Updated May 7, 2013
I started gaining weight about age 35 when my husband was disabled and I had 3 children to raise. I worked full time as a school counselor and teacher. Even though I coached sports, because of my overall sedentary life, I couldn’t stop getting fatter. I tried the usual remedies, but no matter how hard I struggled I could not stick with fasting or starvation diets. The ever-mounting weight made my arthritis worse and the medications for the arthritis caused me to develop ulcers. So my doctors added a medication to help with the stomach ulcers. Before I knew it I was on six medications. Soon I had trouble walking and standing – the result was I exercised even less. The final outcome was my weight topped out at 310 pounds, and my health began to suffer with problems as serious as bouts of bronchitis and pneumonia.
When I finally stopped working, I decided I wasn’t going to spend my retirement years watching soap operas on my couch. However, the turning point came when I looked at myself in pictures from my nephew’s wedding – I couldn’t believe it – I had gotten that big! Now I really wanted to get serious about losing weight; but I wanted a diet where I could eat when I got hungry, and I wouldn’t have to spend my day counting calories and fat grams.
Fortunately, at this lowest point in my health and weight gain I found the McDougall books and tapes. I started the diet and an exercise program in 1994. Being a vegetarian has worked for me – I can eat whenever I want; and if it is fruits and vegetables, I can eat as much as I want. I don’t think the diet would have worked without my exercise. When I first started walking I could barely move, I was so heavy. Even though at first it was hard, I just started out slowly, walking around the neighborhood. Then I got a pedometer (a device that measures every step I take) and it helped me understand how much I moved everyday. Soon I was walking 5 miles a day according to the pedometer measurements.
In 1997 I joined the YMCA and took classes for older active adults – people in their 70s and 80s. In 1999 I had both knees replaced, and in 2000 surgery for spinal stenosis. By this time my health had improved to where, 5 weeks after surgery, I was canoeing for 3 hours. In 2002 I joined the exercise classes for younger women in order to increase my activity. I went in there as a white-haired little old lady, expecting 20 year-olds to look at me funny. But, I had no trouble keeping up and everyone has been welcoming and accepting. The other people in the exercise class say I am an inspiration for people of any age or size, because I took control of my life.
I’m now 68 years old and weigh 178 pounds (that’s 132 pounds of weight loss). I figure at 5’8″ I have about another 30 pounds to go before I am ideal. But the worst is over – once you start exercising and eating well it’s hard to stop. My life is full and I am so healthy that after my last annual exam my doctor said to me, “I don’t know what you are doing, but keep doing it.” My cholesterol has fallen from 263 mg/dl to 160 mg/dl.
My children are very impressed with how I have done and they even enjoy the recipes I make for them. I’m getting better at eating at restaurants. One of my most important reasons for staying healthy is my 8 grandchildren. I drive from Michigan to Louisiana and Texas to see them several times a year and at this rate of ever improving health I plan to make these trips by myself well into my 80s or maybe 90s.
People ask me often, “How do you write a book?” The answer is “You put the first word on the page.” The most difficult step is writing that first word. But once that is done the rest follows with a lot less resistance than you could ever imagine. As Joyce explains, it is the same with better health. The defining moment is when you take that first walk or make that first low-fat vegetarian dish. After that, the next session of exercise or healthy meal is so much easier – because you have made the decision to do something positive for yourself and proved it by starting.
So those of us in need of a better life need to do one very important thing, and that is to get started. Between now and New Years day would be a great time to lay this first brick for a foundation of better health for 2003. Doesn’t matter how much better you are doing now than before, every one of us has room for improvement. A preemptive strike is the easy way for living, rather than waiting for the battle to begin.
Those still doing things the hard way will wait for more pain, such as a heart attack, or a diagnosis of cancer before saying, “I give in, it’s time to buckle down and resolve the problems – they have finally become intolerable.”
After overcoming the biggest obstacle of getting started, then the next most helpful step you will take is to establish access to the right foods. So pick 3 or 4 restaurants, which serve healthy items (like Mexican, Chinese, Thai, Italian or vegetarian). Make a large pot of vegetable-bean soup, a casserole and a salad, and place the leftovers in the refrigerator. Having the foods available will make all the difference. Take proactive measures for your exercise program. Put your walking clothes and shoes out in plain sight – or better yet, put them on. Then, with your first free moment take off on your exercise adventure.
Once started don’t fall into the trap of thinking that an indiscretion equals failure. Instead, take this attitude: If I eat an unhealthy meal or fail to exercise one day the consequences are insignificant. Say to yourself, “This is not my diet or my usual activity routine – this is only an anomaly – tomorrow I will be back on track.” And tomorrow does come with another opportunity to execute choices that make you feel and look better. Never give up. The sooner you get it right the easier life will be, because the rules will never change – a diet of starches, vegetables, and fruits, daily exercise, and clean habits are the only roads to the health and appearance you deserve.