The plus model and Face the Truth co-host, who once tipped the scales at 400 pounds, reveals to CHICA how she instills her children with a healthy relationship to food and fitness.
By 2014, successful plus-size model Rosie Mercado had reached a weight of 410 pounds. When she was told by an airplane employee she had to purchase a second seat to fit on the plane, she was so humiliated that she decided to make a serious life change. She dropped to 300 pounds in just over a year through a balanced diet, portion control and exercise. In two years, she would drop roughly 210 pounds. Gastric sleeve surgery was another tool she used to keep the weight off. After her dramatic weight loss, she also endured difficult procedures to get rid of excess skin and a tummy tuck to reconstruct her abdomen. She calls this time her transformation.
Physically shedding the weight was a simple if arduous process. The real challenge was psychological. Accepting herself and her mistakes without eating to numb the pain.
Today, the Mexican-American motivational speaker, 38, helps people resolve their challenges and conflicts as a co-host of Face the Truth on CBS. This February, she walked down the aisle with her first love, Gilberto Flores. The newlyweds fell in love as teens, went their separate ways and reunited again after each got divorced. Both had three kids. “We’re the Mexican Brady Bunch,” she jokes.
Mercado’s daughter was 14 and her sons 7 and 8 when the transformation began. Rosie — an example of what not only will and dedication but loving yourself, mistakes and all, can achieve — shares with CHICA how her journey toward a healthier, more rewarding and less limited life has informed her parenting, especially regarding her kids’ relationship to food and exercise.
CHICA: Tell us about the dynamics of family and food while you were growing up.
Rosie: You grow up surrounded by food. It’s, like, growing up Latina. You’re going out to eat, there’s a party, there’s always food around. It wasn’t the healthiest foods, but that was the culture. Tacos, tamales. When I grew up, my mom always told me, “Here’s what you need to eat.” It wasn’t like, “Oh you gotta eat healthy.” I got all authentic Mexican food, homemade. Having that food around was just life, that’s the way that you connected. You sat down, you had a cup of coffee with your Mexican bread. You connected over conversations, and then they bring in the next thing.
My mom always packed us Mexican lunches. So we’re talking, like, torta, you know. Beans and rice and, like, stuff like that. She didn’t let us buy, like, any fast food or anything like that. But I didn’t really grow up around, like, “Oh, you know, you got to take care of yourself. Healthy eating’s important.”
Because my parents didn’t have that either. I think the important thing was my parents tried their best with the knowledge that they had.
CHICA: At what point growing up did the weight issue come up?
Rosie: When it comes to growing up, I really didn’t understand that I was overweight until I started getting picked on. They started making fun of my weight. And so I was bullied at school.
Junior high was horrible. It was horrible because not only was I one of the very few Latinas going to school. I already got made fun of for being Mexican. And on top of Mexican, I was fat. So it was really a bad time and I didn’t know how to handle it. I would close myself off. I was very introverted. Kids were really mean. I didn’t have the courage to tell my parents, like hey, I’m getting bullied. That’s just something that I didn’t talk to my parents about.
But even those who weren’t as mean. They would say, “Oh you have such a beautiful face, you’re just really fat, why don’t you lose weight.” And they make it seem like with the snap of your fingers, I’m just gonna lose weight. It’s not that easy when you’re an emotional eater and you don’t know that you’re an emotional eater. So I internalized a lot, growing up.
CHICA: How does your personal transition inform your parenting?
With my kids, I push them to make healthier choices. I push supplements and vitamins, things that I use. It is a lifestyle. Especially my son who has special needs. I really have to be careful with the things that he eats, because it really does impact his health.
I teach my kids to change their relationship with food in the way that they view it, which is something that I had to learn. Asking, “Am I eating because I’m hungry or am I eating just because I’m bored.” And what kind of food am I eating, and is this really going to serve my body. I teach them how to say no and when to stop.
I never associate working out with weight loss, which is something that everybody does. But I’ve learned. At the beginning I did, I was like, I have to work out because I got to lose weight. No. You’re working out because you want to feel good. You want to de-stress, you want to feel happy. You want to have more energy. We’ve noticed that if we don’t eat healthy, we don’t feel good. We feel more lethargic.
My 13-year-old is watching what he eats. He understands that when he eats crappy food, he doesn’t feel too good. And he’ll tell me, like, Mom, I have a headache or I’ve got a sugar rush.
Changing the associations for my kids has been really big, because I didn’t have that going up with my parents. My parents didn’t know better. So when you know better, you do better.
