Ignore the shortcut.

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Out for a run. On trails. Typical these days. Gratefully, thankfully, will-not-take-it-for-granted typical. 🙂

Meet Josh and Wendie Gum!

We met three years ago. These two were the first people I met that had lost weight the exact same way I was approaching it. They had made sweeping changes.  They embraced and were loving their healthy lifestyle. It was like MAGIC to find these two! I felt profound relief, an overwhelming rush of gratitude. Dumb luck or fate? Who cares!? I had JUST stumbled into a new set of friends who GOT what I was trying to do! They had information, ideas, energy, passion and were 100% supportive.

As I got to know them I realized not only had they adopted the lifestyle I was chasing, BUT they also happened to be optimistic, compassionate, generous, fabulous human beings on top of it all…

I asked Josh if he would write about the journey he and Wendie have been on. Please read on to learn more about the dynamic duo I am blessed to call friends.


My way is not the shortcut, and the journey has been worth every bit the effort. – Josh Gum

It seems that from nearly every angle you’ll be told there are easier ways, you can take a pill, or follow a specific diet, and in a few short weeks you’ll have lost all that unwanted fat! Well that sounds simple.. why wouldn’t you jump right on board and get started?! I did. I did this many times, and failed to reach my ultimate goal every single time. Before I figured out what works for me, I failed at every shortcut that I could find.. and I regained my initial weight plus interest.

One of the most laughable shortcuts I ever took was a pill that supposedly bound to the fat in the food you eat, and helped to “pass it through” your body before it could be stored on your body. Some point after having taken the pill, at a moments notice I would need to be no less than 25 yards from the nearest bathroom. Sounds ridiculous? It was. I took a shortcut once that was a “cookie diet”.. that’s no joke. You buy this product with some prepackaged cookies, and you eat them for nearly every meal. These were not cheap cookies, either. I remember they left me satisfied for maybe a week or two.. but after the novelty wore off, they started to taste horrible and ultimately I added another tick on the failure scoreboard.

While a lot of people find success with Weight Watchers, it still turned out to be somewhat of a shortcut for me. I got very good at calculating points, and eating much less food than I should, because the type of food I wanted to eat would account for a bulk of my daily allowance. I sabotaged my day before it was even half over. Over time, one thing would lead to another and I found myself grazing through the candy bowls in the office, or picking up fast food on my way home after work.

Thorough my twenties I was quite successful at eliminating as much physical activity as I could on a daily basis. I’d guess that my weight didn’t climb as fast as it could have because of the weekend hikes that my wife, Wendie, and I would take at Silver Falls State Park. Despite our efforts, as the years went by, my pants crept up past size 42. Sometime near the end of 2009, the highest weight I remember seeing on the scale was 325lbs. At a routine appointment with my doctor, I remember him telling me, again, that I need to take my health and weight seriously. He was ready to diagnose me as hypertensive and to put me on blood pressure medicine. I was told, point blank, that this is not a diagnosis that he wants to put on my records and that it would follow me around forever. I had been living with chronic pain for several years, I had a back surgery to repair a bulging lumbar disc, and I was battling with depression related to it all. My twenties were kicking my ass, and for all the wrong reasons.

There are no shortcuts to any place worth going. – Beverly Sills

On my Thirtieth birthday, I stated to my wife that I was going to make a change and that my thirties were going to be the time that I finally became healthy. Three months passed, and a I finally took the hardest step.. the first one. Wendie joined in, and this time we were going to ignore every shortcut that had lead to failure in the past. This time we were going old-school; we were going to eat healthy foods and exercise on a daily basis. A super simple concept, and yet, the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Over the past five years, I’ve maintained a weight loss of 110lbs, and Wendie has lost 80lbs! With our new lease on life, and our remodeled fitness we’ve been training for and completing many athletic goals that neither of us would have ever dreamt of otherwise.

For weight loss, shortcuts tend to set people up for failure and dependency on a particular regimen or product. Long term success in managing my weight was the result of educating myself on what a healthy diet is, and the hard work of consistently making the right choices.

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How to eat an elephant.

How do you eat an elephant?

One bite at a time. 

