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Author shares her childhood weight struggle
Journalist Abby Ellin speaks to Flowery Branch High freshmen about obesity and body image issues in the school's gymnasium Wednesday afternoon. - photo by Scott Rogers | The Times

Abby Ellin was a 12-year-old with an extra 10 or 15 pounds, she told students at Gainesville and Flowery Branch high schools on Wednesday.

She remembers her grandmother telling her she was too fat. She needed to lose the extra weight or she couldn't come to visit her in Florida.

"What she was trying to do was inspire me to lose weight and inspire me to feel good and inspire me to be healthy. But it ended up having the opposite effect," Ellin said.
She didn't lose the weight. For the next few years she struggled with those extra pounds and at 16 she sent herself to "fat camp."

She kept going to the camps for six years. She said the experience was eye-opening.

"What I learned was that a lot of these people, a lot of my friends, their weight was because of eating," she said. "Food was sort of this emotion thing for them; it was an outlet."

Her experience with being both a camper and working at weight-loss camps inspired her to write "Teenage Waistland: A former fat kid weighs in on living large, losing weight and how parents can (and can't) help."

"I always wanted to write about this because I wanted to give a voice to people who were struggling with their weight and their bodies and their health because I think it is so hard," Ellin said.

While writing her book she investigated what works and what doesn't for teenagers trying to lose weight.

She told the students she learned from talking to doctors, parents, teens and support groups that there isn't a one-size-fits-all solution.

"If you want to lose weight and you want to get in shape and be healthy it's got to be your own responsibility," Ellin said.

Ellin said there are benefits to adding exercise and eating healthy that go further than just looking better. Eating nutritious foods and increasing activity will give the students more energy and a better mood.

Senior Katie Woods and sophomore Rachel Funk sat in the front row to listen to Ellin speak. As softball players they consider themselves active but admit they don't pay very much attention to what they eat.

"I thought it was very helpful. I learned a lot from her," Woods said. "Like just not to think because you weigh an extra 10 pounds that you're obese. And that eating healthy helps you out and not just exercising."

Woods said she thinks weight and health are topics her classmates often think about but don't really talk about. She said hearing Ellin's story will help some students open up.

"I think that a lot of times people learn about it in health class and they read it out of a book and that makes it all boring. But she made it easy to understand because she had a story and she knew how to tell it better," Funk said.

Ellin gave her insight to two local schools Wednesday. She spoke to students at Gainesville High School in the morning and spoke to freshmen later at Flowery Branch High School.

Ellin encouraged the teens to visit a website,, that she edits. The site offers help to mothers of teen girls about ways to open a dialogue and live a healthier life.