Friday, August 7, 2009

A little history (OK, so it's a lot...)

Want background on my weight-loss journey from 2003 to 2005? Here are the articles, as published in the Wilmington (N.C.) Star-News:

Published: 02/04/2003
People laugh when I tell them this, but I was prettiest at age 3. Look at my family photos from 1974 on and you’ll agree. I was a cute thing – curly brown hair, big brown eyes, small frame. Pretty.

You start seeing the “baby fat” in the kindergarten photos. And the third grade class photo – that’s where it becomes clear. I was a fat kid.

And I suffered the repercussions of being a fat kid. I was teased relentlessly on the school bus. I was teased in the lunchroom. I was teased in my neighborhood and in my own house.

I don’t remember all the names. But I remember the pain. It’s still inside me.

Clearest “fat joke” – and one that has stayed with me all these years – was when I was around 12. My parents were putting a second addition on our home in Pittsburgh, and the neighborhood kids were dying to see the inside of it. There wasn’t much to see – it was still in the early stages and there were only wooden beams up.
But I sneaked them all upstairs and gave them a tour. We were in the front room looking out to the driveway, when my mom’s car pulled up. Everyone knew we’d be in big trouble if she caught us.

“She’s gonna have a cow,” one friend said.

“She already did!” another replied.

And they all laughed.

A cow. I know there are worse names to be called – because I’ve been called them – but for some reason, that moment sticks with me. Maybe it’s because it was funny. A good quip. And I would have laughed had I not been the butt of their joke.

Being a fat kid was hard. My parents and grandparents would bribe me to lose weight. In my fifth-grade autograph book are reminders of those bribes, friends wishing me luck dropping 20 pounds and reminding me I could be $50 richer if I did.

There was the boy who told me I’d be “dateable” if only I were thin. The friend who said she’d put a pillow under her bathing suit if it made me feel more comfortable during a summer swim.

The fat kid became the fat teenager, who, despite all the bribes in the world, all the teasing, all the diets, all the work, all the loneliness, became the fat college student and soon the fat 20-something.

And now I sit here, at my desk job at the Star-News, and I’m the fat newspaperwoman. Only, “fat” seems almost too kind. I’m obese. I’m a step beyond obese. And there’s no way to hide it (insert joke here).

While it was hard being a fat kid, it’s been harder being a fat adult.

While the daily teasing ended in adulthood, what’s considered “acceptable humor” continues. On one occasion, a colleague, sitting a foot away from me, made joke after joke to a laughing crowd about the pre-thin Carnie Wilson and how, before her gastric bypass surgery, she probably spent every waking minute at the grocery store. Another recently wrote about the overweight opera singer Luciano Pavarotti and how he’s shaped like a Volkswagen Beetle. The comments stung. They weren’t about me, but they were about me.

Last year, in Raleigh to pick up a newspaper writing award, I felt the sting again. I was feeling good – not only because it was a special occasion for me, but I had just started a diet, and I had made it a solid two weeks eating right and walking two miles a day. Sitting down in the auditorium, a colleague, who also has a weight problem, recommended us sitting apart from each other because, as he told me, “we both spill over into the next seat.”

The special occasion didn’t feel so special anymore.

I know what I am and what I’m not. And I know it’s ultimately up to me to decide what I want to be and how I want to react to the world.

I know I’m much more than the image that reflects in the mirror.

I also know I can’t fault people for how they feel about me – and my weight – because, in many cases, I only am what they see.

So I’ve tried to find ways to make it easier on the people around me. When I’m forced to fly on a plane, I make sure I drive to Raleigh’s airport (it tends to offer planes with just window seats, which guarantees no one will have to sit next to me). I don’t go on amusement park rides. I try to leave a seat empty between me and others, so as not to “spill over” on them.

But I’m tired.

I’m tired of being only 28 years old and avoiding society. And I’m tired of carrying this past with me wherever I go.

I have tried and tried to start and get through diets or even healthier eating and daily exercise. I know what stops me is me. There always comes a point in the attempt where it just doesn’t seem worth it, where it seems it will never happen, so why bother?

I don’t want to be that person – not the person who gives up, not the person who gives up on herself.

So I’m going to try again. I’m going to devote myself to a 15-week program of diet and exercise – a la Weight Watchers – and see where it goes from there.

And each week, good or bad, I’ll share with you how it’s going.

Many will tell me it’s foolish to put myself “out there” for thousands of readers to see.

But hiding just isn’t an option.

Published: 02/11/2003
Sweat pouring down my face, my breath exhaling in short, hard puffs, I was hard at work – speed walking through my neighborhood with all the energy I could muster up.

Then, out of the blue, someone came up from behind and passed me. She was walking her dog. No, scratch that. She was taking her dog for a casual stroll.

And she passed me.

It’s humbling – to be out-walked by someone in jeans who appeared to be bored and didn’t have a drop of sweat on her face. But that’s what I’m facing these days – the early stages of a daily exercise routine.

Week 1 of this attempt at diet (er, healthy eating) and exercise produced great results – a loss of 6.8 pounds. It was thrilling to see those pounds vanish – though I’ve had to remind myself that the journey is a long one and each weekly weigh-in won’t continue to produce big drop-offs in weight.

But I do feel I’m on my way.

Week 1 wasn’t so bad. I walked nearly every day (minus a much needed Sunday rest) and ate what I should (though the intake of veggies wasn’t as high as it needs to be). I didn’t deprive myself of a night at a restaurant – a trip to Indochine – though I kept my portion of Pad Thai small and used chopsticks.

I won’t say it’s been easy. Trips to any store remind you of the approaching Valentine’s Day, which screams for me to buy an armful of chocolate. I won’t, though. I promise.

And there have been those mornings where hitting “snooze” seemed more desirable than hitting the pavement.

But something has kept me going. For one, I feel the support of strangers, friends and colleagues who have embraced this challenge of mine and who have offered their kind words and “you go, girl” encouragement. Who couldn’t succeed with the army of support behind you? And what a blessing that is.

Two – I’ve felt a little more at peace. My hope – in hindsight, actually – is that by having put the past on paper, by logging those failed attempts, those hurtful experiences, my fat history, I’m putting it to rest. I’m closing a book on the past. I’m moving forward with a new life and a new way of living.

Living, after all, is the key word.

Published: 02/18/2003
I was pretty shocked at losing 4.2 pounds this week – though I never faltered on my eating plan and walked five days, I really thought it would be harder to lose in the second week. I fear those weeks when the scale doesn’t reflect my work – but I’m hoping to remain focused.

I’ve learned it’s important to eat high-fiber foods, so I decided to share a favorite recipe of mine this week. It’s high in fiber, low in fat, and you can eat a good-size portion if you’re hungry and not feel a bit guilty (OK, well, I don’t recommend eating the whole pot). The best part of the dish? For non-cooks like myself, all it entails is dumping cans into a pot and stirring.

A good friend of mine shared the recipe with me last year as “chili,” but I’ve since learned it’s really called “Refried Bean Soup.” Either way, enjoy!

Refried Bean Soup (aka chili)
1 can chicken broth
2 cans fat-free refried beans
1 can finely diced tomatoes, drained
1 can black beans, drained
1 can kidney beans, drained
Sauteed onion and pepper (optional if you want to get fancy)
Heat until it bubbles, stirring to break up the refried beans.

Published: 02/25/2003
I was foolish this week.

I thought I had lost more weight than I had – then fell into a bit of a depression when I pulled out of my closet (and tried on) a brown blazer I hadn’t been able to button for about a year. Urrrrg! I still was far from fitting inside the bugger. I threw it to the floor (though I stopped myself from jumping up and down on it).

People keep asking me if I feel any different, if my clothes feel any better, but I haven’t been able to tell. While the dieting has gone very well (in three weeks, I’ve yet to eat more than I’m allotted), exercise is key and I haven’t been as good in that area.

The problem? Sheer exhaustion from work compounded with a new respiratory infection that makes it hard to breathe. I’m hoping to beat this illness soon – my goal is to be out walking again this morning and build myself back up.

To update you, I lost 2.8 pounds in Week 3. I just hope this newest curveball won’t keep me down.

Note: Just when I thought I was safe, having avoided the Valentine’s Day chocolate on the store shelves, I was greeted Sunday at Lowes Foods by a group of girls screaming “Want to buy some Girl Scout cookies?”

Normally, I would stop and purchase a few boxes, justifying it by “it’s charity. I have to support those cute little fund-raising scouts.” Instead, I offered a smile and a “Sorry, I can’t.”

Because I couldn’t.

Published: 03/04/2003
I am an emotional eater.

My life is filled with the patterns of an emotional eater. No matter the problem – lousy day at work, feeling alone, having trouble with finances – each carries with it the images of the ice cream, the pizza, the chips bleeping across the grocery store scanner.

I stuffed the food in my mouth to numb the rest. I tried to fill the emptiness – and in doing so became the obese woman I am today.

My patterns, my history, my habits have been in the forefront of my mind this week as I’ve struggled through a series of hard events: personal illness, work stress and, most recently, my mother’s hospitalization.

When all is good with the world, eating well and exercising daily is not a problem. But when the stress builds, all of a sudden, I feel a hunger I hadn’t felt before. It’s a hunger that craves the bad stuff. It’s a hunger that screams, “Eat and you’ll feel better. Fill the emptiness with food.”

It was enlightening to feel that hunger last week and know that it was not true hunger – it simply was my body trying to cope with bad news the way it has done for 28 years.

I’m happy to say I didn’t give in.

I had to work at it, though. Whenever I felt like giving in and grabbing a slice of cake or fast food, I had to repeat a question to myself: “Then what?” I had to ask myself, after you eat that food you’re craving, when the last crumb is gone, then what? What will you have left? You’ll have nothing to show for that five minutes of bingeing other than regret. Is it worth it?

For people who have never struggled with weight, it may be hard to understand why a person needs to question – and reconsider – every piece of food they pick up. But it’s a battle I must constantly fight. The self-questioning is a part of that. And it has helped me stay on track.

I’m taking it one day at a time.

My mom, thankfully, is out of the hospital. My cold is on its way out. And no matter the work I have facing me at the office, I’ve committed myself, once more, to getting in that daily walk.

This week, I’m happy to report, I lost an additional 4.8 pounds – and I’m a mere 1.6 away from my first goal of 20 pounds.

A few things have helped keep me on track – they’re not golden nuggets by any means, but they’ve helped me:

FROZEN YOGURT: No, not that commercial stuff. Just take some grocery store fat-free yogurt (I’m in love with lemon chiffon) and plop it in the freezer overnight. Let it defrost about 30-40 minutes, and it’s heavenly. Same with frozen grapes. Yum.

HOT TEA: When going out for “coffee” with a friend, I remembered that it wouldn’t be wise to have a double mocha latte (or even a skinny one). So I ordered some caffeine-free hot tea, and it was perfect. Bonus: It was a great way to end a day and is soothing to the stomach.

RAW SPINACH: I’m not much of a salad person (I just don’t have time to chop all that stuff up), but I love filling a bowl with raw baby spinach and tossing it with a tablespoon of low-fat dressing. It’s a great way to get in those veggies.

SUPPORT SYSTEM: I used to be one of those people who thought she didn’t need anyone to help her lose weight – in fact, I hated people bothering me about it. I’ve since learned (from our readers) that surrounding yourself with people who support you and encourage you is golden.

THAT SHIRT/SKIRT THAT DOESN’T FIT: I love trying on clothes now – just to see if they fit a little better. It can be frustrating, yes. But slowly but surely, that outfit’s gonna fit.

A GOOD BOOK: Instead of watching TV to unwind (which may cause unnecessary snacking), I’ve found that going into my bedroom to read is a much better substitute.

INCENTIVES: Each week at the grocery store, I buy myself a bouquet of flowers for my dining room table. When I hit 20 pounds of weight loss, I’m treating myself to a facial. At 30, well, who knows? I’ll find something great to shoot for. It’s so important to reward yourself – and with something other than food.

Published: 03/11/2003
Yes, you’re reading that number right – I am 1.2 pounds heavier than last week. And believe me, seeing that weight gain written in ink on my chart was heartbreaking.

No, I didn’t eat pie or pizza or indulge in anything bad. I think that’s what made it feel worse.

No matter what I heard this week – reminders that there will always be weight fluctuations, that my body could be experiencing a plateau, that I had been losing too much and my body’s trying to hold on – I still felt like I had failed.

As a result, I didn’t walk. I entered that “why bother?” phase. I cursed my fat body in the mirror.

I know I’m doing good – the proof is in how my eating habits have changed, how the pizza man no longer makes weekly trips to my home, how I’m saving money by not stopping for take-out lunches, dinners, midnight snacks.

At the same time, I worry that this bump in the road will make me regress.

I’ve got to stop that from happening.

Published: 03/18/2003
“Don’t you dare give up!” the letter began.

It was from a reader who, having read last week’s update where I gained a pound and fell into a bit of a depression, didn’t want me to stop, didn’t want me to give up on the dieting, or myself.

Her note made me smile.

She would be happy to know I did not let the weight gain keep me down – at least for more than a day or two.

This week, the scale showed progress, a loss of 2.2 pounds. And while I love seeing that number, there was an even more exciting moment for me this past weekend. I pulled out that brown jacket (the one that was inches from buttoning a month ago), and it fit! It was a thrilling, thrilling experience.

An interesting note: Grocery store shopping has never been exciting for me. When I ate what I wanted, it was a depressing trip – wondering what the clerk thought of me as she rang up the fattening foods. And as a new dieter, I would buy the veggies and light meals, all the while thinking, “Oh, who am I kidding?”

But that changed for me this weekend. I shopped with a new attitude. I was excited to buy healthful ingredients for new dishes. I was excited to pick out the best looking grapes and new flavors of hot tea. I was excited – because I knew I had entered a new lifestyle, and this shopping trip represented how I’d be eating the rest of my life.

Here’s a recipe for those who need a little something sweet (though I recommend freezing half of them and individually bagging the others so you don’t eat too many).

Chocolate Pumpkin Muffins
15-ounce can of regular pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)
1 box of chocolate cake mix
Mix pumpkin and box of chocolate cake mix. Put the mixture in a muffin pan sprayed with nonstick spray and bake at 350 degrees for approximately 30 minutes. This makes 12-18 muffins that are 2-3 points for each (for those Weight Watcher folks out there).

Published: 03/25/2003
I’ll never forget the day I discovered I wouldn’t fit into my graduation gown at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

It was a few weeks before Graduation Day, and two friends had stopped by my dorm room with their pale blue caps and gowns, eager to try them on. They slipped them on and twirled as I snapped their photo – then they asked if I wanted to give it a try.

I sure did.

But as soon as I slipped my arms into the sleeves, I knew it wasn’t going to fit. It was tight in the arms and it wouldn’t close. I suddenly felt nauseous. What was I going to do?

I faked it, smiled happily and slipped it right off without even trying to zip it. “I’ll wait until I get my own,” I said, shooing away the camera. When I finally got around to buying mine, I had to order the “plus-size” gown.

It was terribly embarrassing. I mean, it’s a full graduation gown – aren’t those things supposed to be one-size-fits-all?

Clothes – and my inability to fit into them – have always been an issue for me, for as long as I can remember. I was a young girl in elementary school when I learned that “one-size-fits-all” would never apply to me. As a youngster, I wore women’s sizes. As a woman, I wore plus sizes.

And I’ve worn a lot of black – ever since the day my mom told me the color was “slimming.” In fact, there are laundry days when the entire load is black. White, yellow, pink – the feminine colors I’ve always yearned to wear – were out of the question.

A few years ago, preparing to return to UNC for a journalism function, I bought a pretty blue floral dress for the garden reception. At the hotel, I put the dress on – then stood in front of the mirror in tears as I realized how horrible I looked and how much my large body would stand out in that pattern. For the first hour of the reception, I looked out of my hotel window at the people gathering with drinks below. I couldn’t move – I was too terrified.

My weight has stopped me many times from enjoying that one thing women love to do – shop. My role in high school was to accompany friends on shopping trips, help pick out fabulous outfits and wait outside the dressing room as they tried them on.

I’ve never once been able to experience the joy of clothes shopping for myself.

I’m looking forward to the day when I can walk into a store and not have to head to the plus-size section, when I can be normal-sized, when I can wear the cool, hip colors and patterns.

I’m taking it one pound at a time – and I’m happy to say I’m up to 22.8 pounds lost. I’m slowly starting to feel a difference in my clothes, which means they’ll soon be too big and I’ll have to head to the mall to replace them.

I won’t let it get me down.

Here’s another recipe I tried last week – and love. It’s another great way to get in those much-needed vegetables. One cup equals one point (for the Weight Watcher folks out there).

Cheesy Vegetable Soup
2 pounds of frozen veggies (California medley is good)
3 cans fat-free chicken broth
1 can of Rotel tomatoes
10 ounces Light Velveeta
Dump all ingredients in the pot and bring to a boil. Let simmer for 4-5 minutes. Add ounces of Light Velveeta in small pieces (to melt faster). When it’s melted in, you’re ready to eat.

Published: 04/01/2003
“I hate dieting during conferences.”
That was my one-line food journal update this week – written during a week of sitting on my duff for seven days straight and eating hotel food during a journalism conference in Virginia.

Don’t worry. I didn’t cave into the quesadillas and chips.

It was the hardest week – carefully eating tiny portions of meals because I wasn’t sure how many calories or fat grams they had. I was unable to weigh in – due to being out of town during our meeting, then having trouble finding the local Weight Watchers office, which only does weigh-ins a few hours a week.

So I can’t tell you how I’m doing in numbers – but I can tell you that I feel great. My mom visited me Saturday and hugged me tight, her pride in my weight loss enveloping me. I’m starting to feel a difference in my clothes.
And people are pulling me aside and whispering words of “looking good.” I’m feeling good – and it’s a great thing.

