Mail Call: Answering a question about weight loss

Recently, I’ve been fortunate enough to have many people from all over the US contact me because of the article in Woman’s Day Magazine.  Most inquiries are from women who share their own struggles with weight loss; others offer encouraging words or have questions about how I’ve been able to maintain for so long. 

This weekend I received an email from a woman who asked this question:

What snapped you into action?  I read in the article that you decided to lose weight shortly after your dad’s death, but was wondering if there was a specific moment that made you say to yourself, ‘from today on, no matter what, I’m never going to be this heavy again.’ 

I think that maybe what she was asking was whether or not I had experienced one of Oprah’s ‘aha’ moments – an event or significant happening that started my path towards a healthier lifestyle .  Let me share with you this story:

When I started college I had no idea that I’d gain roughly 15 pounds every year for the next 6 or 7 years.  By the time I hit my all time high, the only medical problem I had was degenerative disc disease, aka: a bad back – though I wouldn’t be properly diagnosed until many years later. One thing I did know however – the more weight I carried, the worse my back became. 

One day, my mother called and asked if she could bring my oldest brother over for a visit.  My brother, who is mentally handicapped, had come home for a few days and wanted to come over.  I had some laundry to do so I let my mother know that I’d be leaving the front door unlocked in case they arrived  while I was still in the basement. 

I put a load of laundry into the washing machine and walked up the stairs.  There was some mail on the counter that I quickly perused;  when I turned to toss the junk mail into the trash, I felt a rippling sensation in my lower back that brought me to my knees, then flat on my back onto the kitchen floor.  Every time I tried to move, the spasms knocked the wind out of me.  I was literally paralyzed from pain. 

It’s okay.  It’s fine, I thought. Mom will be here any minute and she’ll help me up.  I heard the doorbell ring and yelled, ‘Come in!  I’m in the kitchen!’  Moments later, I could see two pairs of legs walk up towards me and heard my mother say, ‘Good lord, what happened to you?’  I tried to explain that my back went into severe spasms every time I attempted to move, but my brother, whom I’d already forgotten was standing behind my mom began singing in an amused voice, ‘My sister’s having a seizure!  Are you having a seizure Ellen?  Mom, Ellen’s having a seizure! Seizure, seizure!’  **Side note: if you’re wondering whether its appropriate to laugh at this part of the story, the answer is yes.  In fact to this day, my brother who never forgets anything, still asks me when I’m going to have another seizure because he wants to be there when the fire trucks come!**  Both Mom and I tried to explain to him that I was NOT having  seizure; I’d simply hurt my back but he liked his version better – way more exciting! 

My idea of being helped to my feet was a joke.  Any attempt to lift my legs from the ground sent my back into wild, debilitating spasms.  If I lifted my head the same thing would happen.  Finally, with my mother’s urging and brother’s observances, ‘Ellen’s going to swallow her tongue’ , yes she is.’ I relented and allowed Mom to call for an ambulance. 

Less than ten minutes later the front of my house looked like the scene of a recent crime.  There was a fire truck blocking the street, with lights flashing.  Two police cars pulled up behind it, and an ambulance was on it’s way.  The firemen arrived in the house first and one of them was carrying a backboard.  I panicked and my first thought was: how many of them is it going to take to move me from here out to an ambulance?   To make things even worse, I knew one of the firemen.  We hadn’t seen each other since high school. At first he didn’t recognize me.  The vulnerability and humiliation I felt dropped like a lead balloon when my mother told him my name. I watched as his shock quickly changed to composure. 

 

Have you ever been so overwhelmed by something that your mind makes the decision to shut itself down in order to refrain from having to deal with what’s happening?  Yeah well, I tried that and it didn’t work.  So, I made the decision that no matter what I was simply going to keep my eyes closed so I didn’t have to look at anyone or anything around me. 

I heard things like my mom talking on the phone trying to make arrangements for someone to drive my brother home while she accompanied me to the hospital.  I listened and answered questions as the paramedics took my medical history and blood pressure.  I heard the firemen discuss how many of them it would take in order to get me safely down two flights of steps and out into the ambulance (the answer was four).  I kept my eyes shut tight as I held a death grip onto one of the firemen’s arm as they tilted and angled me from side to side until we were safely on the sidewalk; my eyes remained closed as the kids from the neighborhood asked ‘Did that lady get shot?  Is she dead?’  I wished for that moment to end – not because of the excruciating pain I was in, but because I wondered if it were possible for someone to literally die from embarrassment.  On the street waiting for me was a gurney to which I was transferred. They lifted my body into the ambulance and closed the doors.  Slowly, I opened my eyes. 