CHICA: Your boys were pretty young, but your daughter was 14 when you were at your biggest. How did your size and limits impact her and your relationship.
Rosie: My daughter saw me go through my transformation. My weight was something that she always dealt with. She would get upset when they’d make fun of me. They’d tell her, like, your mom’s really fat. When she saw me working out and eating healthy, that in turn turned around and motivated her too. That experience taught me to have the right conversations with my daughter.
It’s not “Hey, you’re overweight, lose weight.” It’s about turning that message around. No. Instead it’s “I love you so much. You’re a beautiful human being, you’re a beautiful woman.” It’s not about being a certain size, it’s about being your best version and the healthiest version of yourself.
Now that she’s older, she knows what she needs to do to stay healthy, and she does it on her own. It’s not like, “You have to go to the gym.” If she falls off the wagon, it’s like, “OK baby, you should go back to the gym because you want to feel good.”
My daughter goes through ups and downs. When she’s not happy, it’s like, all right: “What do you have to do?” You’re entitled to feel that emotion if you’re not happy about something. But what’s next? “What do I have to do to get out of it?”
As long as I have momentum, then I have happiness, because if I’m not moving, I’m stopping.
CHICA: What are some things you do to keep the family thinking healthy?
Having someone that cooks is really really important. But also, whether you’re single parent or your a married parent, when you have a busy schedule, it’s important knowing the places and knowing the options that are healthy. So if you want to go out to dinner, you have those options available. It can be hard though. You go to a restaurant, and you’re like, Oh I’m eating healthy, and then you actually look at the breakdown and the calories and everything, you’re like, Oh my god, this plate has fifteen hundred calories or three thousand calories.
I’m always pushing drinking water. At school, they take their bottles of water. If they want one juice box, I try to find them one that has the least sugar in it. That’s what it comes down to. And then the rest of the day is like water, water, water.
When my kids go out, what kid doesn’t want to have a Sprite or a Coke? And allowing them to have that once in a while, that’s fine. But, like I tell my kids, you better drink up your water. Water is a big thing.
My kids also have the fitness monitors on their arm. They are tracking how many steps they do a day. And the goal is to hit between eight and ten thousand steps a day. So they’re watching that, and my son will call me, like, Mom I’m at eight thousand. So that’s something new that we started with them, which has been really good because it keeps them active.
My kids are on supplements, on fish oils, on multivitamins and liquids and all that. I’ve really paid attention to all those things because I did that with myself, therefore I have to do that with them as well and teach them. So as they grow up, they can stay on the path. And if they fall off, they understood that they saw mom doing that. So it’s not, Do what I say, it’s do as I do.
CHICA: Did the kids serve as motivation for your fitness journey?
Rosie: My kids were a big factor in motivating me. When you’re so fat that you can’t get on the ride. And you’re so big that you can’t sit in a car. And then your kids are getting bullied because of your weight. That’s a wake-up call.
They don’t want me walking them in, and they’re embarrassed. They can’t go out with me. It’s not even about their weight, it’s about you as a parent. The last thing you want is for your kids to feel like shit. That was part of it.
But also, it’s when I’m personally getting bullied, when I don’t fit in a car, when I walk five minutes and I’m drenched in sweat, my body hurts. That’s a wake-up call to say, “Is this really a healthy lifestyle that I’m living? Is this quality life?” And the answer was no.
It was hurting them, it was hurting me, it was hurting my career, it was hurting my health. And I think it’s taking ownership of understanding that every change, every decision, every action has a reaction. My actions of taking ownership, of not just losing the weight, but taking care of myself, respecting my body, respecting, you know, food, respecting the relationships that came with that. You had a reaction that I had better relationships, not only with food, but with myself and with my kids.
CHICA: Just as important as a healthy diet and exercise is the mental factor.
To stay on the path, the formula is simple, but to get off the path even is even easier. It’s so easy to gain weight. It’s the psychological part that holds us back because either we’re drained or we don’t have energy.
It’s 21 days to break a habit and 90 days to create a new one. I know for a fact that when you stay on that path, the first couple of weeks really suck because you’re changing that habit, you’re breaking it. The temptation is there.
So we go out with friends and it’s so hard saying no. Because you want to join in. You want to feel a part of it. But to say no is actually very empowering because you’re saying that I’m worth more than that temptation. I’m saying no to that, but I’m saying yes to me.
