Monday, April 7, 2014

My Weight-Loss Journey


My weight-loss journey begins like many other weight-loss (or weight-gain) stories. I got pregnant with my first child and I put on a lot of weight.

This is a photo of my husband and I with our first daughter. She was already two, but I hadn't figured out how to lose the weight I put on during pregnancy.

But even though the weight started increasing with kids, I know that's not really where my story begins.  And that's not really where it begins for most people, I think.  My story started a long time before that, when I was a kid, eating Ramen noodles, canned ravioli, and going through the drive through for fast food several times a week, eating food because of how well it tasted, not how well it nourished me.

Not to disparage my parents because they don't deserve that. I have kids now and I am busy, so I know how difficult it is to prepare healthy foods and try and make them appealing for little people.  My two year old wants to live off graham crackers and milk. 

But I definitely carried the processed tastes I developed as a child into adulthood and I know now that it was only a matter of time before the consequences of eating such dead, non-nutritious, calorie-dense foods started presenting themselves. Other people deal with sickness because of their diet. I wasn't sick, but I just kept gaining weight. I couldn't get the weight off, no matter how much I tried.

I wasn't lazy.  I was always active, an overachiever in many ways.  I took my kids to the park. We hiked.  I have natural coordination, an outgoing personality, and teaching abilities, so I even got a group exercise certification through AFAA and taught fitness classes for a few years during this time of my life. I lost some weight doing that, somewhere between ten to twenty pounds, maybe going as low as 175 at one point. But I didn't change my diet.  I would leave work at the gym and go to lunch at Wendy's or Taco Bell because after all that exercise I was starving. And it's no surprise that with a diet like that, no matter how active I was, I remained overweight.   Once, when a person found out that I worked part-time as a fitness instructor, they asked, "Do you actually do the classes?"  That was a blow, needless to say.

 This photo was taken April of 2012. It shows me leading my oldest daughter and some friends through field day activities.

At this point, I got pregnant with a second child, delivered a healthy baby girl, recovered from the pregnancy and went back to teaching fitness classes.  But within months, I was injured at work because of over training (and lack of proper nutrition, I'm sure), tearing a muscle in my leg that required a cast, then a boot, and then a very long time to recover regular strength, balance, and coordination in my leg.  I also had a nagging pain in my navel that turned out to be a hernia that needed surgery.  Between the hernia and the injury to my leg and the weight, I was terrible physical shape for a thirty year old.  During those weeks that turned into months without exercise, I gained so much weight. But I was just focusing on what I felt was most important at the time. I was working hard on my family and my home, serving the people I love and doing the best I could to develop discipline in other areas, like childcare, housekeeping and cooking every meal at home. The meals I made at home weren't the healthy meals I cook now, but we did stop going out to eat so often at this point.

This is a more flattering photo taken on Easter 2010.  Even though I was teaching exercise classes all the time, this is as thin as I could ever manage, eating such unhealthy food. 

I tried other things to get the weight off during those years. I thought that other people had success with programs. I tried Weight Watchers and had some success, ten or fifteen pounds lost. Again, I never got past 175-180 pounds. But any weight loss was fleeting because I didn't change the kinds of foods I was eating and once I quit the program, the weight came right back.  I just did my best to manipulate the points system to have as much unhealthy, processed food as possible. And the program was so expensive, and the results weren't substantial enough, so I always ended up quitting. The basics about eating a diet of healthy foods still remained a mystery to me.

 I didn't know what I didn't know about food, so I just kept coming back to exercise thinking that if I exercised enough for a long enough time, I could lose the weight.  I decided to start training for a 5K. I went for a few runs and I was so out of shape, I felt hopeless.  I cried out to God.

My faith is a fundamental part of who I am and all that I do, so I often pray my frustrations and my goals. I did then, too.  God began to slowly change the way I thought about physical fitness.  I didn't realize it before, but I didn't really value my physical world and I think that was the root of why I had neglected my physical body.  I had always believed that I was a soul with a body and that the world of the supernatural was more important than this one, so I believe I subconsciously favored my soul and neglected to take care of my earthly body. I began to believe that it wasn't just vanity to put effort into training my physical body. My physical life and my spiritual life are actually connected.  Bible verses like "I beat my body and make it my slave so that I myself will not be disqualified for the (spiritual) prize." illustrated this truth to me. I had an incredibly spiritual experience with God after going for a run and I sensed that He really wanted to help me lose the weight.  I was thrilled. But as it often happens, within just a few days, something happened that would delay my plans and test my faith.  I started feeling off and come to find out, I was pregnant with my third child.

