My Weight Loss Story
I’ve always been a big girl. In all of my class photos from elementary school, I’m in the back row: tall, sturdy, big. I’ve always had a belly, butt, and big thighs. I was 5’10” and wearing a size 10W shoe by the time I was in high school. I don’t know what I weighed by that point, but I probably wouldn’t tell you even if I knew. I’m not ready to be that open! Let’s just say it was an unfortunate amount and I was decidedly unhealthy.
My Dad is a big guy. He wrestled in high school and his coach had to have college students come practice with him because his classmates were all smaller than he was. He played football too, and in all of my childhood memories, he was this larger-than-life guy: tall, broad shouldered, full of laughter and playfulness. Unfortunately his teenage athleticism turned into an unhealthy weight by the time he was an adult. He smoked for years, he ate poorly, and he was no longer active. He had his first heart incident when he was only 45, and his second when he was 60. His body is a road map of scars marking where veins have been removed from one location and placed elsewhere to compensate for blocked veins and to help alleviate strain on his heart muscle.
I’ve never played sports for fun. I made getting out of gym class my extracurricular activity of choice and can still vividly remember sobbing the night before elementary school PE. I was bigger, slower, more awkward. I couldn’t run quickly, throw a ball correctly, or walk a balance beam without hyperventilating. My hobbies included reading and eating, preferably at the same time. I lived off of macaroni and cheese and Spam sandwiches on onion bagels with butter and cheese.
My parents tried, bless them, tried to encourage better food choices and portion control. I am forever grateful to them for expressing their concern without ever adding to the shame I felt about my body and my weight – a shame born at the hands of horrible pre-teen girls who made my middle school years miserable. I’ll never forget a girl I didn’t even know telling me, as I walked down the hallway in 7th grade, that I looked pregnant. Talk about shattered self-esteem.
In my early 20s I reveled in buying my own food, which amounted to cookies and ice cream and, yes, more macaroni and cheese. I ate out with my friends all the time, indulging in appetizers like loaded cheese fries and desserts like brownie sundaes loaded with enough sugar to kill a horse. I briefly tried the South Beach Diet, suffering headaches from sugar and caffeine withdrawal and horrific cravings for carbohydrates. It was short-lived and far from successful, as is to be expected from fad diets.
The first time I really lost any amount of weight was when I was 25 and pregnant with my first child. I spent the majority of my pregnancy kneeling in front of the toilet, and by the time I gave birth I was down below my pre-pregnancy weight. I blocked the months of horrific nausea and felt awesome about the weight loss. I knew I should take advantage of the kick-start and immediately start a lifestyle change that would continue the trend in a healthy manner, but, well, I didn’t. I’m sure I had excuses at the time, but really, what difference do those excuses make now? We’re all too busy, too tired, too poor, too overwhelmed. What it really boiled down to was laziness on my part.
With the birth of my baby, I became preoccupied with my weight. I would look at my sweet, sleeping daughter and wonder if I’d live long enough to see her graduate from high school. I wondered if I would be her Fat Mom, making her the butt of countless jeers from her classmates, forcing her to defend me, or, worse yet, chime in with the mocking just to stay socially accepted. I wondered how I would keep up with her, how I would play with her, how I would chase her around the backyard. I wondered what my future looked like: high blood pressure, high cholesterol and heart trouble on not one but both sides of my family? We know now that there’s only so much we can do when faced with those kinds of genetics, but I certainly wasn’t doing anything to fight against it.
A Taste of Success
With the new year came a challenge in my office, a Biggest Loser of sorts, that came with a $250 cash prize sponsored by upper management. And I found my very first real motivator – cold, hard, cash. I joined Weight Watchers, began walking at lunch with a weight-loss buddy, and walking at home in the early mornings and/or after dinner. And I lost 30 pounds! I felt amazing. I saw a change in my body, I carried myself differently, I was more confident. And, ultimately, I came in second place in the competition behind my weight-loss buddy. To celebrate our triumph we ordered lunch from a local Italian restaurant. I had fettucine alfredo. And that was the end of it.
I gave in to the age-old issue of falling off the horse and not climbing back on it. I didn’t view that pasta as a minor bump in the road. I didn’t think that I could get back to it. I saw it as a failure and I gave up. I was terribly ashamed of myself.
And with that shame came depression. With my depression came more eating, which led to gaining back the 30 pounds and then some. I hit an all-time high in my weight and an all-time low in my self-worth.
Hitting Rock Bottom
Then this year, I turned 30. And I broke my foot. And I was diagnosed with high blood pressure. Those three all added up to A Change. The broken foot was really the biggest wake-up call. Getting around was a huge hurdle for me. I couldn’t bear any weight on my left foot but was too heavy to navigate with crutches. I got exhausted going from one room to the next, a mere 15 feet. I had to crawl up the steps to take a shower, scoot on my bottom out my front door and to the car. With every move I made I felt the strain on my body – the struggle to move every pound of my morbidly obese body without the use of one of my limbs was like nothing I could have imagined. I spent my days in bed – a bed that had been relocated to our living room to limit my need for stairs. Having the bed in the living room brought to mind images of me topping 700lbs, bed ridden and unable to fit through my front door. I was mortified. I was terrified.
