My story is not a unique one. If you are reading this, then undoubtedly, you have experienced your own struggle with weight. You most likely did not receive the knowledge or the skills in your formative years to become a healthy adult. You probably lacked role models who could teach you to appreciate wholesome foods and enjoy exercise. Many of you were probably instructed as a child to "clean your plate" at mealtimes, and you must have all heard about the "starving children in China". You may have been rewarded for good grades and good behavior with food - candy, cookies, a trip to the ice cream store. When your little league team won a game, you went out afterward for pizza to celebrate. You were taught that food was a reward for a job well done, and the foods that made you feel the best were the ones that were the worst for you.
Maybe the lessons you learned were more subtle. Or maybe it was the lessons you were not taught that influenced you - self love and affirmation, how to handle stressful situations, how to cope with loss and rejection. Maybe somewhere along the way you became so wrapped up in your career or your family that you lost sight of yourself and what was good for you.
There are many roads that will lead you to be overweight or obese, but one thing is sure. Once you get there, it is uncomfortable, and we all want to go back.
How I Got Here
I was not always a fat girl, but I may as well have been. I did not start to gain my weight until I was nine years old. This was the year that my parents finally split and divorced for the last time. This was the year that I moved to Tennessee, along with my mother and my younger brother, to live with my grandparents. My grandparents adored us and wanted to give us all that was in their power to give. That meant a roof over our heads, unconditional love, and lots of food.
Twenty years ago in the South, there was little talk of "low-fat" or "sugar-free". My grandparents always had cakes, pies, potato chips, and other junk food in the house. If I wanted ice cream for breakfast, I could have it. If I wanted hamburgers for lunch and dinner, Pawpaw would make them. It was a child's fantasy come true.
The other change that was occurring at this time, which I could not comprehend as a child, was a hormonal surge that was directing my body to begin changing shape. "Hips become wider, breasts become larger, long bones stop growing." This combination of estrogen and free-for-all food intake resulted in a dramatic weight increase. By the time I entered eighth grade, I was five feet three inches tall and 210 pounds.
I was aware that I was fat. I began to journaling at age 11, and in each entry, I would mention my weight - how unhappy it was making me, what weight I would like to be, or how I planned to get to my goal weight. I could not wear the fashionable clothes the other kids were wearing because they did not make them in size 18. I did not participate in sports because I did not want to be the slowest, or the weakest, or the most out of shape person on the team.
Other people made me aware of my weight as well. When I would go for visits with my father, he would cleverly greet me with, "Hefty, hefty, hefty," a tagline from a current garbage bag advertisement. My brother was naturally thin, and to look at him was a reminder of what I was not.
But as unhappy as my weight made me, I was really powerless at this age to exact any real change in my body. Eventually, we moved out of my grandparents' house and into a home of our own. In order for my mother to afford this plus private school tuition for me and my brother, she had to work two jobs. This meant that my mother was rarely home. My brother and I spent afternoons after school and long summer days inside the house watching television and playing video games because it was the only way my mother knew to keep us safe. Most of the time, she did not have the time or energy after work to cook meals, so we would have either fast food or cafeteria food for lunch, and then anything that was quick and easy for dinner, which usually meant spaghetti, sandwiches, or something from a can. My lifestyle had become one of inactivity and poor eating habits. I was not unlike many children of this time who were living in the first decades of latchkey kids, Happy Meals, and a life of convenience.
I went from being a fat kid to a fat teenager to a fat adult. I tried on several occasions to lose weight, and most of the time, I was successful. But, the changes were always temporary. Something stressful would happen in my life, I would begin or end a relationship, or I might just be premenstrual. For whatever reason, I would lose my resolve, and the weight would return way more quickly than it disappeared. Finally, when I hit 250 pounds, I realized that I had to do something. I joined a gym with a friend and started working out. I drastically cut back my food intake, often skipping meals. I lost seventy-five pounds this way, and I was thinner than I had ever been!
It was during this time that I met the man who would become my husband. When Chris and I were married, I was still 175 pounds. My weight would fluctuate some over the next few years, but for the most part, I was able to stay under the 200 pound mark.
When I became pregnant, I was 180 pounds. I saw my pregnancy as an opportunity to indulge in all of the foods I had missed eating over the past years. It started slowly - a trip to McDonald's for a milkshake, a second helping at dinner time. But once I gave in, my body just wanted more and I did not have the willpower to fight the hormones that were raging inside me. I ended up gaining seventy pounds with my pregnancy, and I found myself back at that 250 pound mark.
I told myself that the pounds would melt away when I started breastfeeding Logan, and they did, but only about thirty-five of them. I still had thirty-five pounds left to lose to get to my magical 175, and I was stalled at 215 pounds. I was miserable. I was not prepared for the changes that occurred in my life as a result of having a baby and becoming a stay-at-home mom. Logan was a very needy child, and I was constantly holding him or feeding him. I was physically exhausted from a lack of sleep and from carrying around the extra pounds. I felt isolated from the world and missed the interactions I had with people when I was part of the business world. I had to do something.
How I Did It
So, to lose the weight and keep my sanity, I went back to the gym. The first time I went, I walked on the treadmill for twenty minutes at a pace of 3.0 (20 minutes/mile). That workout wore me out. On my way home, I thought about how glad I was that I made that first step, but I was also disappointed at how out of shape I had become. I made a promise to myself, though, that I would stick with the workouts. I went to the gym every day because I was afraid that if I let myself miss even one day of exercise, that I would lose my momentum and stop going altogether. My husband would watch the baby at night, and I would either walk on the treadmill or use the elliptical machine.
I lost thirty pounds this way - with cardiovascular exercise alone - and then plateaued at 185. I still had weight I wanted to lose, and I realized that in order to get over this hump, I would now need to change my diet. I turned to Weight Watchers to provide me with the structure I needed to take this next step. I threw out all of the high-fat, high-calorie, nutrient-poor food in the house that might tempt me and replaced it with fresh fruit and vegetables, lean meats, whole grains, and low-fat dairy. My husband supported me one-hundred percent. He said that if he wanted to eat something that he knew would tempt me, he would go out to eat it and not bring it into the house.
My original weight goal when I joined Weight Watchers was 175 pounds. That weight, for me, was the line that I believed I could not cross. It was the lowest weight I had ever achieved in my adult life. It was my prepregnancy weight. But Weight Watchers asked me to set a goal weight that put me in a healthy BMI range for my height, so I chose 150 pounds, never dreaming that I would achieve this.
After five months on Weight Watchers, I reached my goal of 150 pounds, and I felt so good, that I kept going. I finally settled in at a weight of 136 pounds through moving from Weight Watchers and evolving to weight lifting, clean eating, and proper meal timing. That has made it possible for me to maintain my weight since 2005 and completely change my physique.
Maintaining my weight has gotten easier, but it still is not easy. These days I know it's not just about the calories if you want to "look" good versus "weighing" good. There are many times I want to indulge in a little more dessert or load up on 100 calorie snack packs, but then I look at myself in the mirror, and I realize that these muscles aren't worth the sacrifice for a quick, emotional fix of junk food. I am thin. I am healthy. I am vital. I am beautiful. I am finally the woman I always felt I should be.
Just an update to my story...I now maintain between 145-150lbs. At 136 I had less muscle. From 2008-2011 I worked on adding muscle to my frame. Now I wear the same size clothes but weigh more. I look better and feel better than ever.
You just have to keep on going and remember this is a lifestyle!