An Open Letter to Justin Williamson

JustinWhile we can’t set these words to music, we hope Justin Williamson will take them to heart anyway. The outstandingly talented, morbidly obese youth has embarked on a path of changing his life and inspiring others to do the same. As Dr. Pretlow says, “This teen has quite a voice!” That he can belt out a song is undeniable, and Childhood Obesity News looks forward to Justin’s success in achieving a healthy weight, along with his dream of singing and acting on the Broadway stage. Now, here are some words for the singer from Dr. Pretlow.

As an intelligent young man who has gone to school, you must be familiar with the basic tenets of nutrition. Like so many others who struggle with excess weight, you have also realized that facts about nutrients and calories are not enough. The task in front of you involves learning a whole new way of life, and I have no doubt of your ability to put in the work and reap the rewards. You have already made a great start.

There are many coping skills and practices that can help. When you feel the urge to eat, relax and concentrate on your breathing for a while. Put off snacking for five minutes, then for five minutes more. Soon, you will be able to aside whole chunks of the day. Eliminate snacking in the morning, then in the afternoon, then evening and night. At home, ask your family to cooperate by not bringing in high-calorie treats, and by keeping food put away so the sight of it doesn’t trigger the urge to eat.

Learn to recognize any vicious circle that is impeding your progress. For instance, don’t let a slip turn into a slide. If you make a mistake and indulge too much, don’t let remorse tempt you into overeating even more to relieve the bad feelings. Forgive yourself and move on. Each time you are able to break a vicious circle, the small victory will make the next battle easier.

Find a variety of physical activities that you can do, and vary them to avoid boredom. Find access to a swimming pool. Even walking around in the shallow end can be useful exercise, and the buoyancy is a delightful preview of how it will feel to weigh less. Even the most dedicated artist can’t spend every waking moment practicing and performing. Cultivate other interests that hold your attention and divert your thoughts from eating. Cultivate activities, such as whittling or drawing or doing needlepoint (like football player Roosevelt Grier), that keep your hands busy.

Write your problems down and “think out loud” to yourself on paper. Find a source of professional help, like cognitive behavior therapy or some other type of counseling, to build your life-coping skill set. Of course, you will need to identify your problem foods and withdraw from them, one by one. This is totally possible, and cravings will soon go away. You will need to weigh the amounts you eat at mealtime, and gradually decrease them.

When the W8Loss2Go smartphone app launches, you might want to give it a try, because it is designed to help in all these ways and more. Something you can do right now is to download the booklet “Addiction Model Intervention for Obesity in Young People.” Another thing you can do right now is visit the Weigh2Rock website, where thousands of young people have found inspiration, useful tools, ideas, facts, answers, companionship, and understanding.

“Saving Justin” is a worthy goal. In one way you are incredibly fortunate, because of the very thing that has brought you into the public eye. Your determination to become a professional entertainer has almost magical power, and because of it you enjoy an advantage over multitudes of unmotivated youth who don’t even know what incentive would light their fires. You are far ahead in another way, too, because you already know that helping others is an effective way to help yourself. For you and for them, there is hope, and a way out.

Someday, Dr. Pretlow would enjoy hearing Justin sing “Over the Rainbow.” The choice brings a bittersweet memory of another vocalist, Israel “Iz” Ka’ano’i Kamakawiwo’ole, whose rendition of that song is beloved by millions. The world-famous Hawaiian singer, whose physique was almost cubical, reached a weight of over 750 pounds and died from a heart attack at age 38.

A tragedy of this kind is not inevitable. With the help of the Saving Justin team, and most of all through the courageous young man’s determination to save himself, Childhood Obesity News is confident that Justin Williamson will achieve his dream.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

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Profiles: Kids Struggling with Weight

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The Book

OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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