From Fat to Fit

I have been inundated with requests to take people through my lifestyle change journey and have decided, after answering countless personal emails and typing the same things over and over again, to try and narrate for you my journey, what helped me, what didn’t help, and some things that I’m still working to improve. We are already almost through January 2011 and I imagine some of you have been successful in your resolutions and are full swing into your weight loss and/or fitness/health journey and there are others of you that caved the second the Valentine’s Day displays went up at the stores and you caught glimpse of the beloved lover “chocolate”.

After overdosing on yummy food goodness for at least a month between Thanksgiving and Christmas, most people heave a disappointed sigh as they try to fit into their pants. Having already started the holidays with a few extra pounds they vowed to get off the year prior, they just give in for “one more month” with a renewed declaration in their spirits to try again next year. Well, next year is here and some of those people are currently beating themselves up because they are already off the wagon again. Oh well, better luck next time in 2012 they say. That person was me in 2009. Every year since I can remember I’ve been vowing to lose weight. This blog is my story of journey and triumph.

If you could add up all the diets I’ve been on, all the books on food and dieting I’ve read, and the number of exercise related paraphernalia I’ve purchased in my life, I’m sure you’d be blown away. In fact, I ought to have my Medical Degree in nutrition by now earned by life credits and personal development. It may surprise you to learn a few things about me that I don’t like to talk about. Believe it or not, there are things I don’t like to discuss. For the sake of helping my friends, acquaintances, and even just random women down the street, I will share with you.
Number one, before my two pregnancies and subsequent weight gain, I actually, at one point in my life, struggled with anorexic behaviors. It was actually humiliating for me to admit this at one point because how could a 5’7” 98 pound girl balloon to where I had gotten. How’s that for recovery? Believe it or not, people with disordered eating can easily swing from anorexia to morbid obesity. It really is the same faulty thought patterns that get people. I personally know several obese people that struggle with bulimia and anorexia. I encourage you to not make judgments on peoples eating and fitness levels when you don’t know their story. Number two fact played into my lifestyle change was the fact that my dad was in his 30’s when his health began to fail. He died at 51. Realizing that I was turning 30 in 2010 really took me to a place mentally that few can understand. It’s not about growing older. It’s not about impending wrinkles or vanity, but it was about the fact that my life could already be half over. I have so many relatives that didn’t live very long or healthy lives. My blood Bentley relatives can attest to you that our genetics are some sort of ticking time bomb and they are definitely not conducive to being thin and healthy. The Bentley relatives that are thin and healthy work overtime to be so. We are not natural hotties, but we’re geniuses, guess you can’t have it all 🙂

My struggles with weight began at age 14 when I realized I was fat. I know my mom will read this and weep and say “Jessica how could you think that”, but those of you that knew me then and don’t have the maternal emotional ties will attest to the fact that this was true. I really and truly did need to lose weight. I was ending Junior High and beginning high school and wanted to be attractive to the opposite sex. Puberty really has a way of messing with your head. I began a healthy, balanced diet that quickly spiraled into an unhealthy intake of only 500 calories at the most a day coupled with lots of exercise and quick, out of control weight loss. I’m sure this time period in my life destroyed my metabolism. I would not say that I was anorexic in a classic sense because anorexics cannot see what they are doing to themselves and often times still view themselves as fat. I did not view myself as fat; in fact, I viewed myself as superior to everyone else. They had to eat to live and I didn’t. I had power over it. To make an incredibly long story short, my wakeup call came at a Doctor’s appointment when I was 15 and at 5’7” weighed 98 pounds, had a blood sugar of 12 and was told my liver would fail within a year if I didn’t start eating better. Miraculously, this was all I needed to know. I certainly didn’t want to die. I also had such kind friends (you know who you are) that started calling me “skelator”. This actually didn’t’ help me. I knew this was their way to express how scared they felt about my condition but in reality it just made me feel more superior. I was skinnier than anybody and everyone knew it. I was awesome.

