I’ve known Suzanne a long time. Fifteen years to be exact. For most of those fifteen years, Suzanne was extremely overweight and I could tell that it affected how she felt about herself, which affected…well…everything. But Suzanne made a choice to get healthy and I am so happy today to be able to share her amazing story, in her own words. Suzanne, you are an inspiration to me and I know you will be to my readers as well.
When I was very young I was thin, or at least, I was not overweight. Sometime around 4th or 5th grade, I started to gain weight. I guess you could say I was chubby from that point into middle school. By the time I was in high school, I was beyond chubby. I continued to struggle with my weight my entire adult life. I have always been on a diet, and depending on how successful I was, I weighed somewhere between 230 and 295. In truth, I may have weighed more than 295 at some point, but I was too afraid to get on a scale. I think I even avoided going to the doctor’s office when I felt too embarrassed to have anyone see how heavy I actually was.
When I was 38 years old and about 295 pounds, I decided that I wanted to lose weight for my 40th birthday. I started dieting on my own. I did a plan very similar to what I had done on Weight Watchers in the past. I was feeling pretty good and by my 40th birthday I had lost 100 pounds and weighed less than I had since before high school. On the day I turned 40, I stopped dieting and within 2 ½ years I had gained back about 50 of the 100 I had lost. I was desperate to stop the weight gain. A friend of mine was joining Weight Watchers and asked me to join with her. I did not want to join at first, but I decided that I would do it when I read about their lifetime plan. It was perfect for me because I knew that I could get the weight off. I needed a plan to keep it off. So, in April of 2006 I joined. By August I had lost the 50 pounds that I had gained and I was motivated to keep going. It was a little bit scary, because as an adult, I had never weighed less than that before. It never even occurred to me that I could be less than a size 8. It really truly never occurred to me. When I had been somewhere between a size 8 and a size 10 back on my 40th birthday, I thought I was as thin as I could be. I had always been a big girl and I just assumed that I could not be any smaller. But I kept going. By April of 2007 I had lost another 50 pounds and actually hit my goal of 145 pounds.
Since my highest weight was at least 295, I had lost more than my body weight. And, my goal weight was right smack dab in the middle of the “normal” weight range. I was not even “chubby”. I just never imagined that that could happen. I had not been at a normal weight since I was 10 years old. This was going to take some getting used to!
The first few years after I hit my goal, I would dream that I was still heavy, and I would wake up to find out that it was real and I had actually lost the weight. Or, I would catch my reflection in a window or mirror when I was not expecting it and I would be shocked. I once went to a salad bar that had a mirror on the wall behind the bar. I honestly did not know that it was me on the other side when I first caught a glimpse of myself.
It has been a battle to keep it off. After about 3 years of maintaining my weight (which was WAY more work than I thought it would be), I decided that I knew what I was doing, I was used to eating like a thin person and I did not need to focus so much on eating light and healthy all the time. At first, I did okay. I continued to go to Weight Watchers meetings at least once a month (the meetings were free because I was a lifetime member and at or near my goal). Then came the holidays. I gained almost 10 pounds between my birthday in mid-November and my annual New Year trip to New York. I was too embarrassed to go back to weight watchers, and found it difficult to get back to eating right. Over the next few years, I gained back a total of 30 pounds. I was still well under 200, but I was devastated. Actually, the last 10 of that 30 came this year when I was trying to diet on my own. I kept falling off the dieting wagon and then having my “one last weekend before I start dieting again”. Unfortunately, I did this so many times that I gained that last 10 pounds. So, finally, I swallowed my pride and went back to Weight Watchers. It felt great. I saw some of the same people and there was no judgment, just support. In the three months since I’ve been back to Weight Watchers, I have lost 15 of that 30 pounds so I am half way there. Woohoo!
I wanted to ask Zan some specific questions about her struggle with weight gain and weight loss. Here is my interview with her:
(J) How did you end up gaining so much? Are you a stress/emotional eater?
(Z) Hmmm, good question. I am an “any kind” of eater. I think I am an emotional eater, and it can be any kind of emotion. I like to eat when I am happy, sad, excited, worried, you name it. I also eat because I LOVE food. I love to create it. I love to play with ingredients and find new foods that I love. I love tasting new foods and discovering what I like. I am also a bored eater. If I am not doing anything, then I want to be eating.
I spent a lot of time a few years ago tried to figure out what emptiness I was trying to fill by eating. It was very trendy then and I read quite a few books on the subject. I never figured out any single thing. I really believe that I gained weight for a combination of reasons.
(J) Was there a specific incident or series of incidents in 4th or 5th grade that kicked off your weight gain?
(Z) There were two triggers I think. One I know for sure was puberty. I developed much younger than my friends and it made me feel very awkward. So the minute I hit puberty, I started to gain weight. My hormones went wacky and they have been wacky ever sense. I still have terrible hypoglycemia and this makes me feel hungry even if I have recently eaten. My body over-produces insulin (a hormone) when stimulated with white sugar and white flour or just about any “sugar”. Plus, I believe that some of the emotional issues that go along with puberty caused my first emotional eating episodes.
