Daughter's challenge is one for father too
March 15th, 2012
02:28 PM ET

Daughter's challenge is one for father too

Editor's note: Denise Castelli is one of seven CNN readers chosen to be a part of the CNN Fit Nation Triathlon Challenge. She lost her leg to an infection following a tragic accident in a collegiate softball game.

My entire life I've been blessed with two selfless parents who have given me everything.

I was fortunate enough to be afforded many opportunities. I played the piano and clarinet, took art classes, played softball, bowled... the list goes on. We had a home cooked family dinner every single night and always found ways to spend time with our entire extended family.

My parents gave me vision to see the future, strength to face the many battles of my life and unconditional love that made me unafraid of failure.

I always know, no matter what, at the end of the day, I am still loved and they are always proud of me. When you really think about it, that's an extremely powerful thing.

The two years that I was sick were hard on me, but it was even harder on my parents. Talk about feeling helpless - they had to watch their little girl (their Nene) suffer day in and day out without really knowing how to help or what to do.

This took a toll on both of them, mentally and physically. They forgot about their own health and focused solely on mine.

My father’s health issues started before I was sick. He had been dealing with his weight problem for a few years already. It had never been out of control, but during this time, he developed a problem with emotional eating.

After spending all day in the hospital with me, he would eat, and eat, and eat. Waiting for me to get out of surgery? He would eat. I had always considered my father stocky, not heavy. Yet I remember looking at him and thinking "Wow, he's really overweight."

His doctor agreed and decided that he needed to be on cholesterol medication and sugar medication - he had become pre-diabetic.

My mother and I tried to figure out ways of talking to him about his weight without hurting his feelings. It was not an easy subject to tip-toe around. I would remind him how important it was that he dances with me on my wedding day and that he is around to play with his grandkids. I tried to go at it from every angle possible but mentally he wasn't ready to lose the weight. Food was still a comfort to him.

The change he needed came on the day I was selected for the Fit Nation Challenge. I remember hugging in his office and talking about the challenge ahead of me and he said "You know what? This just might inspire me to lose weight."

I didn't want to hold him to it or put any pressure on him, but man, I knew this was something he had to do. I knew this was something I WANTED him to do. Suddenly, this challenge wasn't about just me anymore - it was about one of the most important people in my life, my father.

Things became real for me when we were in Atlanta for our kick-off weekend. I had a hard time listening to Carlos speak about his diabetes and all the diabetics in his family. Carlos went on to say that one of his family members had lost a leg due to diabetes.

I couldn't sleep that night. All I could think about was someone who I love, someone so close to me, going through an amputation - that thought made me sick to my stomach. Limb loss isn't something I would wish on my worst enemy.

Our nutritionist, Ilana, had said something that struck so true to me. "Dieting makes you fat."

BINGO. All the years my father struggled with his weight was summed up into one simple sentence. He was always trying to diet, and never trying to make a lifestyle change. I had just discovered the simple logic behind why my father could never lose the weight he had gained.

When I came back from Atlanta I couldn't wait to share all these ideas with him. I didn't want to throw too much his way, but there was one recipe that I was going to force him to try.

Every Sunday morning he makes buttermilk waffles for me, my mom and my sister. I asked him to try out the recipe for egg white oatmeal pancakes that Ilana had given us. At first there was some resistance because everyone has their own ideas about what "healthy" food tastes like, but this substitution sounded delicious.

Well, these pancakes have become our new Sunday morning breakfast! This was a great way for me to introduce a healthy lifestyle change, with yummy food that wasn't going to be toxic for his body.

With a healthy foot in the door, my mom and I then talked with him about portion control. Fortunately for my father, this is where my mom was going to have to learn to change. To all Italian women, food is love. If you're sick? An Italian mom tells you to eat. You had a bad day? Let me make you something. You got an "A" on your test? I'll whip up something good for dinner. Didn’t sleep well last night? You probably didn't eat enough.

This is the way it's always been in the Italian culture. So, my mom had to learn to cook less. Instead of making 14 chicken cutlets for 3 people (no joke) she now makes 4. If the temptation isn't right in front of my father, he won't eat it. We've all done our best to keep the crap out of the house and out of the reach of his mouth.

So now that he's portioning his food, eating less (and healthier) calories, he keeps a journal of his sugar readings. Four times a day he checks his sugar and records it in his journal. This helps him keep track of what makes his sugar spike and what makes it plummet. This is the first time in 5 years that he’s taken a proactive step in dealing with his problem.

Since the beginning of February, my father has already lost 30 pounds. He has 30 more to go and then he will have reached his goal weight.

He hasn’t looked or felt this good about himself in years! Now that he's feeling better about himself, he's decided to get his butt back into the gym. Since I've learned about the importance of a heart monitor, it was the first thing we went out and bought.

I told him that he can never, ever, ever work out without wearing it. So far, it’s only been baby steps, but I have no doubt that by the summer he’ll be running miles with me.

When I decided to take on this challenge, I knew it would change my life for the better. But I had no idea the effect it would have on the life of one of the most important people in the world to me - my father.

soundoff (24 Responses)
  1. Steve

    Denise: Nice article and inspiring story. As a father who is approaching "50" next year, and having two young daughters, I am also concerned about "emotional eating" and "serving size" issues, and their impact on my weight gain. Nice job bringing to light some very relevant issues and important topics.