Published: 04/08/2003
My slip fell off at work last week.

Yep. It was pretty embarrassing, the black lace falling past my knees on the way to my boss’s office. I quickly scooted back to my desk, shimmied the thing back up and fidgeted in front of a co-worker until the slip was back in place.

I embarrass easily, but this time, well, I have to admit I felt a little joyous at the, er, slip.

It’s hard to believe I’m still losing weight. I’m still feeling a lot of pride for not falling off the wagon at my conference last month, and I think that’s keeping me moving, keeping me focused. Last week, I started looking into joining a gym, though I haven’t committed yet. I love my morning walks (and breathing in fresh air), but something tells me some focused training on those parts of my body screaming to be smaller would be even better for me.

And I have an appointment with my mom next weekend to get some clothes taken in – exciting!

FYI: Don’t let my exclamation points fool you – I still have difficulties, maybe not every day, but often. This weekend, I was in a foul mood, and I yearned to just pull into a McDonald’s parking lot and order up. White-knuckled, I had to fight the urge. And it was indeed a fight.

Published: 04/15/2003
My bathroom scale hasn’t been able to accommodate me for years.

It’s embarrassing to admit. But for the past few years, when my bare feet have climbed aboard the tiny square, the scale pointer would zoom through the numbers, climb past the 280 mark and then start over again at 0.

I’d have to do math to figure out how much I weighed.

I can’t believe I’m admitting to this. But it’s time. Who was I kidding anyhow? When I couldn’t fit into the auditorium seat or had to struggle with the car seatbelt, it’s not like I could hide my 300-plus pound body.

OK, so 317-pound body to be exact.

Flash back to the late 1980s. I remember sitting on a school bus – I must have been in middle school – and staring up at the boy in the seat in front of me, who had turned around and started in on his daily teasing.

“What do you weigh, like 300 pounds?” he said, laughing.

“No!” I remember shouting, thinking that I could never be so large, and hoping at the same time that he wouldn’t take his teasing down a notch and ask if I weighed 200 pounds, which I believe I was nearing at the time.

But more than a decade later, I’d reach that 300-pound mark, not even fully aware of it when it happened. For about two or three years, when I was a reporter in Jacksonville and then Southport, I stopped weighing myself. I stopped attempts at exercise. And I ate and ate.

Then, during a yearly physical exam in 2002, I glanced down at the front of my medical records, where, in black ink, last year’s nurse had written the words “morbidly obese” next to my name. My heart ached, those words ripping through me.

It didn’t stop me, though, from going home and eating.

Last year, I made two attempts to lose weight. The first lasted twentysomething days, ending when I took a trip to New York. The second lasted about two weeks, ending when I took a trip to Maryland. Both times, I’d eat one bad thing (a piece of Easter candy in New York and a cookie in Maryland) and those bad things would jolt my brain into believing I was done. No more dieting. I can’t do it.

This time around, I haven’t allowed myself those pieces of candy or cookies, mainly because I’m afraid of how I’ll react to even tiny acts of “cheating.” Some think I’m silly, others think I’m strong, but I know in my heart, it’s something I must do to keep losing weight, to get that scale pointer down below the second 0 mark.

So imagine, if you will, the pure euphoria I experienced last week when my bathroom scale finally accommodated me.

I’ve lost 31 pounds – my first Weight Watchers 10 percent goal – and I can finally weigh myself without doing math.

Note: I know the numbers don’t add up, but my scale, God love it, is about six pounds off.

Here’s another recipe, good for a family dinner (and no one will gripe about the low-fat status). It’s a Weight Watcher recipe (eight servings; 6 points each):

Chicken ’n’ Cheese Casserole
2 cups cooked macaroni
2 cups coarsely chopped cooked skinless, boneless chicken breasts
1 can 98-percent fat-free condensed cream of mushroom soup (undiluted)
1.5 cups fat-free milk
8 ounces low-fat cheddar cheese, cut into small cubes
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In large casserole dish, combine all ingredients, mixing well.
Bake, covered, 35-45 minutes. Remove cover; bake 10-15 minutes longer, and serve.

Published: 04/22/2003
As my co-workers passed around the chocolate, hollow Easter bunny last week, I so wanted to grab an ear – or even just a nose or toe. I was craving pure milk chocolate, so much that I even dreamed that I ate a bag of Hershey’s Kisses.

Of course, the end of that dream was me in tears, cursing myself for blowing my diet.

So I steered clear of the bunny.

I’ve been feeling good, as that scale continues to go down. But my conscience (and, really, my co-worker) has been nagging me for my biggest shortfall – I haven’t exercised for, like, um, two weeks. I’ve blamed it on the rain, the pollen, my workload. And my eyes have avoided the wall in my home where I’ve posted letters from supportive readers urging me to get outside and exercise.

Are you ashamed? Yeah, me too.

So I got out on Monday and took my two-mile walk. I’m going to get back into this regime. No more excuses.

Published: 04/29/2003
I woke up before my alarm went off Monday morning – so I was ready, and waiting, when the beep-beep-beep marked 6:30 a.m.

I was slow, though, getting my walking shoes on. I sat on the edge of the bed and looked around the room, searching for something to delay my morning walk.

My eyes fell on a stack of photos on my desk – set aside for their eventual filing into a photo album. I grabbed the stack and started flipping through it.

A few of the photos were from a trip I took last March to see my sister in New York. There we were, posing with my favorite Broadway actor, Brian Stokes Mitchell. My eyes settled on his handsome face and wide smile – and then they sharply landed on my wide face, double chin and matted-down hair (from having been profusely sweating in the theater).

The next few photos were from a family vacation last summer in Pittsburgh where, on one day, we visited Kennywood amusement park. The camera had captured pictures of my sister and mom riding the Ferris wheel, roller coasters, anything that moved fast.

There were no pictures of me during that day in the park. I knew – from having learned the hard way – that I wouldn’t fit on those rides. My body had reached a point where it was too big for the belts or bars or straps. And forget about even riding on the merry-go-round – I wasn’t about to be seen climbing up (and climbing off) those horses.

Mixed in the stack of recent photographs was one from my sister’s wedding in 1995. It was a family portrait, and I was on the end, dressed in a blue bridesmaid’s gown. I was only a junior in college, but I was twice the size of the others.

I’m not one to shy away from cameras. I hate when people say “Don’t take my picture – I’m too fat” or “I’m not getting in that photo – I look awful,” because I know photos are important for history, for family, for memories.

So I bear with the camera – and hold my breath when the photos come back from the developer.

It was frustrating to see, as I sat on the edge of my bed Monday looking through those photos, what years of unhealthful living had done – what I had done to myself.

It was enough of a kick in the pants to get me outside, walking, walking toward a new (and more photogenic) life.

Have I got a recipe for you – a most wonderful, light summer dessert, compliments of my last Weight Watchers meeting. A big disclaimer, though: Make sure you portion the dish into little one-cup containers. You don’t want to sit down with a big bowl of fluff and find the whole thing gone by the first commercial break.

1 can crushed pineapple (with juice)
1 cup mandarin oranges (with juice)
1 (8-ounce) fat-free vanilla yogurt
1 (8-ounce) fat-free Cool Whip
1 box instant fat-free sugar-free white chocolate OR vanilla pudding
Dump all of it in a bowl. Mix. Refrigerate.
One cup equals one point.

Published: 05/06/2003
The scale finally got to me.

No, not the one I step on at my Weight Watchers meetings. That scale registered a 1.2-pound loss this week. But the scale in my bathroom at home – that one kept taunting me. I’d see it in the mornings and want desperately to step on it to see if my weight went down.

Then, when I’d see the same blasted number – or a higher one - I’d fall into a depression.

So I finally did something about it. Not wanting to be ruled by the daily taunting of the scale (and everyone knows you shouldn’t weigh yourself every day), I put the scale in my closet.

No more daily weigh-ins.

On another positive note, I finally joined a gym.

It was a big step for me. I kept telling myself I didn’t need a gym to exercise – I had the outdoors to walk, I had an exercise room at my apartment complex.

But I knew I was kidding myself. I knew I needed consistency. I knew I needed a trainer to guide me, to keep me on track, to move me in the right direction.

So I did it.

It wasn’t easy – especially the moment when I had my body fat measured. I knew it would be bad, but I still was surprised – and embarrassed – to see the number (49 percent – and believe me, it pains me to share that with you).

“A person your age should be at 18 percent,” the gym employee smirked.

OK, thanks. I’ll remember that.

Three months ago, her comment would have left me in tears, and I may have given up on the spot. But over the past 13 weeks, I’ve gained a bit of confidence – that I really can do this. No one is going to stop me.

Published: 05/13/2003
I’ve had a lot of “wake-up” moments this week.

I bought two skirts on Sunday right off the rack without trying them on, thinking they would definitely fit, perhaps even be too big.

Wake up, Diana.

Planning to wear the one outfit Monday, I stepped into the skirt and nearly suffocated from how tight it was. No where near ready to fit. What was I thinking?

And that new outfit I bought for Easter? I swear, when I looked in the mirror, I saw a slimmer Diana. But when Mom shared the newly developed photographs with me this weekend, I was devastated at how I looked. The same. The same as I’ve always looked.

Wake up, Diana.

I am proud at what I’ve accomplished these past few months. And I haven’t been fooling myself regarding how long this process was going to take. I suppose I just thought I had come further than I really had. A bit depressing. But don’t worry – I won’t let it stop me.

The gym is going well. They’re working me hard, thankfully, and really helping me get this part of my life under control. I actually look forward to each visit, something I never imagined would happen.

I’ve just got to be more realistic about my journey.

Published: 05/20/2003
The mug was a gift from my grandmother – though I’m not sure what holiday it was for or how old I was when I received it.

But I was a child in elementary school, and the mug – bearing my name, a picture of three ice cream cones and the word “irresistible” – should have made me smile or laugh.

It didn’t. Instead, I burst into tears.

“It means I can’t resist ice cream cones,” I cried. “I eat too many.

I was a fat child and I was sure the coffee mug was a hint that I needed to lose weight.

I still have that mug today – faded from its years of use and a constant reminder of that day and how I felt.

I tell you this story – as I’ve told you so many others – because it is my history. Pudgy, overweight, fat, obese – it’s all I’ve ever been known as. It’s who I am and who I’ve always been.

I’ve never resolved myself to those words. I’ve tried many times to fight them, to lose the pounds, to battle against the bulge. But somehow I’ve always ended up back in the same place, back facing those adjectives that follow “Diana” much more often than the word “irresistible.”

So I must tell you, my expectations were not all that high when I started this Weight Watch 15 weeks ago. I had no idea what I’d face, what I’d overcome, what I’d resist – or not resist. I just dove right in.

My theory, and what I told myself over and over, was “It’s only 15 weeks. Give yourself 15 weeks, push yourself hard for 15 weeks, and then what happens, happens.”

It was only 15 weeks out of my life. If I couldn’t eat healthy and exercise for a short 15 weeks, then I was one weak person. So I focused on that 15 weeks.

In the beginning, it was hard. Folks at work would say, “Have a slice of pizza – one slice won’t hurt you.” Friends at dinner would encourage a little dessert – just a little isn’t bad, they’d say.

And in the beginning, it was hard to say no. But I did.

It used to be that people would give me the leftovers, knowing I’d tidy things up by eating the last doughnut or inhaling the remaining crumbs of cake. And I’m sure that, in the beginning, they thought, “Oh, it will only be a matter of time before Diana stops this diet and resumes her old habits.”

But that time never came.

After weeks of saying “no,” people stopped asking. They began to realize that no matter what they placed in front of me, I wasn’t going to eat it.

So they stopped asking, stopped offering, stopped assuming.

You’d be surprised what kind of habits you can form in a few weeks. After about a month, eating a balanced breakfast, packing a healthful lunch, eating a prescribed dinner – it all became a part of my life. I stopped looking at those fast-food restaurant landmarks on the way home from work. My eyes naturally avoided the old temptations at the supermarket. I started flipping through healthful cookbooks and finding new ways to spice up my meals. I embraced my vegetable steamer at home that served up zucchini and squash in a tasty way. I made friends with one-cup serving size containers. I packed bananas and bran muffins and pretzels for snacks at work. I experimented with new foods so I wouldn’t get bored. I found myself saving money because I no longer stopped for lunches or dinners or snacks.

And I began to feel like I could do it – I only had 14, 13, 12, 11 weeks to go.

The exercise part of the equation was a little harder for me. I worked hard at getting up at 6:30 a.m. and walking the first few weeks – but there was a period of about two weeks in the middle of the Weight Watch where I didn’t walk at all.

So once I felt I had the “dieting” part of the equation down – a good three months into my program - I focused on the exercise part by joining a gym. And that soon became a habit, too.

I truly believe that had I joined a gym in the beginning, something would have suffered. It’s like what motivational people tell you – don’t try to give up everything at once. It’s unrealistic to say, “I’m going to quit smoking, quit drinking coffee and run every morning” all at the same time. You have to start small, with baby steps. Taking away too much too quickly from your life usually means none of your goals will last.

But baby steps – they work quite well.

And after a few weeks of a solid exercise routine, I felt I was headed in the right direction in reshaping my body.

Remember – I only had to do it for 4, 3, 2, 1 more week(s).

Today, I’m 38.6 pounds lighter than the first of February when the Weight Watch began. I’ve dropped at least a size in my clothes, and people are noticing. I’m very happy with my weight loss – though you might not always be able to tell, as I’m still a little too afraid to be too proud. I’m not there yet.

But I need to believe I can be.

This weight loss, this feeling, this ability to walk at a better pace and enjoy more of life’s offerings – it’s, well, “irresistible.”

Let’s try another 15 weeks. I think I can do that.

I’ll never forget the first letter I received after the Weight Watch began.

It was the day the first story was published, and a co-worker left me a poem and a note on my desk, both encouraging this new journey of mine. I cried at her kindness.

And I put that note and poem on my wall at home, next to a copy of the inaugural Weight Watch article, as a means of encouragement. I continued to do that with each piece of correspondence I received.

Today, my wall has grown to two walls. Your letters, your e-mails, your cards have filled me with constant encouragement. Your stories, your advice, your words have told me I’m not alone. I have laughed and cried (many times) at your words. And I can’t thank you enough.

Thanks, too, to my phone buddies who check in and fill my voice mail with inspiration.

I couldn’t have done it without you, readers. And to know that you’ve been a part of someone’s success and journey toward a better, healthier life – I hope you know how amazing that is. I’m forever thankful. And I won’t let you down.

Published: 06/24/2003
My 10-year high school reunion is in 26 days.

For many years, I dreamed of this day. In those foggy, cue-the-music dreams, I looked stunning – of course – and I won the heart of the boy I loved in high school. (OK, so that boy didn’t exactly love me back in the 1990s, but, in these dreams taking place a decade later, he realized what a fool he was and we lived happily ever after).

That boy got married Friday.

And it wasn’t to me.

I’ll be attending that reunion sans a man, but who cares, right? I’ll be stunning and – cue the music – they’ll all whisper what a knockout Diana turned into. And I’ll dance with them all.

OK, so that won’t be happening either.

Yes, I am pleased as punch that I’ve lost nearly 50 pounds in the past five months. But when the proofs of my “after photo” taken last month landed on my desk, my heart sank. I couldn’t see a bit of difference from the “before” to the “after.” From where did those 50 pounds come off? My toes? My ears? You certainly couldn’t tell anywhere else.

So those little fantasies I had in my head of that 10-year-reunion – they came to a screeching halt. I wouldn’t be turning any heads. In fact, though I was pretty fat in high school, I was still much thinner than I am today. No matter what I accomplished in the past five months, I still am going to look worse than I did on that graduation day in 1993.

Luckily, I went to a high school that wasn’t afraid to crown an overweight senior as prom queen. I went to a high school where – though I wasn’t exactly “dateable” – people didn’t treat me all that bad. None of the “fatty four-eyes” I got in grade school. None of the chasing me into the bathroom I got in middle school.

So, though I’ve had my moments of self-pity mixed with self-berating, I’m not going to let my weight weigh me down – not this time. I’m going to find that pretty size 24 dress and remind myself that it could have been a size 32 had I not started this Weight Watch in February.

And I’m going to dance. Granted, it may be with my female pals to I Will Survive, but I’m going to dance.

How’s it been going otherwise?

Good, actually.

I’m up to a total weight loss of 49.6 pounds, anxiously awaiting that 50-pound mark. And I’ve been doing it by continuing what has worked for me these past five months. I’m following the Weight Watchers program like a straight-A student, writing in my journal every time I put something in my mouth and checking off the glasses of water I down.

I’ve been regularly going to the gym, too – at least three times a week, but more if I have the time. There’s nothing better than that feeling of giving my body a good workout, though lately, I have had problems feeling nauseous toward the end of my time at the gym. That culminated in one of the scariest things that has happened to me – I passed out this weekend at the gym (though I was thankfully treated with care by a great trainer).

So I’m trying to pinpoint what went wrong – and I’m now making sure I have solid food in my stomach before I work out. I hope that does it. It has frightened me a lot – so much that I haven’t returned since.

On a bright note, more of my college clothes are fitting me – including a pair of pajamas that I loved my senior year. And more of my bigger clothes are starting to hang off me and will need to be packed away – this time for good.

Published: 07/29/2003
I don’t think I’ll ever forget that feeling.

Standing among friends and dressed in my new, black, fancy dress, I held tight to my camera, ready to snap a photo of the soon-to-be-announced 1993 White Oak High School prom queen.

Then I heard my name.

I still was peering into the camera when friends started patting me on the shoulder.

I was overweight – at my heaviest in my 18 years – and I was just named prom queen.

But it wasn’t a total surprise. This was, after all, the same class that embraced me from the get-go when I was 14 years old and a transplant from Pittsburgh. Where I was met with daily teases in my old school, this one, well – it just didn’t pay much attention to my weight.

