I’m overweight. I’ve been overweight since 1986. And, just to be clear, I don’t mean 20-30 pounds overweight. I mean a bit more than that. My tale isn’t unique, but it is my tale. So, I thought the new year would be a good time for me to share my story, including what I’m doing about it and what has helped me – to some degree. Because, like the headline suggests, I’m taking steps to be a consistent soldier to win my own health and weight battle.
A “Little” Family History
I thought I’d start with a little history. I grew up with five brothers and both parents (they separated and divorced in the late ‘80s). We were active kids who played outside, rode bikes, played sports, or in my case, danced. My parents struggled only a little with their weight. One or two of my brothers were a little pudgy as kids, but on the whole, we were all pretty average. Then we hit our 20s. As young adults all six of us began gaining weight (though my brother Greg kept his weight somewhat under control by his insatiable wanderlust and walking).
Fast forward to 2023. Two of my brothers have passed away. The oldest, Mark, died in 2021 from the side effects of smoking and diabetes. The second oldest, Kevin, died of bariatric complications in 2008. Kevin struggled the most with his weight – he was considered whatever comes after morbidly obese. Next in line, Greg, struggles with his weight to a lesser degree but has Type II diabetes. Then there’s me (number four) – you’ll learn more about me soon. My younger brothers, Sean and Scott, struggle terribly with their weight and have been diagnosed with Type II diabetes as well (but as of this writing, Sean has improved to pre-diabetic – so happy for his progress!). Side note: I have asked permission from my three brothers and my sister-in-law to share this information.
As for me, once I graduated from college my weight crept up a little each year. My career was sedentary in nature. I didn’t take part in a consistent exercise program. I didn’t eat particularly healthily. Again, not a unique story. I always thought I would get it under control at some point. I tried diets (but nothing crazy). I tried aerobics classes. I’d lose 20 and then gain it back and more. A couple of times I’d lose 40 pounds and thought – I get it – I’ve got this. Then it would creep back. I’m 59 now, so if you do the math – this has been going on for about 35 years. Wow, it's a lot for me to see that in writing.
How Being Overweight Has Taken Its Toll
The weight has affected my life to say the least. I’ve had two bone spur/Achilles repairs, two total knee replacements (I’ll give my dance teams in high school and college just a teeny responsibility for them). I had gestational diabetes when I was pregnant with my son. And, in 2014, I was diagnosed with breast cancer (with only a little bit of distant family history). I blame all of these health challenges on my weight and the unpleasant extras that come along with it. To date, though, I haven’t been diagnosed with diabetes.
There were other ways that my weight affected my quality of life. I traveled for work somewhat often, which was great, but it was much more uncomfortable than it should have been. My chances to see and do things on vacations or work trips were sometimes limited by my size (although I tried hard to keep up with others – I just didn’t always succeed). Another negative side effect was a bit more heartbreaking for me. I was convinced that my weight held me back at work. I don’t mean that it impacted my quantity or quality of work, but instead I felt it lessened the respect that I received from co-workers and leadership. This is my perception. I can’t guarantee that’s how it was, but it is how I felt. And it was something I could change. Which made it feel even worse.
So, What Have I Done About It?
After I completed treatment for breast cancer (during which I lost weight), I eventually celebrated by eating my favorite foods that tasted good again. A year later, in October 2017, I found myself at my heaviest weight ever. Even my two closest friends very respectfully and kindly hinted that it was time to start working on it (and I loved them for it). So, I went to Weight Watchers (where I had been a member on several previous occasions) to begin a weight loss journey, again. I also joined a gym (Planet Fitness) and embarked on a more consistent plan of exercise (but I will stress – I was no gym rat, ha!). In the next year, I lost as much as 85 lbs. It was the first time I lost more than 40 pounds without gaining it back.
Even with that weight loss, I still had more to go, but people noticed. I had support from friends. I was receiving consistent compliments from colleagues at work. Some were even concerned I was sick again. The feedback felt good, reassuring. I felt more in control. And I felt a bit more respected; people seemed kinder. I’m not talking about close friends. I mean co-workers, colleagues, sometimes even work leadership. But I have to wonder, why? I was still the same Heather, I just weighed less. I understand respecting someone because of their achievements, but at work, I thought it was my work product alone that was being judged. It didn’t feel that way.
