Feeling exhausted and overwhelmed, Forcey-Rodriguez, of Durham, NH, came to the MGH Adolescent and Pediatric Weight Center in 2016, which provides comprehensive medical, nutritional, psychological and surgical care for children, teens and young adults who have overweight and obesity.
At the MGH Weight Center, providers treat overweight and obesity as the diseases they truly are, not as character or behavioral flaws. With so many causes of overweight and obesity, care is unique and highly personalized based on each child or teen’s needs, goals and circumstances. For Forcey-Rodriguez, this unique approach was important because of his Asperger’s syndrome (also called high-functioning autism that causes difficulty with nonverbal communication and social interaction).
During his first few years at the MGH Weight Center, his doctor, Vibha Singhal, MBBS, and Forcey-Rodriguez focused on creating more structure around food and sleep – scheduling regular mealtimes, recording food intake and writing down the number of steps he took every day. A registered dietitian also helped him learn how to make better choices. This was especially important at the time as Forcey-Rodriguez was preparing to study abroad in Italy, where food choices were abundant, and to travel to Indonesia, where food choices were more limited.
“The main focus is trying to do everything we can to set up our patients for success,” said Singhal, director of the Pediatric Program at the MGH Weight Center and provider in Pediatric Endocrinology at MGHfC. “I’ve given Kai the driver’s seat and in doing so, it’s been a team effort. He is very insightful about his own challenges, and he keeps coming back. That’s his strength. He is a wonderful example of how persistence, perseverance and trust can impact the management of obesity.”
Over the years, Forcey-Rodriguez has learned how to consciously choose better foods. He goes for walks or bike rides almost daily, and he is no longer out of breath going upstairs. He also started wearing a CPAP mask for his sleep apnea and started some weight loss medications. While traveling abroad in Italy, Forcey-Rodriguez came full circle when he reflected on his weight loss journey in a final paper for one of his classes. In it, he examined the relationship between food and societal norms and shared his experience as a patient with binge eating disorder at the MGH Weight Center.
“Everyone at the MGH Weight Center helped me navigate the rapids of my disorder. The approach they take strengthens my internal motivations and moves completely away from the deficit mindset that our society dictates,” said Forcey-Rodriguez. “Together, we look at my test results and my overall physical health and come up with strategies to meet my goals, especially with exercise.”
Forcey-Rodriguez was on track to have bariatric surgery this summer, but it has been pushed back because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In May 2020, he graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a degree in Italian Studies and plans to keep up his newfound healthy lifestyle. After losing 50 pounds and gaining the ability to walk six miles, Forcey-Rodriguez remains steadfast in his journey.
“I’ve become more spacious mentally and emotionally because I am more aware of my behaviors and I have strategies to help me move forward,” he said. “I have a better quality of life now. Dr. Singhal also reminds me that regardless of the circumstances, like with COVID-19, I am always making progress and doing the best I can.”
“As a result of being bullied in Israel for five months, in a rough patch, I [raided] my family’s fridge of food groups that any doctor or nutritionist would tell you to consume in moderation… I was using food as a ‘solution’ to being well because of my depression and PTSD from the bullying… Through food, I was searching for the joy that came from the textures, smells, and taste with an inability to hold myself back until I started to see doctors in Boston and ask my parents to put a lock on the fridge at night because my health was in jeopardy. Food brings instantaneous temporary happiness which, in my case made it the hardest habit to break. Doing something for my health was the most difficult choice ever.” – an excerpt from Kai Forcey-Rodriguez’s final paper