The second trigger was that we moved. I went from a home where I felt very secure to a place where I knew no one outside of my family. I had lived in the same area from the time I was very little until 3rd grade. I was very shy around people that I did not know and it was terribly difficult for me.
(J) Zan, you are a vegetarian. How has that played into your weight losses and weight gains? What kinds of foods did you tend to overeat?
I was already very heavy when I became a vegetarian, so it had nothing to do with my original weight gain. When I first became a vegetarian, I gained some extra weight. I did not know what I was doing and so I was often hungry and I ate more. I also substituted cheese for meat, which is never a good idea. For instance, instead of eating a turkey sandwich, I would eat a cheese sandwich. Eventually, I figured it out. Dieting was harder as a vegetarian at first. I missed eating chicken, which was a dieting staple for me. There were not many good meat substitutes and I was not a tofu fan then. At the time, most dieting plans did not offer good vegetarian options. Even now, very few of the diet frozen meals (Smart Ones, Lean Cuisine, etc.) offer many vegetarian options, and the ones they do offer rarely have much protein.
As far as what foods I overeat, it is hard to say. Like I said earlier, I love all food. I also like to be full, not stuffed, but nice and full. I have used my love of cooking to find nice low fat, low calorie foods that are filling.
(J) How were you able to maintain your weight loss for 3 years?
(Z) I was constantly paying attention to what I ate. Even if I stopped tracking every single (Weight Watcher) point I ate, I would go back to tracking every couple of weeks. It is shocking how easily a point here or there will creep back into your diet. I believe that I will always want more and will never get to a place where I am completely satisfied with the way I have to eat in order to stay thin. I don’t mean to say that it is terrible, or that I am unhappy, because nothing could be farther from the truth. I am just saying that I will always want more and I have had to accept that maintaining my weight will be a life long struggle.
(J) Once you gained back the initial 10 lbs. and were embarrassed to go back to WW, what contributed to your continued weight gain? Eating out? Emotional eating? Drinking?
It was a variety of factors. First, it was January. We had just finished the holidays and I had also been on a trip so I had fallen off the dieting wagon. We all know how hard it is to get back on when that happens. When you are not, what I call, “being in the mode”, it is just so darn hard to go back to eating right. Second, I had injured my leg and was not able to exercise. It was really hard for me because I had always been able to increase my daily allotment of points by doing a fair amount of exercise. Third, my new neighbor Jane moved in. I love Jane, she is great. But man, oh man, is she a diet saboteur! She is a lovely lady and a very strong personality. She doesn’t take NO for an answer. She loves really nice red wine and it was not unusual for me to get a text three or four times a week saying “Wine, my house”. If I would say no, it was not unusual for there to be a series of texts back and forth until I finally said yes. She is also a great cook and loved to have me eat her creations. She would sometimes lie to me about the ingredients so that I would think her foods were lower fat then they really were. Jane is an athlete and it is not unusual for her to work out 3-4 hours a day. So, she looks great and can afford to drink a half a bottle of wine at night and have some delicious snacks to go along with it. I, however, cannot. I have also learned that once I finish one glass of wine, I care a lot less about fat, calories and points. I don’t mean to say that it was not my fault. I take full responsibly for everything I ate. But, I will add that Jane moved out of state a few months ago and my dieting has gone much better.
J) You mention "dieting on your own". Was that counting calories or a different method? What did you eat/not eat that you found successful?
(Z) It was mostly counting calories. Although, I have done fad diets in the past, I never felt that good while doing them. The time that I lost 100 pounds dieting on my own, I was counting calories and following a few other Weight Watcher principals like making sure you have a balanced diet while you are cutting back.
(J) You've gone back to Weight Watchers and clearly this program works for you, since you lost 100 lbs. the first time and now another 15. Why do you think it works so well for you? What kinds of people might like Weight Watchers? Does it require a certain personality type to do well on the Weight Watchers plan?
(Z) There are a lot of reasons why it works for me. First, is the tracking. I like that I am allotted a certain number of points and then I am done. When I was doing other plans, I would justify having just a tiny bit more, then a tiny bit more, until it was too much. It is so interesting to me when I am tracking and I can say “Hey, I have 8 points left, how do I want to eat them tonight for dinner?” I have become very skilled at making those points work for me, budgeting them and having a few left over for a small dessert.
I also like that you can adapt Weight Watchers to fit any lifestyle. If you eat out a lot, you can do it on Weight Watchers. If you are busy and eat a lot of frozen meals or fast food, no problem. If you cook for other people, absolutely. You can eat whatever you want, you just have to count what you eat and budget your points for your day. This is important because the Weight Watchers way of eating is exactly the same as the way you will eat for the rest of your life.
