There's a saying, "When Mama's not happy, nobody's happy." That was my family when I weighed almost 300 pounds. I was miserable and always snapping at my husband, Rick, and our kids, RJ, now 11, and Heidi, 9.
I'd grown up overweight, but became obese after having children and starting a photography business. As Rick and I got busier -- some weeks I worked more than 100 hours -- our habits got worse. We ordered pizza twice a week and snacked through late nights on chips and soda. By my 30th birthday in November 2010, I weighed 291 pounds, and my waist (five feet around) almost matched my height (5' 3"). I also had lots of health problems: prediabetes, high blood pressure, and asthma.
A holiday "gift"
About a month later, as my sister was showing me the photos she'd taken at our family holiday celebration the day before, she flipped past one quickly. When I made her go back, I saw myself -- in size 28 pants and a 3X top -- as the rest of the world saw me, and I was mortified. I also began to think about our family life. Heidi and RJ were missing out on things like swimming (I refused to take them and sit on the side in jeans) and bike rides (they always begged me to go along with them, and I always said no -- because I couldn't). I knew I didn't want to be "Fat Mom" anymore.
That night, I searched online for weight-loss success stories and found the website for Medifast, a very strict low-calorie program; I signed up and started on January 1. It was a new way of eating for me, with five meal replacements each day (things like shakes and bars) and one meal I'd prepare myself -- five to seven ounces of lean protein, like grilled chicken or fish, and three servings of non-starchy vegetables. The prepackaged meals took the work out of dieting, and in the first week, I dropped 14 pounds.
That doesn't mean it was always easy. I was used to eating an entire pizza in one sitting, and it was challenging to stay up late without junk food to pull me through. But my continued weight loss (about three pounds a week) kept me going.
A winning (losing!) team
I love a good challenge, so when I signed up for Medifast, I also registered for a half marathon that was being held seven months later. I started training slowly, marking intervals with street lamps -- I'd jog from one pole to the next and then walk for two. By April, I was able to do a 5K. As Rick cheered me on, he began to think he wanted to get healthy, too. At six feet and 230 pounds, he had always seemed thin to me, but one day a year or so earlier, when the wind had blown his shirt against his body, I'd been surprised that he seemed to be getting fat and said so. He began cutting his portion sizes and lost 30 pounds.
Now, rather than just eating less, Rick started having healthy, vegetable-filled meals and running with me. Dieting and exercising together helped us reconnect, giving us time to bounce ideas around or chat about the kids. When he got faster than I was, Rick still ran at my pace so we could talk as we worked out.
Then it was August and time for the half marathon. From behind the starting line, I texted Rick that I was nervous. He replied, "This is your race! You're a rock star." It was easier than I had expected, and as I crossed the finish line two hours and 33 minutes later and saw my family's proud faces, I felt truly empowered.
By November, I'd reached my goal weight of 140 pounds and started transitioning off the Medifast meals. Rick had dropped a total of 70 pounds. I was feeling well -- all my health problems had been resolved -- but I still had body image issues. Once your skin gets that stretched out, it doesn't bounce back, so in May 2013, I underwent surgery to remove my drooping stomach. It was a 12-hour procedure, and I lost another 10 pounds -- of skin.
Now my kids never have to beg me to go bike riding; they even run with us. Rick and I have done many races since my first one, and training together has made us an even stronger, more connected couple. He had always wanted us to be active, to do things like hike the Rocky Mountains, but I never could before. Now we've booked a family trip for this coming summer -- and I can't wait.
My advice for success
- I keep a 'before' photo on the fridge as a daily reminder that eating right is worth it. I never want to feel that sick and unhappy again!
- Get rid of clothes as soon as they're too big. Don't let yourself need them again.
- It's important to me that our kids see us making healthy choices every day.
- By Amber Lindemann, as told to Denise Foley
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