How a Jamaica Plain teen made healthy choices


Sometimes it might seem like losing weight and making healthy choices are difficult tasks. But for 16-year-old Jorge Medina-Barreto, a peer leader at Martha Eliot Health Center, small steps, a lot of determination, and a strong will enabled him to lose over 20 pounds.

As a young child, Jorge was thin. But around the age of 10, he grew chubby, and as he says, “not the cute kind of chubby.” At his school, even though students were required to play a sport, Jorge never felt like he was athletic enough to be very good. He describes himself as “not very coordinated,” and other kids picked on him about his weight.

So the summer before his freshmen year of high school, Jorge decided to make a change. He reached out to a family friend who knew a lot about physical fitness, and together the two created a plan that included safe and easy exercises that could be done at home, such as sit-ups and push-ups. These exercises were really helpful during the winter, which Jorge admits is the hardest part of the year to keep exercising.

Jorge also made changes to his diet. He encouraged his mom to switch from white rice to brown rice and to bake chicken, not fry it. Cooking has become a family activity. If his mom is making a stir-fry, he chops the vegetables. Watching her in the kitchen has motivated him to develop his own culinary skills and he now regularly experiments with his own recipes.

Here are some tips from Jorge on how-to make small changes in your life that can have a big impact:

  • Use brown rice instead of white rice
  • Eat lots of veggies and fruit
  • Try baking chicken instead of frying it—you still get the crunch, but it’s much healthier
  • Drink water, not soda
  • When you feel like snacking, reach for carrot sticks, rice cakes, or a granola bar
  • Use wheat bread, not white bread
  • Try turkey meatballs—they are still tasty, but better for you
  • Climb stairs instead of taking the escalator or elevator
  • Challenge your friends to physical fitness competitions—see who can get to 50 push-ups the fastest
  • Work out with a family member or friend—you’re more likely to exercise harder if someone is there to help motivate you

Jorge still has some tough moments, though, like when his friends eat cheeseburgers and curly fries around him. He’s developed a few small tricks along the way to help in some of the more challenging moments. He will walk away from food for a few seconds, take a bite and count to 16 (his age) to see if he really wants that next bite, or drink water before meals so he feels more full.

Most importantly, Jorge says, “it’s okay to slip up, but you have to keep trying. Don’t overwhelm yourself by thinking you have to change everything all at once. It’s important to keep your mission and long-term goals in mind.” Jorge wants to go to college and, as an avid Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) fan, he hopes to own a gym someday to help other kids who have had trouble with their weight.

Jorge’s story shows how one young person can not only make his own healthy choices – he can even improve the health of his family and community.

As a peer leader in the Adolescent Services Program at Martha Eliot, Jorge is part of an extensive support system for other youth in the community. He helps to empower and educate other teens by teaching general life skills that address a wide range of topics including sexual health, racism, and financial management.

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