Losing weight is no joke. Infomercials for new diet plans and exercise videos make it look so easy. Everyone gushes about how fast they shed the pounds. Reality shows that even 10 solid pounds is a mountain to conquer. Most people who are obese (body mass index greater than 30) who walk into my nutrition clinic say they want to lose 50 pounds if not more. Only a handful ever reach that number. Most lose somewhere between 10-20 pounds over one year. Keeping it off is another chapter, and I don't call it success unless the weight lost stays off. Those who have permanently lost a lot of weight never say it's easy. They realize it's a complete lifestyle change that targets your home and work environment, your ingrained eating habits, and your friends' and family's support (or lack of). If you can get that under control, you still have to deal with constant visual stimulation from media food porn, unexpected stressful events that may throw you off, and societal pressure to look a certain way or weigh an exact number on the scale.
So if I meet someone who has lost and kept off a lot of weight, I'm seriously impressed. If they've lost the weight without pills or a silly diet that omits entire food groups, I'm floored. I met that person this year in Zumba class, April Lamrock. When I first saw her, my instant impression was a very pretty girl who looked strong and confident. I'd never guess that a year ago she had weighed more than 300 pounds.
April grew up overweight, not physically active and not eating healthfully. Her parents never cooked meals at home and ordered take out or fast food. She became a picky eater.
When she reached her peak weight at 309 in January 2013, she joined the Tanger Be Well Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. She attributes the staff leaders in the program in helping her to lose weight slowly but steadily in the next several months with a no-frills plan of exercising and eating a sensible diet. She was intimidated by the fitness aspect as she had never exercised before but they were encouraging and helped her ease into it. She started exercising three days a week with 20 minutes of cardio and 20 minutes of strength training. After a few months she had worked up to six days a week of 30 minutes each of cardio and strength training. April recalls what helped the most was when the staff would check in with her if she had skipped a day or two. She needed accountability.
Regarding eating, April says that she already knew what to do. But because she was a picky eater, certain foods like whole grains, fresh fruit and fish weren't an option. Chicken and broccoli became her staples. Her main challenge was and still is to expand the variety in her diet.
Because of her discipline and determination with a consistent exercise regimen of one hour 5-6 days a week, cutting out fast food, and eating more lean protein and vegetables, she lost weight to 193 pounds by the end of November 2013.
April admits that this year old habits have crept back, along with the weight. She has less drive. "Now that I've lost the weight and feel I can look good in clothes, there isn’t as much motivation to keep eating right. I have since gone to see a nutritionist and she gave me a few tips." She's considering joining a weight management support group and has resumed logging into MyFitnessPal, which helped before. "Hopefully having the cold hard facts right there will make me stop eating badly."
I only know April through Zumba class, so right now she only sees me as her Zumba instructor. But as a nutritionist I'm dying to tell her that healthy eating is not only chicken and broccoli and salads. I'd encourage her to try one new food a week, and I'd show her easy recipes that taste amazing. I'd tell her that negative reinforcement ("bad foods" mentality) rarely pushes people in the right direction for long, because they end up forever craving those forbidden foods. I've already told her that even though she's discouraged with her weight regain, even right now she has the curvy fit body that most Zumba instructors wish for and that she needs to let her body find its way, rather than beating it up to reach a personal low or meet a body mass index number. Weight loss without a gimmick or magic bullet can be a long tedious journey with highs and lows. But real permanent change takes time because it's not just about losing weight; it's about making peace with your body, learning to treat it with respect by responding to its physiological and emotional needs, and discovering who you are beyond your size whether you're a skinny minny or have 10 pounds to go. Easier said than done I know, so I'll just end with a favorite quote:
Never give up, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn —Harriet Beecher Stowe