Like everyone else, I have heroes who inspire me. My heroes tend to be people around me who are quietly changing their lives, and in the process, changing the world. My friend Jennifer is one of my heroes. Formerly 450 pounds and a Type 2 diabetic, she’s now succeeding in turning her health around by making small, sustainable changes in her lifestyle choices, and has been able to stop taking insulin altogether. She met adversity head on, and found a way to turn an ugly situation into an inspiring, life affirming story. She tells it with grace, humor and wisdom.
When Amber asked me to guest post on her blog, I admit I was flattered. Ok, I was REALLY stoked. I mean, Amber, one of my personal heroes, asked ME about my process. Amazing. After I threw up, I told her I would be happy to write something for her.
First of all, you're probably wondering why Amber would ask me. If you saw me today, I'm a fat, slightly-older-than-middle-aged woman (52). I've been overweight virtually all my life except when my mom put me on speed in high school. The speed helped the most (oh, it was legal and called 'diet pills') in weight loss (and fabulous energy), and I was able to reach the greatest weight loss in my life – until now. I weighed less then, but had not even started to deal with why I was fat. I ballooned up to about 450 pounds and was unhappy, unhealthy and, honestly, I was dying. I worked high-stress jobs for toxic people. Then the first of some interesting things happened: I was laid off.
I think it might have saved my life.
I was devastated, however. It was a difficult time in our family life as my husband had recently lost his business. We lost our home, despite valiant attempts to save it. An amazing thing was happening, though: I started losing weight. Yes, part of it was most assuredly due to depression, though in the past depression had the opposite effect on me – I gained weight. I wasn't doing anything conscious, but people started commenting about how much weight I had lost. It irritated me a bit because I didn't want to look better. I was suffering, damn it! I had always avoided scales, but we bought one that had a capacity of 400 lbs. I was so excited to see how much I had lost that I jumped on it, only to receive the 'Err' message. OMG ' did I STILL weigh in excess of 400 pounds? After the panic subsided, I climbed back on, this time I followed the directions (to tap it first!) and saw that I weighed much less than 400 pounds. I had scored my first victory.
What had changed? First of all, I was out of the high-stress environment long enough to recognize that I didn't deal well with stress; I ate it. Interestingly, my foods of choice tend to be savory carbs, not sweets, but to combat the toxic nature of that stress and those job situations, I needed something sweet and I went for it. Ben and Jerry had become my co-therapists as well as Mike and Ike. They kept me safe and sane (or as near as I got). I was able to experience my stress in a different way and to RECOGNIZE it. And to realize that I did not have a very effective way of dealing with it. One great realization for me was that I did not have a particular problem with food, I had a particular problem with STRESS. So, I ate it.
Another interesting thing was that I started noticing things about food. I remember once in Smart and Final looking around and realizing that almost everything in there was processed food. THAT was a bit of a revelation. I hadn't made the delineation in my head between processed foods and non-processed. Now, in my defense, I was generally always a scratch cook, so that wasn't the problem. What started to happen was that I was waking up. I was coming out of what was a kind of food coma in that I was on autopilot most of the time. I don't LIKE to have to think about food. I don't like to have to think about myself. I was taught that I came last. Everyone else first. That was virtue.
That was bullshit.
Part of the truth of me was that I had to grow up a little bit. Take responsibility for myself ' my actions (or inactions), what had happened because of my inattention and willfulness. There had to be some kind of alchemy to losing weight, right? Nope. It's as simple as use more than you take in. Really. Swear-to-God. Yeah, I wish it weren't quite so cut and dried, but it is, and, actually, that's also the good news. You don't have to read 7 million diet books (but if you want to, I have them!) to lose weight. What's the secret? You have to pay attention.
You also have to educate yourself. I'm delighted that some restaurants in California are posting calorie counts. They may help you make a less caloric, perhaps more healthful choice, but if you choose the high-calorie dish, you made an informed choice. It's on you ' perhaps literally.
So this is how I have lost in excess of 150 pounds and am still moving forward. I do not beat myself up when I experience some, er, slippage and revert back to my former ways. I also don't fall as far as I used to for as long.