It took over 10 days before I would recover enough to return to work.  From that period and for the next 5 years my back would go out 3 more times.  I have permanent damage as a result of these bad discs but luckily since meeting my goal weight, my back hasn’t gone out since. 

Not until that day had I ever been more conscious of how heavy I was.  I can still feel my cheeks get warm when think of the embarrassment I felt.  I’d like to be able to tell you that on that day I made the decision to change my life and begin a healthier lifestyle.  It would make for a great ‘aha’ moment, but it simply didn’t happen.  I continued to gain.  Then my father died.  It’s true that shortly after the funeral I awoke and knew that on that day I was ready for a change, but it wasn’t immediately after his death.  I remember using food to numb my grief long after the funeral was over.  

My thought is this:  maybe some people have an ‘aha’ moment.  Maybe a major event takes place and at precisely that time a wave of energy floods that person and he or she feels forever changed.  I do believe that for ever action there is a reaction, but sometimes our reaction to negative things comes in the form of a seed that’s planted.  For every embarrassing moment, every humiliating experience, I tried to carry on the way I always had because I thought it proved I was strong enough to rise above it.  Though I didn’t acknowledge it at that time, those seeds were there – and they were growing.   The day I decided to change my life was most likely a day like any other, except for the fact that I had outgrown the ability to ignore what was happening within me.  I couldn’t shut my eyes any longer so I opened them, took a deep breath, and started a new path. 

 

Perhaps some of you can help answer this woman’s question from your own point of view.  Did you have a moment that snapped you into action, or was it small changes along the way that brought you to a better place in your life?

36 thoughts on “Mail Call: Answering a question about weight loss

  1. debby

    Oh my Ellen. What a terrifying event.

    You know, I can kind of relate. I had something happen to my knee. It hurt so bad that it literally took me 30 minutes to get my shoe on and tie my laces. I thought that was going to be the precipitating factor that would finally make me get serious about losing weight. But it wasn’t. About 6 months later a friend asked if I would go to Weight Watchers with her. And that was the beginning of what worked. But I agree with you. It was a long series of little things that finally built up to me being able to change my relationship with food.

    Reply
    1. Ellen Post author

      I’m always interested in hearing the stories of others. It’s such a personal thing but I think can help so many others by sharing. Thank you Debby, for sharing yours. xo

      Reply
  2. Caron

    Thank you for sharing this story. I did not have an aha moment either. It was a series of little things like not being able to cross my legs, not being able to wear panty hose comfortably, being sluggish and all that stuff. Of course, I had always struggled with my weight and had lost and gained it back many times.

    I agree with people who say a lot of this is mental. I had to reach the right mindset AGAIN to lose but this time I had the knowledge to keep it off. Yep, I slipped after six successful years but I’m back and have maintained for an additional two years. :)

    Reply
    1. Ellen Post author

      Absolutely, a lot of it is mental – you’re so right about that. It’s one of those things that you just have to experience. Thank you for your comment on this topic, Caron.

      Reply
  3. Cammy@TippyToeDiet

    Thank you for sharing this story, Ellen. I didn’t have a similar experience, but just reading about one (a woman in the UK who died because the ambulance drivers decided they couldn’t get her down the stairs) motivated me to action. When I was listing my “reasons why”, I included “to be rescued if I ever need it.” It started out as a small joke, but after I read that woman’s story, I realized it was very, very true.

    Reply
    1. Ellen Post author

      Stories like that are heartbreaking to me. Your list sounds like a very good one – joke or not, it’s true! That’s kind of how I felt at the time; I panicked a bit because I suddenly felt heavier than I thought they could carry – which was silly since there were several of them, but still – it can be a definite fear. Thanks as always for stopping by, Cammy :)

      Reply
  4. Norma

    I did have that moment, November 1, 2007. I was sitting at my laptop at my kitchen island, just as I am now, and caught my reflection in the screen. Although I’d been fat, and been very much aware of being fat, for ten years at that point, it was like I saw myself for the first time in that reflection and I remember thinking “THIS IS *NOT* YOU.” I got up, put on whatever cheap “athletic-looking” Target sneakers I had at the time, pajama pants, a 15 year old sports bra I’d kept for some fortuitous reason, and went downstairs to the treadmill that hadn’t been touched since 1997. I put on my iPod and ran until I hit a mile. It took almost 15 minutes, hurt like hell, and left me on the verge of vomiting. I came upstairs, emptied the cabinets and refrigerator of any obvious “not really conducive to weight loss or health” foodstuffs and that was pretty much it. I lost 11 pounds by Thanksgiving, 20 by New Years and 65 by April 2008, where I have maintained ever since. This was after a dozen or more failed starts, “next Monday” resolutions, etc.

