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When is enough enough?
For me a number of things occurred in 1993 that helped me reach the point where enough was enough.
The year started the same as every new year of my adult life. I resolved to lose weight and get fit. In years past, I had failed in this resolve. This year would be different... it had to be different. Never before had I been this heavy--325 pounds. Never before had I smoked almost three packs of cigarettes a day. Never before had I been this close to turning fifty years of age. I was killing myself and time was running out!
I had never been slim, much less average in size. I was more than 9 pounds at birth--a hefty beginning that would prove to be a barometer of the years to come. Soon after I was born, my parents' marriage began to dissolve. My mother, overwhelmed by an impending divorce and the responsibility of two infant daughters, did what she could to handle a difficult situation. This included feeding me extra bottles of formula whenever I cried. By my first birthday I was covered with baby fat.
As the years progressed, the baby fat became just plain fat. A little con I devised as a youngster helped increase my already plump body. I would wander to nearby houses, knock on the doors, and tell the kindly neighbors how sad I was because I didn't have a daddy. Mrs. Baker was good for homemade cookies and milk. Mrs. Jackson always had ice cream with chocolate sauce, and dear, sweet Mrs. McGovern, she had everything--candy, chips, peanut butter and butter sandwiches. The only price I had to pay for these wondrous food treats was a few minutes of listening to these women's little aggravations. But the food was worth it, and I also learned to be a good listener.
My mother was frustrated with my weight. She tried to combat the fat by serving me healthy meals with lots of fruits and vegetables. She did give me sweets, but limited them to a few cookies at lunch and maybe a small bowl of ice cream at dinner. She couldn't understand why I was gaining so much weight. I, of course, kept my little forays a secret.
When I began attending elementary school, I discovered another way of getting food. While my mom packed me a small but nutritious lunch, the other kids' moms weren't as concerned about calories. The other kids had lunches loaded with food--too much food, especially cookies. I couldn't let this food go to waste. After all, there were starving children somewhere. To remedy the situation, I'd retrieve all the leftovers and, at the same time, satisfy my growing sweet tooth.
My sweet tooth as well as my appetite continued to get satisfied during my teen years. I was the neighborhood's favorite baby-sitter and had lots of jobs. Almost every time the parents gave instructions before leaving they would add "and eat whatever you want." I did! I'd eat half of a half gallon of ice cream. Cookie crumbs were all that remained of a bag. A package of lunch meat became just a slice when I was done.
As my teen years continued, the sweet tooth combined with a desire for salt. A Coke and fries, lots of fries, was the snack of choice for all teenagers in my generation. Daily after-school trips to drive-in restaurants (your food was delivered to your car) included a couple of Cokes or sometimes a malted milk shake (vanilla, of course!) and at least one generous serving of fries. A few hours later, a large dinner topped this "snack."
This kind of eating was taking its toll. Not obese but "just overweight," I pushed into a size 16 for high school graduation. Not to worry. I was heavy, but I was also popular and had lots of friends, even boyfriends. Who cared if I was larger than most? (My mother did!) I was young and I was healthy. Weight wasn't really a problem.
In college I became even larger. I lived in an apartment with three other students, and we all took care of our own food needs. My budget was more limited than my roommates' so my "balanced meals" were lots of peanut butter sandwiches washed down with Kool-Aid, lots of boxed macaroni and cheese washed down with Kool-Aid, and, my special favorite, rice with cream of chicken soup on top, washed down with Kool-Aid, of course. (The beverage of choice because it was so inexpensive.) For lunch at the university's cafeteria, I'd order two servings of toast (four slices for 50 cents), and using the free condiments, I'd create dill pickle and mustard sandwiches. Or I'd have two orders of mashed potatoes and gravy (70 cents). These eating habits moved me up first to a size 18, then to a size 20 by college graduation.
My entry into the working world was also my passport to unlimited "good" foods. Now I had money. I had the means for morning doughnuts (never just one), hamburger plates for lunch, and pizza for dinner. I also had money for the vending machines--for the 10 A.M. candy bar and the 3 P.M. candy bar(s).
During my twenties, my size 20s were getting tight. Luckily, I sewed many of my own clothes so I could fool myself about the exact size I wore. By this time I began to get worried. I wasn't concerned about my health (I was young), but I was worried about the way I looked. Although I dated, I wanted to get married, and who would want to marry a fat lady? I needed a svelte body to pursue my quest for a husband. A diet of near starvation in my late twenties brought me down to a size 14 in less than six months. I was ready!
