Teen tells his story to inspire obese kids to get fit

Two years ago, Tiger Greene weighed 250 pounds. The weight was taking its toll on his body. He was taking six pills every day for pre-diabetes and thyroid problems.

Tiger’s knees hurt; he was easily out of breath.

And he was only 12 years old.

Meanwhile, his father, Brian Greene, also obese, needed a second heart surgery to treat coronary artery disease.

Tiger didn’t want to be next.

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That’s when he embarked on a journey to being fit. Little by little, Tiger lost weight and transformed himself.

With the support of his family, he swapped out fatty foods for lower-fat options, shrunk his portion sizes and started going on family walks. He started a website (TeamTiger.org) that organizes “sacking obesity” camps for big kids and offers a resource list and tips. He inspired other overweight kids with his simple but upbeat motto: “Yes we can — follow me.” He also wrote a book. “Sacking Obesity,” published by HarperCollins [$25.99], hit bookstores this month. On Wednesday, Gov. Nathan Deal is scheduled to give Tiger, now 14, a proclamation recognizing his efforts in helping kids be healthy. In the proclamation, Deal is calling the day “Team Tiger Day.”

For Team Tiger Day, Tiger is asking everyone to play 60 minutes as a family.

With childhood obesity on the rise, Tiger is on a mission to encourage others to follow his lead.

The statistics are staggering. Nearly one in three children ages 10 to 17 in Georgia is considered overweight or obese, according to the 2007 National Survey of Children’s Health. Georgia ranks second in the country for childhood obesity (just behind Mississippi), according to “F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America’s Future 2010,” a report from the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Sedentary lifestyles mixed with easy access to fast food help fuel the obesity epidemic. Kids are spending less time exercising and more time in front of TVs, computers and mobile devices.

Tiger, who lives in Alpharetta, says what’s different about his book is it’s “from a kid to a kid.”

“It shows them it really can be done,” he said.

The first step toward renewed health is wanting to make the change.

“You have to want to really want to do it,” Tiger said. “If you are being forced into it, chances are, once you are alone, you will pig out.”

From there, Tiger said it’s one small step at a time. Start off with drinking water instead of soft drinks and then try celery sticks in salsa instead of corn chips. Pay attention to portion sizes, he said.

“It’s just doing a little bit better than you did the day before,” he said.

Tiger’s book combines personal stories about how he used a can-do attitude to tackle his serious weight problem with tips from experts such as Linda Craighead, an Emory University psychology professor who specializes in eating disorders and weight concerns.

“If you are telling a kid 20 things in the diet he can’t eat, he’s going to feel punished and feel like it’s impossible to do this,” Tiger said. He said over time, his body started craving “good-for-you foods,” such as baked chicken and green beans. That said, Tiger said he has no “banned” foods. He still eats pizza but stops at two slices. He’ll eat potato chips but limits them to an occasional indulgence.

Ultimately, he said, being healthy should be fun.

“You don’t have to think of exercise as getting on a treadmill,” he said. “It can be playing with your friends.”

Tiger has lost well over 60 pounds (he no longer regularly weighs himself and prefers to look at other measurements of success). His pant size has gone from a 52 to a 38, and his body mass index (BMI), which was somewhere around 60 percent or 70 percent is now at 22 percent. His energy — and mental state — has improved, he said. He not only plays football but is also an NFL “Fuel Up to Play 60” national ambassador, giving him yet another platform to encourage kids to get more exercise.

Still, one of the biggest measurements of success is this: He no longer needs medication.

And his dad? The man who used to bond with his son over big meals?

Well, he’s lost 89 pounds.

“It’s changed our whole lifestyle,” Brian Greene said. “It’s not just the kid doing something, it’s the whole family. It’s dramatically changed our lives — the way we shop, the things we do and the way we live our life. Instead of sleeping in late and feeling grumpy because we didn’t sleep well or eat well, everyone is up and energetic, and it’s like, ‘Let’s go to the dog park or let’s walk a 5K.’ ”

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