Reaching the Top
By Debbie O'Brien
Years ago I remember looking at my weight issue and likening it to a mountain I could never climb. A lot of times I would try the crazy fad diets, climbing a steep course up the mountain, only to fail two weeks into the diet and fall further than the base camp. The top of this mountain felt unreachable. I felt hopeless. Let me first start off by telling you that I look at where my life is today and recognize what a true gift I have been given.
In June 1994, at the age of 36, I weighed 380 pounds. This weight was obtained on the morgue scale at the hospital I worked at as most scales do not exceed 350 pounds. At that time, I smoked three packs of cigarettes a day. I was told I had type 2 diabetes. I was going through a divorce after a 12-year marriage and I became a single parent of three kids all under the age of 10. The quality of my life was awful! I didn't sleep well at night and I was tired during the day.
At 380 pounds, every thing in life was difficult. Every task was laborious from using the toilet to simply picking up a pen that may have dropped. So much of my energy was spent doing minimal tasks. I had to put a lot of thought into figuring out the most efficient way to accomplish these simple tasks.
Because I smoked so much, breathing was very difficult. My pulse oximetry was 88 to 90—very poor for someone my age. I coughed and wheezed a lot. I was out of breath all the time. I feared I was going to die. But what scared me even more was the possibility that my kids would find me dead in some grotesque position they would have to carry in their minds for the rest of their lives.
I wondered about what people would say at my funeral, "Hey, she was a great gal, but isn't it a shame she ate herself to death." Would my kids hate me for leaving them because I couldn't or wouldn't take care of myself? I realized I needed to make some changes if I wanted to see my children grow into adults. Never mind thinking about grandchildren. I honestly did not think much of a future for myself. I really could not envision life beyond my thirties.
I knew I had to quit smoking and diet at the same time, but didn’t think I could do both at the same time. I chose to deal with the smoking issue first since breathing seemed to be the more immediate concern. I feared I would gain 75 pounds when I quit and wondered if I could do my job at 450 pounds. Would my weight cause me to become disabled and would I loose my kids because I could not physically or economically care for them? Many scary thoughts went through my head. I quit smoking cigarettes cold turkey and found that my breathing began to get easier and I became a little more mobile.
I began going to the local pool. Even at 380 pounds, I finally decided that I was going to do some sort of exercise that was healthy. I put on blinders and ignored the stares and comments that were hurled at me regarding my physique.
I began to make eating behavior changes. No more late night half gallon ice cream binges. I began to cooking less fattening meals. I found that without a lot of difficulty I was able to make better choices regarding my eating. However, I still made a lot of poor choices. I could still eat a big package of cookies in one sitting and I still ate double orders of fast food. Over the course of seven years I lost over 100 pounds by making behavior changes and by building a foundation for myself.
A few years ago I began seeing a therapist to deal with some issues in my life. I found that I unloaded a lot. She helped me examine things in my life and to look at them in a different light. She helped me to discover other coping tools in which to deal with stress instead of the old tried and true method of binge eating.
In December 2002 I weighed 265 pounds. I could wear clothes from the major department stores. My fashion choices were no longer limited to the non-breathable fabric fashions in catalogs. At this time I was way over the divorce and began to look forward to a future.
Throughout this entire time I never dated. I began to think that perhaps I may want to. I had a startling realization that I am responsible for my life, its quality and direction. Once I really understood this concept, the acceptance of embracing a healthy lifestyle was no longer difficult. I no longer struggled with the issue of my weight. A load was literally taken off my shoulders and I began to soar. I let go of things in my past and looked toward the future. I realized I can do this. I can take responsibility for my actions.
I took my exercise and nutrition plan to a higher level. I chose to eat healthy. I began to swim more regularly and walked five miles five days a week. I enjoyed my exercise time. For the one hour I swam or walked, I only thought about good things. I kept family problems, work problems and teenage drama out of it. Exercise time was a nice place to escape to in my head and return to the next day. During that exercise time I thought about dating again, music I liked, potential books in my head still to be written. Over the next several months I continued to regain my health. I began to feel energized and alive!
In May 2003, under the advice of a number of medical people to do strength training, I joined SportFit gym in Bowie, Maryland. I weighed 217 pounds and wore a size 20. I decided to obtain a personal trainer for several reasons. I did not have a clue how to exercise, other than to walk and swim. The other reason was that when I walked into the gym I realized that if God allows me, I would like to still be working out at the age of 90.
The first trainer I worked with, Mark Shields, was wonderful and set me up on a program that got me started. He was a great educator, but unfortunately Mark left to attend school and I was re-assigned to ACE-certified Personal Trainer Jonathan Ross.
Boy did things fly from there. Jonathan spent time getting to know my level of fitness, my level of motivation and how much knowledge I had regarding nutrition and exercise. Jonathan designed another program for me and to this day continues to tweak and alter it. The most valuable asset I receive from my training sessions with Jonathan is education. I take the information he gives and apply it to my life outside of the gym. I now understand the impact of white bread on the fat cell. I understand the balance of reps, changing weight and maintaining good form when exercising. He has helped me to enjoy activities I only participated in as a kid.
Today I weigh 149 pounds. I have lost a total of 231 pounds. I wear a size 4 and I have learned a lot along the way. I realize I did not get to this point by myself. God had a lot to do with this. I could easily be dead. I could easily have become a dependent person with multiple health problems and my kids visiting me in a nursing home. I could have been ravaged by the complications of diabetes—loosing my sight, kidneys or legs.
I think God has guided me along the path in this journey for some other reason. He has placed people and tools on my path to help me. What I found in my pursuit to get a love life was that I was given a number of gifts. The first one being that I learned to appreciate God and his goodness. Not only was I given my life back, but I now have a quality of life I had never known before. I had never known how it felt to be this well and healthy.
At the ripe old age of 47 I can run two miles without stopping. I couldn't even do that in the fifth grade! I have my health. I am no longer a type 2 diabetic. My Hgb A1c is 4.9! Not too shabby for a non-diabetic I might add. My cholesterol and all of my other lab work is normal. I have a sense of future I never possessed before. I think I have a shot at living to 90 now. I have found myself as well as my spirit. I am physically free of a 230 pound weight as well as the psychological burden that held me. I have literally emerged from within me.
The world treats me differently now than when I weighed 380 pounds. My children are proud of me. I feel incredible and believe I am deserving of feeling this well as is everyone else. I now look down from the top of my mountain. I realize I have had more success in climbing my mountain by spiraling around it instead of taking the steep climb. I stumbled less that way and established a better foundation in order to live my life. Looking back, I realize it was never about the weight that needed to be lost, it was about embracing a healthy living lifestyle and dealing with issues in my life that kept me from fulfilling my potential.