In 2005, at age 47, I finally lost 80 pounds of weight that had accumulated over six pregnancies and 30 years. I had tried many different diet programs over those years, but had always ended up not only not losing, but sometimes actually gaining. Looking back over all the failures leading up to my final, successful attempt, I’ve tried to isolate the reasons it took so long to finally succeed. After much thought and introspection, I concluded that there were three major barriers to eventual weight loss that I had to overcome. First, I no longer believed that weight loss was possible; second, I saw the whole issue in black and white terms; and third, it was difficult to find the time and money to cater to my own special dietary/exercise needs in the middle of rearing and feeding a large family.
A few years previous to 2005, I finally came to the conclusion that losing weight was just not going to happen for me and that I needed to learn to be happy with myself the way I was. I had tried everything. It definitely wasn’t a lack of knowledge. By the time I arrived at this point in my life I’m pretty sure there wasn’t much about a calorie or nutrient that I didn’t know. I had studied nutrition in college, read myriad weight loss books and articles, and personally tried the most promising ones. I understood that each pound comprised 3500 calories and that all I had to do was decrease caloric input or increase output by 500 per day in order to lose a pound a week. I had tried low carb, low fat, low calorie and plain old-fashioned low food! I don’t remember a January where losing weight and or starting to exercise wasn’t one of my resolutions. Shortly before my 47th birthday, three things happened that gave me the motivation to try one more time. First, my sister-in-law started a weight loss program and was very motivated and successful. As I watched someone close to me succeed at something that I knew all too well was extremely difficult, I felt cautiously hopeful. I had also started to feel the effects of carrying around nearly 100 extra pounds and I began to worry about my future health and my ability to be there for my children and grandchildren. I was also attempting to teach self-control to my children and it occurred to me that perhaps successfully dealing with this issue would model this behavior to my children and give them confidence.
My sister-in-law was doing weight watchers, so I researched the program, liked how nutritionally sound it was and determined to follow it. On all of my previous weight loss attempts, I had followed a pattern of starting a program, being really good for a while then, falling off the wagon and crashing. There was something about counting points. I could basically eat whatever I wanted as long as I stopped when I reached my allotment of points. I liked not being restricted. However, because quantity is also important to me, I quickly learned that higher fiber foods were less points and more filling. Without feeling coerced, I found myself making lower fat higher fiber choices. My sister-in-law not only modeled good weight loss behavior, but she was willing to spend time on the phone sharing tips and ideas. She was a great mentor. I was lucky to have such a great role model basically fall in my lap, but for those not so fortunate, I have to give another shout out to weight watchers. The program comes complete with mentors and cheerleaders at its weekly meetings.
As I followed the program and began to lose weight, I couldn’t believe how much better I felt. I had begun to have so many aches and pains that Ibuprofen was never far away. Diabetes runs in my family, and as I heard about the risks for overweight women in their forties, I felt even more motivated to stick with the program. One thing that I did differently this time than all previous times was to get back on the horse if I fell off. There were times when I succumbed to temptation and exceeded my point allotment, but this time, I got right back on track. I didn’t even wait for the next day. For example, in the past, if I succumbed to temptation and had a piece of cake I might say to myself, “Well the diet is ruined today. I guess I will just eat whatever for the rest of today and start over tomorrow.” Often tomorrow never came. This time, when I gave into temptation I would say, “OK you had 5 extra points, that’s better than 10. Let’s keep it that way. Maybe if you stop now, you will only be up one pound tomorrow instead of 2 or more.” On days that I wasn’t perfect I would still not quit trying. It was a new way of thinking, and I feel like it played a big role in my success.
In the past, my family submarined my ability to stick to a program. With a husband and six children (five boys) someone always needed treats or special food for some event or other. It seemed like I lived in my minivan, chauffeuring children from one event to the other. I had a set of recipes that most of them liked and that were easy to prepare. Unfortunately, they were not low in calories or fat. I began to do major surgery on the recipes. I switched to brown rice. You could hear the complaints from my family in the next county. It was almost embarrassing when we arrived at Grandma’s house one night and she served them a creamed meat with white rice. They slicked up that white rice so fast you would have thought I starved them! I also switched to low fat milk and majorly cut the butter. Some recipes were still pretty good, and some didn’t work, but I kept trying. I also began to increase the vegetables. In the past, I felt virtuous if I served one vegetable dish at dinner with a high fat high meat entrée. Now I tried to make the meat less of a star and increased the vegetable dishes.
Eight years have now passed. Three of my children are married and I get calls all the time with nutrition questions. They have incorporated much of what they watched me do in their own homes. But the bigger take away for my children has been watching me do something hard. I was able to model for them, in the same way my sister-in-law modeled for me, that people really can do hard things. It gave me the moral high ground when I wanted them to turn off electronic devices to study or something else they didn’t want to do. I was able to model doing something hard now for some future benefit. In my 55 years, I could make a list of quite a few accomplishments, but after my family, my children and grandchildren, the thing I’m the most proud of is losing eighty pounds.