And clearly, classmates overlooked it once again as they handed me that rhinestone crown and “Prom Queen” sash.

So why was I so nervous, 10 years later, about attending my high school reunion?

I can’t answer that one. All I know was that my hands shook as I dressed for the first reunion event – an informal gathering at a Jacksonville cafe. I sat in my car for 15 minutes, mustering up the courage.

And then I walked in.

And it was good.

Each event that weekend was wonderful - being with friends, dancing, talking and never once worrying that I didn’t fit in. At the formal affair, dressed in my new, black fancy dress and taking photo after photo of my old classmates, the Class of 1993 did it again – naming me best-dressed woman of the night. Me – overweight and even bigger than I was on that prom night 10 years before.

I have to tell you, when I dress up, my demeanor is much different than it was six months ago, and I know that has an effect on my “appearance.” At 59.6 pounds lighter, I step into outfits with a big ol’ smile on my face, tickled at the progress I’ve made.

A few weeks ago, I bought a new 12-week Weight Watchers food diary – something I have religiously used since I began this diet in January. Buying that new diary – my third one – was a proud moment, as it symbolized my sticking to this for a solid half a year. I have never been able to do such a thing before.

And it was a very good feeling.

You need to know that this “diet” is no longer a struggle for me. After the third month or so, it became much easier – it became a new way of eating and living. I hope that’s encouragement for those of you who struggle with similar demons. Just give yourself three months – three solid months of sticking to the program – and I promise you, it will become easier.

Along these lines, I recently was given some wonderful advice on the online forum, and I want to pass it along. I can’t say it better than the writer, so here are his words:

“What’s remarkable about sticking to something over time is this: Those six months would have passed just the same if you had done nothing,” Tony wrote. “Instead, you chose a program, stuck to it and now see positive results. “A friend of mine lost several pounds (over 100) in the course of two years. A mutual friend said, ‘I’d like to lose weight like that, too, but ... two YEARS it took her!’

“I reminded her that those two years are going to pass anyway, and that she could either spend that time pursuing her goals or let them pass without doing so. Regardless, that time is going to pass.”

What good advice. I’m ready to tackle the next six months.

Published: 08/26/2003
As I boarded the plane bound for New York City last month, I looked the flight attendant square in the eye, smiled and said hello. Then I promptly went to my seat, buckled up and prepared for takeoff.

It was a big deal.

In years past, my heart always beat a little faster and my eyes always focused on the ground when I boarded a plane and had to ask the attendant quietly for a seatbelt extender. He or she would then open a little metal closet, pull out my request and slyly pass it to me, trying not to draw attention to the Fat Lady Who Couldn’t Fit In Her Seat.

But today, I no longer need seatbelt extenders. I’m 65 pounds lighter, and I can buckle that belt just fine, thank you. I can’t tell you how exhilarating it was the first time I sat down – extender in hand – and realized I didn’t need it. It was back in June, and I ended up stuffing the extra belt in the seat pocket in front of me, smiling periodically at it during the flight.

It’s definitely been a more confident summer for me. I’ve been pulling old college-era clothes from my closet and wearing them with pride. I’ve been buying smaller outfits and ditching the old ones that now hang off me. And I made it through three mini-vacations in July without falling off the wagon.

I have to admit, though, I was guilty of not working out most of July.

“Yeah, but you’re still walking, right?” my co-worker asked.

Uh, no.

So with his help, I resumed going to the gym – and I’m getting back into that habit. I promise.

Here’s a new recipe I’ve grown to love (and eat every week). It serves 6 (at 2 points a serving for Weight Watchers folks). I, however, tend to eat two servings at a time. Yum!

Squash Casserole
4 large yellow squash
1 small onion, chopped
½ cup water
1 garlic clove, crushed
¼ cup nonfat cream cheese at room temperature
½ cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1 large egg, lightly beaten
¼ teaspoon salt and pepper, to taste
6 unsalted soda crackers
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a shallow 1½-quart dish. Combine squash, onion, water and garlic. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 12 minutes or until tender. Drain well. Mash with potato masher. Stir in cream cheese, 6 tablespoons of cheddar cheese, egg, salt and pepper. Pour into a baking dish. Crush crackers and mix with remaining cheddar cheese and sprinkle on top of casserole. Bake 30 minutes or until bubbly. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.

Published: 09/30/2003
It’s been a hard summer. I’ve been craving fried chicken. Pizza. A big ol’ burger. Maybe some fries.

Folks at work have been confused. “Are you falling off the wagon?” they ask.

Not exactly.

I haven’t actually eaten those morsels. I just want them. Really bad.

I don’t know what’s gotten into me. I’ve never been happier with the way I look, and I’ve been buying clothes like a back-to-school-shopping-junkie. But the weight loss has been significantly slower in the past three months, and I can’t help but think my cravings are the result of that.

I’ve also been oh-so-slack about going to the gym. Or walking.

But summer is over, and while I am still on a roll in this weight-loss project (I can’t believe I cracked the 70-pound mark!), I know I’ve got to get down to business. I’m starting a new job at the paper this week that should give me plenty of time for morning workouts, and I’m consciously looking at the one-year mark and hoping I can hit the big 100.

I realize it’s going to take even more work as the weight-loss slows and the frustration quickens. But I just can’t see myself turning back now.

I attended the wedding of a good friend last week and was shocked when I had the film developed – and caught a glimpse of what I looked like. The double chin that’s been as much a part of me as my brown eyes wasn’t quite as prominent. I barely recognized myself.

I was glad my mind had finally caught up with what everyone else is seeing.

It’s funny how the mind works. I’ll try on an old outfit – one I haven’t worn since college – and it will fit. My mind, though, will say, “Oh, Diana, it ALWAYS fit. You just decided NOT to wear it.” I’ll get weighed in at Weight Watchers, be told I’ve lost 2 pounds, and my mind will say, “They’re just lying to you to make you feel better.”

So in addition to exercising my body, I’ve had to exercise my mind, as well. And it’s almost as hard.

Published: 10/28/2003
A smile plastered across my face, I walked into the health club Thursday and made a beeline for the weight-lifting section. I walked past men pumping iron, the sweat pouring down their faces, and noted their curious expressions as they watched me approach the 40, 50, 60-pound dumbbells.

Spotting the 70-pound weight, I gleefully grabbed it.

Of course, it was too heavy to lift.

A man with muscles bulging out of his T-shirt noticed my dilemma.

“Ma’am?” he said.

I knew what he was wondering. So I told him.

“I lost 75 pounds!” I said happily, trying to explain – without it sounding like an episode of Oprah – that I just wanted to see how much 75 pounds weighed.

“Well, that’s great,” he said, his eyes still narrowed and curious as I walked away with a little bounce in my step and headed for “my” section of the gym – the walking path.

It was one of the happiest days of my life, on Thursday, when I weighed in and hit another milestone.

I couldn’t stop smiling throughout the day, and I managed to tell every co-worker, friend and, yes, stranger just what I had achieved.

The weight loss is going well.

I’ve returned to the gym, where I’m doing cardio and strength-training at least four times a week.

And with the cooler weather, I’m heating up the stove and trying new recipes – which really helps in losing weight (I’ve noticed my body gets tired of the same-old, same-old).

I’m wearing jeans a lot (an item of clothing I’ve never owned before this summer). And I’m finding that many of my favorite pieces of winter clothing now hang on me.

I’m definitely feeling good.

Another reason I’m extra-pumped this week: I turn 29 years old tomorrow, and while birthdays usually don’t mean a lot to me, this one does. For one thing, I’m so much healthier than I was a year ago, and that’s worth celebrating.

But I’m also excited because of what my 30th year promises. A few months ago, I gave myself a goal: to reach my ideal weight by the time I turned 30. Even if it’s not completely doable (I still have about 100 pounds more to lose), I know that after this year passes, I’ll be smaller than I’ve been since, well, seventh grade, I believe. I’m very excited.

(And don’t worry – no birthday cake for me.)

Here are two recipes I’ve recently tried and enjoyed. The meatloaf is wonderful – and it’s one of the few dishes I bring into work where folks say, “What smells so good?” The pumpkin pie may be a good substitute for your family during the Thanksgiving holiday.

Barbecue Meatloaf
1 pound ground round
½ cup barbecue sauce, divided
¼ cup chopped onion
¼ cup Italian-seasoned dry bread crumbs
2 large eggs
¼ teaspoon pepper
Mix all ingredients, except ¼ cup of the barbecue sauce. Put mixture into a loaf pan. Spread remaining barbecue sauce on top. Bake 25-30 minutes at 375 degrees. Serves four. Five points a serving.

Impossible Pumpkin Pie
1 (16-ounce) can pumpkin
1 (13-ounce) can evaporated fat-free skim milk
2 tablespoons light margarine or butter, softened
2 eggs
¾ cup sugar
½ cup reduced fat Bisquick baking mix
2½ teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
Cloves and/or cinnamon, optional
2 teaspoons vanilla
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray pie plate. Beat all ingredients on high with hand mixer. Bake 50-55 minutes. Makes eight servings. 2 points (less if you use Splenda instead of sugar).

Published: 11/25/2003
Stepping on the bathroom scale, watching the little marker creep upward from where it was just the day before, I stormed off, kicked the metal square into its corner and stared at myself in the mirror.

“Why?” I pleaded. “My weight was down. It was. And now it’s back to the same stupid place it was last week. Why?”

You see, I was on my way to my weekly Weight Watchers meeting. The fact that I was facing a weigh-in where I yet again “maintained” didn’t please me.

Driving to the meeting that day, I thought about my situation.

And it hit me.

What’s my hurry?

OK, so the weight loss is taking a long time. But, realistically, I know it’s going to take a long time. I know the pounds aren’t going to drop off in large numbers every single week. And I also know that the best way to lose weight is slowly.

So what is my hurry?

We are a society that wants instant gratification. We don’t want to wait for anything. We want it now. And if we can’t get it now, we move on to something else.

That’s why diets fail. I know – I’ve been there many times. You make the decision: I’m going to start a diet and/or exercise program “on Monday.” Or “tomorrow.” You start out great – eating right, working out every day.

Then, after a few weeks, or maybe even days, you step on the scale, don’t see the big weight-loss you were hoping for, and then it’s “forget it. It’s not worth it. I’ll never get there.”

But what’s your hurry?

I’m not saying you shouldn’t get frustrated. I get frustrated all the time. For the first half of this journey, I lost an average of 10 pounds a month. Now it’s down to about five, or as was the case this month, 4.6. It gets frustrating. You wish it would go quicker. So you have every right to kick that scale or talk crazy into the bathroom mirror.

But don’t you dare give up.

‘Cause look how far you’ve come.

My secret weapon
I have a secret.

It’s kind of embarrassing.

But it’s what’s gotten me through nearly 10 months without a candy bar or bag of chips. And if it could help other people in their quest to lose weight, well, then it’s a secret purposefully told.

Every day, when I’m heating up my dinner in the office break room, I go to the snack machine and pick an item or two. For example, a Twix candy bar and a cinnamon roll. I don’t actually put money in the machine and unwrap these sinful goodies. But I picture myself doing so.

I close my eyes and imagine: Reaching into the machine and pulling out the Twix. Unwrapping it. Biting into the bar, my teeth first quickly going through the soft caramel topping, then hitting the harder cookie. I imagine the taste. The swallow. The moving on to the cinnamon roll, where I unwrap the gooey cake, my hands sticky from the icing. And the game continues.

You see, in my 29 years, I’ve eaten just about every snack food there is (at least every snack food made prior to February 2003). I know these foods. I know their textures and their tastes. So imagining myself eating them is really the exact same thing as eating them, minus the calories, fat grams and guilt. (FYI: The better your imagination, the better the foods taste.)

I know that sounds crazy, but think about it. When you gobble that bag of M&Ms, afterward, what do you have? Just an empty bag of M&Ms. The “satisfaction” you may feel will be gone in about 3 seconds.

I do this for other foods as well. Sometimes, I have awful cravings for fried chicken (and I’m not about to fall for KFC’s incredibly stupid claim that its chicken is good for me). So instead of buying a bucket, I imagine myself eating it. Pulling off the skin and eating the crunchy, juicy layer first; biting into the meat, my fingers layered in grease. Then I’m done. Craving’s gone. I’ve had my fill.

More than turkey
Thanksgiving is in two days, and I know what you’re thinking: Diana has yet to encounter a big holiday on her weight-loss journey. How will she get through it?

I don’t have any worries.

First off, I’m working on the holiday, so I’m lucky in that I won’t be surrounded by a big table of turkey and all those fixins. But second, it’s all about portions. If I were going home, I’d dabble in a little bit of everything, with “dabble” being the key word.

But also, this Thanksgiving is different for me. Instead of focusing on the “food” aspect of the day, I’m focusing on the “thanks” part. And I have a whole lot to be thankful for.

You, readers, are at the top of the list. I’m so thankful for all of your support and encouragement this past year. I wouldn’t be where I am today – nearly 80 pounds lighter and much happier – without you. And I’d take that over turkey and mashed potatoes any day.

Published: 12/30/2003
In a few days, as folks start acting on their New Year’s resolutions, it’s going to be a challenge to find an empty cross-trainer or treadmill at the gym. And the lines will likely be a little longer at those Weight Watchers or LA Weight Loss meetings.

It’s that time of year when people decide to “do something” about their weight. And “this time,” they say, “it’s for real.” If you’re one of those people who plan on getting the junk food and greasy food and extra helpings of food out of your system – after Wednesday night: one last day of indulgence! – well, good for you. I’m rooting for you. It’s been nearly a year since I did the same, and I’m so tickled to report that it’s worked “this time.” I didn’t make losing weight a New Year’s resolution. More like a one-month-into-the-new-year resolution.

And while I still have a month to go until the first year of this journey comes to a close, I decided to give you a little run-down on my Best & Worst of 2003 as it relates to weight loss, exercise and those foods I find myself packing in my lunch bag every day.

BEST USE OF BUTTER, SUGAR AND FLOUR: When you lose that first pound – and you’re feeling crappy because it’s only a pound - you can pick up four sticks of butter and realize, ‘Wow, I’ve lost that much?’ Five-pound bags of sugar and flour work wonders, too, when the scale keeps going down and you want to feel just how much five pounds weighs.

WORST USE OF BUTTER, SUGAR AND FLOUR: Having to make my famous pizzelles
(Italian cookies) for co-workers this Christmas – and not eat one (not even to “test” them). My hands were literally shaking as I bagged the cookies and inhaled their yummy smell.

BEST DESSERT/SNACK THAT’S ACTUALLY GOOD FOR YOU: Chocolate muffins. Yes, I said chocolate muffins. I’ve eaten them every single day for the past year, and they’re so satisfying. Here’s the quick recipe: Mix three cups of Kellogg’s All-Bran Extra Fiber cereal and 2½ cups of water with 1½ teaspoons of baking powder. Let sit for five minutes. Add one box of Sweet Rewards/Betty Crocker low-fat chocolate brownie mix. Stir well. Scoop into muffin tins. Bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees. It makes 12 muffins, each equal to 2 Weight Watcher points.

BEST REASON TO SHOP AT HARRIS TEETER: It’s the only store that apparently sells the Sweet Rewards/Betty Crocker low-fat chocolate brownie mix.

BEST REASON TO SHOP AT LOWES FOODS: It’s my favorite place to buy fresh fruit – containers filled in-house with pieces of cantaloupe, honeydew, grapes, strawberries, blueberries and pineapple. The best and easiest way to eat fruit.

BEST HEALTHFUL USE OF POTATOES: Slice up a potato into very thin pieces (the thinner the slices, the more pieces you get). Spray a baking sheet with PAM cooking spray. Spread the potatoes on the baking sheet and cover in another few sprays of PAM. Flavor with various spices. Bake until brown – and you’ve got some tasty fries.

WORST HEALTHFUL USE OF POTATOES: I’m a huge fan of mashed potatoes. So when I heard of a more healthful way to make them, I pounced. For Thanksgiving, I mashed my “potato” with chicken broth instead of the usual butter, milk, mayo, etc. I was told this version would be so good, I’d “never go back.” Yeah, OK.

BEST PLACE TO DINE WHEN YOU’RE DIETING: Applebee’s for its Low-fat Blackened Chicken Salad with fat-free honey mustard dressing. And Chili’s for its “Guiltless Grill” menu. Oh, and then there’s always Subway.

WORST PLACE TO DINE WHEN YOU’RE DIETING: Fat Tony’s in downtown Wilmington (the name says it all – though, baby, the food is divine)

BEST WEB SITE FOR DIETERS: Dottie’s Weight Loss Zone ( For those on Weight Watchers, it’s a great site to check out the point-value of restaurant foods.

BEST ADVICE GIVEN BY A CO-WORKER: Eat six small meals a day.

WORST ADVICE GIVEN BY A CO-WORKER: Given up junk food? You need a new vice! Like smoking! Or drinking!



BEST BREAKFAST: Toast a honey wheat English muffin. Scramble up an Egg Beaters container (the equivalent of two eggs). Top the egg with one slice of reduced-fat American cheese. Pile it all onto your English muffin, and you’ve got a healthful, yummy and filling breakfast sandwich.

BEST REASON TO NOT EAT BAD DURING THE DAY: Because you’ve got a stash of Weight Watchers or Slim Fast or Skinny Cow ice cream novelties in your freezer at home. Whenever I’m tempted to eat a dessert with friends at a restaurant or eat something bad at work, I remember that I’ve got ice cream treats at home. I have one or two every single night before bedtime.

BEST THING ABOUT GOING OUT OF TOWN TO A WORK CONVENTION: Realizing I didn’t need a seatbelt extender on the airplane for the first time in six years.

WORST THING ABOUT GOING OUT-OF-TOWN TO A WORK CONVENTION: Uh, the food and my inability to use the hotel exercise room.