I love this truism. Fabulous reminder that to accomplish fantastically big things, you simply break them down into a bunch of LITTLE pieces.

That is how you clean your house. Plan for a big event. Earn a college degree.

And it’s exactly how you would go about eating an elephant.

Triple digit weight loss staring you in the face… Desperate to reverse a disease that has had you in a stranglehold for 10+ years… You have to THINK small, start small. The big picture can quickly overwhelm you into submission before you even get started.

I remember the intense anxiety and fledgling bravado I felt when I finally decided to own the idea that I was going to lose 200+ pounds and tackle T2 diabetes. I was desperately tired of being fat. I wanted OFF of insulin. And I knew, had been told multiple times, had dug up the research; odds were overwhelmingly against me being successful with either endeavor.

A freaking elephant was charging straight for me.

I remember thinking panicky, repetitive, self-defeating thoughts when I was trying to make the mental leap to start fighting for my life;

  1. No way in hell is this actually going to happen. BUT I have to start. T2 diabetes is going to kill me. Start or die. Those are my choices. Damn. My choices suck.
  2. I don’t think I even weighed less than 160 pounds when I was born. (Sorry mom.) That’s my ‘goal weight’?!
  3. I have to lose more than what MOST people ever weigh.
  4. This will take YEARS.
  5. I have to change everything. EVERY SINGLE THING.
  6. What if I can’t beat diabetes?  What if I have done too much damage to my body?
  7. What if it is TRUE that once you go on injectable insulin you are screwed? It’s all over. You can never lose weight.
  8. Do I know anyone who has lost a huge amount of weight and kept it off? Anyone?(Crickets.)
  9. Do I know anyone who has reversed T2 diabetes? (Crickets. Again.)
  10. No one understands how hard this is going to be. NO ONE. HOLY CRAP.  I am alone.
  11. Food. Oh no… Food. Why does this have to involve food?
  12. Exercise? Are you freaking kidding me?! Wear Spandex in front of PEOPLE?  No way… That alone WILL kill me.
  13. WHERE do I even begin?  (Panic. Tears. Shame.)
  14. Once I get started I can never, ever, stop… This is for the REST OF MY LIFE.

Repeat cycle. Re-inforce negative thinking. Talk yourself out of taking action because you can’t really do this…

THEN…  Then I went to lunch with my friend Jennifer Vina.

I was at the point where the idea of mega-weight loss and abolishing diabetes and getting healthy was fighting hard to become stronger than my list of fears.  (Or if I am being a drama queen, sappy, happy my reflection on that time is that my desire to LIVE was finally becoming stronger than my fear of dying…)

Anyway, I remember verbally vomiting all over Jennifer. Confiding in her what I really wanted to do in an unorganized, frantic, tear-filled fashion. I was finally saying this out loud to another person. She listened to it all. Then she made me write everything down.  How much I weighed.  What I wanted to lose.  How long it would take. Precise dates. What would happen if I lost a pound a week? No fears allowed. No hedging. Unwavering encouragement. She gently, but pointedly, forced me to think about what I wanted and exactly how to get there.

She SHOWED me how to eat the elephant.

I left with my plan written down on a napkin. And a huge life-gift.  She had convinced me I could do it. I could do ANYTHING. I just had to break it down… It was the first time I felt that this might all be possible. My confidence would come and go, many, many times. Still does to be honest. BUT this first hint of confidence was amazing!

‘You just have to start. Then don’t stop. Just don’t stop.’  (Her simple encouragement has morphed into one of my consistent running mantras when things get tough.)

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Jennifer and her first-born in her arms. First time I got to meet the little one!

Everyone’s start and progress and success looks different – even if we are trying to eat the same weight loss/T2 diabetes elephant.

PLEASE take a moment to acknowledge that idea.

The biggest tensions I have had with people about my journey is that they think that’s what theirs should look like. That is NOT how this works. NOT at all.

YOU have to own your own journey and success and work. Don’t compare. I learned the hard way that comparisons are useless, painful and demoralizing. Own your journey. This has to be about finding what works for you.

Eat your own damn elephant. 🙂

If you want to try someone’s idea or habit to see if it will fit/work for you? Solid idea! I do it all the time. COMPARING? Not good. Not at all.  Just to be clear.