People are always asking 'What are you doing'? with regard to how I've lost such a substantial amount of weight. There is NO SECRET. None. Anyone who tells you different is selling something. There are certainly different approaches and you must do the work and find out the one that works for you.
Weight loss is not a success-only journey. It's okay to fall as long as you get up more than you fall down. As a matter of fact, it might be good that you DO fall so that you can learn how to get back up. Go gentle on yourself. Forgive screw ups (especially your own!). You didn't gain all the excess weight in a day, so don't try to get rid of it all by next Thursday. (I didn't originate that comment, but I can't remember who did. I found it absolutely inspirational.)
Stay the course. Examine your life. Do what is good for you. You might even learn to love it ' I did!
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I am impressed by your efforts and the way you have turned your health around. However, I think that you are much too quick to dismiss the concern that many have regarding carbohydrate intake. Everyone is different, but for many of us cutting out carbs is immensely important.
My story is quite different to yours but just as valid I think. My wife is an athlete and there was no way that I could get away with not exercising. In spite of regularly running, up to 2hours, or mountain biking up to 7hours in a session, by my early 50′s I weighed 200lbs which is quite overweight when you are only 5ft 6in. After I was diagnosed as Type 2 diabetic, I did some research. After cutting out carbs, I ate more calories in the form of protein and fat and also upped my vegetable intake. In a matter of months I lost 30lb and it was easy! OK I also exercised even more than before but that was because it was easier and more satisfying with less weight. Without medication, my blood sugar levels are in the non-diabetic range. My triglycerides fell by a factor of 5, from totally awful to very good. Total cholesterol down by a third to fair to good, hdl/ldl the same.
As I said, we are all of us different but there is very strong medical research that says that carbs are not good at all for diabetics or pre-diabetics, which is a lot of us. When 12 academic researchers present an open letter to the Lancet begging the medical establishment to stop pushing the carb-laden food triangle at diabetics because all the actual research contradicted it, I don’t think that your confidence in the “conventional” medical view is all that valid. In fact, a startlingly high proportion of “conventional” medicine is not “evidence-based” at all, but based on the hunches of cabals of self-appointed experts. It has been rightly criticized as being “reputational-based”. The medical profession seems to be getting its act together nowadays, at last, but there is still a huge inertia, due to the number of senior medical pundits with reputations to preserve.
The fact is, unlike any other food group, carbs are not essential to health. We can easily get the calories, vitamins and minerals we need from a balanced diet of other food. Some people can tolerate carbs well, others especially those with sub-par endocrine systems are much better avoiding them.
There is no doubt that excess body fat interferes with insulin effectiveness. Carbs, especially high GI carbs, make it much harder to loose weight, because of the appetite-stimulating effect of the blood-sugar spike they cause. That is certainly my own experience. I dieted for years, sensible non-fad diets, but my weight just crept up with age, in spite of exercising way more than average for my age. Cutting the carbs just made dieting so easy, I rarely felt hungry, in spite of the weight just falling off.
Incidentally the GI research shows that the whole “complex carbohydrate” story was just simply made up by the “conventional medicine experts”. Far from being a good food, potato gives twice the glucose surge of the same weight of pure sugar! That’s real, totally repeatable research that is easily explained biochemically. How can anyone still have any confidence in dietary recommendations made by the people who came up with that schoolboy howler?
I am NOT criticizing your approach to health. It obviously works for you. However, by your sweeping dismissal of the carbs story you could very well be doing a serious disservice to those to whom it could be vital, like me.
Hi Peter, I’m not sure if you’re directing your comments at me or Jen, but I’ve always acknowledged that restricting carbs can be very helpful in mitigating the symptoms of insulin resistance.
(It just doesn’t do much to address the cause.)
I don’t tell people what to eat or not eat. People who are metabolically healthy don’t need to be on highly restrictive diets. People who are NOT metabolically healthy should be working with a qualified medical professional to implement any dietary restrictions that professional deems appropriate. That is the extent of my dietary recommendations.
Yes I intended to answer your rejection of carb avoidance in your latest post but somehow got it in here. Any chance of moving it to the right place? Sorry if I confused Jen or anyone else here.
