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Embracing the Fitness Journey

Scared by her doctor's news at age 58, Diane decided it was time to get healthy. Her dedication to exercise and a good diet have brought her rewards she never imagined.

My decision to lose weight and get fit was prompted not so much by an "Aha!" moment but by a "two-by-four upside the head" moment. At my annual physical in 2008, my physician brought up the issue of my weight and she sent me off for an echo stress test. The technician had plenty of comments and concerns while we were doing the test but the kicker came at the end when he said, "It is not IF you are going to have a heart attack, but WHEN."

Fear Factor

Turns out that fear of death is a great motivator for me! I was scared so badly that I stuck to the daily exercise, stuck to a diet, and began a series of important conversations with myself. Fear got me going initially and then the changes that began to occur in my body were so surprising and positive that I wanted to continue. Before the test results came back (which thankfully showed my heart to be fine), my new exercise and food choices were becoming a habit, one I was not willing to give up even though I wasn't in danger of an immediate demise.

I began the weight loss and exercise program the day after Easter in 2008 (had to have that last Hot Cross Bun!) and, by the third week of July, I reached the 20-pound weight loss goal set by my physician. Twenty pounds in 15 weeks. I lost another 4 pounds before beginning maintenance, which is, of course, ongoing for the rest of my life.  

I did put 2 pounds back on during the holidays, but that’s OK. My exercise program began with 20 minutes a day of walking, 6 days a week and progressed to 50-70 minutes 6 days a week of warm-up walking, stretching, intervals of running, walking, stationary bicycling and aerobic dance cool-downs, finishing with more stretching. I also did weight training 3 days a week. In the winter I cut back to 5 days a week as my basement is really boring at 6:30 a.m. and doing anything outside in our winter climate in the pitch dark of early mornings is impossible.

My First Fat to Fit Challenge

I joined the last Fat to Fit challenge and found profound benefits. For one: I don't belong to any group or gym that is on the same journey and having this peer group headed in the same direction really helped me with focus, even after I had reached my weight goal. The books I received as a weekly winner were wonderful at giving me motivation to keep going during the weight loss phase. There were also specific tips posted by individuals.  

I still use recipes from the Meatless Mondays and my exercises with free weights are ones suggested by another Fat to Fit participant. Posting my thoughts and struggles with issues that brought on my weight gain clarified those ideas for me; the clarification helped me stay on track. And giving back to the community that helped me is rewarding. This process is just plain hard work and sharing that with others helps. It doesn't lighten the weights or give me the stamina to run 30 more seconds, but I know I am not alone. We are each struggling or fighting or working towards individual goals, but they are common goals, too. We are all in this together and that helps.

Talking to Myself

In the conversations I had with myself, some strategies emerged. I mentally listed the "lemons" or things that were against my success in weight loss and tried to figure out how to turn them into "lemonade." Facing realities about myself was important if this process was not a temporary diet as in the past, but a permanent lifestyle change. One thing that won’t change is that I love food.  

I can remember a lunch I had in Carmel, CA, in 1974, cinnamon rolls I made in grade school, what I put into homemade baby food I fed my children. I love the taste, the texture, the comfort, you get the idea!   And I love to cook. (Not entertain, but cook.) The obsession with food is there, so how to turn it into "lemonade?"  

I told myself that obsession could be positive if I focused, not on baking my favorite breads or cookies, but in menu planning healthy meals, in trying new South Beach recipes, in reading everything I could on new nutrition research. I could watch the Food Network and yell at some of those chefs for their unhealthy recipes. (Is this a form of interactive TV?)

I began devising my own South Beach recipes, inventing new options which utilized my creativity in ways my old ways of cooking never did. And the "lemon" of living in a resort area with nearly constant company all summer was not a problem. If my guests didn't want to eat healthy, they could cook for themselves with their own ingredients (my sister showed up with bread and caffeine filled tea bags). The "lemon" of lack of will power was handled by not having foods in the house I shouldn't eat, and that continues today.  

Exercise — And Changes

The strategy I adopted towards exercise is not one favored by you, Carole.  But it works for me. I had to treat exercise as I do housework. It is hard, it is work, I don't like it, but it has to be done. My doctor had originally suggested walking 40 minutes, 3 times a week. But I took my "lemon" of somewhat obsessive behavior and realized, for me, a habit has to be every day or it won't get done. So I did 20 minutes every day but Sunday, and as my body could do more, I did it. 

I was afraid of hurting myself in the beginning and really don't like other people telling me what to do. So developing my own exercise program based on suggestions from my daughter, books on exercise, postings from Fat to Fit, etc. worked better for me than a trainer or exercise videos, etc.  Being alone helped me focus on what my body felt like that day: Could I reach a little farther? Could I walk a little faster, and so forth.

Work With What You Have

The other strategy was to list my "assets." Those were the things I thought would help me reach my goals, such as my very physically fit daughter who could give me some exercises to get started and provide some encouragement. 

Another asset was a supportive husband who will eat whatever I cook and do the dishes afterwards. He, too, needed to lose weight and while indulging in the after-church cookie table, never brought 'trigger' foods into the house behind my back. As time went on, his positive (actually, glowing) comments about my personal appearance were most appreciated. 

Exercise: The Medical Miracle

The changes that most surprised me were medical. My heartburn went away the first week of my program and hasn't been back since. I was limping for 6 weeks from arthritis in my knee before last year's physical, and now I can run without any pain (the last time I did any running was in 8th grade!). I have had lower back pain off and on for years, and that is greatly diminished and only returns when I slack off my back stretches. The minor aches and pains I took as just a sign of my age are gone. I suffered from reactive hypoglycemia for years, and now it's gone.  

Instead of basically becoming lethargic at 4 p.m., I have energy into the evening.  I can work 8 hours on my feet at the quilt store and not be tired at the end of the day, unlike my younger less fit co-workers. My irritable bowel symptoms have greatly diminished, and I can hold my own on the hiking trail better than when I was in my 20s.  

And my attitude has changed. I no longer believe that diminished strength, flexibility, mobility, and activity are just byproducts of aging. NO WAY — exercise and healthy eating are the true miracle drugs for the aging! At 59, I weigh what I did at 30 and am in much better physical condition, stronger, with much more energy and stamina. And that is amazing.  

I did my first 5K, mostly to lose a pound. I was going to pay $15 and do some suffering, but I figured all that walking and running had to be good for at least a pound off. Then it turned out to be fun to be out doing something physical with lots of other people, even though I came in right behind the pregnant woman pushing a stroller. In what other sport are you competing with the best athletes in town, the youngest, the oldest — all encouraging each other? Some challenges were actually more fun than struggle.

I started this at age 58. I am 5'2" and have issues with my bones. (I am hoping my continued exercise will halt my loss of bone density or maybe even reverse it.) We live in Northwest Montana on the Flathead Indian Reservation, about 13 miles from the nearest town, which has about 4,000 people. I weigh 126 pounds, up 2 pounds from the maintenance weight I plan to sustain.  I started the program at 148 pounds.

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