I wasn't disappointed over being pregnant. I was happy to be having another baby. But any serious plans to work on my body through exercise were going to have to wait till my body was my own again. My energy was totally sapped. It felt like I was sea-sick for months and months.  I couldn't drink water without throwing up.  High-fiber foods like fruits and vegetables also made me vomit.  But I could manage to eat pastas, cheeses, and meats.  So I did.  And since I was already so overweight when the third pregnancy began, I was in even worse shape as it progressed.  But I focused on getting through the pregnancy, having a healthy baby, nursing her, recovering, caring for my other two kids, and serving my family.

This photo was taken in May of 2012, weeks after my precious third daughter was born.

When the baby was about a year old and beginning to wean, I sensed it was time to try again.   But, by this time, I was convinced that my diet would be the key to lasting health.  I had read enough, seen enough evidence here and there, and had my own experience over the last few years to know that I wouldn't get healthy by exercising alone.  I had to figure out what to eat once and for all.  So I prayed about it and as I was listening to Dave Ramsey's radio show one day, he said, "If you want to win, surround yourselves with winners."  That gave me the idea to reach out to a particular friend who I knew to be healthy. She was thoughtful about her health and gracious and kind, so I felt comfortable telling her about my situation and asking for advice.

My friend's diet was what I would have called radical back then. She was one of those people who I labeled as a health nut.  She avoided toxins, ate organic meats, tons of vegetables, some of which I had never even heard of. She told me about the book The Maker's Diet and said it would give me some basic guidelines to go by.  I read it right away and what the author said about food sounded reasonable to me, even wise, so I decided to try applying the principals to my own diet. 

I was praying often during this period of time and I sensed that God wanted me to start applying wisdom to my food choices and practice self-discipline to get my physical appetites in check. I felt like a slave to sugar, processed foods, caffeine, etc. and I wanted, needed to free myself.  Like many Christians, I believe the Lord's Holy Spirit lives inside me now and compels me to act in certain ways. I felt compelled to change my eating habits.  And, for me, there would have been no peace in my spirit or mind if I had ignored the voice of the Lord, even over something as simple as my diet.  I knew I would have to force myself to swallow so many fresh greens and vegetables and keep eating them until I was done with every meal.  I ate vegetables before that, but only a few times a week.  I didn't relish them and I didn't have an appetite for as many of them as I knew I would need to start eating to help myself. 

I didn't know if I could do it. Physically, my body was so undisciplined and I craved unhealthy foods so strongly, I was very conscious of my weakness. So, for me, it was not only a physical struggle, but it felt like a momentous, spiritual battle as well. I had to apply spiritual force to win this battle.  I had to decide to submit every single meal, every single bite, to the healthy principles that I felt like my Lord was leading me to apply.

This photo was taken in November 2012.  This is the heaviest and most out of shape I had ever gotten, approximately 225 pounds.  

So with all my doubts and weakness, I began anyway.  In December 2012, only days before Christmas, I cleared my pantry of all our processed foods, made a healthy meal plan, and filled my cart with whole, organic produce. There wasn't even one box or can in my cart that first trip to the grocery store.  And I spent at least twice as much on groceries. Processed foods are much cheaper. But I made the sacrifice and did it anyway. 

After the first terrible week, I stopped craving sugar and caffeine. That was the biggest hurdle.  After another week, my friends started commenting about how bright my eyes were, that my skin was glowing, etc. My energy level had gone up and was staying constant, even between meals. I started losing weight almost immediately.

This was taken in February 2013.  It's hard to tell, but I had already lost twenty to thirty pounds since I started eating right a few months earlier in December.
  
Before, when I was eating a ton of processed foods, I would eat a meal and be hungry again within thirty minutes to an hour, so hungry that I'd often eat something again. But once I started eating whole, nutritious foods, I could go for hours and hours without eating and I had much more consistent, level energy. I know now that by giving up the processed carbohydrates and replacing those foods with densely nutritious, fresh vegetables, lean meats, and healthy fats, I was finally balancing my blood sugar and giving my poor, neglected body the nutrients it needed all along.  My body was healing itself and the weight was just falling off. I had to shop for new jeans every few months!  Praise God.

