Take Charge of Your Health

My Weight Loss Journey

I used to read the height and weight charts posted in my doctor’s office and think that I would never, ever be in an acceptable weight range for my height. I no longer have to wonder what it would feel like to be in “goal” range because I am almost there. Kristin Kipp has been encouraging me to document my story for the Wellness Blog; it is probably no surprise that today, I finally had the courage to do so. If you read to the end of my story, you’ll understand why.

It feels as though I have always struggled with my weight. I never lost the final 20 pounds after giving birth to my third daughter. I’m fortunate in that my husband has always loved and accepted me regardless of my size. In 2006 I was on a path to being the heaviest weight of my life; I received a cancer diagnosis that required a year of treatment and left me with severe anemia. I landed on the couch for almost two years and I gained 35 pounds. Although I probably had a really good excuse for the way my body looked in 2008, when my oldest daughter announced her engagement, I was not about to walk her down the aisle at the heaviest weight of my life. I managed to lose 25-30 pounds for the wedding and have been able to sustain that loss over the last five and a half years.

Despite the struggle of overcoming some of those excess pounds for my daughter’s wedding, my story really begins in 2013. Two years ago, I decided to complete a “bucket list” item of running a 5K. I did not tell anyone other than my daughter, Jen—not my husband, or family members, or close friends. I was not certain I would reach my goal and I did not want to be seen as a failure if I did not complete the training. But I also knew that if I told people, I would inevitably encounter naysayers—people who would tell me that running was not good for my knees, or my joints, or my back; or they would say things that were not particularly encouraging. I simply did not want to hear it. I checked with my doctor and he was thrilled that I took on this challenge.

Jen agreed to run my first race with me and I began to go to the gym to train a couple of times a week. Often at the gym, I would run into a colleague. Pretty soon, when Mo would spot me, she would just grab the treadmill next to me and get her run in while I was struggling along. Mo is an accomplished runner—she runs 10Ks, half marathons and has participated in Ragnar series. I began on the “30 seconds on/30 seconds off” running program so was pretty intimidated at first. Mo had a way of putting me at ease. She gave me a lot of tips that helped me finish my first race. As time passed, we became best friends. And I learned this: Magical things happen when you begin to take care of yourself. Mo was the first person to whom Jen and I sent a text when I crossed the finish line of my first race. Later that summer, I ran an 8K with my daughter, Katie. Two years later, I am thrilled to say that I am still running. I am not fast, but I’m out there trying. As Mo tells me every day, “You’re beating everyone on the couch.”

Over the course of these two years of running, I dropped a size and put on some muscle, but I did not lose a lot of weight. I learned that it is very easy to eat up extra calories that you burn in the gym. So if the goal is to drop weight, you have to be mindful of what you consume. In the winter of 2014, when Marquette had its campus Healthy Wage Challenge, I decided that it was time to drop the final 25-30 pounds. Unfortunately, my team didn’t do very well; I dropped only six pounds. So last summer, I decided that it was time to finish the job. By the fall, I knew I was close to having lost at least the 10% required to receive my money back from the spring challenge. I weighed with Kristin the day before my birthday in November and was ecstatic at the number. Today, I am down a total of 50 pounds from my highest weight in 2008 and am within four pounds of my final goal.

I have learned a number of things throughout this weight loss journey that I would like to share: the most important thing I learned is that there are no secrets. Weight loss takes time and patience. My doctor encouraged me to eat a more Mediterranean style diet—lean protein, fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and olive oil. Fats, sweets, and white sugar should only be eaten in moderation. I follow the principles of this diet, more or less, but not rigidly. (I am rarely rigid about anything.) For the most part, I try not to eat a lot of carbs, unless they are of the whole grain type. I eat breakfast every day. I found that chocolate was sabotaging my weight loss efforts during the week, so I gave it up for a week—and that lasted seven weeks. I made a lot of weight loss progress in those seven weeks and kicked a bad habit. In general, I now avoid chocolate during the week, except for an occasional treat. This was very hard at first, especially working in an office where we have it all the time. I had to think about the body I wanted and eat for that healthy body instead of consuming food that would not help me reach my goals.

I do not live in the gym. I work out because it helps my body look and feel better. Exercise helped me kick stress eating, too. I found some exercise that I like and that works for me. When I started running, IT WAS HARD. But it got easier and now I like it. I miss it if I am not out there. You don’t have to run. On days that I am too sore to run, I walk or I take a strength class. Do what works for you, but DO SOMETHING.

I gained some weight over the Christmas holiday and found it somewhat discouraging. I had to cut back and treat special occasions as “special” so I could get the weight off again. What I learned was that this journey will never be “over.” Taking care of myself is an everyday commitment. This is what it means to make a lifestyle change. It took me a year to get the weight off. I have to pay attention and take care of myself in order to keep it off.

I also learned that it is important to feel good in your clothes, no matter what your size. If you are wearing pants that are too tight, get some that fit. Don’t wait until you lose weight; those tight clothes are only hurting your self-esteem. When you lose weight, your “tight” pants will fit properly and feel good.

I noted at the beginning that I was hesitant to share my story because I was afraid I would gain the weight back. Kristin assured me that I have made the lifestyle changes to keep the weight off. Here is the reason I think she is right: for some time, my daughter, Jen, has been trying to get me to run a half marathon; (13.1 miles!) I have insisted this is something I would or could NEVER do—until last fall, when she sent me a link to a half marathon run/walk in Niagara Falls in June 2015. Niagara is a place I have always wanted to visit. She said she would take me if I would agree to run the half with her. We are signed up and have begun our 12 week training program. A half marathon doesn’t just “happen;” signing up has kept me in the gym over the winter. I have also been preparing myself mentally. I am slowly developing the confidence of knowing I can do this. The unconditional love of my immediate family has sustained me through these years of struggling with my weight. The love, support, encouragement, friendship and time in the gym with Jen and Mo have made all the difference in being able to say that I am running a half marathon in June. How do I know that I can do it? I beat cancer. I lost 50 pounds. I made the lifestyle change. I’VE GOT THIS.

–Sally Doyle

(Everyone needs support along a weight loss journey. If you feel you don’t have any, I would be happy to support you.  Email me: sally.doyle@marquette.edu)

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