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"Fat, female, and forty," the doctor said to me as I sat in his office. "I'm sorry but you fit all the criteria for having gall stones, and the ultrasound shows you have quite a few. That means you're going to need surgery."
Well, he couldn't have made it any plainer than that. I didn't mind the female part, but fat and forty? Didn't he know how many times I'd tried to lose weight? I'd drop 20 pounds and over time gain back thirty. Disgusted with myself, I scheduled the surgery and left his office.
Three years later, I sat across from Dr. Eng while she explained her diagnoses. "You have acid reflux," she said, as she scribbled down a prescription.
"Here, this will block the acid," she said, handing me the slip of paper for the pharmacist. "You'll need to cut from your diet acidy foods like oranges, grapefruit, any of the citrus family. Also tomatoes, fried foods, coffee and tea --"
"Yes, that only contributes to the problem. And avoid chocolate."
My mind raced to conjured images of rich, dark chocolate bars, chocolate cake, chocolate chip cookies, and Godiva hot chocolate, the drink I order when I visit the bookstore. Give up chocolate; she had to be joking. But the determined, matter-of-fact look on her face told me she was serious.
"Is there something else I can do to get rid of this?" I said, shaking my head and throwing up my hands.
"You could lose weight. As Americans get heavier, I see an increased number of patients who've developed this problem."
On the drive home, I considered what the doctor had said. I had battled weight my whole life. And I always lost the war. Now she was asking me to give up some of my favorite foods. I couldn't imagine life without the refreshing taste of oranges, tomatoes on my salad, and a cup of English breakfast tea, my morning ritual? And what about that bowl of chocolate ice cream at night. Chocolate, my favorite food.
However, according to the terrible churning in my gut and constant burn in my throat, I couldn't continue down the same path. And I had no intention of taking pills the rest of my life to remedy something within my control. Yes, it was time to act. But I had to be realistic. Knowing I'm not a gym girl, I needed a plan that I could stick with long- term. No more diets like in the past where I'd lose twenty pounds only to gain it back a year later. No, this time I had to do a complete lifestyle overhaul.
I made a mental list of the things I liked to do, read, write, paint, and walk. Walking, that was it. I'd start there since everything else on my list involved long periods of sitting. And I'd have to change my eating habits for good. That meant no snacking in front of the TV at night and then going to bed.
I stepped into action with my plan that afternoon. When I arrived home, I said to our Bassett, "Come on Charlie we need to take our squatty bodies for a walk." He lifted his head from his comfortable corner of the couch and looked at me like, huh? We started out slow, and added a block or two each day. Now I walk up to two miles three times a week.
The next week I added a morning workout routine of crunches, leg raises, toe-touches, etc... Soon I built up enough stamina to do 20 minutes of exercise 6 days a week, in addition to my walking.
Sometimes, when I wake up exercise is the last thing I feel like doing. But I resist the urge to skip and force myself to do what I know benefits me. When I finish, I pat myself on the back for making the right choice.
A Shift in Attitude
I also took a hard look at what my daily diet consisted of and started viewing food as fuel for my brain and body. In a drastic move, I decided to stop eating all processed sugar and white flour for the first six weeks. This forced me to read labels on everything I ate which at first made shopping take twice as long.
I became an expert at reading labels. As a result, I discovered high fructose corn syrup (HFC) hidden in many packaged foods. The syrupy substance lurked in our bread and even the clam chowder we had been buying. I also said farewell to frozen juices, most of which contain HFC. Instead, I buy the freshest in-season produce I can afford. I continue to read labels of new products because looks and packaging can be deceiving.
A Matter of Choice
After the first two months, I treated myself to a small cone or dish of ice cream twice a month. After all, this is not a diet. I've retrained my thinking so I make healthier choices. Once I freed my body from the addiction to processed sugars, fruit and vegetables taste sweeter than I'd realized.
If I do crave something sweet, which rarely happens any more, I bite into a plump, tasty medjool date or two. They halt the craving and I don't feel deprived. If I don't want a date, I treat myself to a dish of fresh or frozen berries, usually raspberries. Sometimes I still have two cookies, or a small piece of pie. But every day I make healthy food the priority, with an occasional sweet confection.
Sometimes, my husband and I stop for fast food when we're out, but I no longer order a regular burger. Instead I get a junior burger. If we get fries, we share a small package, and we carry water with us rather than buy pop.
The hardest habit for me to break was giving up my evening bowl of ice cream. One of the tricks I've used to conquer that craving is to floss and brush my teeth when I finish dinner. This signals my taste buds and my brain, we're done eating for the day.
The first two months, I lost sixteen pounds. I still have a ways to go to reach my goal. But I'm losing the weight with every healthy choice I make. Over three years I've managed to maintain a thirty-five pound weight loss. Three cheers for me. Not only do I feel better, have new clothes, I've also cured my acid reflux.
*Note: "What! No Chocolate?" under the title "Taking Action" appears in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Shaping the New You, along with 100 other stories sure to inspire and encourage you in your own weight loss goals. Released December 2010, order your copy today from Barnes & Noble or Amazon.
© 2009 Kathleen Kohler