I am SO excited to have a guest blogger for this post! I did photos for my friend Clara and her family last week (you can see the photos HERE), and after the family shoot we did a little mini-shoot just for Clara. Now, I am fully in support of getting photos of yourself just because you want to, but Clara had a specific reason for wanting these photos. She is halfway through an AMAZING journey that has changed her life, and she wanted to document this stage of the journey. She decided a little over a year ago to make some significant life changes to lose weight and start living a healthier lifestyle. She is now 73 lbs down (73 lbs!!) and has run multiple 5Ks, and she is still pushing herself to live the best life possible every day. I asked Clara to do me the honor of telling her story on my blog, in hopes that it will inspire others and remind everyone that it is never to late to make decisions to better your life. She has been SUCH an encouragement to me in many aspects of life, and I just wanted everyone else to get a glimpse of this fabulous woman.
You can follow Clara’s journey in even more detail on her blog, Change My Blueprint.
So, with no further ado…I give you Clara!
Huge thanks to Wendy for inviting me to be a guest on her blog!
Hi, I’m Clara, 31 years old, an HR Director, wife of almost 11 years, a Christian and mommy to an incredible girl. The pictures you will see in this blog are more than just photos of myself or my family – they represent a journey I began in August of 2009, to save my own life. By just glancing at my pictures I look like any average happily married person I would imagine. You see some highlights, some gray hair, a handsome man and a cute kid (and dog). But this photo shoot was so much more to me than just updated family shots. This shoot, the pictures of just me in particular, were to mark an important place in an incredible journey that looking back on the first half of it almost feels surreal. It has been a journey full of sweat, tears, hard work and some challenging decisions.
You see, in August of 2009, I weighed 285 pounds. I’m not sure how I became that heavy, except that a series of unfortunate medical circumstances became great excuses for me. I spent three years trying to have someone diagnose something I knew was wrong with me. I had every test you can imagine to explain the memory loss, muscle weakness and spasms, numbness and crazy headaches. Finally in April of 2009 I was diagnosed with a meningioma tumor which is wrapped around my carotid artery in my cavernous sinus of my brain (think left eye, all the way back, middle of the brain). No, this story doesn’t include brain surgery (yet) or even radiation treatment at this time. I’m blessed that this tumor is highly likely benign (its not in a place to be biopsied) and that aside from some strange symptoms that come and go I can lead a normal life while we check the size of the tumor annually to be sure it isn’t growing. Treatment is on hold until the time we have a growth spurt. So that April I began to realize that I was out of excuses. There was no medical reason for my joint pain and inactivity – nothing like MS or other horrible things I was tested for and thankfully did not have. Instead, I had to begin to realize that my weight was a product of my own mistreatment of my body, and the joint pain a result of carrying that weight around with me. It took that summer, and the “picture in the purple shirt” to jolt me into the reality that I needed to change something or I would die from obesity, not from my fancy sounding brain tumor. I was 30 years old and about to be put on medication for my cholesterol. My blood sugar was creeping upward making diabetes imminent. My resting heart rate was 127. I felt hopeless, and I knew something had to give, but I had no idea how or where to start.
I hated to go out in public. I couldn’t give my daughter a bath. I cried when I would get dressed for work or church, nothing fit me right (which was always the clothes fault, not my own of course). I avoided eating in front of people. My relationship with food became about control, and instead of my eating disorder causing me to be underweight or ruin my teeth, mine caused me to get bigger and bigger. I ate when happy, sad, stressed,whatever. If you wanted to eat, I would eat. I had been on and off diets, counted points, eaten cabbage for a week, drank shakes, dropped food groups, you name it, I tried it, from the age of 15 on. Nothing “worked.” Until a friend of mine who was doing her own fitness program and was having great results offered to help “coach” me into making small changes to my life, doing something different than she was, but using an idea she had. This was August 2009 and I was a size 24. I had no idea what this weekly accountability would do for my physical blueprint.