In case one of these ideas seems like something you might want to try ‘on’ for yourself to see if it might work, this is how I got started:

  1. Wrote down the facts, goals, roughed-out plans.  Writing it down made it real and made it not so danged scary.
  2. I told a handful of good friends. I reached out to the people who had watched me try and fail repeatedly and loved me anyway. I called them and said ‘I’m doing this – I’m serious…” Wade, Hannah, Liz, Deb, Anneke.  I asked them to stick with me. I asked for permission to check in. Gave them permission to check in with me. I promised to not be defensive.
  3. I got approval from my doctor.  I was morbidly obese and a T2 diabetic. Turns out when a patient expresses a firm desire and has a plan of action to try to get their health back; docs are SUPER supportive.
  4. I picked ONE thing at a time to work on.  Small things. Drinking more water. Writing down my food. Going for a walk each day. I picked one healthy habit and worked on it until I was comfortable that it wouldn’t go away. Then I picked a new one to learn.

One last story or caveat… 🙂 When tackling lifestyle changes, do NOT try to make a ton of changes all at the same time. I tried that. Gung-ho, ready to fight and change my life.  But making ALL of the sweeping changes at one time was a TOTAL disaster. It was simply TOO much change, too shocking.  I had a major, epic, short-lived meltdown. Wade took my frantic call and STRONGLY suggested that maybe we should focus on just ONE thing at a time...  ‘Let’s just take one concrete, healthy thing at a time.  And freaking BREATHE Bets.  Just breathe.’ 🙂

ONE bite at a time. Just one, small bite at a time…

THAT is how I learned to eat an elephant.

You have lost weight! What is your secret?!

‘What is your secret to losing weight and reversing type 2 diabetes?’

One of the top 5 question I get asked. Right up there with ‘Do you wear underwear with your bike shorts?’ (No, BTW… More in another post.)

I hate to be the killjoy… But there is no secret to losing weight.

None. 

No one seems to want to hear the honest answer.  They think they do until I tell them. Then they typically shake their head, cross their arms and tell me why it can not work for them…

Eat less. Move more. 

This honest, simple answer is NOT the sexy, cool, fun, easy answer people are hoping to hear. But it IS the answer.

I looked for the ‘secret’ for years.  I tried everything I could to avoid the answer I knew was looming there all along…

EAT LESS CRAP and GET YOUR BUTT MOVING.

What do I think about this pill, commercial programs complete with packaged food, or elimination of entire food groups? They are all gimmicks or lies or at best, half-truths. Sorry. Marketers and businesses are savvy and they know people desperately want promises of lasting success with very little work needed. Magic sells a whole hell of a lot better than hard work.

I also get asked for my thoughts on gastric bypass surgery. My doctor pushed me to consider it. My BMI was 61. I was the ideal candidate physically. In the process of learning more about it, I began to understand surgery was not going to solve my problem. Surgery could not really fix WHY I got fat. If I was going to lose weight and KEEP IT OFF, I  had to start with changing my brain and life-long habits. Surgery was not for me.

My complete overhaul started in July 2011. I started eating less and making smarter food choices. Ditched fast food. Measured portions. Counted calories. Wrote down everything I ate. Sweets were banned. (It remains a trigger for me; this continues to be a self-imposed restriction.) Leaner cuts of meat. Quit eating in my car. Being intentional and mindful about my eating experiences. Then, when the weight started to come off, I started walking. Walking. Walking.  Basic stuff.

All of this becomes vastly more complicated when you include T2 diabetes in the mix.

While working to lose weight, get off of insulin and cement new habits I still had lows or highs that HAD to be adjusted. We were being VERY careful with the ‘exit plan’ for getting off of insulin, but I had been warned ‘wild’ blood sugars were going to happen. The adjustments I needed to make sometimes threw my entire eating and activity plan for the day out the window.  It was intensely frustrating and confusing at times. Going back to my old ways was a seriously appealing idea on more than a few occasions. Not gonna lie.

I remember trying to run one time when I was low.  I didn’t want to eat the carbs/calories I needed to adjust my blood sugar. In my mind, I hadn’t ‘saved’ enough calories for even a handful of jelly beans that day. I refused to skip the run; I was starting to really love running. And I really, really didn’t want to have to explain all of this to Spencer, my brand-new running coach.