I’m sorry but I just don’t agree that your reply matches either my own experience or a large body of peer reviewed research. Fat causes insulin resistance, especially male-pattern abdominal fat. It may not be the only cause, but it’s an important one. So restricting carbs treats both symptoms and cause. Eliminating carbs makes it far easier to loose fat for many people, because by eliminating the glucose surge and consequent insulin over-release It gets rid of the hungry-20min-after-eating effect. For the same reason it greatly improves the chances of keeping it off. And we need the help, after 5 years the vast majority of dieters will have regained all that they have lost. For the vast majority, willpower is just not enough to last for the rest of their lives.. We have to be realistic and recognize that ,just as the 47% are not useless benefit-fraudsters, the 90% who cannot keep the weight off are not all hopeless backsliders.
As for the symptoms, that is just as important. For people with diabetes and for the many times more who have insulin resistance every shot of glucose in the diet is more work for the Islets of Langerhans. These poor little cells have been laboring like trojans for years, pumping out more and more insulin to try and overcome the insulin resistance. If the workload doesn’t let up, eventually they die and you are on insulin injections for life. Carbohydrate is just another word for poly-sugar and a lot of that sugar is glucose, nearly 100% for potato.
Although I totally agree with you that exercise is vital, my experience is that it is not enough. I have always exercised a lot and it didn’t suffice on it’s own. It was also a heck of a lot easier to step up the exercise after loosing the weight.
Could have been my story, we even share a name! I started at close to 500 pounds and now I’m down 130 or so. It’s a daily thing, like you say you have to get back up when you fall. I feel like I have become my own personal chemistry experiment! lol I’m so glad you shared, and I’m glad an acquaintance with the Stumptuous crowd on Facebook pointed me to this blog! I had been struggling with the whole idea of calories versus carbs and my strong need to go vegan in spite of what it may do to my weight room gains. I have found this blog so helpful in a lot of ways. I hope you keep up all you’ve learned, Jennifer and know we are all rootin’ for ya! '
Thank you Jennifer (and Amber!) for sharing your story. When you said, “One great realization for me was that I did not have a particular problem with food, I had a particular problem with STRESS. So, I ate it.” it really struck a chord with me and it was a great revelation! I gave up on myself many months ago but after coming back to the GoKaleo blog/FB page, and now reading your story, they’ve inspired me to realize again that I’m worth taking care of and that I don’t need a PhD to do it!
Sandi! I am so happy to see you!
I very much enjoyed reading this beautiful woman’s story. It is so refreshing to read a success story based on a person finding out what works for them.
What an awesome story. Does this woman know she’s a hoot too? She can write and tell a story good. Just love how she shared this..being on speed [diet pills], reading 7 million diet books, her co-therapists Ben and Jerry, Mike and Ike. [Who by the way aren't very good therapists since Mike and Ike who've broken up and are no longer a team. ]
Great success story. Great writer. Great humor. Great lady!
Thank you all for your kind words!
We are all on the same path; the heroic resides inside us all! You have the strength and grace to do this. No one is beyond hope. At my highest weight, I thought I’d never get back in some kind of control. I weigh today what I did when I was 25, and I’m 52 today. If you don’t grab the brass ring the first time, don’t worry. It WILL come around again
Thanks for the story, Jennifer, great to hear!
I love this! Way to go Jennifer. Love, larissa who lost 100 lbs and got off metformin januvia and a cpap machine
Want to tell your story, Larissa?
Wow! Super Story, and full of truth in that there is no Secret, there is only the unique style that works for you!
More Stories like this Amber!!
Lots more coming down the pipeline!!
That is an amazing story, similar to mine, but I, in no way have lost as much. I started at 234 and now am at 192. Slowly and steadily. I screw up too, and I had to grow up as well. Take responsibility for me and pay attention. You have it spot on! Congratulations to you, you WILL go the course!!!!!
“It's okay to fall as long as you get up more than you fall down.” Thank you Jennifer! That is what I need to teach myself. You and I are the same age (I’ll be 52 in December) and your story is an inspiration. I don’t have a lot to lose but I want to go into my senior years as physically healthy as I can be.
“If you want to, I have them!” lol. Good work, Jennifer. To your efforts.