During a summer away from home, then 15-year-old Tayè Baker ate loads of unhealthy food. He’d grab fries, chicken nuggets and a milkshake for a meal. In between mealtimes, he’d eat sugary snacks, such as cookies, chips and candy. Then he spent his days playing video games. His dependence on fast and junk food and lack of exercise caused the teen’s weight to reach 306 pounds.
“I was not moving at all so I gained a lot of weight,” Tayè, 17, a soon-to-be high school senior in Indianapolis told TODAY. “I did know that (fast and junk food) was not good for me, but that basically was the only option … Also it tasted good to me and I just wanted more of that, which is a pretty natural thing.”
While he and his mom, Michelle Stewart, realized he gained weight, they didn’t know how dramatically it affected his health.
“He was bigger,” Stewart, 50, told TODAY. “He built up bad eating habits as a coping skill but the problem was he wasn’t moving around enough to (burn) off anything.”
Soon after returning home, Tayè became seriously ill.
“I started puking. I got a lot of cramps … and water tasted funny,” he explained.
Stewart set up an appointment with his pediatrician but he was so sick she “begged” for an earlier visit. After checking Tayè’s blood sugar, his pediatrician recommended that Tayè go to Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis. His health still seemed precarious right after admission.
“He kept complaining that his body hurt, he couldn’t even lay in the hospital bed,” Stewart said. “Once the doctors ran the numbers they said he is suffering from ketoacidosis, he’s diabetic.”
Tayè had no idea that he had developed Type 2 diabetes and that his blood sugar had skyrocketed to 694 (a normal range is 150 or lower according to U.S. National Library of Medicine). Diabetic ketoacidosis is a complication of diabetes when blood sugar is not well controlled. If left untreated, people can end up in a coma or even die. When Tayè and Stewart learned how sick he was, they were stunned.
“I never expected that a teenage kid would be so sick. I’m shocked about it,” Steward said. "I was like, ‘What do you mean he needs insulin?’ And my son, he’s a logical thinker, and he was like, ‘I need to accept that I’m diabetic.’”
Tayè had to give himself insulin five times a day to regulate his blood sugar. But Dr. Zeina Nabhan, a pediatric endocrinologist, also told the family that if Tayè committed to healthy eating habits and exercise he could lose weight and become less dependent on insulin.
“Dr. Nabhan said, ‘Get him exercising. He needs to move at least an hour a day.’ She kept saying that over and over and to 'Watch the carbs. Count the carbs per meal,’” Stewart recalled.
So Stewart started tracking everything Tayè ate and purchased a stationary bike so he could exercise at home. She needed to rethink how they ate.
“I started figuring out how to change how I’m cooking and the things I’m putting on his plate. Not taking things away, but in moderation he can have whatever he wants,” she said. “I had to provide reports every Monday of every single sugar count, how much he is exercising."
At first, exercising was really tough for the teen. When he started, he struggled to do five sit-ups. Soon, he was doing 15, then 25. Now he does “100 in three minutes like it’s nothing.”
“Every single day for almost two years … Tayè has worked out diligently,” Stewart said. “Now and again I’ll give him a break.”
Since being diagnosed in August 2019, Tayè has lost 117 pounds and went from a size 52 waist to a 36. What’s more, he’s only taking 500 milligrams of metformin, instead of five injections of insulin.
“I just wanted to do better for myself and I accepted the fact that I had to be on insulin for maybe my whole life,” Tayè said. “I wanted to lose the weight.”
While Tayè likes how he looks and feels, he’s learned a lot about himself.
“I just wanted to become a better version of myself every day,” he said. “I just feel more energized and more excited.”
He shares advice for others hoping to develop healthy habits.
1. Find your motivation.
When Tayè realized he could take less insulin if he lost weight, exercised and ate healthy foods, he felt committed to these behaviors.
“I saw it as a goal for me to just take the least amount (of insulin) that I can while still being healthy,” he said. “That kept me motivated.”
2. Make exercise fun.
While riding a stationary bike for 60 minutes might sound like a drag, Tayè doesn’t mind it when he can watch shows he loves or work out with friends.
“I just watch cartoons or watch TV or YouTube,” he said. “I’m getting a little bit back into basketball, which I took a break from since fourth grade.”
3. Find support.
Tayè’s mother kept him on a tight exercise schedule and tracked his food intake. Having such support helped him develop healthy habits and lose the weight.
“He does the work,” Stewart said. “It’s a lot of responsibility on a parent, but I’d rather take that responsibility if it’s going to help his health, mentally, physically.”