    March 15, 2012 at 15:17 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Denise Castelli


      50 is the new 30! The fact that you are already aware of your eating habits means you are way ahead of the game.

      March 19, 2012 at 16:03 | Report abuse |
  2. Portland tony

    This is a really good story. Good luck with this challenge and all that follow. I know you will succeed or give it hell trying.

    March 15, 2012 at 15:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Marissa

    Great post 🙂 This one got me a little choked up, I'm really proud of you and your dad!

    March 15, 2012 at 15:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Al H.

    Denise, without a doubt you are playing a big part in saving your father's life and quite possibly your mother's. Your parents should be proud to have a daughter like you. Good luck with your triathlon training!

    March 15, 2012 at 15:40 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Denise Castelli

      Al H,

      I can only hope so! My parents have dedicated their entire lives to me! This is the very least that I can do for them.

      March 19, 2012 at 16:01 | Report abuse |
  5. c s

    I wish Denise and her father well. Denise is a loving daughter and her parents have raised a wonderful daughter. May her parents enjoy their grandchildren.

    March 15, 2012 at 15:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Rick

    Denise, what a wonderful story! I'm so proud of you, and your parents. See you in Hawaii!

    March 15, 2012 at 16:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Nancy Klinger

    Hi, Denise. I hope to get the chance to meet your parents one day and see what their secret was to raising such a wonderful young women. Love you. Nancy

    March 15, 2012 at 17:02 | Report abuse | Reply

    great recepie

    March 15, 2012 at 19:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Liz

    I too made a lifestyle change in January of this year when I realized my little kid could not wrap her arms around me. Made me sad but I was determined to diet. Well I realized also that it's not a diet but a lifestyle change and I'm loving my new life. AND my daughter can also wrap her hands around me and some now! Keep up the good work Dad..our kids need us and this healthy lifestyle will keep us around a lot longer. PS – my cholesterol is WAY down now..and the pants I hoped to fit in have to be taken in.

    March 15, 2012 at 19:30 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Denise Castelli


      Keep up the good work! We all need our reasons for wanting to make a change, and when you finally find one, hang on to that and use it to motivate yourself on those "hard" days.

      March 19, 2012 at 15:58 | Report abuse |
  10. Joyce

    Well! This is refreshing! This young lady approached her father's weight problem with compassion and understanding, rather than by trying to shame him into losing weight. It doesn't sound like she judged, and was sensitive enough to know that overwhelming him with all the risks over and over again would not be helpful.

    I am so tired of how many people describe those with weight problems as "undisciplined, self-indulgent slobs". Those people have absolutely no compassion, and do not understand that some people genuinely struggle with their weight....and that there are many reasons a person over eats. Certainly it's not a way to deal with stressful events...or general life stresses. Food is often related to comfort and love (particularly those with an Italian background).

    Shame only makes people hide their eating; it does not stop it. What a great daughter, and what a lucky father, that he has a daughter that expresses her love for him by helping him.

    March 15, 2012 at 19:41 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Denise Castelli


      Thank you for your kind words! We never, ever would shame my father into losing weight, and that's not the approach that I agree with. Truth is, he wasn't willing to lose weight until he was ready to lose weight. And you're right, food is a comfort for most people, even myself! I'm guilty of wanting to reach for the tub of ice cream whenever I'm having a bad day. I'm trying to channel my emotions into a healthier lifestyle, and so is my father.

      March 19, 2012 at 15:51 | Report abuse |
  11. Susan

    Such a good article, Denise! Wishing you and your father the best!!!

    March 15, 2012 at 21:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Michael J.

    You're hot.

    March 16, 2012 at 00:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. jozett

    I'm so glad that her father is taking such an active role in getting healthy. I wish my momma could have been so dedicated when it came to her diabetes. Sadly, on the 28th of March will be the 1 year anniversary that she passed, at the young age of 54.

    March 16, 2012 at 06:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Thinquer

    Would you kindly log me out? Thank you. T

    March 16, 2012 at 11:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. SomeGuy

    Great story. You are a lovely girl. Your parents must be so proud. While I am fairly fit, practice and understand the healthy eating lifestyle (your nutritionist was absolutely right), your story struck a chord with me as I have two daughters of my own. I can only hope to share the bond with my daughters that you share with your father. What an inspiration you are! Best of luck to you and your father.

    March 16, 2012 at 22:52 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Denise Castelli

      If you're always loving, understanding, and accepting of your daughters, you will have that bond with them! Glad to hear you are teaching and living a healthy, active lifestyle.

      March 19, 2012 at 15:55 | Report abuse |
  16. Joan

    What a beautifully written story. Very inspiring . . . and illuminating. Denise, you rock!

    March 17, 2012 at 14:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Lindsay

    A beautiful story. Denise, you are an inspiration and a blessing to your family!

    March 18, 2012 at 18:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. David Candall

    For the sake of being healthy, everyone needs to endeavor to be at their ideal weight. Anyone who is overweight has a very serious problem.

    March 18, 2012 at 23:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. William Wilkins

    Way to Go Dad!! Yea one thing I've learned through triathlon coaching & competing is; there are so many folks out there that want to change but are either doing it wrong or have no one there to help and show them how! The triathlete community is a very close family and the caring / sharing is help is always there. Think of all the longer better years you two will have together to share.

    March 19, 2012 at 09:02 | Report abuse | Reply

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