Reality of Teen Weight Loss Camps is Slightly Different than Huge Portrays

David Ettenberg is the founder and president of Camp Shane, the leading and longest running children’s weight loss camp in the United States and abroad. Camp Shane is celebrating its 42nd year at its original location in New York’s Catskill Mountains. David is a Certified Camp Director, National Camp Association Member and New York State Camp Director’s Association Member.

At Camp Shane, the real longest running teen weight loss camp in the country, we are glad that ABC Family’s new hit show “Huge” is shedding new light on the problem of teenage obesity. It is getting more people involved in the conversation about being overweight and what it can do to a teen’s health and self-esteem, and we are glad of that.

After the first episode, though, we were a little concerned that — in order to add drama to the show– teenage viewers who would benefit from time spent at a weight loss camp might get scared off by some of the situations portrayed.

For example, at Camp Shane, unlike the fictional Camp Victory:

  • Kids ask to come (and return each year) and aren’t sentenced to the camp by their parents.
  • We are aware of overweight teens’ sensitivity about their appearance. No one attends a weigh-in in full view of other campers.
  • Kids don’t get sent home for anything but a major disruption and even then, not until we’ve exhausted every remedy in trying to resolve the situation. We are here to help, not punish.
  • Exercise is fun, not run like a military drill. Campers are encouraged to try new things like tennis, zip lining, Zumba or water skiing. Competition isn’t the point. Everyone is a winner here.
  • No one is starved and there are no “drug dealers” selling junk food to undermine campers’ efforts to lose weight. We offer good food (and plenty of it) and teach nutrition so teens can have the tools to lead a healthy life.
  • Our counselors are more mature and experienced than the perky “Poppy” and are specifically trained to understand teens (no fist fights break out in our cabins).
  • Humiliation at the hands of fellow campers exists only on TV. No one shrinks someone else’s clothes or bullies or mocks in any way. The teenagers are supportive of each other– enthusiastic at each other’s successes, and comforting when one of them hits a rough patch. Lifelong friendships are formed here.
  • We were happy to see that, in the second episode of “Huge”, the campers’ back stories are being explored and complex family issues are being revealed. When Will and Trent write their parents, we are able to see some of the pain these kids face and get a glimmer that their defenses are coming down. They are growing emotionally and that is something we see constantly at Camp Shane.

Even the most reluctant camper, Will herself, finds (in trying the game of basketball) that she can do more than she believed she could and, in doing so, learns a positive lesson about herself. Such growth is something we see in our campers and it is part of the reason we love our jobs–we get to help teens learn to love themselves.

We have encountered such “helicopter parents” as the “Dobson” family in the second episode, but would never have allowed them to stay (nor would any good camp director). Kids need to stretch out and find their own way to chart a course for a healthy future. Such hovering is unhealthy for the teen and it short circuits their ability to learn to function independently.

As hundreds of testimonials express, the experiences teenagers have had at Camp Shane change their lives for the better. They leave camp not only lighter in body weight, but lighter in spirit — happier, more confident, and having gained the knowledge they need to build a healthier future for themselves.

Also Read:

Camp Shane Recipe: Very Berry Smoothie

Camp Shane Recipe: Banilla Shake

Create Healthy Habits for Kids with Ziporah Janowski of Camp Shane

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