After my wake up call, I was told to gain weight. This was amazing to me. I had never needed to gain weight. I was always fat. I didn’t enter this next phase of my journey very well. I started eating like a crazy person. My body was probably malnourished so was prompting me to eat constantly. My weight went up practically overnight. I wish I had stayed at 135 pounds on my way up the scale, but at some point I quit caring about my weight again. I wanted to be attractive, but at the time had boyfriends and male suitors, so I guess I was accomplishing that on some level. In retrospect, all of this insanity I’m sure was tied into the stress of long term illness. My dad’s kidneys failed when I was in 3rd grade and so for years he was on a doctor’s restricted diet. Our whole house revolved around sodium content, sugar content, and the scale. When your kidneys fail, you have to weigh yourself several times a day because you aren’t peeing at all. You have to make sure the water doesn’t build up too much. I guarantee that my weight loss, although necessary and healthy initially, spiraled into something I could control in my life. My dad went on to a kidney transplant when I was 10 but battled everything in the book for the next 14 years after that until he died. I bet people really don’t know the extent of the stress in my family because my dad was an eternal optimist, a genius, and a hard worker. I even had myself convinced he wasn’t as sick as he really was. Perhaps my over control of calories went the opposite way when I was told to gain weight.

Whichever way you swing, if you are on the anorexic end or overeating end, ultimately you have a very unhealthy relationship with food. One thing that changed my journey was to stop looking at food as anything other than fuel. I still enjoy eating. I love the act of eating with my family and friends. I love to cuddle with a bowl of ice cream on the couch with my husband and enjoy the silence of my kids being in bed. I love celebrating the holidays with food. The only difference this time is that I listen to my body. Food is not your friend or your enemy, it is just food. It won’t make you happy or change your life. An apple tastes just as good as apple pie. So, unless it’s a holiday, why sabotage yourself with the unhealthier choice?

If you sat down to read this thinking you were getting a light hearted blog about weight loss, you are surprised by now I’m sure! I don’t feel like I can be truly honest about how I came to this point without sharing all of that with you. For most people, weight loss isn’t just about food or weight, it’s about stuff much deeper and more complex, so unless you deal with all of that, you’ll just keep yo-yo dieting. I overcame my food issues years ago. Once I got married, I settled happily into life and didn’t really think about food much. I just enjoyed eating. I gained about 15 wedding pounds and then got pregnant with my first son. I then gained 25 pounds being pregnant and lost only about 15 of those pounds after he was born. If you’re not good at math, I’ll spell it out. That means I started my second pregnancy 25 pounds bigger than I was on my wedding day. I gained 30 pounds in my second pregnancy and then was thrown into a whirlwind of life 6 months after giving birth. We moved, began traveling full time to cast vision for the church we were to be starting in Cleveland, and living on an insane schedule. I had lost a few of the pregnancy pounds but found myself actually gaining instead of losing. Because of our travel schedule and preaching at churches all over the country, we were eating out constantly, eating out at weird hours of the day, and offered very few healthy choices and options. I was also caring for a toddler and infant who had no structure or schedule due to the insane nature of our life at the time. I nursed both of my children for the first year and didn’t find the weight loss benefit from it that many of my friends find.