    Reply
    1. Ellen Post author

      What a pivotal moment for you, Norma. Everyone has stories like these and it’s nice to be able to discuss them in a safe environment – they are so personal, yet can be so helpful to others who are struggling. Yours is very inspiring and I’m so glad that you shared it here. Thank you.

      Reply
      1. Norma

        Thx, Ellen. I realize my experience is quite atypical and most people will not make drastic, immediate changes…but as I said, a million previous half-assed stops and starts later, that is what happened. I don’t think most overweight people can handle “moderation” or just eating less; the pieces of the puzzle are the root causes of overeating, understanding basic nutrition and understanding the role of exercise in weight loss/maintenance/health. Just eating less junk or trying to work off the junk without realizing why you’re eating junk is not going to last very long.

        Reply
  5. Sharon

    Yes, I did have an “aha” moment, but sadly I had to have the exact same moment twice!! For me, it was a number on the scale. I have exceeded 200 pounds twice in my lifetime (once in the late 90′s and then again in 2006) and in both cases, there was just something about weighing over 200 pounds that spurred me into action. Now I not only no longer plan to see 200 ever again, but I don’t plan to see 150 ever again either!!!

    Reply
    1. Ellen Post author

      Good for you, Sharon! I know how hard you’ve worked this last year, despite having physical limitations. You are very inspirational. Thank you for sharing your story with me.

      Reply
  6. teresa

    It was hard to read about that incident… I can’t imagine having to live through it. Talk about worst fears…. the guy from high school… No way.
    I’m so sorry you had to live through it.. but I’m glad you had your mom, and that you did live through it.
    Man….
    I must say, though, that you have a way with writing about it…. You can tell a story.
    And your last line, “I couldn’t shut my eyes any longer so I opened them, took a deep breath, and started a new path. ” is the kind of thing I really relate to. I love the way you said that.
    Oh, and that painting and quote combo is my new favorite!!! That tree has so much strength and fortitude. It has stories to tell too.

    Reply
    1. Ellen Post author

      Yeah, it’s one of those moments I choose not to remember, but something just sparked it the other day. Probably because I’m having trouble with my back again, although this time it’s from not being able to keep it strengthened due to surgery. I’m such a constant work in progress, aren’t I?

      Reply
  7. KCLAnderson (Karen)

    Oh wow Ellen…thank you for sharing. Like you, I had a series of moments…some big and some small…that all added up to finally wanting to make some changes. And I have a very similar moment to the one you describe here. I injured my knee while ice skating but it didn’t develop until much later after I had gone to bed. The next morning I could not move my leg or bend it. There was no way I could get out of bed. And I was living by myself. I finally called an ambulance and then quickly called a friend because I was in bed wearing ONLY a t-shirt. Nothing else. And I couldn’t have these paramedics moving me around like that! I have no idea how much I weighed…probably more than I do now, but whatever. Anyway, I had her come over and put pants on me before the ambulance. Came. I had wrecked my knee pretty badly and to this day it still bothers me on occasion.

    Reply
    1. Ellen Post author

      Oh, Karen. Your story sounds similar to mine in the ‘extremely uncomfortable moments’ department. That is definitely a moment that sticks, isn’t it? Thank you for sharing this story. Every one, though different in many ways has the same thing in common – we all reached a point where we just said, ‘no longer.’

      Reply
  8. gardengirrrl

    I have always wanted to believe that one can reach a decisive moment of change without having to hit “rock bottom,” but to date any major changes I have made have involved a moment of “I cannot believe this is happening,” and complete panic.

    With regards to weight loss, for me it was when I my hair started breaking off. My crown literally made bangs without needing to be cut. Right or wrong, I interpreted this as an indicator of bad health, and that I needed to turn things around immediately.

    I know that compared to physical pain, this is small in comparison, but it was enough to get my butt in gear, and it really was a “holy cr– moment.”

    Thanks for your posts, your writing is so great. Very honest, down-to-earth, and thought provoking.