BEST FROZEN FOODS: As someone who isn’t all that skilled at cooking, I have lived most of this year off frozen dinners. Here are my top five favorites (in no particular order): Lean Cuisine Cafe Classics pizzas; Healthy Choice breaded chicken with mashed potatoes and corn; Lean Cuisine stuffed rigatoni in a bowl; Lean Cuisine rigatoni and meatballs; Weight Watchers’ Smart Ones chicken and broccoli pizza.

BEST CARDIO WORKOUT: I’m in love with the cross-trainer at the gym, which works your arms and legs and gives you quite a great workout.

WORST WORKOUT OF THE YEAR: The one where I passed out. But I learned a valuable lesson from it: Eat before you work out. Now I eat a banana and drink a glass of water about 15-30 minutes before going to the gym.

BEST TIME TO AVOID THE CROWDS ON THE CROSS-TRAINERS: I’ve found Sunday mornings are pretty quiet.

BEST WORKOUT THAT COSTS ABSOLUTELY NO MONEY: A walk in your neighborhood. Or at Greenfield Lake. Or the Wrightsville Beach Loop. Nothing beats a good hearty walk.

BEST SNACKS TO KEEP WITH YOU WHEN YOU NEED A FIX: Orville Redenbacher’s Smart Pop individual serving size bags of popcorn; fat-free yogurt frozen from the freezer; pretzels; fruit.

WORST REASONS FOR STARTING A DIET: Someone else recommended it. You want to look good for someone else. You thought it would make someone else happy.

BEST REASONS FOR STARTING A DIET: Do it for yourself. Because the year will pass whether you’re trying or not. And come New Year 2005, you’ll feel great.

Published: 01/27/2004
Rows of red- and pink-foiled Valentines’ Day chocolates glistened on the grocery store shelf as I did my weekly food shopping last week.

The sight of the sweet candies (marketed for people like me: single and lonely chocolate-lovers) didn’t make me dive headfirst into the display. It made me smile with pride as I passed by, my head held high.

I was reminded of one year ago and my very first temptation on my new diet. I wasn’t even a week into this Star-News Weight Watch when I spotted the Valentine’s Day candy and yearned to grab a bag - or two – of the heart-shaped chocolates.

I fought that temptation.

And I made it through Valentine’s Day 2003 without falling off the wagon.

It was the first of many challenges that I’m happy to say I faced – and beat – this past year without the comfort of food to get me through. There were family illnesses. Office birthdays and many, many cakes. A weeklong out-of-state conference. Easter. Work stress. Office potlucks. A trip to New York City. Vacations. A hurricane. Halloween. Thanksgiving (with all the trimmings). An Italian wedding. More family illnesses. And that most-indulgent holiday: Christmas.

The year taught me many lessons, one being that every day can be treated like a holiday or a reason to eat poorly if you let it. Look how many holidays and events crowd the calendar and how many make food their focus. Even a hurricane: What’s the first thing you do to prepare? Stock up on snacks, of course.

So you have to fight each and every one. Or at least I had to.

And I can’t believe, looking back on these past 52 weeks, that I did it.

I made it through an entire year without fast food, chips, candy bars, french fries, Chinese food, fried anything. I never once ate beyond what I was allowed to eat on the Weight Watchers program. I have no idea what those Uh-Oh Oreos or Guacamole Doritos taste like or what exactly is in a McGriddle.

And I feel great.

Sure, it wasn’t easy in the beginning. Nothing new is. But after a few months, the compliments, the smaller outfits, the energy was more addictive than any food.

And now I feel as if I can do anything - including meet my goal of weighing my ideal 135 pounds. One year ago, that goal was 182 pounds away. Now I only have 86 pounds left to lose. Piece of cake, right?

OK, so not cake.

I’ve learned so much on this journey in this past year. I’ve learned that there are so many of you out there, so many who struggle each day with weight on your body you wish would just disappear. And I’ve learned that it CAN disappear. With just a little effort on your part. The most important factor in any diet, I’ve learned, is a desire. And the belief that you’re worth it.

What else have I learned?

I’ve learned that it’s not about what you eat, it’s about how much of it you put into your mouth.

I’ve learned that we all lose weight differently. Especially when it comes to men versus women. It seems men can just look at an orange and drop five pounds.

I’ve learned that you can support the Girl Scouts without buying 10 boxes of Thin Mints.

I’ve learned that you have to take it one day at a time. Then one week at a time. Then one month at a time. By that point, you’ll be so happy with what you’ve accomplished, you won’t want to go back.

I’ve learned that eating with chopsticks helps.

I’ve learned to find a friend in fiber.

I’ve learned that you should always eat an hour before working out.

I’ve learned to start saving money, because clothes shopping is going to suddenly be more fun.

I’ve learned that sometimes you gain weight, and there’s no explanation.

I’ve learned that even some of the so-called healthy meals out there are chock-full of sodium.

I’ve learned that life is better (and sweeter) with a low-fat chocolate muffin in your lunch bag.

I’ve learned that there will always be special place in my heart for those people who loved me, supported me, cared about me and socialized with me even when I weighed 317 pounds.

I’ve learned that starving yourself or not eating enough during the day is just asking for trouble.

I’ve learned that as you lose weight, you should buy smaller undergarments or they may fall off when you least expect it.

I’ve learned that after about a year on a diet, you no longer even notice fast-food restaurants.

I’ve learned that you’ve got to exercise daily. You just have to.

I’ve learned that writing about past pains helps you to be free of them.

I’ve learned that you can’t expect to lose weight quickly, especially when it took you years to put it on.

I’ve learned that I never want to get to the point where weight-loss surgery is my only hope.

I’ve learned that water is the only way to go when it comes to what to drink.

I’ve learned that the best way to lose weight is slowly.

I’ve learned that imagining yourself eating a candy bar is just as fulfilling as eating one, minus the fat and calories.

I’ve learned that you cannot expect weight loss every week. And you shouldn’t kick the scale when that happens (toes can be stubbed that way).

I’ve learned that you can only make the decision to lose weight when you are ready. It can’t come from anyone else.

I’ve learned that you want much more to do your hair, wear makeup and buy fashion accessories when you’re feeling good about your weight.

I’ve learned that no one can make you feel bad about yourself without your permission.

I’ve learned that workouts are only good when you’re sweating.

I’ve learned that it’s OK to have pizza – just one slice.

I’ve learned that Dillard’s has a great, and hip, formalwear section in larger sizes.

I’ve learned that it’s best to steer completely clear of the foods you used to overeat.

I’ve learned that you’ll find support from the people you expect it from least. Same with sabotage.

I’ve learned that workouts are more fun when you have a cute and funny trainer. (Where are you, Bryn?)

I’ve learned that prayer helps.

I’ve learned that it’s OK to ask for help or join a weight-loss program and that it doesn’t mean you’re weak.

I’ve learned that I’m not alone – and you’re not either.

Published: 03/09/2004
Pure, giddy euphoria. That’s what I felt when I stepped on the scale Thursday and saw that I had finally hit that milestone – a total weight loss of 101 pounds.

Euphoria – coupled, though, with a respiratory infection, a horrible cough and a sweaty brow.

But, still, I was thrilled. And so excited to celebrate 100 pounds lost with a reward trip to New York City. I couldn’t wait to see my sister, see her face as she saw mine and share with her this amazing success and the euphoric feelings I had - free, finally, from the weight that had kept me bottled up for so long.

I had met my milestone just one day before the scheduled trip. For a month, my weight had been stuck, and I feared I wouldn’t make it to 100 pounds before my flight. But I did. I made it.

I just wish the flight had done the same.

With fog in New York City, we waited three hours to take off, then spent another three hours in the air, hoping for a break in the clouds. But, ultimately, the plane took us back to Wilmington, and my trip was canceled.

Between my sickness and the uncertainty of getting to New York during the weekend, it was clear that the best thing to do was reschedule the trip for another time.

I was devastated.

On the phone with my mom the next morning, I continued to feel sorry for myself.

And she got worried.

“Don’t let this drive you to eat,” she said.

Her words stopped me cold.

I had just spent the past 13 months struggling through all the issues associated with weight loss – including the hardest lesson: Do not using food to find comfort. I had just hit a huge milestone of 100 pounds lost.

And still, in many people’s eyes, I was that person who could be calmed down only with a little something to eat.

Clear as day, I see myself as a kid going for a ride with my father. I’m upset, for one reason or another. So Dad buys me a Klondike bar, knowing that would do the trick. And it does.

I can’t even fathom all the Klondike bars, all the food I stuffed into my mouth because I was hurting inside. It was my way of dealing with pain for nearly three decades. It was the only way I knew how to numb the bad stuff.

But not anymore.

This year has woken me up. My whole life, I’d turned to food for comfort. Instead of finding comfort through prayer or exercise or a hobby or my friends and family, I found comfort in something that turned me into a morbidly obese woman. And what kind of comfort is that to me now?

I would have to learn to find comfort elsewhere.

In December, on a visit to Pittsburgh for a family wedding, I realized just how hard that would be.

It had been two years since I’d been home, and I walked into my grandparents’ house expecting the same warm welcomes and tears of happiness and laughter that had always greeted me.

Instead, I was met with polite hellos and smiles reserved for strangers. They had no idea who I was. I stood before them speechless at the realization that early Alzheimer’s had taken them both from me.

I was no more prepared for the other stresses, too personal to name, that welcomed me that weekend.

The pain was intense.

I had come to Pittsburgh prepared to fight the urge to eat the many Italian wedding cookies that would be within my reach. But I had not come prepared to handle all the stresses and pain I now faced - and without using food to get me through it.

But having come so far in my weight loss, I knew this time I couldn’t, wouldn’t, stuff the pain away. So I felt it. I felt the pain like I had never felt it before. And I came to realize that no amount of food was going to make it all better. It would, in fact, only make it worse.

It’s been one of the most important lessons I’ve learned this year.

So “no,” I told my mom, I would not let this canceled trip “drive me to eat.”

Instead, I sat down at my computer and wrote. And wrote. And tried to release the anger and frustration and sadness I felt and understand that this, too, shall pass and in the grand scheme of things, it’s not that big of a deal.

It’s helped. Writing to you. It’s helped me for the past 13 months. It’s been my way of releasing all the bad, finding meaning in it all, and trying to press ahead for the future.

And finding comfort in this medium will only keep me going and bring me to that place where I’m healthier and happier and ready to celebrate new milestones - hopefully accompanied by clear skies.

Published: 04/06/2004
The minute he saw me in his office and, after a pause, recognized his 100-pounds-lighter former student, the UNC professor pulled me in for a hug and tried to throw me into his lap – just like you see in all those movies, with the gorgeous leading lady outstretched in the man’s arms, her legs in the air.

Only I resisted, claiming that I still wasn’t quite as thin as he may think – and fearful because, after all, this man is in his 70s and his lap would definitely feel my weighty presence.

But it felt good to imagine what it would be like to be the light girl others twirled into the air upon greeting or threw into their laps.

I’ve never been that girl. Not even when I was a kid. People took one look at my chubby cheeks and chubby everything-else and settled for a hug (which, later in life, wouldn’t even be a full hug, as they couldn’t get their arms around my body).

So lately, imagining what my future may be like has been a bit exciting.

But at the same time - and I think part of why I resisted my professor’s welcome – it’s all a bit scary, too.

The future
I try not to think of the future too much. I think I’m avoiding the thought of what my life could be like as a slimmer self. But every once in awhile, I get or feel glimpses of what it could be like.

I’ll catch a reflection in a mirror and not recognize what looks back. I’ll feel a bone I’ve never felt before. I’ll walk up a flight of stairs and, hours later, realize that the flight didn’t affect me in any way.

Or, as was the case a few months ago, I’ll be sitting in a waiting room and realize that the man next to me isn’t avoiding my presence – he’s actually striking up a conversation and not avoiding my eyes.

Could this be what being thin feels like? And why is my heart racing in fear?

I think a lot of it has to do with not being able to hide any more. As a 317-pound woman, I hid all the time. I’d hide from social events, telling myself no one would want to be around me. I’d hide from public lunches and dinners, preferring to overeat at home where no one could see me. I’d hide from mirrors and malls, making a shopping trip no more than 15 minutes long, as I’d simply buy whatever fit.

Now, with each pound I lose, each layer of fat that is worked off, I’m finding myself more exposed to the world and, therefore, more exposed to myself. And it’s frightening – mainly because I’m a bit afraid of what I’ll find when I get to the core, when, just 80 pounds from now, I get to a normal weight.

Will my life change? I would think it would. It could be like having your sight restored after decades of blindness. New doors are suddenly open. And you have to figure out which new things you’re going to do and what aspects of your life you’ll keep from your past.

The journey is a scary one, but one I hope to continue making.

The fears
I say ‘hope’ because these fears of mine have taken hold of me in pretty strong ways.

My weight has remained steady in the last month – I’ve lost a total of 102 pounds, just one more than in February – and I notice no new changes in how my clothes are fitting.

I’m still eating right – so right – and while my exercise has decreased, I still get in strength training. But the scale is moving like molasses.

And I’ve been asking the questions, “Is this as good as it gets?” Could it be that I lost 100 pounds and my body’s had enough? Or is it my mind?

During a phone call with my sister the other night, I expressed my fears.

“I’m afraid I won’t lose any more weight,” I told her.

She saw right through it and asked, “Aren’t you more afraid you WILL lose more weight?”

What? Lose more weight and shop for tinier clothes? Be twirled in the air? Be noticed by strangers? Sounds good, doesn’t it?

But, yes, scary, too.

The emotional aspect of weight loss seems to be just as big of an obstacle as the physical aspect. But it’s a necessary one to acknowledge. After all, isn’t the emotional stuff how I got to be more than 300 pounds in the first place?

You just can’t ignore the inner-weight. There’s no Stairmaster for the soul, but that doesn’t mean you can’t work it out.

I’ve got to tackle these feelings, these fears, just as I do the weight.

It’s all part of the journey.

Published: 05/04/2004
The long peach dress has been in my family for more than a decade. Possibly two. There’s a photograph of my mom wearing it in 1989, but she says my aunt had given it to her long before that.

I wore it once – on a warm night in April 1992, when my expectations were high for finding love.

The dress has stayed in a closet in Jacksonville since that night 12 years ago, untouched and moved toward the back as space was made for other clothes. Bigger clothes.

I hadn’t seen the dress in years, and I’m not sure why I noticed it this time. Home for Easter last month, I caught a glimpse of the shiny peach material in my bedroom closet, and I took it out.

The dress was suddenly a time machine.

April 1992
Thomas was moving. I was sitting in Dunkin’ Donuts with my friends when I heard the news. I sat silently as they all chatted about his plans to move to California over the summer before our junior year in high school.

My heart ached.

They all stared at me with pity, knowing how I had liked him, how the feeling wasn’t mutual (I had been overweight my whole life; feelings were never mutual) and how I had hoped one day I’d win him over. And now he was leaving.

I don’t remember at what point I started the diet. But I remember my motivation. When Thomas came back to North Carolina for a visit, I would stun him with my new look. I’d finally be thin. And he’d finally love me back.
I worked for months, exercising and eating right. I lost the weight and was looking good. Really good. During walks with my neighbor, I talked constantly of how I’d look when Thomas returned.

Thomas returned on a weekday, walking into my journalism classroom and taking me by surprise with his warm hug. He asked if I’d be going to the high school’s Wizard of Oz production that night. Yes, I said. Good, he said, I’ll see you then.

At home prepping for the night I’d finally show Thomas how good I could look, I slipped on my mother’s long peach dress. It fit perfectly and I felt like a princess, the shiny material flowing from my hips.

Thomas was there that night. Only he was with others. Other girls. And though most of the details of that night have been erased from my mind, I distinctly remember the feeling of being snubbed. Of not fitting in. Of Thomas leaving for California having spoken few words to me.

I’d never wear that dress again. Not because it evoked bad memories. But because I would eventually gain all that weight back. And then some. And I’d never again be able to fit into the long peach dress.

April 2004
Twelve years later, and stuffed into a closet, the dress still looked pretty good. Time hadn’t aged it.

The label read “Size 12,” but I couldn’t fight the temptation of trying it on, seeing how close it would be to fitting. It was the night before Easter, and, I thought, it could make a nice dress for church.

Pulling the material over my head, I felt a surge of happiness. It fit. Snug, sure, but it fit. I couldn’t believe it.

The next morning, a cool April day, I sat with my family at church dressed in that long peach dress (though not quite as long, as I had grown taller over the past decade) and feeling like a princess. Only this time, I wasn’t about to let my horse-drawn carriage – or myself – turn back into a pumpkin.

This latest weight-loss journey of mine - 15 months in the making – has resulted in 104.4 pounds lost. On one hand, I’m feeling great – knowing I’m the smallest I’ve been since that year in high school. I’m also anxiously awaiting the day I get below the 200-pound mark, which will be a huge feat for this once-317-pound woman.

But at the same time, it’s been frustrating. Despite renewed exercise and a consistent diet, I’m suffering severe plateaus, having only lost two pounds in the past two months. And I’ve been growing fearful that the next 80 pounds or so will be painful to lose.

But the thing I have to remember is that I have no timetable for losing the weight. I have no “Thomas” I’m losing it for. This time, I’m doing it right. I’m doing it for me. And while I know my mother hopes my weight loss will result in me finally “finding someone,” that’s not what’s driving me.

If I’ve learned anything from a lifetime of dieting, it’s that you can’t do it for anyone but yourself. You can’t do it with the expectation that something specific will come from it. You can’t do it for one occasion, like a wedding or a graduation or a visit. If you do, that loss won’t last. You’ll go back to your old ways when that occasion is over.

You’ve got to do it for yourself, no timetable attached.

That’s the lesson of the long peach dress.

