The Journey

In telling my story I always start with my heaviest weight ever, which was confirmed at 196 pounds in April 2000. However, I have a photo taken of me in December 1999 and I weighed the same. I knew by the way that my clothes fit for the following four months that I had not gained or lost. I didn't know the exact number, but I knew I was bordering 200 without the aide of a scale. And while that was the heaviest I ever weighed it didn't happen until I was almost 27. The battle with my weight began in my childhood and topped out in that moment on the scale in 2000. It would take another nine years and lots of self discovery to get to where I am today.
The battle with my weight begins as early as I can remember. I had both sides of the coin growing up in my house. On the right--my mother--who was an active teen and adult, didn't obsess about every morsel and enjoyed her life. Everything was done in moderation for her. If she wanted ice cream she placed about two scoops in a bowl and had ice cream. She never sat down with a gallon and a spoon. She ate chips--about a handful. Rarely did she have seconds at any meal. Most restaurant meals weren't finished and the leftovers were her lunch the next day. On the left--my father--a normal size infant, toddler and young child. However, he began gaining weight steadily through his teens and young adulthood. My dad was the polar opposite of my mom in this respect. He had poor eating habits and as a piano player mostly sat for his job. Exercise did not seem to be a word in his vocabulary. So, how does this relate me?
In a nutshell--I learned what and what not to do in order to be a healthy person in my own home. I was given an up close and personal account of life as an obese person as I watched my father. I always wanted to be just like him. I was 'Daddy's Little Girl'. I regularly followed his lead in most things, including overeating. The way I didn't follow suit was activity. I loved playing outside, swimming, rollerskating and dancing when I was a little girl. During my teen years I could be found at the rink on Friday nights, most Sundays and regularly for all-night skate sessions. Saturday nights were dance nights with friends. Physical education was a required class until I graduated high school. In my senior year I was a member of the Flag Corps. Activity was not a foreign concept to me. I know now the fact I was so active is the only reason I never gained weight in high school. I also didn't lose any weight in high school. By the time I graduated I weighed about 155.
Now that may not sound like a lot of weight to some people; however, I'm 4'11". I stopped growing vertically by the time I was 12 years old. I continued to grow out, on and off for the next 15 years until I changed my lifestyle.
Once I graduated high school and moved out of my parents house I essentially forgot everything I knew about healthy eating. The majority of my early 20s was spent working in the food service industry. Whether a waitress, hostess, fast food cashier or deli counter girl I had access to free food almost every day. On the days I didn't work I could pay half price and still eat at least once a day. Because I was in a physical job I kept my weight at bay. In the process I also lost weight, eventually dropping to an all-time low of 146 in March 2002. The main reason I lost the weight at that time was also lifestyle choices. The wrong ones. I was living on a diet of nicotine, caffeine and one meal a day.
In July 2002 I met the man that would eventually become my husband. At the time we met I was renting a room from a friend. The condo was three miles one way to my job and I didn't have a car. Because I worked the graveyard shift, public transportation was not an option. Therefore, I was walking six miles a day out of necessity and managed to hover again around the mid 150s. One month after we met I quit my job and moved in with Guy. This ended the six miles a day walks. In addition to the lack of exercise I was also out of work so our money was limited. No worries, Guy worked as a driver for Papa John's. We ate pizza, garlic bread, wings and chicken strips as our main source of nutrition for many weeks. Once I started working we got groceries occasionally, but I was a mediocre cook at best. I also continued working in the food industry so I began bringing food home. Guy and I rarely ate our meals together because of our different working schedules. We were left to fend for ourselves most of the time and when we did eat together it was usually take out. This pattern continued steadily as did a pound here and a pound there finding their way back onto my body. My father died in April 2003. I hit the big 3-0 milestone birthday just five weeks later. Within six months of my Dad's death I had two miscarriages. And within the next year we would live through the back-to-back Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne.
The combination of all these outside stressors along with the worst eating habits I ever developed and lack of all movement except for work and my weight got up to 176 pounds. I seem to have a thing for the number six ending my scale reading.
September 25, 2006. A date that will live in my weight loss infamy. Guy and I spent the day at Universal Studio's Islands of Adventure. It was a gorgeous sunny day in Orlando. Hot and humid. Not unusual for Florida in September, but a little warmer than usual. I was wearing short denim shorts because of the heat. During the early afternoon we decided to cool off a bit by going on a water ride. While the ride served the purpose, the after ride experience was my breaking point. With my 29-inch thighs rubbing together in the wet denim it was a matter of minutes before the heat rash began. Within an hour I was in more discomfort than I had experienced in my life. I walked into a gift shop to buy a pair of pants. I pulled a medium pair of elastic waistband pants from the rack, paid for them and headed to the nearest bathroom to change. Unfortunately, I got the wrong size. Back to the gift shop for a large. In that moment, I vowed to myself that it would never happen again. It wasn't the fact that I had to get the large size. It was the fact that an otherwise awesome day at an amusement park turned into a reality check that I wasn't quite prepared to face. However, it was also something I could no longer ignore.
At this point, I wasn't quite ready to focus on the food part of the equation, so I went back to what I knew about staying healthy--regular exercise. I had been a paying member of a local gym since November of 2005. I became an active member in October 2006. I started off slow for the first eight weeks. Basic light weights and 30-45 minutes between the recumbent stationary bike and treadmill. In December 2006 I got back on a pair of roller skates for the first time in 15 years. By February of 2007 I had my own skates and was going to the rink twice a week. I had lost a few pounds by this time as well.
I had made it through the holidays. The regular exercise had improved my energy level and I could tell by the way my clothes were fitting that I was heading in the right direction. Now it was time to tackle the food part of the equation.