    Reply
    1. Ellen Post author

      This is a profound story. Just as significant a story as mine or anyone else and I’m grateful that you shared it here. I’ve had several of those ‘holy crap!’ moments too. I think we all have!

      Reply
  9. Vickie

    A lot of women who were 10-20 years older than I was were all being diagnosed with diabetes. After the diagnosis, they were all deciding maybe they should start taking care of themselves. I thought – maybe I should just start taking care of myself now so I don’t actually get diabetes. And I did. I had NO idea that all my secondary conditions (acne, what I thought was early menopause, asthma, GI problems, migraines, knees, lower back) would either go totally away or get hugely better when I cleaned up my act. I have said many times over the years – each one of these things – was 100% worth the effort and I got all of them.

    PS – I went back to a regular yoga class today. It has been 6 mos. I was in my shoes and used a folding chair for support in some poses, but I went and did very well. A true ego left at the door moment.

    Reply
    1. Ellen Post author

      that is a perfect reason to begin. Being proactive instead of being reactive is so much easier on the body. How fantastic that you reaped so many benefits other than just avoiding diabetes. That’s enough to really keep you on track for the rest of your life!
      And YAY for heading back to yoga!! I am headed back next Monday, ready or not – my back is screaming for classes once again.

      Reply
  10. LauraJayne

    Sounds like a horrible experience – I can’t believe I didn’t know that about you. You are such a strong and sweet individual, I hurt for how much you hurt at that time.

    No moment for me. One night, I got out of bed and went to the gym. It was like everything little compounded until it was too much. Far worse for me was when I realized I was underweight. That and the resulting hospital visit were too scary to ignore.

    Reply
    1. Ellen Post author

      I remember reading your story when I first came to your blog; I was inspired by your story – especially the part about you getting up and just…going. That was a very profound moment for you.

      Reply
  11. Jenn @ Cooking Aweigh the Pounds

    This is such a perfect description of how I came to my decision to lose weight! My aha moment only came after many many droplets of moments that finally overflowed my glass. My final straw was that I didn’t want to pass any of my eating or body issues onto my daughter. Even then it took over 3 years to slowly lose the weight! It just took a lot of shaming, embarrassing moments, body aches, dr’s warnings, and unflattering pictures to overfill my glass. We all have our own cup size, I guess.

    Reply
    1. Ellen Post author

      Such a good analogy, Jenn. I think that taking your time when losing is key for so many success stories. It really makes every effort into more of a permanent change. Thank you for your comment on this. Email on the way to you shortly :)

      Reply
  12. Carrie @ Season It Already!

    Wow. Thank you for sharing such a personal story with us. I agree that seeds are planted and that is how we eventually change. I truly believe that is why there is rarely anyone who makes a decision to lose weight or get healthier that doesn’t gain the weight back at least once. I think we all have little “aha!” moments, but change doesn’t happen overnight.

    Reply
    1. Ellen Post author

      I think it can happen but it’s very rare. For most of us it takes ‘one moment too many’ before it sinks in. Thanks for your comment, Carrie.

      Reply
  13. Munchberry

    You know what E, I had plenty of aha! moments about my weight. Sometimes I would lose, sometimes via a crash diet because… IT IS AN EMERGENCY! or because I had been so badly embarrassed that something had to be done drastically! But just like when I quit smoking, I lost and have kept off for a while now with a rather inauspicious beginning. I just woke up and thought – today I will try. And then the next day the same and then it snowballed.

    I hope someone reading this (if they do), will see there are many paths, but no magic bullet.

    That said – I would have slapped that kid. You know I woulda. They’d have carted to to jail instead fo the hospital.

    Reply
    1. Ellen Post author

      I’m glad to hear this kind of story, too – it shows that it’s different for everyone. Some people are just waiting for that ‘aha’ moment and the truth is, it may never come (and could be used as an excuse to wait for another day).
      That kid – I’ll never forget his voice. No idea what he looked like, but that voice! lol

      Reply
  14. Pingback: They Resonate « Season It Already!

  15. Hanlie

    What an experience! Fortunately you had the door unlocked. I am always very grateful for the grab rail in my bathtub (shower over bath) and I hold on very tightly – the last thing I want to do is fall and break something and have to lie there in my naked glory screaming for hours and hours until someone will hear me and break down the door. The paramedics will have to wrangle me down the stairs too. And I’d be naked – floppy bits all over the place. Shudder!