The support of the meetings is also very important for me. Even after all these years, I learn new things on occasion at the meetings. I think that you can tell from your blog how important taking about your weight loss can be. This is the kind of thing that makes me love going to my Weight Watcher meetings. And, since meetings are free when you are at your goal weight, it is a huge motivator for keeping the weight off.
I suppose that Weight Watchers would work best for anyone who does not mind counting or tracking, as that is a key part of the plan. It gets easier after a while. If you are like me, you tend to eat the same foods and you get used to knowing how many points are in everything. Weight Watchers is also a great plan for anyone who needs group support. The meetings are very important to me.
Finally, Zan shared some of her tips and tricks that have helped her lose weight.
The first thing anyone who wants to keep the weight off needs to remember is that it only gets harder once the you have finished losing. I had heard that over and over again, but never fully believed it. But it is true. There are a few reasons for this.
Reason #1: Your weight loss will become “old news”. It is so much fun when people are noticing how different you look and they keep telling you. But after a year or so, you stop getting all the wonderful comments. While I would like to believe that I am above needing praise, it sure does help. When you are stuck at a plateau or you just are not seeing the results that you want and someone comes up to you and says how great they think you look, it feels great. It helps to keep you motivated.
Reason #2: It is forever. When you are losing, there is an end date. You have that goal and you reach it. Maintaining weight loss never stops and the struggle will always be there. If you are like me and you simply love food, then don’t think that will magically go away when you are thin. All those same urges will ALWAYS be there. And like I said, it never ends. You are never “done’. As Mad Eye Moody says in Harry Potter, “constant vigilance”.
Reason #3: If you have a significant amount to lose (like I did), you will burn significantly fewer calories as a small person, even if you exercise. When I was heavy, I used to say that I had mastered maintenance and I just needed to lose the weight so I could maintain my new weight. What I did not realize is that, as a smaller person, my body burned so many fewer calories in my normal day to day activities because I was not lugging around that extra 150 pounds. So, my maintenance allotment of calories was smaller than my dieting allotment. In other words, when I started Weight Watchers (and this was a different point system, so the numbers don’t tie to the current system) I was allotted 32 points a day. Every ten pounds, you lose 1 point since your body is smaller. I lost over 100 pounds so, when all was said and done, I was allotted 21 points. Then, when I started maintenance, I gained 4 extra points. This brought my grand total of daily points up to 25. As you can see, this is 7 points LESS than when I started. And I thought it was hard when I started! This is not unique to Weight Watchers. I had a dietician tell me once that the amount of calories that you can eat when you are losing weight at a nice healthy rate (and you have about 40 to 50 pounds to lose) is equal to the amount of calories you can eat once you have lost the 40-50 pounds and you want to maintain your weight. And remember Reason #2…it is forever. You have to be prepared to diet harder then you did when you started and keep dieting like that for the rest of your life.
Now, I just reread this and it sounds so depressing. But I feel that people are not prepared for the work that it takes to keep it off, simply because no one is willing to tell you the facts of maintaining weight loss.
I do have a more positive bag of tricks for keeping it off.
Allow yourself the occasional splurge on a new outfit. Nothing makes you remember how much better it is to be thin then a trip into the dressing room.
Allow yourself the freedom to be high maintenance in restaurants. I special order, ask questions and bring supplements in my purse (usually light cheese and light salad dressing). I love to eat out and I refuse to give it up, but restaurant food is high fat and high calories. Let’s face it. They are in the business of making yummy food. And food is yummy when it has added fat and calories. I have spent years finding the light foods that I like best, but I cannot count on the restaurants to have those foods on hand.
Once your weight loss becomes noticeable, look in the mirror all the time. It might feel vain, but look in the mirror whenever you can. If you don’t identify yourself as a thin person, then you won’t remain thin. Eventually you will start to gain some weight back. If you see yourself as a thin person, then it won’t take much weight gain to make you feel like it is time to do something. And, when you start to gain it back, don’t beat yourself up. Just go back to what worked for you in the first place.
Know that you will find yourself wanting to splurge on occasion. Do it! It has to be the exception, not the rule. Also, know that you will need to do some very serious dieting days surrounding the splurge day. I realized once that I spent most of my life dieting. What determined if I lost, gained or stayed the same was the frequency that I “cheated” and if I compensated right away.
Make a plan for how you are going to keep it off. This is one reason why I like Weight Watchers. Their plan, including the online etools, is completely free if I remain in my weight range. I only have to weigh in once a month, so I can plan around my water weight days. You don’t have to do Weight Watchers, but you do have to have to do something. If you fail to plan, then you plan to fail.
Find exercise that you like and do it regularly. Also, explore exercise that you used to hate. You might feel differently when you are thin. I hated running as a heavy person. Now I look forward to my running days and I am training for a marathon.
Find healthy yummy foods that you love. If you don’t love your food, you won’t commit to eating it forever.