Knowing that in the past every time I went this journey alone I didn't have much success I decided to get some support. My mom and dad had both done Weight Watchers with fairly good results during 2002-2003 so I decided to go to a local meeting. I diligently tracked my food and activity and by August 2007 had lost a total of 36 pounds bringing me to the lowest weight of my adult life. Because of finances and other reasons I stopped going to meetings, but continued tracking online through their website. I also became actively involved on the message boards and developed a support system of cyber buddies, many of whom I'm still in contact with almost three years later. While I fully back the program of Weight Watchers, I stagnated at 140. With another 15 pounds to lose to reach my personal goal weight I had to figure out another way to go about my journey.
January 2008. I switched my focus about the weight loss journey to no longer be solely about weight loss. That may sound like a contradiction, but the reality for me was this--once I stopped obsessing about the number on the scale each week and I flipped my focus to my health, the numbers took care of themselves. Before this journey began I was taking five different medications for various reasons--both mental and physical. Today, I am 100% medication free. I finally finished fighting off the demons I had in regards to food and began to look at food as fuel. I recited my mantra--If hunger isn't the problem, then food isn't the solution. Food was and is not my enemy, so why did I give it the power. This journey was about taking control of my health and creating the life I wanted from the inside out. By the time I walked down the aisle to marry my wonderful Guy on October 12, 2008 I was down to 130 pounds. My eating was still being tweaked throughout the year, the workouts increased in time and intensity. I also set an ultimate goal that I wanted to achieve--to become a Certified Fitness Trainer.
January 2009. My life drastically changed on New Year's Eve. I drove my car at 30 mph head-on into a parked vehicle. My car did not survive the crash. As a result of my accident, I became unemployed. I also no longer had transportation as we couldn't afford two car payments with me being out of work. Therefore, there was nothing standing in my way. Being unemployed, living in an area where the unemployment rate is high and jobs are scarce gave me all the time in the world to focus on the goal. I registered with the International Sports Sciences Association on January 26 and received my textbook and study guides less than a week later. By the end of May I finished all of my course-work and then set out to tackle the daunting final exam. It took me another six months, but I ultimately reached the end of the tunnel. On November 10, 2009 I received notice that I had passed my exam.
My journey continues with the focus being my overall health. On May 11, 2009, just two days before my 36th birthday I went for my first physical complete with blood work in about 10 years. When my test results came back, the cholesterol results weren't pretty. I was angry. I worked my tail off, literally, having lost a total of 70 pounds and being the lowest ever in my life--126 pounds. Told you I have a thing with the number six ending my scale reading. I have maintained that weight for more than year now. I had totally overhauled my eating habits. I workout 5-6 days a week. And with all that my cholesterol was not where it needed to be. My overall number was 246, my triglycerides were borderline high at 164 and my LDL (the bad cholesterol that clogs the arteries) was sky high at 161. Determined not to be on medications, I overhauled my eating again. I couldn't do much more in the way of exercise as I was already following the doctor's recommendations for activity. Therefore, it came down to my diet.
November 20, 2009. I went back to the doctor for my six-month follow up. The new diet worked. My numbers are now: total cholesterol--180; down 66 points, triglycerides--98; down 66 points and my LDL falls into the near optimal level at 121; down 40 points. This means that medication is not part of my immediate future.
My mother recently asked me if I find it hard to maintain my loss. The simple answer is no. The journey from my heaviest ever to present day was a 10-year learning process for me. Education about what does and does not work for my body according to my health needs. Self-discovery about who I am, what I want from life and heading towards those goals. Arming myself with the knowledge I need to be the healthiest me I can be. Kicking fear to the curb and going after my dreams.
The journey continues....
After 36 years as an omnivore, I made the switch to lacto-ovo vegetarianism. This was a 10-month transition that actually began 20 years ago in high school. I began by boycotting any company I knew was involved in animal testing. I regularly volunteered for the Humane Society in different towns I lived in throughout college. I have had at least one animal in my home since I was 10. However, even with my love of animals, I still continued to consume them. I went in spurts. I would go days on end without eating meat. Then I would have a big burger (I did live in Texas until 1994) or a Giant B.L.T. at one of my favorite deli's in South Florida. I would read stories of animal cruelty/abuse, factory farming, etc., but would push thoughts aside and continue on. Then it happened. As mentioned in one of the above paragraphs, I went for my physical in 2009, and was not happy with my cholesterol results. I realized going back and looking at my food journals, that I was eating very few grains and other plant based proteins in favor of meat. I was also lacking in the fruits and vegetables department, which made no sense, because it is a SHORT list of fruits and vegetables I don't like. Another strange thing happened--meat started to make me nauseous and dairy (lactose) was causing digestive discomfort. Not every time I consumed them, but more often than not. I literally started getting ill from the food I was eating. I didn't look forward to meals anymore. I started to experiment with new recipes and going meatless a few days a week while incorporating more fish/seafood and getting rid of red meat and pork. That was the first step. Next was the ground meats, highly processed meat sausages and deli sliced meats. I cut these items from my menu in favor of beans, legumes, grains and vegetables. Next was the poultry. Then it was the fish/seafood. By March 1,  I was a committed lacto-ovo vegetarian. Since then, I have cut out cow's milk for drinking. I still eat yogurt and minimal amounts of cheese; however, I only drink soy or almond milk. Since becoming a vegetarian: my skin cleared up, my sinuses cleared up, my digestive problems righted themselves, and I lost weight. Again, lifestyle changes brought about the weight loss, not a 'diet'. I didn't become a vegetarian to lose weight. I did it for my overall health, my beliefs, the environment and the animals. Losing weight in the process was just a bonus.