I showed up cranky and disoriented and argumentative. My running partners, Josh and Joe, quickly figured out I was low. The way I remember the incident is that they threatened to shove jelly beans somewhere jelly beans didn’t belong if I did not immediately and voluntarily eat some sugar. The jelly beans put me over my calorie allotment for the day.  I was pissed at my predicament and slightly pissed at them for making me correct it. I was worried about calories and weight loss which is the last thing I, the diabetic, should have been worried about with out-of-whack blood glucose.  They were right.  I was wrong.  I am extremely lucky they were looking out for me.

It turned out to be a really, really good lesson in diabetes management and friendship.

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Joe Van V., Tour de Cure 2014 for Diabetes. Joe was my training partner for  an endurance Tri/Duathlon and Century. (100 mile bike ride!) He’s a FREAKING Ironman!
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Josh Gum, the man who put the idea of an Ultra in my head close to 3 years ago. Ironman and badass ultra runner. Josh and his wife Wendie have each lost a lot of weight, kept it off and embraced an entirely new, healthy lifestyle and mind set in the process.

Managing all of these pieces is hard to do. No doubt about it. Eat less. Move more. Manage blood sugar. There are NO secrets or shortcuts. While that kind of sucks — it’s also a form of freedom if you choose to view it that way…

There no absolutes about what life and a path to success looks like on a daily basis with diabetes in the mix. That’s OK! Stay focused on getting it as right as you can, as often as you can with what works best FOR YOU.

I was upset at having to correct a bad low in the middle of the night with soda and candy early on my journey to get off of insulin. I saw this as a total defeat in my effort to revamp my eating. Even though all I was doing was adjusting a low… (Low blood sugar brain can be really mean and snarky!) Once my blood sugar was normal and my brain was working again my dad told me:

“Get this as right as you, as often as you can. You’ll make progress. Re-focus on the very next step you need to take to reach your bigger goal. You are doing all the right things. Your body just has to figure out how to work with you now that you are getting healthy.”

There is no secret. I’m really sorry to burst your bubble.

This business of losing weight and cementing the habits needed to keep it off is some of the hardest work you will ever do.

And as it turns out, some of the best, most rewarding work you will ever do.

How did you get so fat?

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2003, 392+ pounds. Size 28 stock dress – altered up a size or two. I was giving myself 3 shots a day and taking 7 other drugs. (Lantus, Byetta, Metformin, Lisinopril, Lovostatin, etc…)

Legitimate question. Rude and hurtful, but honest.

I weighed 392 pounds at my heaviest. I’m 5’7.

How did I get that fat?

The 5-second answer is embarrassingly simple. I ate too much and I hated to sweat.

The layered, nuanced answer requires you to peek inside my flawed thinking. And yes, I am nervous about opening this particular set of doors, thank you for asking. But it’s time to be honest.

Here is the how I got to be 392 pounds before I chose to do anything about it:

  1.  I had a life-long, seriously screwed up relationship with food. It controlled me. I thought about food from the time I woke up, to the time I went to bed. I was addicted to food and the comfort it gave. I would make or change plans based on food. My happiest moments growing up are centered around food. You can’t not eat. You have to have SOME kind of relationship with food. Food owned me.
  2. I had given up hope and was flirting non-stop with apathy. I knew I weighed a ridiculous amount. I had been overweight my entire life. Diets had failed me. Why bother? I was just destined to be fat. If society was hung up on looks — screw ’em. I knew I was a good person, the packaging should not matter
  3. T2 diabetes could easily be managed with drugs. I didn’t need to do the work. And how serious was it really? Plenty of people lived long lives with T2. Giving myself shots? There were worse things.
  4. To reverse this train wreck would take serious work. I knew it would be unbearably hard work. Work you could never, ever stop doing.
  5. I had failed every single ‘diet’ I had ever tried. Every. Single. One. Fen-phen. Nutrisystems. Weight Watchers. Alli. Medi-fast. South Beach. Atkins. Jenny Craig. Cabbage soup. You name it… I tried and failed at it.
  6. I was hiding. Wait.. What? Those who know anything about me know that I am an unabashed extrovert. I am a genuinely happy person and in most cases – a totally open book. I also happen to have severe self-confidence issues about my body. Staying fat kept me well protected from dealing with unwanted attention. I have always been uncertain and nervous around men. Being fat kept me padded from comments or attention and was the perfect solution. I was not the pretty friend, I was the funny, kind friend who was the trustworthy side-kick. I could be happy and work hard and be confident about everything else in my life and yet successfully hide from the world in plain sight as a fat woman.