I’ve worked with my husband and the kids on instead of saying, Oh, let’s go out to dinner. Or let’s go out for food. No, what show can we go see? What activity can we go do? Let’s go do something new, let’s try new experiences. Things that the kids will like, things that we will enjoy, and that’s actually worked out really really good.
CHICA: How important is it to stay away from self-pity?
Rosie: I was guilty of falling into that self-pity trap for so many years. Self-pity and depression did not get me anywhere. I just I look back, and I’m like, Oh my God, I wasted so much time on self-pity.
And look, I’m human. You feel your emotions, you’re human. You can’t push them. You can’t deny it. You can’t hide it, ’cause they will come up, whether it’s eating or depression, you know, they will show up somehow. So own your emotions, feel them. You’ve got to cry, cry. Everybody’s entitled to that shitty moment, but don’t stay there. Make it a choice not to stay there.
You have to be able to say, I feel like shit, I’m owning my emotions but I’m not gonna let them decide for me. You can’t let your emotions be the dictator of your entire life.
CHICA: We noticed that you don’t do Instagram posts with your kids very often, though the posts we found were inspiring.
Rosie: I stopped posting stuff of my kids. I don’t even let my kids on social media. I took the iPads away. My son was on the iPad, and watching YouTube constantly. What a waste of time. All he wanted to do was just sit there and just be like sleep-walking. I don’t let my boys on Snapchat, they’re not on Instagram. None of that stuff. And the reason that I took my kids off and I stopped posting about them. People were starting to be really mean about it. People were commenting on their weight. My son has disabilities. “What’s wrong with him?” I don’t need to be exposed and they don’t need to be exposed to any of that negativity, or someone else’s sadness or depression. It’s really a reflection of how they feel inside.
I told my daughter not to live life on social media. You do get caught up in it. I want my kids to not get caught up in this entitlement life. Like, “They have this, I have to have that now.”
My son has a cellphone so he can communicate with me. My son loves Pokémon. We go out, we go Pokémon hunting. But no social media.
CHICA: Any family routines or traditions that you feel helps everyone bond?
Rosie: One thing that we’ve learned with our kids is each of them have their own language. We spend time with the family, but then we take them out individually. It’s one-on-one time, it’s like a date. Every time we go out with my one son, it’s like, “What do you want to do?” and it’s time dedicated to what he loves, who he is. It’s one-on-one conversation, it’s for him.
Then I take out my next son. I have one that’s calm and has special needs and my other one is all over the place. You get crazy, screaming, you know, he’s very extroverted. So it’s “What do you want to do?” And this time is dedicated to him. And if he doesn’t have that time dedicated, he feels like I don’t care, but that’s his love language.
It’s understanding his love language. My daughter, on the other hand, enjoys going out for a cup of coffee just sitting there for hours having conversations. If I were to take her with my other boy, she wouldn’t enjoy it. It’s really giving them each what they want.
CHICA: How well are your two families, of three kids each, integrating?
Rosie: The challenges come in with the kids and different ages. We have all the way from 12 up to 18. Teenagers run their life one way, the younger ones need more attention. He has a younger daughter, so spending quality time, like taking her out to breakfast, is something that she loves. And her getting to know me and being able to talk on common interests and being able to connect on things that they like is really important.
One thing I don’t allow, my boys to use terms like stepsister. That’s something that I’ll never allow. I’m educating them that we’re one family. It’s been a slow process and we’re taking it on their timing, not on ours.
CHICA: Tell us a little bit about the book you’re writing.
Rosie: It’s an inspirational self-help memoir. It’ll be in English and Spanish, I’m super excited about that. It really is about the lessons that I’ve learned in relationships and motherhood and being overweight and my career. With my transformation, the take-aways are not just what I learned. It’s also, if you’re stuck in this situation, what can you do to get out of that situation.
There were really bad moments, and storms that I created for myself. I mean, you name it, I learned it. But I’ve learned to take the shame out of that. I think so many people are ashamed to say “I screwed up.”
CHICA: Has it been hard to write?
Rosie: A lot of those moments, I really had to experience them to be able to write about them and share the feelings of what it was like to get cheated on, what it was like to have loss in my life, what it was like to fail at business, and those are not the moments that are easy to go back into.
Everybody wants to hide their darkness, everybody wants to present this perfect life. And the reality is that all those imperfect moments have made me the woman that I am today. And I think being authentic and sharing the crappy moments and my stupidity makes me human.
It it allows me to connect on a vulnerable level with someone else and say you know what, it’s OK, you screwed up. You are entitled to screw up, because it makes you a better human being and it teaches you so many lessons.