At first my goal wasn’t even to lose a bunch of weight. It was to get healthier and I imagined that weight loss would be a part of that. I slowly began changing my habits, I dropped my 3-4 diet cokes/day and picked up 64+ ounces of water. I began replacing some of the fried food I ate with healthier choices, but nothing terribly drastic all at once. It was small changes that began to produce results for me. I started walking, 5 or 6 days a week. At first my feet bled and it took me about 45 minutes to walk 2 miles. Gradually it became easier and I felt better. I increased activity and added Tae Bo in December. Then in January I began using the Biggest Loser workout DVDs and dropped even more inches and pounds. In February 2009, a week into my Couch to 5k running training, I fell down my front steps (yes, I’m a spaz) and sustained a serious sprain/avulsion fracture to my left ankle. At that point I had lost about 40 pounds.
This would have been the exact moment, at any other time in my life, that I would have given up. But that was NOT going to happen this time. I began blogging at that time. I started getting inside my head and figuring out, how did I get to be almost 300 pounds? How could I prevent that from happening again? I began learning even more about food and nutrition and continuously tweaked my eating habits. After 3 weeks in a cast, and 6 weeks of physical therapy, I began my running program again. And on June 26th, I ran my first 5k all the way through, without stopping. Crossing that finish line was one of the greatest feelings I have ever had. I knew then that while I was slow (my time was 44:27 and I jogged the whole way) I knew I wasa runner and could only get better as the weight continued to drop. I finished my fourth 5k race in October in 40:04.
Today I run 3-4 times a week and do other exercises to cross train on my off days. I’ve lost a total of 73 pounds and I have yet to be on some “diet.” People ask me all the time what my “program” is. It is simple – I eat healthy most of the time. I try to eat only real food, not much processed food, and I try to avoid things I can’t pronounce on labels. I have a few little weird things like I avoid high fructose corn syrup and I also avoid diet food and aspartame or splenda (they give me migraines). Bottom line is this – I have not spent one day feeling deprived and I have never gone to bed hungry. When I really want something, I have it. I just make plans for it. For example, Thanksgiving Day I have 2 families to eat with, one for lunch, one for dinner. I’m running a 5k in the morning, then eating lunch, taking an afternoon walk and eating dinner. And I’ve already decided what I want to eat at each place and yes, pie is included at Mom’s. Do I eat “everything I want?” I can actually tell you yes. Fortunately I don’t want supersized meals from McDonalds anymore like I did once. I’d much prefer a grilled chicken breast and steamed broccoli because I will feel much better – emotionally and physically – afterward. Loving myself means taking great care of the body God blessed me with. That kind of thinking didn’t happen overnight – but it did happen with time, effort and a lot of new knowledge of self. I had to love me enough to make these changes.
So today I weigh 212 pounds and I’m a size 16. I’m more than halfway to my “goal” though the final number is pretty malleable at this point. I’m not sure what my athletic body will look like at 170, so I want to get there and then I will reassess. Even in high school, when I weighed 160 pounds and was a size 8, I was not the athlete I am today. I am definitely not willing to sacrifice any muscle for a lower weight on the scale, that’s for sure. Check out my legs in the new photos Wendy took – my calves will not get much smaller than they are today and I’m pretty proud of how strong they are. 🙂
Overall health changes – my cholesterol dropped 50 points. My resting heart rate is now half of what it was in August 2009. And my blood sugar is completely normal. As for my tumor (which I have named Ferdinand), he isn’t currently growing. And I think he likes running. 🙂 My symptoms are not nearly as bad as they were now that I am in better overall health. Funny how all of those things are connected.
Do I look like an athlete? Maybe not to you. But to me, when I see these new pictures, while I know there is plenty of road left in this journey, I am so encouraged by how far I have come. I am today but a shadow of that sad obese girl, crumpled on the bed in tears over my shrinking wardrobe and avoiding the camera at all costs. I am now the athlete, the new runner, determined to continue to achieve things physically that I never thought possible. These pictures symbolize the person I’m becoming, and I encourage each of you to celebrate wherever you are in your journey. It is not just about the destination, though believe me, I want to be there as soon as I can get there.
Each day is new and right now I’m celebrating where the “new” me is today.and looking forward to where I will be the next time I make an appointment with my amazingly talented friend and photog, Wendy. In the meantime, I hope as you enjoy your Thanksgiving weekend and can reflect on what you’re most thankful for this year. As for me, I’m thankful for my amazingly supportive husband, beautiful daughter, my faith and my awesome network of friends and family. I’m also thankful for Ferdinand the Meningioma, the one that took away my excuses and shocked me into actions that I know have changed my blueprint forever.