Add to this the death of my dad right before my first pregnancy and pretty much, I had a recipe for disaster. I stood on the scale one morning at the end of 2009 and declared, “I will not be this person anymore.” I was going to lose weight healthy and normally, rid my mind of both the anorexic extremist control of my early teenage years and of the “lassiez-faire” attitude of marriage and motherhood, and get my health in order. I was turning 30 and I wanted to do everything in my power to make sure my sons have a mother that lives to be older than 51. None of my dad’s illnesses were weight related and I might still get some long term illness even trying to live healthy, but I need to know I’m doing everything in my power to lose weight.
I have not used supplements or pills. I have done this the old fashioned way. I have taken all the advice, tidbits, and pieces of knowledge I have gathered over the years and with trial and error applied all the things that work for me. First off, I joined Curves. Curves is a gym for women. Cuyahoga County offered free memberships through the Cleveland Clinic’s Go Fit program last year so I didn’t have to pay any startup fee or monthly fee for 6 full months. The program made you get weighed and measured weekly and if you didn’t go a minimum of 3 times, they charged you. I literally despise wasting money so that was a major motivator and the weekly weigh in’s kept me accountable. I got up at 6:30 am and hit the gym 3 times a week to start off. The weight began to fall off me. It was amazing. I was following the Curves Weight management plan which is almost identical to weight watchers. You have free fruits and vegetables and an emphasis on protein. It doesn’t eliminate carbs, but carbs are no longer your main fuel source. I even allowed myself every Sunday to eat whatever I wanted and didn’t deprive myself during the week. My main key was exercise and counting calories. I use Live Strong/the Daily Plate. They have a website or you can download their APP for your smartphone. I used Live Strong to determine my calorie count for the day, count my calories, and log my food choices. I still use Live Strong. It provides you with the knowledge you need. I bet you’d be shocked if you actually realized how many calories you truly need to how many you are actually consuming. I’ve been one to make healthier choices even at my most overweight points, but I obviously was very unaware of how much was truly going in.

I’m sorry this isn’t a lose weight quick blog. I have found that losing weight quickly doesn’t work. It doesn’t deal with the issues you have surrounding food and body image and it doesn’t’ deal with the bigger picture of how you can come up with a plan that you can live with. It doesn’t change your lifestyle. The fact of the matter is calories in, calories out. The fact is that you can be thin and skinny without being healthy. If been thin or skinny is your goal, I’m probably not the person to motivate you. Jillian Michael’s calls these people “Fat-Skinny People”. Being thin or skinny doesn’t mean you are physically fit, healthy, or happy. I have learned through all of my dieting, food issues, and loss/grief issues due to my dad’s health problems and subsequent death that you are in charge of your own happiness. As a Christian, my joy comes from God. This world wants to rob you of your joy and your self-worth as a human being, and especially as women. God just wants you to be the best you that you can be. My goal is to be healthy. I can serve God, my family, and my fellow man better when I’m healthy. Don’t get me wrong, I do want to be thin, but my health matters more to me.

The fitness gains I earned at Curves pushed me into pursuing what I once thought was impossible. I’ve never been athletic. Even at my thinnest points, I wasn’t truly physically fit. I’ve always enjoyed moving and never been lazy, but most exercise attempts stopped at just speed walking. Now, with Curves, I was doing circuit training, strength training, and cardio and began to feel the need to step it up. My husband had picked back up his quest to be healthy too and mentioned he wanted to do a marathon. I thought, why not, and told him I wanted to join him in a half marathon. My first few days out I couldn’t even run a mile. With a combination of walk/running, Curves, and marathonrookie.com, I was able to train for and run the 13.1 mile Akron Half-Marathon in 2:34 and that time includes my bathroom breaks so the run was probably more like 2:28.

My story is still ongoing. I’m not to the end of my journey. If weight loss was my ultimate goal, I’m about 10 pounds from my ideal “dream” weight, but it’s not my ultimate goal. I’m currently 26% body fat but would like to be 21%-24% which is optimum fitness for a girl. I’d like to take my health the next level by reducing/eliminating diet drinks, reducing/eliminating artificial sweeteners, and eating foods with very few ingredients. Jillian Michaels says to only eat things that have a mother or that came straight from the ground. I also am trying to not eat foods that have ingredients in them that you need a PhD to pronounce or describe. I’m still working on this. The call of the “hydrogenated” sirens is sometimes too hard to resist. I’d also like to further reduce sodium. I’m a work in progress and God calls me fearfully and wonderfully made. I’ve learned to love the way I look and not compare myself to the Kim Kardashians of the world. Fact of the matter is that normal women don’t look like that because we don’t engage in plastic surgery, have the money for personal trainers, and have personal chefs. I don’t compare myself to my friends that are several inches shorter than me or have a smaller bone structures anymore. I am who I am and God ordained me to be who I am and I’m enjoying every second of my full life in Christ and with my friends and family. Life is a precious gift and I want mine to be as long and healthy as possible.