    My breakdown definitely served as a turning point in my life. I haven’t lost any weight since then, but I’m taking far better care of myself and arranging my life to suit ME. Weight loss will follow eventually, as I get healthier and more able to cope. Getting divorced is definitely a step in the rigth direction.

    Reply
    1. Ellen Post author

      I hear you, Hanlie. Although I didn’t know it at the time, my divorce was one of the best things that happened to me. Sometimes its hard to accept change, but when you can look back on it and see that you are in a healthier place because of it, it can be very profound.
      I’m glad you are stepping towards a more peaceful and fulfilling life. ((hugs))

      Reply
  16. didi

    I have had a long series of “Aha” moments that stretched out over many many years. Six, to be exact. I tend to ruminate on things, and I guess my body, my eating habits, my self image, and my self love were topics that I needed a slew of calendar years to hem and haw over before I could really get to work. I had plenty of false starts that got thrown under the bus, but I learned something about myself each time. Eventually all the small things added up. About a month ago I thought to myself “I can create any kind of life that I want. I can teach myself proper nutrition and love my body. I don’t have to keep suffering and bingeing and starving just because that’s what was taught to me when I was a kid.” I also let go of the idea of super fast weight loss, and decided to find a balanced nutrition plan that would work for the rest of my life. So what if it takes me a year to get where I want to be? The important thing is that I am getting there little by little.
    I also started using myfitnesspal, and the information was very empowering for me. Seeing the numbers and how simple healthy weight loss is made something in my brain click. My final Aha moments were that I enjoyed workouts in the morning because they elevated my mood and boosted my confidence, and that true balanced nutrition doesn’t have to be all about sacrifice.
    Your story made me squirm. If I had seen a hole in the Earth leading down to Hades open up in the ground in that moment I probably would have gladly crawled into it just to get out of that situation. I’ve been painfully embarrassed before, but that story beats any of mine.

    Reply
    1. Ellen Post author

      To learn from each attempt is a great thing, Didi. And you are right – so what if it takes time to get where you need to be? You are laying the pavement for the rest of your life, here. It will be worth it in the long run.
      And yes, one of my most embarrassing moments – ever. And it took me only 2 years to tell it.

      Reply
  17. Angela

    Oh my, that must have been awful! I actually hurt my back in a very similar way although I did not go to the hospital. If I had, I’m sure my experience would have been much like yours. My husband came home from work and helped me up and fortunatley I had some muscle relaxers and pain killers left from a previous injury. It took several days before I could move without being in excruciating pain. I couldn’t get up alone, I couldn’t walk alone and I couldn’t even use the bathroom without my husband straining to hold me up to hover over the toilet because I couldn’t sit down. I weighed 250+ pounds. I don’t know how he did it. Thinking back, oh my, it was so humiliating; just like you said. That WAS my moment of clarity and I’m in the process of losing that weight. I’m going about it slowly but I have completely learned how to eat and live healthy. I’m 51 lbs. down and have just recently started a blog. I would love for you to check it out. :)
    http://honeyishrunkthemom.blogspot.com

    Reply
  18. kelley

    i am having a hard time losing weight i am on antidepresstants which made me gain 40 pounds in 4 months. thay help with my deprepression. but know i have 40 pounds to lose to get back to myself cause now that makes me feel sad body wise.how can i lose this weight fast.i hav cut out junk food and it is still lingering.help?

    Reply
  19. Jordan

    I am one of those volunteer firefighters. There were embarrassments like the time when someone said that I had to wear the biggest size pants they had. And stacking up of a bunch of moments, going on calls to pick up people that had fallen down and couldn’t get themselves back up. It wasn’t thin people we were picking up!
    I was 260 then, and firmly believed that everyone else was wrong when they talked about needing to lose weight. I was plenty healthy! But then I realized that in 20 years it will be me that has a terrible quality of life because of being fat. I ran across Princess Dieter’s blog at the exact time that she was starting a challenge, got into the challenge and that was it. I think that the universe sometimes lines up to help, and it’s my job to take advantage of opportunities like that. That was Labor Day weekend last year.
    I’m 175 now and am healthier than I’ve been in 20 years. Healthier than many of the other volunteer firefighters, even though I’m as old as their mothers!

    Reply
    1. Ellen Post author

      Jordan, thank you for sharing this story with me. I really appreciate your perspective on this. What a wonderful ending, too. I’m so glad that you’re out there still doing such a respected profession and have the strength to show the younger crowd just how it’s done!!

      Reply

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