Ouch.

Getting to be grossly overweight is like the analogy of how to boil a frog. If you boiled a pot of water and then threw a frog in, it would immediately hop back out to safety. BUT if you took the same frog and placed him in a cold pot of water and turned up the heat gradually… You would wind up with perfectly boiled frogs’ legs. They don’t realize what’s happening. They don’t feel a need to jump to safety. They accept each passing moment as their new reality. It eventually kills them.

You get to be 392 pounds because you very slowly adapt and change to your increasing bulk. It never alarms you in the day to day. You just wake up one day and realize you weigh 392 pounds.  And it’s killing you.

It has taken years and miles of running and some blessedly patient friends with good listening skills to help me understand exactly how best to begin to answer this tough question…

*Work in progress. Stay tuned.*

Can I ask you a question…?

I get asked a lot of questions about my journey in reversing type 2 (T2) diabetes and finding a healthy life.  LOTS.

They are probing, emotion-laden, frantic, rude, personal, funny.  They are never easy to answer. These are not casual questions, even if it might seem that way on the surface.

I began compiling a list of some of the FAQ’s and conversations starters that I have encountered these past 3+ years. The list is three pages long, single-spaced. I wasn’t kidding.  I told you… I get asked a lot of questions.

I also get asked at least weekly if I have a blog.

I do now.

I want to answer those questions. My answers are based only on my personal experience with this roller coaster of adopting a new lifestyle. I will be honest about the tough stuff that comes with mega-weight loss and battling T2 and learning to love being physically active.

Now for the disclaimer: I’m obviously not a doctor. I’m just a stubborn, former fat girl who decided she wanted something different. And started fighting for it.  And continues to chase it down each and every day. That’s all the credentials I can offer up.

I can talk about what it feels like to have a triple-digit weight loss staring you in the face.  I totally understand having tried every diet/pill/magic remedy no matter how ridiculous or questionable or unsafe. I know what it is like to be told to exercise when walking out to your car after work saps every spare ounce of energy you have left.  I will never forget the overwhelm when my doctor explained my T2 diabetes diagnosis, shoved packages of needles and syringes in my hands and let me walk out the door with no instructions on how to actually give myself an injection. I was told to ‘eat better’. Whatever in the hell that meant…  I mean my track record and the scale would prove that perhaps the judgement needed to ‘eat better’ was not one of my stronger skills.

There was no one to help me navigate those confusing and isolated paths. I would love to be the help or encouragement for someone that I really, really needed back when my health started to unravel. This is no way discounts my friends who never left my side.  But I desperately needed to talk to someone who had been in those 400 pound shoes. Someone to offer up a word of advice as I struggled to figure out a relationship with food that was overtly and ‘suddenly’ a poison to my T2 system. Someone to talk to me about starting to exercise when you wear 4X clothing.

How did you let yourself get so fat?

How did you learn to love running, because I absolutely HATE exercise?

So… Are you telling me that I can never eat ice cream/candy/cake/pie/pizza again?  Ever?

I have to lose so much weight this is impossible.

What’s your secret?  There must be some sort of secret…

I have found a scant handful of folks who have successfully reversed T2. And fewer folks who have lost significant amounts of weight and are successfully keeping it off.  (Surgical or not…)  It’s a lonely little club. Right now at least.

My new-found passion and quest in life?  Find others facing and battling T2.  Find others who are ready to tackle weight loss, want to learn to love exercise and understand that means they have to embrace radical lifestyle shifts.  I will help where I can with support and encouragement. I want to use what I have learned to HELP people.

I would love to grow this lonely little club into a freaking monster tribe of healthy and active friends.