Soon I was dating just about every Tom, Dick, and Harry in the Detroit area. I happily settled on a Tom. After two years of dating and with my thirty-third birthday a month away, Tom and I were married in a lavish ceremony complete with the bride in a gorgeous size 16 gown. (Tom's love made me so secure that I decreased my dietary efforts and the numbers on the scale started moving back up.)
Three months into the marriage, foot surgery took me out of commission for six weeks. My wonderful husband (I did pick a good Tom!) felt sorry for me because I had to be off my feet and sedentary. His sympathy translated into a half gallon of ice cream every other day. Recovery resulted in a 30-pound weight gain and a return to size 18.
By early 1983 I was coping with three children under four years of age and this almost thirty-nine-year-old mother was overwhelmed, a word that would be part of my life for the next few years. Each time I got at least two of the kids down for a nap at the same time, I rewarded myself with a treat. My newfound "happy food" was chocolate eclairs, three at a time. Although they were expensive, I deserved them! I also learned the age-old motherly habit of "cleaning off" my children's plates. Heaven forbid I should throw any leftovers down the garbage disposal. Instead, I ate half a hot dog from one plate, the untouched spaghetti from another. I was becoming a bona fide member of the Clean Plate Club and I was expanding in the process. Size 20 clothes were getting too tight and the stretchy slacks I wore were ripping at the seams.
As my children, Andy, Libby, and Emily, grew, so did I. Fast foods accounted for much of this. Fast foods that were "necessary" because of our busy lifestyle (a soccer game here, a ballet lesson there). Convenience foods resulted in poor dietary habits for the children and more girth for me. But what was I to do? There just wasn't time to cook. I did the best I could with such demanding schedules.
This "best" carried me over the 200-pound mark. In addition, my cholesterol was creeping up to a dangerous level (250), as was my husband's, my son's, and my youngest daughter's. But did I change our eating habits? It would take several more years and 100 more pounds for reality to hit.
Enter 1993. The number on the scale was a shock. I never, ever thought I could weigh more than 200 pounds. Now I had passed the 300-pound mark. Nor did I ever think I would wear a size 28. I had to face reality. No longer was I overweight. I was obese, an awful word in anybody's vocabulary! And, to make matters worse, I was smoking up to three packs of cigarettes a day.
Something needed to be done, and I had to do it!
On Friday, New Year's Day, 1993, I began a diet--my final attempt to realize good health. I thought I had reached the "enough is enough" point. I thought I was ready for success.
I was wrong. In the weeks that followed I goofed so many times that I spent the first few months of the year riddled with guilt. I did manage to take off, put on, and take off 15 pounds, but it wasn't easy. It was the same old battle I had fought for years, I was discouraged. I thought this time would be different.
By May 1993, I was 310 pounds and extremely depressed. In a few weeks we would be taking a family trip to Washington, D.C. How could I walk around the nation's capital and visit all the monuments? My excess weight was restricting my movements in our own home. It would wreck the family's vacation!
My 160-pound husband told me not to worry. He would take the children sight-seeing. I could relax, he said. But I didn't. How had I reached the point where I could no longer share things with my family? What kind of wife and mother was I?
Sight-seeing wasn't my only concern about going to Washington. While there, we would be staying with a former boyfriend of mine. We hadn't seen each other for years (I was under 200 pounds at our last meeting) and I was embarrassed. What would he think of me? Why did I get so fat?
The other concern involved my son, a wonderful then-thirteen-year-old. Our trip was planned around his Odyssey of the Mind world competition at the University of Maryland. I had coached his seven-member team and it had a good chance to win the finals. If they won, I would have to accompany the team up onstage to accept the award before an audience of thousands. (I wasn't sure I could even climb the steps to the stage.) I didn't want my son to be ashamed of me. I even thought of saying a prayer that the team wouldn't win. Now I really felt guilty! How could I have done this (gained so much weight) to myself and to my children, my wonderful children?
As the vacation drew closer, my questions multiplied. "Why?" "Why?" "Why?" The one question that kept coming to the forefront was "Why can't I lose weight?" I needed an answer, but, more important, I needed to dig deep inside myself and find the commitment, the strength, the motivation to succeed. I knew I needed to lose weight; I wanted to lose weight, but did I really want to do what was necessary to achieve this goal?