And now
So I’m sitting here typing from my sister Stephanie’s sixth-floor apartment in New York City, finally celebrating my 100-pound weight-loss milestone with this trip. It’s been wonderful and exactly what I needed. Among the highlights:

FASTENING MY SEATBELT on the airplane. For those who have been following my journey, you’ll remember the joy I felt when I first realized I didn’t need a seatbelt extender on a flight. The joy I felt this time was when I was able to adjust my seatbelt, actually pulling the belt for a tighter fit, excess strap hanging off. What a feeling.

SEEING MY SISTER and brother-in-law’s face when they first saw me. “You are America,” my sister said of my weight, which is typical, she added, of what most look like. (My brother-in-law took offense: “America is pretty big,” he said. “You’re more like Rhode Island.”) The hugs were endless.

MY BROTHER-IN-LAW telling me it was so good to see me and how I’ve inspired him to work on his own tummy.

BEING ABLE TO WALK the streets of New York City without getting out of breath.

SHOPPING. “I want you to feel good,” my sister said as she took me into stores and made me try on clothes. I obliged. At one point, we walked into the hip Strawberry Jam store so she could look for cute skirts. She didn’t expect me to look for clothes as well, it being a “smaller person’s store.” Imagine her face when we both purchased items from Strawberry. “We’ve never done that before,” she said. “We’ve never bought clothes from the same store.” I’m looking forward to more jaunts like that one.

Published: 06/01/2004
Stephanie tore open the packages of eye shadow, mascara and blusher and emptied them into a small makeup bag. She tossed in some sponges and brushes and even a nail file. Then she turned to me.

“OK,” she said. “This should be everything you need.”

My sister was giving me my first lesson in applying makeup. And I stared at her with my wide brown eyes (and bare eyelids), completely baffled by it all.

I had never worn makeup as an adult. Lipstick, yeah, but nothing else. And Stephanie was determined to change that. She wanted me to feel beautiful and have the perfect face to match my shrinking body.

It was a poignant moment for me. Growing up, I had always watched her getting ready for school or work or dates, a pretty made-up face reflecting in her makeup mirror. But I had shied away from the curling irons, nail files and makeup, knowing there was little I could do to offset what I viewed as a grotesque, overweight body.

She had boxes and boxes of jewelry. I never bought the stuff.

She invested in fancy lotions and creams. I’d feel guilty wearing the sweet-smelling concoctions, thinking it was a waste on my body.

It’s pathetic – I know. And I don’t wish those feelings on anyone. But when I was severely overweight, my self-esteem was the pits. I dreamed of accessories and makeup. I just never felt they were “for me.”

Now, as the weight comes off, the self-esteem is definitely rising. I take longer to get ready for work than ever before, taking time to iron out wrinkled pants or fidget with my hair. I want to look my best, and for the first time in my life, I feel like my best is attainable.

I’m not alone.

My mom, who has lost 50 pounds in the past five months, has been on her own shopping spree, scooping up not just new clothes to fit her new figure but new accessories as well.

On a recent visit, she pulled out five pairs of shoes in different colors (don’t worry – they were on sale, she said) and guided me through her jewelry box, which now included an oversize lapel flower (a la Sarah Jessica Parker) and a plastic bracelet.

“I accessorize now!” she shouted as she carried her shoes back into her bedroom. I was certain I noticed a light skip in her walk.

The weight loss has had such an amazing effect on her outlook, her speech and even her posture. In the past, when we’d decide to take a last-minute trip to the mall, she’d be ready in 60 seconds, throwing on a T-shirt and shorts. Last week, I waited with my eyes on my watch as she primped in her bedroom, finally leaving the house in a short lime green skirt and hot pink top.

She smiles a lot.

And she says I do, too.

Published: 07/06/2004
I love to escape into a good book – “escape” being the key word.

As an overweight child and teen, I devoured books that featured leading characters living lives unlike my own. They were beautiful and fun and popular. They dated and kissed and laughed. I loved getting caught up in the adventures of the blond and gorgeous twins in Sweet Valley High books and the beautiful girls and boys in the Couples series.

As that overweight girl, I also sought books in which I could see myself in the pages. They were, unfortunately, hard to come by. There was that old Judy Blume staple Blubber, and another, whose title escapes me, about a fat girl who was sent to diet camps. But Blubber ended with the title character losing her baby fat, and the other book ended with the fat girl realizing she was just big-boned.

I am reminded of these stories – particularly the relatable ones – as I have found myself devouring books – nonfiction and fiction – with leading overweight characters. It started when I began this weight-loss journey in January 2003. In an attempt to stay away from late-night snacking, I’d retreat into my bedroom and curl up with a book. Not just any book, though, but ones I had read before that I knew would keep my mind focused on my weight.

First I re-read She’s Come Undone – the novel all overweight women know by heart. I could indeed relate to this girl finding comfort in cookies, burying the painful events in her life with food and growing into a body she despised.

Then there was Good In Bed, which featured a central character who was overweight and suffering from her ex-boyfriend’s published remarks about her weight in a magazine column. I loved the book, though, as when I was a little girl reading Blubber, I couldn’t muster up a lot of sympathy for this character who was remarkably thinner than I and would end up shedding those extra pounds by the end of the book.

A few months into my dieting, I read the newspaper’s book club selection, Sister India, which happened to feature a 300-pound-plus central character. The book was not entirely about this woman’s weight, but I found myself plowing through the words and character inner-dialogue, often nodding my head at similarities I had with this woman. The book made me sad, but it gave me an added focus on my weight-loss attempt.

All of those books helped me. I used those stories, and the characters’ missteps, as extra motivation to keep going.

Recently, I came across two more books – nonfiction this time, but both featuring overweight female characters – that have kept me up late at night reading and, though I didn’t think I needed it, have refocused me a bit.

I wanted to pass them on to you.

The first one is fresh off the presses. The Weight-Loss Diaries, by Courtney Rubin, chronicles a 20-something’s lifelong struggle with weight. Seeing the title of the book and the catch-line that Ms. Rubin was Shape magazine’s former “Weight-Loss Diary” columnist, I thought the book would be a perfect fit for me, as I have been doing a similar thing in this newspaper.

But just a few pages into the book, I realized I had little in common with Ms. Rubin, whose top weight was 206 pounds (or as the press release for the book states, “a whopping 206 pounds”). She also is 5-feet, 8-inches tall. It’s kind of hard to relate to someone who has about 50 pounds to lose when you yourself, at 5-foot-3-inches, tipped the scales at 317 pounds. Also, 206 pounds was about what I weighed at the time I read the book. I was feeling pretty good about my weight and how far I had come until I read, throughout Diaries, how disgusting she felt being so big.

But we’re women, and women compete, and I’m sure my distaste for the book had a whole lot to do with being envious of this woman. That distaste grew as Ms. Rubin chronicled her success in athletics – running two marathons in the course of two years. This, as I struggle to get outside and walk two miles.

The Weight-Loss Diaries, though, will hit home for many. Ms. Rubin chronicles what it’s like to be a binge-eater. She does such a good job chronicling this that you should beware that you may get hungry reading about all the chocolate muffins and apple crumb cake she smuggles at the office.

At the heart of Diaries is the author’s realization that she must take control of her life and her relationships with other people in order to control her struggle with food.

I devoured this book quickly and picked up at least one tip I will incorporate into my weight-loss journey (getting up for five minutes each hour at work and walking around the building - at the end of your shift, you’ve added 40 minutes of cardio to your day).

Planet of fat
Next on my nightstand is Passing for Thin, a book recommended to me by two Star-News readers.

The book, written by 40-something author Frances Kuffel, chronicles her life as she drops 188 pounds, from a high weight of 338 to 150 (with various fluctuations throughout).

The day I purchased the book, during a dinner break at work, I was so anxious to read this woman’s story, I found myself reading the book flap while at a stoplight on my way back to the office. I so wanted to read about how this woman lived at 300 pounds, what she went through – would I be able to relate?

I would.

Ms. Kuffel had been overweight her entire life and had never experienced the joys others around her had – lovers and children to name a few.

“Dating? I was fat,” she writes. “Whether a man I liked would have forgiven my obesity didn’t matter. It mattered to me.”

This second chapter, named Life on the Planet of Fat, was my life. Being turned away at the amusement park ride because your body’s too big for the seat. Not being able to accept a man’s jacket when you’re cold – it won’t fit. Doctors’ and hairdressers’ gowns that won’t close. Blood pressure cuffs that won’t fit.

This was me – well, the old me.

Then, one day, it hits the author that she needs help. She goes to a support group and, throughout the course of the book, ends up sticking to a plan and dropping the weight.

Subsequently, she starts to experience life like she never had before.

This book, subtitled “Losing Half My Weight and Finding My Self,” is all about that process. Don’t buy the book if you’re looking for advice on how to lose weight or if you want to see how she does it. Ms. Kuffel does not reveal her eating plan, beyond the fact that she cut out sugar and flour completely and eats pounds of vegetables.

This book is more about this transformation from fat to thin – a transformation to a life she had never before experienced in 45 years of “living.” It’s a beautifully written book and one I hope I can continue to relate to as I inch toward my weight goal.

I’ve got a big ol’ smile on my face today as I sit here wearing an outfit I have stored in my closet for about three months now. I promised myself I wouldn’t wear the cool skirt and top (size 16 – no “W” thank you very much) until I reached my next big goal – getting below 200 pounds.

I hit that milestone today – I now weigh 199.4, down 117.6 pounds since January 2003.

I’m pretty happy about that.

It didn’t come easy, especially this past month. In a period of three weeks, I lost two grandparents. My mom’s mom and my dad’s dad both died in Pittsburgh, and I traveled up there twice last month to attend their funerals. It was an extremely stressful time.

But I kept my focus, and it’s paying off.

Later this month, I’ll be venturing out in a swimsuit – voluntarily – for the first time in ages. I’ll let you know how that goes.

Published: 08/03/2004
The photos speak for themselves.

The first, taken at least four summers ago, shows a group of us posing on the beach - my friends dressed in colorful bikinis and me wearing long tan shorts and a black T-shirt, hiding half of my 300-pound body behind one of them.

I remember the day very well and remember especially the awkward feeling of not fitting in, despite being with my closest friends.

The second photo, taken last month during a trip to Charleston, doesn’t look much different, save for one tiny detail – it’s a picture of friends, all dressed in swimsuits, sitting on beach towels near a hotel pool. One friend has a particularly big smile on her face. And it’s me.

I can’t begin to explain how I felt that day as we all got ready for the pool in our hotel room. I stared at my image in the bathroom mirror for a few extra minutes, thrilled at the size 16 swimsuit that actually made me look pretty cute. As I walked out into our room, exclaiming “Look at me!” I was a bit taken aback by their blank stares and curious half-smiles. They didn’t quite understand what a big feat it was for me to be standing before them, dressed like them.

Down at the pool, as I dipped my feet into the cool water, I almost suffocated. The water. The sun. The smell of chlorine. And me, in the midst of it. I hadn’t been inside a swimming pool - by choice - in more than 15 years. Tears welled in my eyes as I stood there in the water.

After losing more than 120 pounds over the past year and a half, I was finally able to enjoy something I had missed out on for years – due only to my intense fear of being seen wearing a swimsuit, which wouldn’t hide my grotesque body.

I felt free.

The feeling stayed with me throughout the trip, and while there was that temptation to splurge on ice cream and fried green tomatoes with the rest of them, I kept reminding myself of that moment in the pool. “Nothing will taste as good as that moment felt,” I told myself.

It was so true.

I learned a lot on that trip to Charleston – the big thing being that even the people closest to me have no idea what this weight loss has meant to my life. They can’t understand how a person can get so excited about wearing a swimsuit in public or why the idea of buying a “medium” T-shirt could make that person absolutely giddy.

I don’t fault my friends for not understanding these important moments in my life – they had never in our friendship made an issue of my weight, loving me unconditionally when others had looked the other way. When we talked about dating and clothes shopping, they always included me without questioning if he would love me back or if that outfit would fit. What a blessing their friendships have been in my life.

So it only makes sense they didn’t pay much attention to my weight on this vacation. In their eyes, it doesn’t define who I am.

And that’s a good thing.

Don’t get me wrong – I still thrive off compliments and acknowledgment of the weight loss. Only now, I’m beginning to realize that there’s going to come the day when it won’t be such a big part of my life. I’ll just be a normal girl in a normal body, trying to finally live a normal life.

Diana? Active?
In addition to swimming (including a jaunt to my apartment complex pool – a place I had walked past but never entered in three years of living there), I also in July tried my hand at tennis. OK, so it wasn’t a true game – unless six hits over the park fence count. But the simple act of being out there, running back and forth on the court (chasing many, many runaway balls) and liking it was such a thrill.

I want to be one of those people who swim and bike and play tennis in addition to their daily walks, someone whose life outside of work is an active one. And I sense that I can be that person.

For the past year and a half, I have spent 75 percent of my energy on eating the right foods. I have been diligent about it and have refused to give in to temptations. But I haven’t been as dedicated to the exercise part of this weight-loss journey – until now. Only now do I realize that it’s not just about making yourself get out there and work out for diet’s sake; it’s about finding things you enjoy doing and incorporating them into your life, for the rest of your life.

As I’m writing this column, I’m looking forward to a weekend in the North Carolina mountains, where I’m most excited about climbing Roan Mountain and hiking to Linville Falls. While I’ve always dreamed of being that active girl, living an active life, I no longer have to dream. I’m actually living it.

Published: 09/07/2004
As Hurricane Charley raged outside our newsroom last month, I sat before my computer, nervously munching on food to calm my nerves.

No, I wasn’t stuffing chips or cookies into my mouth, though don’t think for a second that it didn’t cross my mind. Instead, I had packed a bag of raw broccoli and cauliflower for my marathon workday – and there I sat, eating the twigs as my editor shook his head adding, “I have new respect for your diet.”

I wish I could say I am always this good. Heck, I wish I could say I was good that afternoon and ate the entire bag, finally getting in my five-a-day vegetable allotment. The truth is, I couldn’t stomach the roughage, and after munching on a few stems, I traded the veggies for a granola bar.

And while I ate healthfully all day – avoiding the post-hurricane pizza blitz my co-workers enjoyed – I just couldn’t get in all those necessary fruits and vegetables.

I rarely do.

One of the hardest things I’ve faced as I’ve changed my eating habits is getting in the five servings of fruits (two-four servings daily) and vegetables (three-five servings daily) that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends. And I recently read this should really be “nine to 13 a day.”

I eat my banana for breakfast, grapes for lunch and perhaps some carrots or an apple later in the day. But it’s very rare that I fill myself up with fruits and veggies (especially veggies) like I know I should.

And I’m reminded every day that I’m not living up to my potential as a nutritious eater: The “5 a day” stickers on my bunch of bananas. The five blank boxes in my Weight Watchers food journal (which I admit rarely get checked off with regularity). The newspaper articles I edit: It seems every week a new story proclaims “Mama was right – you’ve got to eat those fruits and vegetables!”

It’s not that I’m not trying.

I had been a big fan of zucchini and squash. In the first year of this new way of eating, I bought bunches of them a week and would eat them in huge quantities. Unfortunately, I think I overdosed, and I find myself avoiding that section of the produce counter these days.

Some weeks, I buy raw spinach and use it in egg white omelets or on my sandwiches.

I’ve been buying the little bags of cut-up carrot sticks and trying to eat a serving or two a day.

I even bought – and immediately cut up – a green pepper, an onion and mushrooms one week, thinking I’d toss them into some chicken dishes. But all of these attempts are half-hearted. Some weeks I have to throw away unused vegetables that go bad in my refrigerator because I choose to keep them in there rather than put them in my lunch bag (this, unfortunately, included the green pepper/onion/mushroom mix).

So what am I going to do about it?

With my dilemma in hand, I went straight to the features department at the newspaper last week, knowing the reporters and editors there might have some good ideas. And they did indeed deliver.

Liven things up a little, said one co-worker, who is pretty talented in the kitchen and always has good ideas that go beyond my cut-up carrot sticks. She suggested red pepper strips, perhaps coated in balsamic vinegar or dipped in hummus. Since I’m trying to add veggies without the extra calories, I was more intrigued by the vinegar option.

Knowing my hesitation to try new things, she brought in a sample – and I was pleasantly surprised by the tastiness of this new snack. It’s something I can definitely see myself eating (and not having to throw away at the end of the week).

Another idea she suggested: V8 juice. I used to shudder at the thought of drinking tomato juice as a youngster, but now, knowing I can easily get some veggie points from it (and it takes care of two of the five a day in a12-ounce bottle!), I think I’ll give it a try.

I know I’m not alone in my five-a-day problem - the proof being the exuberance of this new campaign to get folks to eat produce. So I welcome your suggestions for easy veggie access. How do you get your five-a-day in?

Oh, and just so you know: In an attempt to make peace with those bags of raw broccoli and cauliflower, I bought another one last week, but this time added a jar of salsa to the mix. For lunch, I’ve been munching on the stems, which are much more flavorful (and still low-calorie) dipped in spicy salsa.

But how much do you weigh?
It’s funny. If I had to monitor my weight loss by how I felt, I would say I lost more weight this summer than last summer. I remember avoiding all exercise last summer due to the heat (and my laziness). This summer, I was outside every week, walking farther than ever before. I’ve felt good.

Make that great.

But looking at my weight-loss journals, I discovered just a few minutes ago that I lost 11 pounds this summer (Memorial Day to Labor Day), while I lost twice that – 22 pounds – last summer.

But guess what? I’ll take this feeling over that weight loss any day.

I know my weight loss is slowing down because I’m getting closer to my goal weight (I’m now 192.6 pounds, with a goal of 135). I admit to getting frustrated – in the past three weeks, I’ve remained the same weight, and I’ve been 0.6 pounds away from hitting the 125-pounds-lost mark. But I also know that how I’m feeling is more important.

