Height: 5 feet, 5.5 inches
Before weight: 387
How She Gained It
I spent a lifetime heavy. During the summer of my sophomore year back in the early 1970’s, I went on the Dr. Atkins Diet Revolution that was all the rage. I lost 40 pounds, but I eventually stopped the diet and gained the weight back and more. This was the beginning of a cycle I followed for the next 20 or so years. I’d go on a diet and before I could get to goal weight, all the deprivation would build up to where I’d just blow it.
On top of that, so many foods were labeled as “bad” from all the diets I tried, I believe I probably developed some eating disorders. I’d want the “bad” food, eat it, feel guilty about it, and then binge and eat more because of that feeling. It took me many years to realize that “diet” is really a four-letter word with all the negative connotations we normally attribute to those forbidden four-letter words. Being on a diet is not a good thing. I’ve been on just about every diet out there by now, and they all worked in the short-term, yet were destructive for me in the long-term.
In my late 30s, I’d quit dieting altogether, but took one last stab with the diet drug Fen-Phen that was popular in the early ’90s. I figured I could take that chance because I would be able to eat what I wanted — which wouldn’t be much since the drug created an artificial feeling of fullness. I lost about 110 pounds doing that, but the drug was taken off the market due to serious side effects. What happened next? You guessed it: Back came all the weight and more.
I became heavier, unhealthier and quite depressed. I wanted a gastric bypass, but my insurance refused to cover it. Life wasn’t worth living to me anymore.
Breaking point: I have a severe clotting disorder caused by a genetic condition. In 2013, I had an episode of deep venous thrombosis and pulmonary embolism, which left scar tissue in my lungs. Because of my weight and the lung damage, I required oxygen 24/7. It was horrible to be tethered to an oxygen tank. I was teaching in a high school at that time and felt so out of place, pulling my oxygen tank with me through the throngs of adolescents.
When I got home from work with the fast food dinner I picked up somewhere, I headed straight for my recliner, where I stayed all evening except for restroom trips. When I was tired, I would just pull a blanket over me and sleep there. The next morning, I would wake up and remove the clothes from the night before. I didn’t have the energy to shower and resorted to bed baths, before dressing and lumbering out to my car to try and survive another day of work.
Around this time, my brother-in-law was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease. I watched him fight his battle with ALS with amazing courage. He lost the function of parts of his body, but he still found joy in every day.
In September, 2015, he lost his battle. At his funeral, I felt his spirit strongly with me; there was a shift in my perception. For the first time, I was no longer desperately wishing I was dead — and feeling guilty because I knew he just as desperately wanted to be alive. Instead, I wanted to find a way to not only live, but to change the quality of my life.
How She Lost It
An old TV program called “Starting Over” inspired me. Women who were struggling with issues and “stuck” in their lives would spend time living with other women and working with life coaches to repair their lives. When they “graduated,” they were able to start over. I latched onto this concept of identifying problems, fixing them and started over.
I knew I couldn’t go on a diet. I’d been struggling to cut out bingeing, and I began to get a hold of that. I saw advertisements for Jenny Craig, and a light bulb went on in my head. I thought, “I can do that.” In December 2005, I walked in the door of my local Jenny Craig Center.
I set a goal to reach the target weight of 157 — a 230-pound loss. It took until the summer of 2009 to reach that goal. I’ve since realized I want to shed a few more pounds and be in the 140s. I now weigh 149, and I plan to lose five to nine more pounds and maintain there.
What I love about this program — never a “diet” — is that I learned how to eat. I learned that foods aren’t inherently bad. What’s harmful is overindulging. I’ve learned to think more healthily about food, and as my taste buds emerged from my old high-sugar, high-fat, high-calorie way of eating, I’ve learned to enjoy foods that I never cared for before. I have no deprivation or built up emotion that’s going to sabotage me. When I’ve been off-program for parties and dinners out, I’ve discovered that I don’t like the feeling of eating too much. I prefer to eat a more moderate portion.
When I first began losing weight, exercise wasn’t even a blip on my radar. I couldn’t walk 10 feet — with my oxygen tank turned up to twice the output of the average person — without huffing and puffing. My lips would start to turn blue. By the time I’d lost the first 90 pounds, I was able to say goodbye to my oxygen tank — something I never thought would happen in my lifetime. What joyful independence!
At that point, I tried to work out and even joined a gym, but that wasn’t really successful. The manager at my Jenny Craig center recommended that I try walking, so I tried it and found out that I loved it! I go out for three- to five-mile walks, depending on what kind of time I want to spend that day. I walk quickly and vary my terrain from flat to hilly. For the first time in my life, I’m able to join in and do things like dance all night or go hiking with friends. Gone are the days when I parked as close as I could to the door, or in the handicapped spot I once qualified for. I love days when I can get my pedometer past 10,000 steps.
In four years, I’ve done what seemed impossible. I lost 238 pounds. I never believed I could do that without gastric bypass, without restrictive diets, without deprivation. When I talk to people who are once where I was, my message to them is, “Don’t give up.” There’s a way. It is possible.
Whenever I walk with relative ease up a hill, I remember a time when a hill might as well have been Mount Everest, when a mile might as well have been a marathon. As I feel the ease and mobility of my body, I remember the exhausting work it used to be to move a 387-pound body. I never cease to appreciate the new life I have, nor the freedom and joy of movement and mobility. Today, at the age of 52, I can say that I’ve truly renovated my life and have indeed started over. You can, too.
After weight: 149
Mary has maintained her weight loss since April 2018 and is working to lose another five to nine pounds.
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