I had hit my personal version of rock bottom. I cried on my husband’s shoulder almost every day. The idea of shedding the kind of weight that I needed to lose felt utterly impossible. I felt disheartened and discouraged before I’d even begun. I felt like I was choking beneath a fog of depression, pinned to my bed with a kind of despair that I didn’t even know was possible. I didn’t want to shower, I didn’t want to cook, I didn’t want to clean, I didn’t want to work. I felt fatter than I’d ever felt, drowning under the pounds and unable to dig my way out. It felt hopeless.
Then, finally, something clicked inside of my head and inside of my heart. The motivation I’d sought for so long was finally dangling in front of me like the elusive carrot and I turned my hopelessness into determination. I began chomping at the bit to get up and move and make a change. My husband brought home small hand weights for me and I lifted them until my arms shook and I couldn’t support myself to get up off the floor. I daydreamed of walking around the neighborhood or going for a swim.
The day finally came when my orthopedist gave me the go-ahead to bear weight on my boot and I walked into the local YMCA that afternoon to sign my family up for a membership. I wasn’t able to make use of it yet, but my husband was on the weight-loss bandwagon and I was desperate to capture this burst of motivation before I lost it. True to his word, my husband began using our membership immediately, making me both proud and terribly jealous. I was desperate to move, but under strict limitations from the doctor, so I stayed on the sidelines another month before I could finally join my husband at the gym.
A Lifestyle Change
On July 7, 2011, I had an appointment for an orientation with a personal trainer. It was merely an introduction to the equipment, setting me up with their computer system that would track my workouts and my progress, but I.was.terrified. I had to give myself a pep talk in the parking lot to convince myself that the other gym-goers would not point and laugh at the awkward fat girl who didn’t know what she was doing and clearly hadn’t exercised a day in her life. I survived the hour and no one threw tomatoes at me, I promise you. No one even gave me a second glance.
On July 13, I went to the gym for my first solo workout and managed 15 minutes on the recumbent bike and a slow trip around my weight lifting circuit, lifting no more than 10-15 pounds at a time and feeling like I was going to die with each second. But I did it. And then I did it again. And again. And eventually, a habit was born.
It’s now the end of September and I’ve lost over 20 pounds and the YMCA is my home away from home. I’ve biked 10 miles in 60 minutes, taken Body Pump classes, and am lifting over 50 pounds on some of my weight machines. I’ve gone to the gym twice in one day and then come home to curl up on the couch and whimper over muscle soreness. I’ve crawled up the stairs to bed, aching in places I didn’t know existed.
But my back no longer aches from the strain of carrying around this belly. I no longer get winded going up a flight of stairs. I move easier. My husband says that I feel different in his arms and the difference can be seen in my face, my stomach, my bottom. I’m more confident and sure of myself. I feel stronger.
I have tackled things that have scared me and I have overcome them. I have pushed my body to limits I never dared touch previously. I’ve sweated so much that rivers were streaming down my face. I’ve cussed at trainers under my breath and done one more lift when I thought I couldn’t possibly.
I have learned that I am so much stronger and more able than I ever thought I could be. I am firmly entrenched in what is going to be a very long journey toward health and I couldn’t be more excited about it. I look forward to going to the gym on Saturdays as a family, playing basketball with our daughter on the indoor court before dropping her off with childcare while my husband and I go workout. I watch my husband lifting weights and my heart swells with pride, and I catch him watching me with that same look. We talk about hiking together, running a marathon, working out with friends.
If you had told me 6 months ago that I would be active and looking forward to exercising, I’d have told you that you were insane, but I swear to you that’s where I am. I have a love/hate relationship with Body Pump and feel terribly if I go more than 2 days without a trip to the gym, and I don’t mean in the guilt-sense, I mean that I feel the lack of physical activity. I’ve discovered that I can go another 15 minutes on the bike or I can add another 10 pounds to the lateral pulldown machine.
I am changing my life so that I can truly LIVE. I’ve allowed my weight to spiral out of control and hold me back from things I dream of doing, like para sailing and horseback riding, and I’m determined to put a stop to that. I no longer want to feel defined by my weight. I want to play soccer with my daughter and hike a trail with my husband. I want to breathe easily, go canoeing, and feel strong and confident. And I’m well on my way.
I have more changes to make to my overall lifestyle and I’m working through them slowly but surely, getting further away from processed foods and making healthier choices more often. I still eat french fries and chocolate, and I always will, but I’m learning to parcel them out less frequently and eat green beans more frequently.
I have been very public about my weight loss journey on my personal Facebook page and the support and encouragement I have received from my loved ones is absolutely amazing. It makes me smile when my cousin “likes” my check-in at the gym or my friend says “you go girl!” when I update that I’m off to workout. The value in these small comments is something that I can’t put words to, but oh, how it’s kept me going.
I know that this new lifestyle will spill over into my blog from time-to-time, so I’m laying the roots of my journey with this essay. I wanted to get the background down and I wanted to finally, for once in my life, be upfront and honest about my weight, the toll it’s taken on me, and now, what I’m doing about it.