Today at my gym, a petite brunette sat down on an exercise bench as her trainer handed her two 50-pound weights. They both had some trouble positioning the weights so that the lady could try to lift them. She got them a few inches up in the air and then dropped them hard on the bench. Others might have thought this was a failed attempt at weight lifting; however, the two women were grinning with pride because those weights represented a true triumph. That lady had officially “dropped” 100 pounds.
Years ago, assuming I had even made my way to a gym, I would have glanced at the scene, made some snarky comment, and rolled my eyes. But today was different. Because that lady was me.
Even though I’d dreamed for decades about losing weight, it was more of a fantasy than anything else. At the end of every school year, I would say to myself, “This summer I’m going on a diet. When I come back to school, nobody will recognize me!” It was a great fantasy, but that’s all it was. I changed nothing in my eating or my lifestyle. And then suddenly it was August, and I hadn’t even gotten on a scale. So I would give up. It was the same every year.
I never admitted to anyone, let alone myself, that if I’d found a magic pill or a genie, I would have been thrilled to lose the weight that had slowly become my literal albatross over my entire adult life. Slowly, I realized that it wasn’t going to take a month or a summer. I’d spent years putting the weight on, and it might take years to take it off. Once I decided that all I had was time, I began to change the way I approached eating and exercise. And I started a journey that has changed my life and hopefully has made my future healthier and happier.
First, I had to see the truth. What was I up against? I hadn’t weighed myself in years. Instead, I made up a number – 180 – and decided that was what I weighed. When I stepped on the scale in May of 2013, the big red letters said: 245. At 5’1,” I was morbidly obese. I couldn’t deny those numbers, and I realized that since I’d made some attempts to lose weight for the months prior to stepping on the scale, I probably weighed closer to 280 at my worst.
I started analyzing myself. I had trouble walking up stairs and in the mall, my feet hurt all the time, my knees and back would bother me. I had high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and sleep apnea. I would cross the street to avoid my high school classmates who’d known me when I was a size 7, and hated reunions and holiday parties because I would automatically canvas the room to see if anyone was fatter than I was.
I decided against having a gastric bypass. My brother had done that, and he died of a heart attack in June of 2010. His heart had worn out from the 400 pounds he’d carried around for so many years. Anyway, I didn’t think I was “that fat.” I scoffed at other diets like Atkins, Jenny Craig, Dr. Bo, all the magic tricks advertised on TV. After all, everyone I knew who’d lost weight on those diets had gained most of it back. With the exception of Weight Watchers and MyFitnessPal, nothing seemed feasible, but I just didn’t think I had the self-discipline or the motivation to change or to stick to any sort of weight loss routine.
But then, one day in the summer of 2012, I finally looked into a mirror and got disgusted. I mean, I really looked at myself. I saw rolls of fat, a huge rear end, a swollen face and neck. I was unrecognizable as the petite brunette I’d been decades ago. I made a pledge that I would stop ignoring myself and that I would find a way.
Before I decided on a weight loss program, I started to exercise at home. I would do crunches, leg lifts, planks, anything I could think of that would get me a little more energized. And I started walking around my neighborhood. By May of 2013, when my daughter showed me the ins and outs of My Fitness Pal, I was starting to feel better, and to everyone’s surprise (including myself), I walked into the local Retro Fitness gym and joined it. I bought lots of exercise clothes, headbands, wrist bands, sneakers, weights, and a mat. I went to the gym as often as I could stand it. At first, I would stare at the timer on the elliptical, and five minutes would seem like an eternity. But slowly, as the weight came off, it became easier. And I stopped watching other people to see if they were watching that fat lady huffing and puffing on the treadmill. I didn’t care. Actually, everyone was very nice and encouraging as my weight loss became more visible.
Looking back at my former eating habits, I now understand that I was an indiscriminate social eater. I had no idea about the calorie content of what I was eating. Now, it’s just part of my daily routine. I decide what to eat, how much will keep me within my calorie limits, and what I need to avoid. The choices are mine and I make them constantly, daily. I did give up pasta, most red meat, and sugary snack foods for the most part, but I never went cold turkey on carbs or white flour or sugar. I ate everything in moderation and viewed every meal and every day as a personal triumph. I weigh myself every other week. I’ve had great moments and I’ve had plateaus. I texted my family and friends when I hit 199. I found that the milestones like fitting into a regular-sized blood pressure cuff or size 6 jeans tasted better than downing an entire bag of potato chips. And when I got to 145, it was a sweeter victory than any candy.
After 20 months of adhering to portion control, choosing nutritious foods, calorie counting, cardio and fitness training, I have finally, at the age of 64, done what I’d only dreamed about. I no longer look into the mirror with shame. I can walk up to anyone and introduce myself without wondering if all he or she sees is a fat lady. I look in the mirror without wincing, rejoice at 120/80, and hope shortly to throw the CPAP machine onto the giveaway pile.
So how do I feel? Amazed, grateful, and humbled by a triumph of will and discipline. More importantly, I have become the lady at the gym who “did it.” No, my legs and arms aren’t going to win any beauty contests. I do have some flab, but not as much as I would have if I hadn’t exercised. But I look at them as battle scars, and my trainer is helping me firm up whatever I can.
I have to say that while people never really said much about my obesity, I am overwhelmed by the positive comments I hear now. I am humbled by the fact that my weight has inspired others to make their own way on this difficult road. So whatever your reason may be not to do it, don’t wait. Take control of the parts of your life that you can control. So whatever your size, whatever your age, whatever your self-image may be, the truth is, you can do it.
Do it, do it, do it!