In 2019, the weight loss had steadied, but it allowed me to do a couple of things I wouldn’t have been able to do before. I kayaked! I got into a kayak, I fit, and it didn’t tip over. It was fun! That same summer I went to Universal Orlando and fit (comfortably!) on the ride, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. I was elated. I literally cried tears of joy. It was an incredible ride, but that elation was matched by the happiness I felt by being *able* to be on the ride. I’m going to stop and give a shoutout here. My friend Andrea was with me and encouraged me and challenged me through both of those experiences. Thank you, Andrea.
The Battle Rages On
With the onset of the pandemic in 2020, I, like millions of others, gained weight. I am happy to say I did not gain back all 85 pounds, but I gained back more than I am proud to share. I stayed with Weight Watchers (at first via Zoom and then back in person when it was safer). But the gym didn’t feel safe to me, and I have a person at home I was trying hard to protect from COVID. I could have been more active at home, but an occasional walk was my only exercise. I’d lose 10 pounds, gain it back. Lose five, then gain it back. This went on until last spring when my brother Sean (a high school athletic director and head football coach) decided to challenge the family with monthly challenges (more to come on this). Those challenges inspired me, and slowly I got out of the yo-yo fight and began losing again. I was also motivated by a knee replacement in October, knowing that the more weight I lost, the better it would be for me in recovery.
I’m 11 weeks post-knee surgery and slowly returning to the gym. Mindful and more healthy eating took a holiday in half of December, but I returned to in-person Weight Watchers meetings just this past Saturday (love my WW-mates and coach!). I am moving back into a soldier mindset, trying to be consistent – not perfect – in my intentions and actions.
Changing Motivations From Vanity to Health
My goal now, and forever more, is to improve my health. I don’t want to have any more surgeries (please, no!), and I really want to fend off a recurrence of breast cancer. I don’t want to become diabetic. And, frankly, I want life to feel more physically comfortable in retirement (hopefully, a very long retirement). No longer are my thoughts about what I look like in pants, a dress, shorts, or a bathing suit. I just want to feel good, travel more easily, and live a joyful life. And maybe ride that Harry Potter ride again!
Here’s What Has Worked Best for Me*
*Important: I’m not a doctor; I don’t pretend to be a doctor. I’ll share what’s worked best for me, but one must do what’s best for oneself (with the support and advice of one’s doctor).
Here is what has worked best for me (to date):
Diet Plan. I am a Weight Watchers devotee. I like the workshops, I like the plan, I like the use of technology (great app). I find that when I’m honestly tracking, I get results. It’s the most powerful part of the plan for me. And I like that the plan now includes four pillars – nutrition, movement, sleep, and mindfulness. I love this plan so much more than the one I followed in the ‘80s!
Challenges. I’m a competitive person (remember I told you I grew up with five brothers?!). I use that for motivation in spurts.
My brother Sean started a Facebook group for the family to take part in occasional challenges. The challenges were specific and included food challenges as well as activity and mindfulness challenges. I actually printed out a calendar and gave myself a gold star every day that I was successful.
Every few months I took part in a DietBet. You bet money that you will lose 4 percent of your weight over the course of a month. If you succeed, you split the pot with all the others who “won.”
The Weight Watchers app also has a lot of short-term challenges you can take part in to get you on track. I use them to jumpstart the habit of tracking. You get a little virtual badge, but that’s enough to get my competitive juices flowing!
Intermittent Fasting. I’ve dabbled in this tactic in the last year. I’ve only done the 16:8 version (8-hour eating window, 16 hours fasting), but it has helped me be more mindful of food and what I am putting in my mouth during those 8 hours. I initially wanted to try this as a way to work on insulin resistance. I find the 16:8 fasting realistic for my lifestyle with only an occasional social outing throwing it off from time to time. By the way, I use the free version of the Fastic app.
Movement. Again, I’m not a gym rat. I go because I know I need to. Until now, I’ve stuck to the treadmill, recumbent bike, some leg machines, and a stretching chair. I know I need to add weights to my visits, and I will strive to do that. The trick is getting up and going – because once I’m there, all is good and I’m happy to do the work.
Mindset. What I will say is that I’ve learned (and am still learning) that consistency is what wins the day – not perfection. Willpower, for me, is not the answer. It’s not giving up, even when I’ve had a bad day or week or month. I keep engaged in the fight by talking to friends who get it. I follow influencers on socials who rev me up. And I support talking to someone – especially professionals – who can help you learn the root of your health challenges.
I am still working on getting where I want to be with my health/weight, but I know I won’t ever really give up on myself. There’s a power in that. And there’s joy in knowing I can ride that Harry Potter ride again someday. I hope you will share with me your struggles, your achievements, and the positive steps you’ve taken to feel your best.