my family and they loved it," he said, "It's actually given me the desire to cook more."

Katina has been super-positive about the whole experience. She has lost five pounds and, more important, several inches off her waistline, a good indicator of changes in her body composition. She plans to join a gym and continue weight training and cardiovascular exercise, her favourites.

What impressed her most about her summer were the friendships she forged. "At camp we were all the same, we had a common goal and we encouraged each other," she said. "It wasn't about how we dressed or what we looked like - people liked me for who I am, which was really nice."

Janna Pinchuk and Jasmine Ghoddoussi, the nutritionists who worked with the group, are impressed with the progress that was made.

"When they first started, they were all so unsure of what to expect," Pinchuk said, "but as time went on, you could see they were eager to learn better eating habits and were having fun."

Pinchuk said she recently overheard one camper discussing lunch plans with a friend and turning down some suggested locations in favour of healthier options.

"They are actually influencing their peers now," she said.

Ghoddoussi agrees that the biggest challenge the participants face is continuing to put into practice what they have learned, and so far, she is pleased with what she has seen.

"From the evaluations I've done so far, most plan to join a gym and continue to exercise. Because of what they've learned in the program, they no longer feel intimidated in a gym and that's a plus."

Ghoddoussi was also happy to hear that many are preparing dishes that they learned how to make in the cooking classes. "It was great to hear them say they were making the omelette rollups and the smoothies. They are off to a good start."

At summer's end, the kids go through a variety of physical and psychological tests, which are repeats of the ones they underwent at the start of the session. One of the tests is a self-esteem questionnaire.

Sue Freitag, the CHIP psychologist who is in the midst of completing the final assessments, has seen a marked improvement in both Adam and Katina's overall confidence.

"They both improved in areas like body image and their confidence in their ability to do sports and activities," she said.

"We try and teach them to be happy with themselves and the changes they are making" she explained.

"When it comes to eating, we don't expect them to be perfect all the time - they can give in to temptation on occasion - just as long as they stay on a healthy path."

Families have to be a part of it too, "its just not the child's program," Freitag said. "It really is a family affair."

Director Marla Gold is pleased with the progress the group has made this year. "It's not easy asking teens to make a lifestyle shift," she said. "But when they see positive results, it really motivates them to continue."

Gold agrees with Freitag on the role of families. "A certain amount of responsibility has to fall on the parents," she said. "It's important for parents to offer their kids healthy food choices and the opportunity to participate in some kind of activity."

The teens will have monthly follow-up meetings for the next year, an important component of the program, and there has been some talk of an online forum where the kids can chat and continue to encourage one another.

With the alarming statistics in childhood obesity, programs like this one are essential, yet there seems to be no money available for them. The CHIP 4 Teens program is completely dependent on one yearly fundraising event, a Spinathon, which will take place in November. More on that in a later column.

For now we congratulate each of the 26 participants and wish them well on their journey to a healthier lifestyle.

© The Gazette (Montreal) 2006