Sue and I first met in yoga class shortly after I moved to Madison five years ago. When I overheard her mention in conversation that she had lost 80 pounds, I was very impressed since I know it's not an easy thing to accomplish.
As I got to know Sue better, she has become a friend and is now an inspiring and supportive presence in our monthly group programs, logging her workouts and cheering others on. I wanted to take time to celebrate her story in this space because she found the resolve and perseverance to make a major lifestyle change and stick to it! After five years, Sue has maintained 60 pounds of her weight loss. That is truly something to celebrate, and I also wanted to learn from Sue about what she feels have been the essential elements in her success.
At the beginning of her journey, Sue was anemic and suffering from hypothyroidism. She first began to address those conditions to get the energy to make other changes. This is an important reminder that obesity isn't usually "just" a matter of poor diet and lack of exercise. Underlying health problems (whether obesity-related or not) can make it difficult to lose weight. Sometimes addressing those underlying issues can be a catalyst for other changes.
Sue's next step was to get herself moving. She discovered a love for yoga and mixed martial arts, as well as running. She now exercises six or seven days a week, with a regular rotation that includes cardio, strength training, and work on flexibility and balance—all necessary components for long-term health. Sue notes that daily exercise is especially important for those of us who have desk jobs (including her)—30 to 60 minutes of activity is essential to counteract all of that time spent sitting.
To get the extra weight off, Sue had to address nutrition as well as exercise. She followed a medically monitored diet called the Very Low Calorie Diet (VLCD) for 11 weeks, then transitioned into a less strict diet as she lost the rest of the weight more slowly and eventually stabilized.
In the process, Sue made a transition to mostly unprocessed food, aside from protein shakes and bars, which "my body seems to respond well to," she notes.
Sue has run a half marathon at a pace of 10:16 per mile, and regularly runs between 15 and 20 miles a week. She achieved a blue leader belt in MMA and will soon advanced to red belt rank. "The most important thing is that I feel much better than I have in years," she says. "I have celiac disease and had felt varying degrees of not-well for almost 20 years."
Sue notes two important factors in losing weight and keeping it off: first, accountability—tracking her food and logging her daily workouts on MyFitnessPal and in the Challenge Tracker app where our support groups take place. In addition to the benefits of weight loss in terms of health and energy, Sue counts new friends who are interested in health and wellness, and bring out the best in her, among the gifts of this journey, (I agree... the people in our support groups are pretty fantastic!)
"Disciplined eating and exercise were the key for me," she says: a daily habit of exercising and eating healthy, whether she feels like it or not, has resulted in keeping the weight off.
Sue's journey has also been a lesson in avoiding comparison. She could have let herself get discouraged by the fact of having a relatively slow metabolism, even with exercise, and having to eat less each day than a woman of the same weight who never became overweight. A diet with lots of protein and high-volume, low-caloric-density foods (such as vegetables), along with limiting carbs, helps her stay satisfied, but just as key is making sure she's comparing against what her life would be like without having lost the weight—rather than comparing herself to other people.
"I still struggle with fatigue, and menopause sucked the last vestiges of resilience out of my metabolism," Sue notes. "Nonetheless, the discipline of doing, in spite of how I feel, typically results in me feeling pretty good."
I asked Sue what her turning point was—was there a particular moment where she got fed up with not feeling well and decided to do something about it? Was there something that happened that made her feel enough hope to act? She couldn't point to anything specific other than being ready and the time being right.
She recalls a conversation with her husband where she said to him, "I don't understand why I didn't try this years ago." His response: "You weren't ready. The medicine wasn't there. It wasn't God's timing." We shouldn't regret not doing this sooner—only rejoice that we did eventually find the strength to take action.
Seeing how strong and athletic Sue is, and knowing what a kind friend she is, I can say for sure that it's a gift to the world to have her feeling her best, relatively healthy and energetic instead of sluggish and drained. I'm in awe of all you've accomplished, Sue... You deserve to be proud and show off those muscles you've worked so hard for!!