Helpful hints:
1) Drink lots of water. Not only does it fill you up but it actually increases your metabolism by as much as 30% for 40-45 minutes after drinking it.
2) Eat tons of fiber. This fills you up and helps your body clear out toxins. (Hey, I said it as nice as I could)
3) Eat lots of fruits and vegetables (Sorry. No getting around this)
4) Exercise a minimum of 3 days a week. Having no time is not a good excuse. Make time even if it means setting the alarm an hour early every day.
5) Don’t let money be an excuse. A lack of money is not a good excuse to not eat healthy and exercise. You will either pay in lots of medical bills and health related problems or pay to purchase healthier groceries and for the necessary exercise gear. Either way, eventually you’ll pay. Let health be a priority. Cancel your Cable TV if you have to. Being healthy is more important.
6) Have a good support system. Lots of people have actually tried to discourage me believe it or not. I tune these voices out with the voices of my champions and supporters. Don’t let fat, jealous, miserable, unhealthy people steer your course. Find your true friends and family and let them support you. My husband Jonathan was my #1 cheerleader. He was my workout partner and was happy to help me make healthier choices.
7) Motivate yourself. Ultimately unless you are internally motivated you’ll fail. It is not everyone and their brother’s job to keep you constantly propped up. You have to be your own ally. Set small goals and reward yourself for each one that you meet. Don’t set 75 pounds as your goal. Set 10 pounds, celebrate when you reach that goal, and then set another one.
8) Read and Watch things about health and wellness. I like all the Biggest Loser stuff, all the marathon/weight/wellness documentaries, and books about health. Jillian Michaels “Master your Metabolism” is extreme, but I incorporated some of it and liked it. The book “Spark” is great. Runners World magazine has also been a great addition to my reading. Curves has a weight management book that details their plan that is helpful and there are countless websites and blogs that you can tap into. Educate yourself. I love all of the books in the “Eat this, Not that” series. They are tips that require almost no brain to follow. The books are basically picture books. Hit up your local library. This will save you lots of money in the reading department and you can consume more knowledge that way.
9) Learn to recognize true hunger and not just eat to eat or because you feel like you need to because it’s “meal time”. I’m still working on this.
10) Believe in and value yourself. You are worth it! Don’t let spouses or children or jobs stress you to the point that you stop taking care of yourself. Exercise is an amazing way to clear your mind and make you a better you.

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4 thoughts on “From Fat to Fit”

  1. All I can say is "Thank you!" I know we don't know each other so well, but I have followed your weight loss and have to say you are an inspiration to me! Thanks so much for sharing this and being so honest about your life! God bless you and your family! Sharon

  2. You inspire me!I too am trying to make changes to better myself via weight loss in 2011. I started out cutting pop and caffeine and drinking more water.Curves…I will have to look into that. I have been wanting to find a place to work out. Sounds like it's someone to be accountable to and I need that!God bless your New Year!

  3. I remember you at 15 and wowzers, I know I was scared for you. Thank God for His protection and hand on your life. While I'm getting a headstart by using prescription weight loss pills, I can assure you that it is not a quick fix 🙂 It is very motivating to have an immediate drastic change, and like I told my friend yesterday, why in the world did I wait so long to realize that I don't have to be overweight for the rest of my life?!

  4. Amazing, inspiring, informational, and encouraging blog!!!! So good and I LOVE the fact that you reiterate that there is NO quick fix…it's truly lifestyle changes….anything quick is unhealthy. You ROCK…keep up the good work and keep on motivating!!!

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