Clothes shopping has been interesting lately. In one dressing room, I can fit in a size 12 dress, but not in a size 16 jeans. I go from delight (and in one case tears as I fit in a size 14 skirt at a Banana Republic) to frustration.

But it’s fun. And hard to believe. When I maxed out at the highest size (32) two years ago at a plus-size store, my only thought was, I hope they keep making bigger sizes so I have something to grow into. I never imagined I’d go the other direction.

Bring on the broccoli and cauliflower.

Published: 10/05/2004
We’d been awaiting this trip for months – two sisters returning to our hometown of Pittsburgh for a wedding and a side trip to Kennywood, their favorite amusement park.

Wide-eyed like children, we hit the park early, planning to spend the day hopping from ride to ride and indulging in all the foods we remembered from our childhood: cheese fries and double-scooped ice cream cones dipped in chocolate topping our list.

But the day wouldn’t be what I’d hoped.

On the first ride, a favorite called the Kangaroo, we stepped into the cart and pulled the safety bar toward our waists. But the bar wouldn’t go down, impeded by my 300-pound body. The ride attendant had obviously seen this before, and with his eyes looking away, he pressed down over and over with his body weight, finally getting the latch to snap.

The lump in my throat soon gave way to the pain in my abdomen as the ride took off and “bounced” us over and over and over again.

“I’ll never be able to have children,” I groaned as we hobbled off, using that ol’ fat-girl humor to make my sister laugh and me avoid the embarrassment that enveloped me.

Moving through the park, I eyed each ride skeptically. I’d go on the ones that required no harness or bar or seatbelt. I’d shake my head no at the others, including the roller coasters.

My sister hated riding by herself, and I hated watching her run off to the lines, with me waiting on a bench (and trying to contain the sweat that was pouring down my face). It was my first trip to the park as a morbidly obese woman, and the experience was turning out to be a nightmare.

As you’d expect, most photographs from that trip show not a glimpse of a smile on my face. I was feeling embarrassed, sad, frustrated.

And even though those feelings were directly linked to my weight, they didn’t stop me from frequenting the food stands for those cheese fries and double-scooped ice cream cones. And more.

That was more than four years ago. In the years that followed, my sister often would bring up the idea of traveling again, this time going to Disney World, a place she adored. I’d sit quietly on the other end of the phone, and she would always know what my silence meant.

“You’d be able to go on those rides, Diana,” she’d say, reassuring me that she’d seen lots of overweight people in Disney World.

But I’d brush off the topic and say, “One day.”

That day finally arrived last month.

A second chance
The trip was a gift from my sister as an early 30th birthday present. We planned to spend a week in Disney World and travel to its four main parks, stay in a nearby hotel and even splurge in the day spa.

I couldn’t contain my excitement.

And I couldn’t contain myself – once there – as I rode every single ride in the park. My body, more than 120 pounds lighter, wasn’t about to be turned away from any ride. I climbed up on the horses on the merry-go-round without hesitation (or fear that I wouldn’t be able to get back down), and I strapped myself into every single roller coaster ride the park offered.

I was finally free from that body that had held me back for so long.

Before I left for Disney World, many people had “the conversation” with me.

They worried about how I’d find things to eat there. Would I end up cheating? Would I falter and give in to those beloved cheese fries?

I didn’t think much about it. Instead, I packed snacks into my luggage (dry cereal, granola bars and those infamous chocolate bran muffins) and said I’d take it one day at a time.

Guess what? The joy of being able to “fit in” at Disney World was all I needed to keep me on the straight and narrow. While my sister and brother-in-law ate Mickey Mouse ice cream bars, I pulled out my granola bar. When they ordered a hamburger and fries for lunch, I chose the burger and carrots substitute. When we gathered at Beaches and Cream ice cream parlor and they ate sundaes the size of their faces (I swear, they were that big), I said “mmm, mmm” to yet another home-packed snack.

Some say it’s no fun to go to an amusement park and not be able to eat your way around it like everyone else does. I say (from experience) it’s no fun to go to an amusement park and be forced to sit on the sidelines when “everyone else” enjoys the rides.

And, as you might imagine, the photos from this vacation show nary a scowl. Smiles for everyone (with mine extra-wide).

Weighing in, post-Disney
I’m not saying I didn’t eat in Disney World. I definitely had more than my normal at-home meals allow. There was one occasion when we ordered room service and I ate my pasta and shrimp dish (with veggies and marinara sauce) while lying on my side in bed.

Note: This is never a wise thing to do. Always eat sitting up. Please. For your sake. I ate the entire plate that night, reasoning that it was all healthful foods and I wasn’t really full. Then I stood up. I was full. More than full. And it took me a long time to recover from that overeating episode.

So when I returned home from Disney, I wasn’t completely sure how my weigh-in would go. I did walk miles and miles and miles around those big parks. But I ate more than normal.

Imagine my joy when I lost weight that week. And the following week.

I’m now down 129.8 pounds and I’m tickled. I learned a lot from that trip, including that no one’s fun (including your own) diminishes because you choose to watch what you eat. My sister and brother-in-law were 100 percent supportive, didn’t make me feel uncomfortable about my home-packed snacks, but also didn’t tsk-tsk me when I decided to eat a french fry (one was enough). We all had fun. And, best of all, it had nothing to do with food.

Vegetable bliss
So if you read last month’s column, you’re probably wondering about those ideas for cooking vegetables, and I’m happy to report that our readers sure know their way around a kitchen. Many responded with ideas for getting in the recommended “5-a-day” fruits and vegetables, and I want to share their thoughts with you.
Happy eating! And thanks so much to all who wrote in.

Reader Andrena Caroline Cooley of Wilmington shared a recipe for smoothies, which her husband loves.

Here’s how she explains the recipe:

“Fresh fruit can be very expensive and often doesn’t get used up before it spoils, so I purchase the bulk bags of frozen unsweetened fruit (contains a variety of mixed fruit) from Sam’s,” she writes. Her husband uses the fruit “with ice, fat-free plain yogurt, sweetened with a little Splenda, and sometimes a spoonful of natural peanut butter. “These smoothies are great, provide at least two servings of fruit, a nice dose of calcium and active yogurt cultures, and are healthy and nutritious. They also contain enough calories and nutrients to be used as a meal replacement.”

Susan Smith Sims also recommends smoothies: With strawberries or banana or peach or a combination, she adds cup-to-1 cup of coffee, cup nonfat milk, Splenda, vanilla or hazelnut flavoring, and ice. Grind in a blender to make a frozen drink/milkshake/smoothie. This usually makes 12-16 ounces – a BIG glass.

Joyce Packard offers up this yummy snack she found in Fitness Magazine. Here’s what the magazine says: “This is easy to assemble, even at your desk. The protein in the peanut butter helps keep blood-sugar levels balanced, so you suffer fewer energy slumps. Try substituting another nut butter, such as almond or hazelnut, for a different flavor.”

Salt-free rice cake
Low-fat peanut butter
Toasted wheat germ
Banana, peeled and thinly sliced
Layer a salt-free rice cake with 2 teaspoons peanut butter, 1 teaspoon wheat germ and thin banana slices. Drizzle with 1 teaspoon honey. Makes 1 serving.
Nutritional information per serving: 155 calories, 5 grams protein, 26 grams carbohydrate, 5 grams fat, 2 grams fiber.

Margie Gilmore loves the frozen raspberries and blackberries at Wal-Mart. She’ll take a cup of either of these fruits (or both together) and slightly microwave them, topping them off with some Equal or Splenda.

One reader who works in the local health department offered up this sandwich:
1 slice of Great Harvest whole wheat bread
1 layer of Tidal Creek (or other good brand) almond butter (she likes crunchy)
1 layer of sliced fresh veggies: red pepper, cucumber, radish, etc.
1 layer of romaine lettuce (top of sandwich)

Becky Skelton offers this way to serve asparagus or broccoli: Rinse them and put them on a cookie sheet, drizzle with olive oil (or spray with olive-oil-flavored Pam), sprinkle with kosher salt and cracked pepper and bake at 425 degrees in the oven for 15 minutes.

Jon Marmorstein recommends raw green beans or pea pods, which are naturally sweet and make a great snack. He also suggests V8 popsicles, which definitely add a different twist to eating a mid-day snack!

Margie Gilmore discovered the fancy salad mixes available in boxes at Food Lion and has about three cups of salad a day (she likes the “spring mix” and recommends the boxes because they last longer than the bags). She adds fresh tomatoes from her garden, carrots and fresh spinach. A tablespoon of sliced almonds adds protein and texture, and she finishes it off with two tablespoons fat-free French or honey-mustard dressing.

Some vegetable ideas Susan Smith Sims incorporates into her day:
Salsa on top of her eggs
Pepper strips with low-fat dressing
Big salads (never iceberg, but lettuces with more fiber and bulk – romaine, kale and fancy grassy lettuces with marinated green beans, mushrooms, tomatoes, cucumbers, etc ... as many veggies as she can pile on)
Steamed, sauteed or roasted veggies. She loves a variety of roasted peppers, onions and green beans, or lightly sauteed, or on a kabob, drizzled with one of the no-fat salad dressings. To make the kabobs, put everything on a few kabob sticks and grill them in the toaster oven. They get crispy and as light or charred as you prefer. This works with chicken, fish, shrimp, meat and tofu ... and almost any veggie. If you cook rice, put green peas and mushrooms in - always try to think of ways to combine and enhance things with veggies and fruits.

Reader Kate Parvin found a great vegetable recipe on FitTV (Channel 23), which offers more than just fitness programming, but cooking shows as well. Here it is:
½ onion, peeled and diced small
¼ teaspoon olive oil
½ red bell pepper, cored, seeded and diced small
½ yellow squash, washed and sliced small
½ zucchini, washed and diced small
1 roma tomato, cored and diced small
1/8 teaspoon cracked black pepper
Add olive oil to a large nonstick saute pan and heat until lightly smoking.
Add onions and saute until soft. Add peppers, zucchini and yellow squash and saute for 2 to 3 minutes or until almost cooked. Add tomatoes and season with fresh cracked pepper. Saute about 1 additional minute and remove from heat.

This recipe, submitted by reader David Crawford, can be used as a salsa, over chicken, in fajitas or just eaten as a side dish:
Pepper Salad
2 large red peppers
2 large green peppers
2 Serrano peppers
2 large sweet onions
2 large red tomatoes
2 large yellow tomatoes
2 cloves of roasted garlic
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
¼ teaspoon cumin
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
Salt and pepper
Heat grill.
Roast peppers and place in a covered bowl for 15-20 minutes. Slice onions (about inch thick). Cut tomatoes in half. Drizzle onions and tomatoes with olive oil. Grill onions until tender. Grill tomatoes until skin can be easily removed. Skin peppers and remove seeds. Skin tomatoes and remove stem. Coarsely chop all vegetables and toss with spices and vinegar.

Published: 11/02/2004
I’d never had a little black dress.

There were always plenty of black dresses in my closet (black, after all, is supposed to be a slimming color). But as a 300-pound woman, I definitely couldn’t call those dresses “little.”

I’d attend weddings, Christmas parties and other festive occasions in my large black dress. I’d stand before my bathroom mirror, pulling on the sleeves, adjusting the waist, or foregoing the body altogether and instead concentrating on my hair – the one thing I had some control over.

Photos from those events, as you’d expect, show my self-consciousness. And a lot of half-smiles.

Shortly before I started this weight-loss journey, I remember standing in our newsroom at our holiday party, dressed in one of those large black dresses (a size 32 if I remember correctly). It was big, but not big enough, and I had covered up my large arms in another layer of black, wearing an open blouse over the dress. My life was a series of black layers.

It’s been 21 months since I began the Weight Watch, and I’ve since dropped 131 pounds and quite a few dress sizes. One of my biggest feats: no longer shopping in plus-size stores.

Another feat: finally buying a little black dress. Make that two little black dresses (there was a sale and I couldn’t resist). Getting ready to try them on in the Belk dressing room, I glanced at the tags and realized they were not just size 14s, but size 14 “petites.” I said a little prayer that the material wouldn’t get stuck around my hips and trap me (I was shopping alone) and nearly teared up when the material simply fell down and around my hips, fitting perfectly.

And while I know I still have a ways to go – about 50 more pounds – I think these dresses definitely qualify as little. And it feels so good.

Other ‘losers’
So reality TV has now turned its gaze toward the overweight crowd. When I first heard about the new TV show The Biggest Loser – following teams of overweight people as they try to lose weight - I expected to hate it. I expected a show that would exploit and maybe even make fun of the overweight. I expected unrealistic situations and unrealistic results. I didn’t expect to not only enjoy the show but be inspired by it.

But as I sat there watching people of all levels of obesity face their fears, fight temptations and work out like they’d never done before, I felt the urge to get up and exercise with them. I wanted to join their fight. And I started to care about them.

There are some weaknesses in the show: They don’t show audiences exactly what these folks are eating (or not eating) at each meal. And they don’t explain to viewers why folks may lose a lot of weight the first week but not a lot in subsequent weeks or why a 300-pound man will naturally lose more than a 165-pound woman.

But the show does a lot of good: Participants aren’t just surrounded by healthful foods. They are faced with temptations constantly and have to make their own decisions about what to eat (bacon or fruit), which is what folks in the real world go through every day. It’s easy to go to a diet camp where your meals are planned out for you, but many people fall off the wagon when they go home and have to decide for themselves what to eat.

Also, I don’t know about you, but I’m much more encouraged to get up and work out with overweight people who look more like me than exercise with those Fit TV folks who look like perfection. Watching the show, I couldn’t wait to get up and work as hard as them (meaning sweat more than I currently do).

My thought? If they can do it, I can do it.

And you can do it, too.

Published: 12/07/2004
We were standing in line outside our fifth-grade classroom, the group of us about to go outdoors for recess. I was second in line, right behind a boy whose name and face have been erased from my memory over the years.

The moment, though, is burned in my brain.

“You look nice today,” the boy told me.

Fear clenched my body as his words went through me – kind to an outsider, but cruel to the mind of a girl who, having been overweight since kindergarten, had only heard taunts and teases from the mouths of boys around her.

“Shut up,” I mumbled, my face bowed and eyes looking down.

I don’t remember how the boy responded. But I remember learning, somehow, that his compliment had indeed been genuine – not a joke. I felt awful for having raised my red flag, the one I had learned to carry so as not to fall into the cruel pranks and jokes of those who wanted to see the fat girl cry.

I was in fifth grade, perhaps 10 years old, and I had already experienced enough cruelty from my peers to assume it was simply how I’d be treated by everyone. My self-esteem, in just the first decade of life, was already on its downward spiral.

Years later, as a teen and then twentysomething, having moved from overweight to obese to beyond obese, close friends still couldn’t understand how I could be so self-loathing, so low on esteem, so determined that everyone around me was trying to hurt me.

I, too, had hated that part of me. I knew of others who were overweight but whose bodies carried confidence and who somehow found themselves on the receiving end of boyfriends and popularity. Why was I always so down on myself? Why did I hate myself so much?

I searched for answers to those questions, only to flash back to those days as a 9-year-old, surrounded at the bus stop by neighborhood friends-turned-foes as they hurled insults at me, my arms crossed over my chest, my head down, my tears only flowing when the school bus approached and their attention was diverted.

I found answers in the memory of my daily life in sixth and seventh grade – sitting in the front section of the school bus as four boys leaned over their seats and threw insults in my face. And when their taunts quieted down, hearing a friend giggle with others about how I’d surely sink the water ride during our end-of-the-year field trip.

I found the answers in the words of my relatives, looking at my body with scorn during holiday gatherings and bribing me to lose weight so they wouldn’t have to have such an embarrassment in the family.

Maybe, I finally reasoned years ago, we’re all born with a certain amount of inner strength, and maybe mine had been used up by the time I became a young adult. I certainly felt spent - I couldn’t fight the insults and taunts any longer and I had grown to anticipate them and even see them when they weren’t there.

Two years ago, at age 28, I was weaker than ever. And I had to wonder if I’d ever get that inner strength back and be the person I wanted to be – a person who was whole again.

Getting it back
About 30 minutes into the Battleship Half-Marathon on Nov. 14, runners participating in the 5K portion were headed toward the finish line. I had shown up on the cold Sunday morning to cheer on a friend in the half-marathon, but I found myself on the sidelines early, cheering on strangers ending their 5K run.

As young and old approached and I clapped and cheered, the looks on their faces were inspiring. Even more inspiring, though, were the people who showed up to cheer on their spouses, siblings, parents and friends.
I remember, in particular, one man who held up a sign and yelled and jumped as his mother came running past him, yards away from the finish. The man ran with her in her last leg, cheering her on with each step.
“You can do it, Mom! I’m right here! When you’re done, I’m going to give you a big hug!”

The mom’s face was contorted in pain and sweat, but she finished, with her son by her side.

The support was tremendous, and I felt my eyes welling with tears, emotionally charged by the people around me.

Before my eyes, I saw people who were feeling the strain of the last leg of the race suddenly gain strength from those around them – almost feeding off their enthusiasm.

It was beautiful, and it got me thinking about my past, my struggle over the past two years to finally lose the weight that had literally been weighing down my life since I was a child and the even bigger struggle to regain that inner strength.

I still have a lot of that self-conscious girl inside me, who still questions what others see in her. Somehow, I think she’ll always be a part of me, to my and my loved ones’ dismay. But this weight-loss journey of mine, coming up on two years old, has filled me with strength I never thought would be a part of my being again.
And it’s mainly because of the support that’s come in waves from strangers and friends, from people who have unselfishly run with me and cheered me on with each step.

“You can do it! I’m right here!” the letters, e-mails and phone messages have said.

You can’t underestimate that support and how it all builds up into a mountain of strength for that lucky receiver.