For the rest of the month, I spent some time each day concentrating on my strengths and asking God for help. Many times a day I looked at myself in the mirror and said out loud that I was worth good health. I worked on liking myself and, by taking a little time, I discovered that I not only liked myself, but I also loved my essence--that specialness that is me alone. (I continue these rituals daily and believe these efforts are what keeps the motivation in place.)
I dug deep inside myself and eliminated all the excuses ("my child is sick," "my husband lost his job," "my mother doesn't understand," "my children weren't good today," "I'm tired," and a million more) that had resulted in past diet failures. Instead, I concentrated on past successes and reviewed what it had taken to succeed.
Could I do it again? Could I lose weight finally and forever?
One day I awoke with such positive feelings that it was almost as if I had been "touched by an angel." (Too bad it wasn't the "fat fairy"--you know, the one with the magic wand who takes away all the fat while you're sleeping! The one who had never visited my house, but whom I continued to dream about and wish for... that is, until this day!) For whatever reason, when I awoke on May 26, 1993, I knew totally and deeply that I had reached the point where enough was enough. Also, I knew--deep down--that I would succeed. Slowly but surely I would lose weight and get fit.
I decided to seek help from my family and friends. I also decided to take a really big step and ask Family Circle magazine for help. That very morning I wrote to the editors of this popular women's magazine and made the following suggestion:
I propose that Family Circle help a forty-eight-year-old mother of three children save her life. The woman, an active and popular suburban at-home mom, is 150 pounds overweight and smokes up to three packs of cigarettes a day. She has spent more than thirty-five years on reducing diets--some successful for a while, some not. She has also tried for five years to give up smoking.
This woman is one and a half years away from her fiftieth birthday and knows if she doesn't do something now, she may not have another chance. She needs help to accomplish this major project. I propose that Family Circle provide her with a nutritionist, a diet plan, a smoke-ending program, and, more important, a medium to tell her story and struggles and provide her with someone (your readers) to whom she's accountable.
This woman wants to lose weight and give up smoking for herself. She wants to feel, look, and be healthy so that she can live a long life and enjoy her family.
I am this woman. I am the one who needs help, and I'm desperate.
Family Circle agreed to help. The magazine would pay for a nutritionist, who could also help eliminate the cigarettes, and I would share my challenge with its readers. It would take a few months to get everything in place. In the meantime, I stayed at 310 pounds. I ate and decided to wait.
I started my program in September 1993 and in January 1994 the magazine announced my 150-pound-weight-loss goal, complete with a photo of me in a leotard and tights. I was exposed. I was now "public." There was no turning back. I had to succeed, and I would!
Over the past five years Family Circle's readers have followed my progress. Viewers have seen me on The Maury Povich Show and other national television shows. Both readers and viewers have learned how Richard Simmons, one of the world's best fitness experts and motivators, has joined me, thanks to Family Circle, in my quest for success. He's helped me get to the finish line (and past it) and he's helping me keep the weight off.
I've lost 170 pounds, and because I followed a "slow but sure" philosophy, I've changed my whole life and lifestyle.
You, too, can change your lifestyle and, in turn, your life. This book will help you to achieve your own success in losing weight and getting fit. It contains my journal notes, lots of tips that have enabled me to reach success, and the knowledge that I have acquired during the past five years.
I didn't achieve this weight loss without a struggle. Experts didn't do it all for me. I worked very hard not to eat the pizza that my three teenagers brought into the house. It was especially hard to be "good" when my husband lost still another job during my battle. (We have now discovered he has severe attention deficit disorder, the reason for his job losses. Medication and counseling are helping.) I had to acquire special stamina when family and friends tried to sabotage my efforts (something they still do). I had to push myself--and still do--out of the house to go to the school track or the health club and walk three or four miles a day... or to get out of the chair and pop a Richard Simmons aerobic tape into my VCR and dance and stretch for forty minutes in my family room.
It hasn't been easy, but getting healthy and fit is doable. And I'm no different from you. I'm just your average wife and mother, your next-door neighbor, with all the same problems you have. The only difference is that I have learned, with a slow but sure approach, how to lose weight and get fit.
If I can do it, so can you!
Incidentally, the whole family had a wonderful time in Washington. I pushed myself and went on some of the sight-seeing trips with my husband and kids. The old boyfriend, although surprised by my weight gain, said I was as charming as ever (he's the charmer). And my son's team won the Odyssey of the Mind World Championship and I made it, although slowly, with my son at my side, up the steps to the stage for the awards presentation.