I took this photo because I was so thrilled that I was finally able to button a jean jacket that I had since before I had kids.  I hadn't been small enough to button it, even when I was teaching fitness classes.  At this point, I've actually had to give the jean jacket away because it is way too big!

After the first month or two of eating differently, I did decide to start exercising again.  I began training for a 5K again. I used the Couch to 5K app and we bought a treadmill because it was the middle of winter and I couldn't run outside.  In the afternoons, instead of relaxing and watching television, I put on my workout clothes and got to work.  I kept worship songs playing as I ran and I just prayed and prayed for strength to keep honoring the Lord and applying wisdom to my diet, my body, my exercise, my self image.  I worked through a lot of things mentally, spiritually, emotionally while I exercised and now I have fond memories of those times.

One of the songs that meant the most to me was "Fill Me Up" by the band Jesus Culture. The lyrics are a prayer to God, saying to Him, "You provide the fire. I'll provide the sacrifice.  You provide the Spirit. I will open up inside. Fill me up, God. Fill me up, God.  Fill me up, God. Fill me up."  It was the perfect song and prayer for what I was going through. I felt like I was offering my body as a living sacrifice, letting more and more of it literally burn away with the help of God's fire stocking me on in my spirit. And since I was giving up so much food, asking the Spirit to "fill me up" and satisfy me instead was also very appropriate. As I ran, I felt like my unhealthy body was finally beginning to catch up with my healthy spirit. My body and spirit were finally beginning to run together!  I ran my first 5K in April of 2013 and it was very satisfying and healing to finally accomplish that goal after all that time.   

Toward the end of my Couch to 5K training, I had decided that I couldn't focus on cardio forever.  I needed to build muscle by doing weight training, too. To do that at home, I ordered Les Mills Pump DVDs from a friend who is a Beachbody coach.  I had been to one Bodypump class while I was visiting a YMCA in Florida years before and I hadn't forgot how amazing it was, so I knew I'd enjoy the program at home.  Appropriately, when I pulled up to my house after running that first 5K, UPS had delivered my DVDs and I was able to start doing Pump at home right away.

This photo was taken after running my first 5K in April 2013.

I followed the Les Mills Pump training schedule that came with the DVDs religiously until it was done.  I increased my weights as quickly as I could and had to order more and still more.  And instead of walking for cardio like the schedule recommends, I just kept running on the treadmill.  When I had done the whole calendar of workouts, I ordered the cardio DVDs that go with them and started the cross-training hybrid calendar, doing that entire schedule a few times over.

By this time, I had decided to contact the Greater Waterbury YMCA, where I taught fitness classes years before.  I had rediscovered my love for group exercise through the Pump DVDs at home, I thought I'd like teaching fitness classes again, even if they weren't Bodypump classes.  The Pump DVDs had put me in the best shape of my life, so the Y welcomed me back and by the fall of 2013, I was once again certified to teach group fitness classes and teaching a few classes.  But this time, I was not just doing the job, I was also looking the part.

 I had gone from approximately 225 to 160 pounds, the goal weight I never really thought I would ever get to, in one year. I'd gone from being soft and out of shape to leading group fitness classes. With God, all things are possible.

This photo was taken in August 2013. I was teaching fitness classes again, this time doing the job and looking a little more like it.

I have continued eating healthy, losing even more weight (albeit more slowly), and working to build more and more muscle.  I am putting my best into my fitness classes and enjoying other workouts, too.  I feel as if the Lord had me lose so much weight not just so that I could enjoy the personal benefits of health, but that so I could fulfill what I didn't realize was a call on my life- to teach excellent group fitness classes, blessing the people who come to my classes with a excellent, uplifting workouts.

This photo was taken a few days ago after working at the Y. 

I'm still working to glorify God with and in this body, still hoping for even more improvement.  But I am thankful and I give Him all the glory for the changes He was brought about in my life on this weight-loss journey.

4 comments:

gail christian said...

Great journey Veronica...I love your story and you were right....give it up to God..he will guide you.

Joanna said...

You are amazing! Thanks for sharing your story!

Adriana @ Classical Quest said...

"I felt like I was offering my body as a living sacrifice, letting more and more of it literally burn away with the help of God's fire stocking me on in my spirit."

This is really inspiring, Veronica!
Thank you for sharing your story!

Jeannie said...

Hi Veronica - Adriana linked to your blog the other day so I thought I'd check it out. Congratulations on your weight loss; this seems like a true case of loving God with heart, soul, mind, strength ... and body.