I just turned 30 years old, and I feel like my life’s just beginning, with the strength renewed for my new journey.

It’s not too late for me – or for you.

Published: 12/07/2004
You’ve been so good on your diet. Eating well, exercising and dropping pounds.

And now you’re scared. Terrified. You’re smack in the middle of the holiday season, and everywhere you turn, a box of chocolates is being passed across your desk, invitations for cookie exchanges are filling your mailbox, nut breads and hot chocolate scream your name at the cafe.

You might be able to handle those personal temptations (and if not, see tips at right), but when you think about preparing your Christmas Day menu, the lump in your throat rivals the ones in your gravy.

You know fat-free yogurt and carrots won’t go over very well with your family – and if you don’t provide them with plates of your famous chocolate brownies, the snowballs surely will fly (even if it’s not snowing).

What’s a dieter to do this holiday season? There’s hope. First of all, go ahead and prepare those family favorites. You know you won’t hear the end of it if you don’t. But sprinkle your menu with a few lighter dishes. That way, while the kids are scooping up second helpings of mashed potatoes, you can help yourself to more acorn squash and pear soup, and when the in-laws dig into the pecan pie, you can eat the Impossible Pumpkin Pie or a pumpkin muffin – and your diet won’t have to be compromised.

(Also, if you don’t tell the family that these new menu offerings are “light,” we’re certain they won’t know the difference – and you may save them a few notches on the belt.)

Green Bean Casserole
4 cups frozen cut green beans
1 medium onion, chopped
1 teaspoon sugar
1 (12-ounce) can reduced-fat condensed cream of mushroom soup
¾ cup reduced-fat shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon garlic powder
½ cup french-fried onions
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Boil green beans until just tender and drain. Coat skillet with cooking spray. Cook onion and sugar over medium heat, 5-6 minutes. Mix beans, onion, soup, cheese, Worcestershire sauce and garlic powder. Pour into casserole dish. Bake 25 minutes. Sprinkle french-fried onions on top. Bake 5 more minutes. Makes 4 servings; 3 points per 1-cup serving.

Pumpkin Muffins
1 box spice cake mix
1 (16-ounce) can pumpkin
Mix together. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Makes 12 muffins; 2 points each

Honey Carrots
4 cups baby carrots
2 tablespoons firm brown sugar
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons fat-free margarine
Combine brown sugar, honey and margarine in saucepan. Stir until melted. Place carrots in casserole dish. Pour mixture on top and toss. Bake at 400 degrees for one hour. Stir frequently. Makes 8 servings; 0 points a serving.

Impossible Pumpkin Pie
1 (16-ounce) can pumpkin
1 (13-ounce) can evaporated fat-free skim milk
2 tablespoons light margarine or butter, softened
2 eggs
¾ cup sugar
½ cup reduced fat Bisquick baking mix
2½ teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
Cloves and/or cinnamon, optional
2 teaspoons vanilla
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray pie plate. Beat all ingredients on high with hand mixer. Bake 50-55 minutes. Makes eight servings. 2 points (less if you use Splenda instead of sugar).

Squash Casserole
4 large yellow squash
1 small onion, chopped
½ cup water
1 garlic clove, crushed
¼ cup nonfat cream cheese at room temperature
½ cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1 large egg, lightly beaten
¼ teaspoon salt and pepper, to taste
6 unsalted soda crackers
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a shallow 1½-quart dish. Combine squash, onion, water and garlic. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 12 minutes or until tender. Drain well. Mash with potato masher. Stir in cream cheese, 6 tablespoons of cheddar cheese, egg, salt and pepper. Pour into a baking dish. Crush crackers and mix with remaining cheddar cheese and sprinkle on top of casserole. Bake 30 minutes or until bubbly. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.
Six servings; 2 points each

Invest in sugar-free gum or mints, and pop them in your mouth as you’re preparing holiday food for your family and/or friends. That way, you won’t be as quick to “taste” the stuffing or dressing or the double-chocolate nut cookies.

Don’t even think about buying those red-and-green Hershey’s Kisses for your candy dish: I know you want to fill that pretty pewter Christmas tree dish with festive candies, but don’t do it. You’ll find yourself craving them from across the room. Instead, fill the dish with fruit, nuts or mints.

One helping is enough: We know Christmas comes but once a year. And so do candied yams and Grandma’s oyster stuffing. So, of course, you want to indulge in those favorites. And you can. But limit your intake to a quarter cup. That way, you get a taste of the holidays, but you won’t ruin your diet.

Prepare yourself: Before you leave the house, whether it’s for a day of shopping, a shift at work or a family gathering or party, think ahead about what you’ll be eating and prepare yourself. If you know you’ll be out shopping well into the late afternoon, pack a granola bar, a baggie of dry cereal or some pretzels, and stick them in your purse. You also may want to make a quick sandwich and a piece of fruit and keep it in your car.

Eat before going to a family gathering where you know there will be lots of food not on your diet. And pack your own lunch and extra healthful snacks before you go to work, to help you resist office goodies.

Remember why you’re celebrating: I’ve found that I don’t even think about the goodies baking in the oven when I focus on the people around me during holiday gatherings. Enjoy the day, the party, the people, the music, the reason for the holiday. Sit back and smile at the blessings that surround you. Instead of filling up your plate (the memory of which will only live in your expanding tummy), fill yourself up in the stories of others (the memory of which will last a lifetime).

On a sunny, clear Sunday afternoon, I found myself chasing something.

It was the shadow of a woman, her arms and legs pumping down the sidewalk, her hair flipping back and forth.
I had just started my daily run, and despite having had success earlier in the week, I was feeling whipped and ready to slow it down to a nice, brisk walk. Maybe running wasn’t for me.

But then my eyes darted toward the shadow – an image on the concrete shaped like a toned, athletic woman.

Her waist was defined, her hips slimming. I liked what I saw, and I made her image my incentive to push myself. With each step I took, my eyes stayed focused on the shadow.

When I had completed the mile run (I’m starting small as I work toward my ultimate goal of running a 10K in April), I turned around and headed back home. The shadow – my shadow – was now behind me.

And I got to thinking about how far I had come in the past two years. I remembered the first time I walked out to my neighborhood sidewalk to exercise. I could only walk a few blocks, my breath was labored, and the shadow of my 317-pound body was not a comforting sight.

But that, too, is now behind me.

Nearly 24 months later, having since worn out a pair of athletic shoes and guzzled hundreds of bottles of water, I’m 144 pounds lighter and taking on new challenges every day. I’m taking tennis lessons. Craving exercise. And I recently started running.

It wasn’t an easy start. At first, I could only go 1 minute before I had to stop. Then I was able to run 5 minutes. Then 10. Now, I can get around the 1.3-mile loop at Halyburton Park without stopping. Sometimes I can even go farther. Each day, I try to push myself a little more – “I’ll just run to the next bench/trash can/fire hydrant” – and I’m feeling more confident that I will be able to run a race, even if it’s a small one, even if I come in dead last.

It’s a crazy concept for this girl, who, as a middle school student, couldn’t even run half of a loop on the school track (despite being required to run a mile). Gym class was a nightmare for me. I don’t think I even tried to run. I just knew I couldn’t, and I left it at that. Why make a bigger fool of myself by jiggling my overweight body around in front of my classmates?

So when I completed my first solid mile last month, I stood on the sidewalk grinning from ear to ear. At age 30, I had finally accomplished something that had eluded me my whole life, and I felt an incredible urge to call up a local middle school and ask if I could join their P.E. class the day students do the mile run. (I’m still up for it if anyone offers.)

I’m living proof that anything is possible. And I tell that to you now, readers, as the New Year begins and resolutions are being put to the test. My 144 pounds didn’t just drop off (though how great would that have been?). I started with a 6.8-pound loss the first week. About 18 pounds the first month. And by the end of the first year, I was down nearly 100 pounds.

It just took time. And patience.

Start small, with tiny goals. Walk to the neighborhood corner. Bike for five minutes. Cut out sweets or just chocolate. Shrink your portion sizes. Take small steps – but believe in each step you take and know that the steps will get bigger the longer you keep at it.

Realize that anything worth doing is going to be hard and is going to take time. But remember, as one wise reader pointed out to me long ago, that the time is going to pass no matter what. You can spend that time bettering your body or waste it.

I was reminded the hard way last month that we are not promised a tomorrow or a next week or a next year. Life can be snatched from us suddenly. Today is the day for living life and enjoying each breath we take.

Let your own shadow be your guide. But know I’m here if you need a push in the right direction.

Published: 2/1/05
I knew it wasn’t going to be fun, but it was something I had to do.

Pulling out the red measuring tape, I slowly unwound the roll. My eyes focused on the chart where I’d have to record a series of measurements: Right arm. Waist. Right thigh. Hips.

Why was I so nervous? I mean, I had already stepped on the scale, already watched as the woman scribbled down the number “317.0,” already faced the fact that I’d have to lose an unrealistic 182 pounds to get to a weight doctors considered “normal.” How could I be more embarrassed, more ashamed than I already was?

So I began measuring.

Right arm: 19 inches.

Waist: 49 inches

Right thigh: 31 inches


Oh my God.

I unwound, unwound, unwound the red tape measure as the numbers wrapped around my hips: 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60.

And then it stopped. There was no more red tape. But there was more to my hips.

My hands shook as I wrote down: “60-plus: The entire measuring tape” on my chart.

It’s a moment I will remember for the rest of my life. I was by myself that morning two years ago, but I had never been more humiliated. I knew I was large. I knew there were chairs I couldn’t fit it, seatbelts I couldn’t fasten, restaurant booths I couldn’t slide into. I knew, I knew, I knew. But I didn’t.

The tape measure made it real.

Powerful numbers
When you start losing weight, the only thing you care about is that scale. Those numbers that flit about on the screen are so powerful: Lower numbers are causes for celebration. Higher numbers can make a sane person’s mouth turn down, eyes go wide and voice heard three houses away.

But there are other numbers that tell an even more important story and matter most in weight loss.

Enter the tape measure.

When you start exercising and working your body, the scale may not go down. If you’re working areas that have been neglected for decades, if you’re lifting weights or running or biking, you’re likely building muscle. And muscle, as we all know, weighs more than fat. And that means, yes, the scale will creep upward at times.

It’s frustrating. I know. I’ve been there so many times over the past two years. Yes, I’ve lost 150 pounds. But over the course of the past 104 weeks, I’ve seen weight gains more than a dozen times. And none of them can be attributed to overeating or falling off the wagon. I was being so good, but the scale didn’t seem to care.

But let’s bring out the tape measure and those charts. While I only measure myself once a month, I can honestly say I’ve never gained inches. I have, in fact, lost them. So many of them.

Bringing it home
With my two-year anniversary arriving this week, I decided to finally pull out those old measurements to see how far I’ve come. I hadn’t looked at them for more than a year, and I was anxious to let the reality only a tape measure could bring me sink in.

So I measured and compared.

Right arm: 11 inches (was 19)

Waist: 32 inches (was 49)

Right thigh: 22 inches (was 31)

Hips: 43.5 inches (was, well, you know)

Then I did something else. I took the remaining red tape and pulled it out away from my body, creating a circle around my hips. I wanted to see – to visualize – just what “60-plus” looked like around my hips today.

Staring down at that foot-and-a-half gap was gripping. Was that really what the old me looked like? I mean, I know I can get both my legs into one leg of my old size 32 pants. I know I can finally wrap a bath towel around my body. I know, I know, I know. But somehow, staring at this gap between me and the measuring tape really brought it home.

Of course, there are those moments when the scale offers you the news of a lifetime. I had one of those moments last week.

After a month of gaining, gaining, losing and gaining again (despite having pulled out all my hair), the scale finally moved in my favor. And it did big time.

I lost 6 pounds last week, bringing me to a grand total of 150. My mouth agape, I stood in that Weight Watchers meeting room feeling dizzy. Could it be? Am I really almost half the person I used to be?

The news was cause for celebration – and proof that it pays to be patient. If I had let all of those weight gains get to me or do me in, I’d be back to my old habits, the old me.

And why would I do that, when I’m liking this new me so much more?

Published: March 1, 2005
What do you say to the parent who desperately wants their child to lose weight? I’ve been faced with that question a lot over the past two years, from moms and dads and grandparents who have seen my weight loss and hoped I could give them some insight into their child’s world.

I wish I had an answer.

It’s a world I lived in for decades – a world that can be glimpsed at through old photo albums: a chubby round-faced kindergartner staring out from her first school picture, a sixth-grader whose stomach bulges out from her tight T-shirt on summer vacation.

I look back at those first years of my life, and I try to pinpoint where it all went wrong. What triggered my weight gain? Was it something that could have been avoided or stopped early on?

I don’t have many answers.

But I do think I know what wouldn’t have helped.

Last month, a group of Georgia legislators drafted a bill that would require all school children to weigh in regularly, with the scale’s results posted on their report cards. The thought was that parents may not be aware if their child is overweight, and by listing weight along with the child’s grades from math and reading and such, perhaps the state could lend a hand in tackling the child obesity problem.

As I read about this plan, my mind flashed back to report card day in fifth grade. I was a good kid, with fairly good grades, but as my eyes scanned the report card, I didn’t notice the A’s and B’s from the core subjects. My eyes could only focus on the big C- next to my grade in gym class.

Gym class, where my overweight body couldn’t climb the ropes. Gym class, where a lap around the gymnasium made my thighs burn.

That day, I hurriedly put the report card away and hoped none of my friends would ask how I’d done. I was embarrassed and ashamed. Those A’s and B’s in math and reading didn’t seem to matter.

I get sick to my stomach when I think about that Georgia bill (which, by the way, has since been abandoned). I can’t imagine how much more humiliated I would have felt as a child seeing my weight marked in such a way – and how many more insults I would have had to endure from my peers as a result.

Those legislators (a thin bunch, I’m guessing) seem to think I could have avoided my adult obesity problem had my report card branded me OVERWEIGHT.

I think it would have only made my situation worse.

What a lot of people don’t understand is that many overweight children aren’t helped by being told they’re fat. They aren’t helped by whispers from grandparents saying, “She’s getting a little big, isn’t she?”

For many overweight children, that just leads them on a path of low self-esteem, which, from my experience, doesn’t encourage weight loss, but only adds to the problem.

So if shoving the reality of the situation in their face doesn’t help, what does?

I have some ideas.

At a recent Weight Watchers meeting, a woman talked about how her mother often would plead with her over the phone to lose weight, but days later, that same mother would practically force her to take home leftover cakes and puddings, knowing, of course, that her daughter would eat them.

I’ve been there. There were times I felt like my family was using me as a human garbage disposal – oh give Diana the leftovers, she’ll tidy up for us – but moments later, they’d look at my body from head to toe and shake their heads.

Parents and others can help an overweight kid by not treating them that way (“She sure does love her cookies, doesn’t she?”). Many people, especially those with low self-esteem, act in the way they’re perceived.

You treat someone like they’re fat, they’re going to become even fatter.

You treat someone like a human garbage disposal, don’t be surprised when the weight piles on.

Another thing I’ve noticed: We, as a society, tend to reward good behavior with food. If your child is overweight, you probably think you’re making them happy with a trip to McDonald’s to celebrate that report card. And perhaps they will be happy. But at the same time, they’re learning a behavior that could do a lot of damage as they get older.

I remember countless fights my parents would have, followed by my crying and my dad buying me ice cream to put a smile back on my face.

I remember countless times our car would make the left-hand turn into Dairy Queen following a school recital or play.

Is it really surprising, then, that, as an adult, I turned to food when I was upset? Or that I rewarded personal success with candy and other desserts?

Today, when I want to reward myself, I choose to do so with CDs or books or clothes. I’m guessing kids would like those things, too.

I really wish there was more I could say. I wish I had answers. But as you can see, I don’t.

There are, of course, the obvious things dieticians recommend: Get out and exercise with your child. Keep only healthful foods in the house and in their lunch bag.

Those are great recommendations. Of course if “eating less and exercising more” were easy, well, we’d all be doing it, right? And our children would be following suit.

I don’t have magical answers to the growing child obesity problem. But as someone who has been there, I do know what didn’t help me.

And I hope that’s a start.

Published: April 4 or 5, 2005
Mom toted the large silver medal in her purse for weeks. She’d take it out to show friends and family. She’d loop the red, white and blue ribbon around her neck and pose for photographs with it, her smile wide, her posture straight and confident.

She won the medal in a 5K race at Camp Lejeune in February 2004, earning second place in her age division.

But as she’ll quickly tell you – after you’ve had a chance to finger the medal and say “Congratulations” – she won, yes, but she also came in dead last. Race organizers were riding behind her, packing up the bright orange cones as she finished the course.


But did that take away from her win? Not one bit. Hours after the race, Mom was surfing the Internet, looking for other races to enter, other medals to scoop up, other chances to add to her fame.

I remember asking her why she was doing this, why she cared so much about racing. Her reply: “Because I can.”

See, my mom has multiple sclerosis – a disease that weakens the body, robs it of muscle strength and confines most of its patients, eventually, to wheelchairs. A year prior to her medal-winning performance, she was hospitalized in what became one of her more serious setbacks – the setback that forced her to quit her beloved teaching job and stay at home.

But instead of letting herself get weaker, she worked her body to build up its strength. She started eating healthier, she joined a gym and she started walking more, even jogging some.

When she has bad days, when her body aches and her legs feel weak, I worry about her. I found myself recently asking her why it was so important to be jogging when she could easily just walk her route, why she was pushing herself for some silly race.

And she told me something that rang true in my own life. She said she had never been athletic growing up, had never been on sports team, had never won medals or trophies. But now, she’s finding success, and it fills her with pride.

And what’s so bad about that?

I got a taste of what she was talking about last month. I ran my second 5K, this one at Carolina Beach, and while I didn’t do as well as I had hoped, I did improve my time by a little more than a minute.

Afterward, I gathered with friends and fellow runners and felt glorious. It felt wonderful to be a part of something, to be among people who felt the same joy of pounding the pavement. I was thrilled at the idea of being “one of them,” someone who is becoming more athletic with each new sport she takes on.

It’s a far cry from where I began, from where I was for the first 28 years of my life – obese and out of shape and devoid of any kind of enthusiasm for sports or any activity that would make me sweat more than I already did walking up a flight of stairs.

When the Carolina Beach race organizers began handing out awards for the 5K, I marveled at the winners’ times. I know I’ll never be that fast, but it still was motivating.

Then something surreal happened.

They called my name. Third place in the women’s 30-39-year-old division.

I couldn’t believe it. As I accepted my mug, I held on to it tight and was absolutely giddy as a friend snapped a photo of me. I had never, in my life, won anything like this.

I knew there was a good chance there weren’t many other women ages 30-39 in the race, that my third place also may have been last place in the age division. But it didn’t matter. I won something.

For running. A race. Me.

And I started to understand just how my mom felt when she won that large silver medal with the red, white and blue ribbon.

If all goes well, we’ll both be participating in the Oak Island 10K Run/Walk in two weeks – our first race together. It won’t matter our end times or how many people finish behind us.

What will matter: how far we’ve come to get there.

A quick update
For those of you not logged on to my daily Web journal, you might not understand why the editors haven’t changed my total weight loss (listed at the beginning of this column) for the past two months.

It’s not a typo. It’s simply that I haven’t progressed at all. As of Jan. 27, I had lost 150 pounds. As of today, April 5, I have lost 150.8 pounds. I go up. I go down. I maintain.

In two words: I’m stuck.

It has been the single most frustrating time of this two-and-half-year journey. I’m finding that no matter what I do, my body is stubbornly not responding. I’ve tried many tactics, to no avail.

Even my running has been stuck. I haven’t improved over the past month at all, and, in fact, I’m getting worse. I’ve resigned myself to the fact I won’t be able to run the entire 10K – I’ll simply have to alternate run/walk.

It’s a frustrating time for me, but a time I hope I’ll be able to look back on in a few months as just another roadblock in my journey.

Let’s just hope traffic starts moving soon.

Published: May 2005
I sat before the trainer in disbelief. Then the tears came.

He welcomed them.

“You should be proud of yourself,” he said, shuffling the papers, his kind eyes looking back at my watery ones, his smile egging mine on.

Proud. Yes. Unbelievably proud.

I’m sitting here at home, two hours after my first assessment at Wilmington Athletic Club, the gym I joined this week to spice up my exercise routine and get me back into strength training.

And as I sit here, I still can’t believe what I just learned, what I just discovered about my body and the transformation it’s made over the past two and a half years.

When I weighed in at 317 pounds in January 2003, I knew the road ahead of me would be a long and hard one. But I envisioned it to be a pretty straight path: Just lose weight, a little more each week, and become the ideal 135-pound woman all those medical charts want you to be.

I worked on my eating habits, I started to exercise, and the weight did indeed drop. But then, all of a sudden, I found myself facing a roadblock. Two years after this Weight Watch began, the weight stopped coming off. I was still exercising – actually, more than ever before – and eating healthfully, but the scale wouldn’t budge.

I would look in the mirror and see those 32 extra pounds, the pudge around my middle and what appeared to be a never-ending road of obesity before me, a road I started on as a child and couldn’t find a way off of.

For four months, I’ve grown more and more frustrated at this plateau.

For four months, it’s been my life.

Only, it wasn’t.

Other things were going on in my body, things I wasn’t aware of.

I decided to join Wilmington Athletic Club because, following my successful (!) 10K run last month, I was looking for a new challenge.

I wanted to take classes, perhaps try kickboxing or spinning, and I wanted to get back into building my muscles, which I knew could help me become a better runner and also tone the parts of my body left soft from losing 150 pounds.

I was looking forward to my initial assessment – the weighing and measuring – as I hoped it would motivate me to keep on pushing.

I had no idea it would make me cry.

But that’s what happened when the trainer laid out my personal profile.

Do you remember the first time I had my body fat measured? It was in May 2003, exactly two years ago, and it registered at 49 percent.

So no wonder the tears came fast and furious today when the trainer told me my body fat was now 28 percent.

No wonder I had to “take a moment” when I saw the accompanying chart that proclaimed I was no longer obese, no longer overweight, but “moderate.”

How could I not cry?

Never in my life have I not been overweight or obese. I was the chubby 5-year-old, the double-chinned fifth-grader, the overweight middle school student and the obese, then morbidly obese, teen and adult.

Now, after all these years, I’m not.

And according to other parts of my personal profile, I’m actually considered in good shape and in good health.

The trainer was thrilled to see that, in monitoring my heart rate after three minutes of step exercises, I ranked in the 99th percentile for a female my age in cardiovascular fitness. He said the running I have been doing has likely contributed to the “superior” assessment.

My blood pressure is “normal” at 110/80.

And when he figured in my lean body mass and fat mass to come up with my goals, he told me that with the amount of muscle I have, my goal body weight should be more around 143 pounds. If I keep my lean mass the same as it is now, that would bring me to 16 percent body fat – the low end of the range for a woman my age.

“It’s totally doable,” he said.

And – for the first time in months – I agreed.

Published: June 2005
Sometimes you have to learn to be happy in the moment.

For about two years, my happiness revolved around Thursday morning weigh-ins. I was the golden child – exercising, measuring food, eating according to my weight-loss plan and losing weight most every week. A pound here. A half-pound there. I collected gold stars with each 5-pound loss and posted them on my computer at work. I routinely called my family to report the latest achievement:

“I lost 4 pounds!”

“I’m up to 50 pounds lost!”

“I no longer weigh 200 pounds – I’m in the 100s!”

My smile grew wider and wider each week. My confidence was up. My clothing size was down. And when the occasional week passed where I “maintained” my weight, I pouted but immediately started looking forward to the next Thursday and the magical numbers I knew would show up on the scale.

Thursdays are no longer happy days for me. They stopped being happy around, well, January, I think. That’s when I hit the 150-pounds-lost mark and entered the gloomy, dark world of “The Plateau.”

And it has indeed been a dark place. Not only have I found myself depressed over the lack of movement on the scale (and, last week, the stomach-punch of a 3-pound weight gain) but, for a short time, I entered the very scary world of obsessing.

A view into that world:

I obsessed over every little thing I put into my mouth, down to the calcium supplement I was taking (“could that yummy chocolate Viactiv, which packs 20 calories a piece, be making me gain weight?”).

I obsessed about every bulge I saw in the mirror (“this is why no one wants to date me”).

I obsessed over the weight of women in magazines (“let’s see, if she is 5-foot-8 and 135 pounds, shouldn’t I set a smaller weight goal since I’m only 5-foot-3?”).

I obsessed about my Size 14 pair of jeans, which I have been wearing since October (“why aren’t they looser by now?”).

And then one day, I got scared.

I started seeing flashes of those “made-for-TV” movies, where the anorexic girl – who is clearly skin and bones – looks in the mirror and sees a fat person staring back. Is this how it all starts? Was I going to end up being that girl who was never satisfied with how she looked?

No. Please, no.

That’s not me. I’m the girl who reminds others that it’s who you are on the inside that counts. I’m the one who knows it’s a person’s personality that determines their level of attractiveness. I’m the one who knows the number on the scale isn’t what’s important – but rather that I’m running, I’m working out and I’m eating healthful foods every single day.

I am NOT the kind of person who obsesses over how she looks.

Am I?

It’s clear I’m entering a very critical point in this Weight Watch. You’d think something like this would follow a formula: Girl weighs 317 pounds. Girl loses weight. Girl is happy and healthy. The end. But the twists and turns I’ve come up against have really taken me for a ride. And I realize that which direction I take at this crossroads will determine who I become: “Girl who embraces her new body” or “Girl who’s always seeking the perfect body.”

It’s scary. And so real for so many people.

We live in a culture where women eagerly subject themselves to plastic surgery to sculpt new bodies or new faces in search of perfection. Where spouses divorce because the wife gained weight and “she’s not who I married.” Where little girls in elementary schools talk about having the “perfect abs” like their role models Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera.

But you know what? Perfection isn’t real. We all have our flaws and they make us who we are. I have a pudge around my middle and loose skin on my arms, thighs and stomach. My hair is thinning on the top, and I have an overbite.

But each imperfection tells its own story. It’s my story, it’s brought me where I am today, and I’m proud of it.

And even I can find the beauty in that.

Published: July 2005
“Eat Yourself Thin: How to speed up your weight loss!”

“The Non-Diet Diet: 3 small changes and the weight comes off!”

“Summer Special: 20 diet tricks that work!”

The magazines sit by my nightstand at home, their glossy pages wrinkled from having been read cover to cover. The latest issues of Women’s Health, Fitness, Self and Shape all made their way into my grocery store cart at the check-out counter, tossed in among the grapes, zucchinis, carrots and whole-wheat breads.

I buy these magazines not for the claims they make – “Amazing abs in just 3 weeks!” – but because they fill me with useful fitness and nutrition information, and I always feel more focused on my diet as I flip through the pages.

That’s not to say those headlines about “speeding up your weight loss” don’t make me zoom to “page 114” as soon as I get home and settle onto my couch.

I’m entering Month 6 of The Longest Plateau Known In the Dieting World. I devour any and all “speeding up” tips, no matter who’s offering them.

But, inevitably, I see nothing I haven’t seen before.

Eat more fresh vegetables. Check.

Avoid fried foods. Check.

Drink lots of ice-cold water. Check.

Portion your snacks into individual serving size bags. Check.

Shake up your workout by adding a little more (weights, time, distance) each day. Check. Check. Check.

The advice is golden. I should know. I’m 150-ish pounds lighter than two and a half years ago. My blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride levels are awesome. And my heart beats as efficiently as a professional runner’s.

But there doesn’t seem to be any magical solution to this rut I’ve been in. I’ve been eating well and exercising more than ever before. Yet not only have I seen a plateau in my weight, I’ve seen it in my body measurements (no change in clothes I’ve been wearing since January) and my running (haven’t progressed a bit).

For this reason, I stopped attending Weight Watchers meetings. I had to – for my own sanity.

Like the magazines, there’s not much the leaders or literature there can offer me that I haven’t heard before. They, too, are stumped at how to make my weight continue to move downward.

But even more than that, I hated how I felt when I left the meetings. I’d step on the scale. See a weight increase or no change at all. And step off feeling like I had failed or cheated or been a “bad student,” when I hadn’t.

It wasn’t a good thing – feeling depressed week after week. And it wasn’t economical to spend so much money when my body wasn’t going to respond.

I’ve had to face a lot of realities lately, including the fact that there are parts of my body that may not get smaller through exercise and diet alone. I have a lot of excess, hanging skin, and while toning is tops in my workout at the gym, there’s only so much it can do.

Will I consider surgery? I don’t know. I had been very firm in my belief that I never wanted to “go there.” I had lost this weight naturally and I wasn’t going to do anything unnatural to my body, even if it meant just tightening skin. But as I face month after month of this plateau, I have to admit I’ve been thinking more about that possibility.

For now, my focus is on other things – including fighting a depression that engulfs me day after day and one I know is linked very closely to this plateau. I have to fight urges to eat and fight the voice in my head that still calls me a “fatty” and adds: “Why bother? It’s not like you’ll ever lose more weight even if you avoid this extra piece of bread.”

That voice is what made me a 317-pound woman and I can’t let it resume a place in my life.

The fight continues.

Published: August 2005
I’ll never forget the day – the very moment – I decided to start hiding my arms from the world.

I was all of 13 years old, a sixth-grader who never thought much about fashion or accessories or style (and therefore never overly critiqued her appearance in the mirror before heading off to school). But on this hot spring day toward the end of the school year, I found myself rethinking the outfit I had chosen to wear.

The long yellow skirt and pink-and-white sleeveless sweater fit me just fine (I had actually hijacked the outfit from my mother’s closet because my overweight body required adult sizes). As the school day started, the halls began filling up with my middle school classmates, and attention – for one reason or another – drifted to my pink-and-white sleeveless sweater and my exposed upper arms.

They weren’t the arms of a typical teen. They were big. Fatty. Grotesque.

Why hadn’t I ever noticed them before, I asked myself as I tried to find a jacket or scarf or something to cover them up. I knew I was overweight. But this was the first time I realized that some outfits, some items of clothing, would have to be off limits as long as I remained big.

So for the next 15 years, I was never seen again in a sleeveless sweater, shirt or dress. I even chose pajamas that covered my arms so my family wouldn’t be exposed to them.

As an adult, each visit to the drive-up ATM caused me grief as I would roll down my window, stretch out my left arm to punch in my bank code and catch a glimpse of the fat and jiggle of my upper arms in the car’s side mirror.

When a good friend of mine asked me to be in her wedding, her choice of bridesmaid’s dress made me panic: Not only would mine have to be custom-made (the designer didn’t make dresses larger than 18s), but it was going to be sleeveless.

I begged her to reconsider.

“All women hate their arms,” she said. “I’m sure yours aren’t that bad.”

Oh, but they were.

It didn’t surprise me when she decided the bridesmaids would wear large wraps over their sleeveless dresses.

I hugged mine to my arms the entire day.

Hiding from the world
When I started the Weight Watch in January 2003 weighing 317 pounds, my arms were bigger than ever. They measured 19 inches around – the size of an overweight thigh.

Even as I began to lose the weight, my arms remained my nemesis. Sure, they were going down in inches, but the cellulite, the fat, the blue veins still made them a body part that required being hidden.

I’d buy smaller dresses, smaller shirts, smaller pants. And I’d look at those cute spring dresses with their spaghetti straps and sigh. I just wasn’t ready. Would I ever be?

The brown and pink dress at Dillards made me ready.

It was beautiful and it fit me and it seemed perfect for my aunt’s upcoming wedding. But it was strapless.

I was still more than 200 pounds, and when I emerged from the dressing room wearing the gown, the attendant noticed my dilemma – my arms – and immediately went to the accessories department to fetch me a pink wrap.

The right to bare arms
A big part of my weight-loss effort has involved exercise and strength training. I work hard on cardio, but I also hit the weights. One of my goals, since the beginning, has been to tone these arms. To make them “bare-able.”

And it’s finally paying off. Two and a half years later, 148 pounds lighter, and my arms are starting to show more definition and less droop.

And I’ve entered a new phase in my life. I’m buying tank tops and strapless dresses (sans the wraps). And I’m wearing them.

On last month’s vacation to the N.C. mountains, I didn’t wear sleeves once. I posed for pictures without cowering behind trees. And I can look at the photos today and notice the beauty of the scenery, the beauty of the skies, and, yes, the beauty of a body I’ve finally earned.

Published: September 6, 2005
When I love something, I love it times 10.

Just ask my family. They remember my middle school crush on a boy and how I Xeroxed his yearbook picture and placed the image of his face on the walls of my bedroom, accompanied, of course, by the wall-length banner that read “I LOVE BRYAN.”

When I love something, I love it with every ounce of my being.

So it makes sense that I became a 317-pound adult, doesn’t it? I loved food, but being this girl who doesn’t know how to “love a little,” that excess love for pizza and pasta and ice cream turned into excess fat on my body. And at age 28, I was labeled by doctors as morbidly obese.

It was too bad, then, that my ability to love other people so quickly and so passionately didn’t translate into a love for myself and my health and happiness. The day I glimpsed my medical charts and saw the bare fact that I was so overweight I was in danger of dying, I went home and drowned my sorrows in food.

Did I love myself? I don’t think I did.

I started the Star-News Weight Watch two years ago because I loved my job. I loved the newspaper, and I loved running stories that helped other people. So I took on the challenge of losing weight – and writing about it – for 15 weeks because it seemed like it would be a good thing for others.

I never once thought it would be a good thing for me.

Not until a few hours after the first article was published. That’s when I sat down at my office computer and logged on to my e-mail account. There, before my eyes, was letter after letter from readers who shared their own stories, who offered words of encouragement and who told me I could do this, because I was worth it.

You can’t imagine what those letters did for me.

I found myself opening up more and more each week, exposing all the pains from my past – how I was bribed as a child to lose weight, how I needed seatbelt extensions on airplanes, how I never dated.

With each pain I shared, the healing began.

Two and a half years later, having lost 150 pounds (with about 30 more to go), I know in my heart I have gotten this far because a community embraced me, encouraged me and refused to let me give up on myself.

This community, through their words and actions, taught me something no weight-loss book or program ever could: They taught me how to love myself. Times 10.

Moving on
With this gift of love and acceptance (along with more than 1,000 bits of e-mail advice and encouragement) packed up, I’m leaving Wilmington to start a new life. In fact, as you read this, I’m tackling my first day on the job at The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va. I’m probably wandering the halls right now, lost in a maze of new faces and Human Resources paperwork.

I’m excited about this new opportunity and this new life in a new place where people just know me for what they see now. There’s no “before” photograph hovering over me. It will be, I’m hopeful, a fresh start.

But the decision to leave wasn’t an easy one. There are friends and family and co-workers I love dearly and don’t want to part from. Then there are you, readers, who have been my strength these past two and a half years.

You accepted me from the start and had confidence I’d succeed in my weight-loss attempt (despite the fact I’d admitted to failing countless diets in my 28 years). You flooded me with encouragement and advice. You listened to my fears and responded with solutions. You guided me every day. And because of you, I am no longer obese. I’m nearing “normal” size.

You’ve raised me through troubled years and taught me all the lessons I need to know in life to succeed – how to keep losing weight and, more important, how to keep it off.

And today, I leave you to go out into the world on my own.

I promise to remember you and your lessons and to make you proud. I’ll never forget you, and, from the bottom of my heart, I thank you for this life you gave me.

I will handle it with care.

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