Transformation of the Day: Amanda lost 86 pounds. She wanted to feel lighter, not just physically but also spiritually. She was faced with several health issues, including diabetes, sleep apnea, high blood pressure, osteoarthritis, and severe back pain. During her journey, she has taken the time to create a healthy, practical, and sustainable lifestyle that truly works for her.
What was your motivation? What inspired you to keep going, even when you wanted to give up?
It’s a little hard to explain, but I just wanted to feel lighter in a way that felt as much spiritual as physical. I felt heavy. It wasn’t about how I looked. I was fat, and I’d had a partner who was fat and beautiful, and frankly, there’s a lot of pleasure to be found in fat-bodiedness.
However, I work on a university campus, so I have to move around a lot during the day from building to building. With poor muscle tone, all-over joint pain, and so much weight, walking around felt slow and effortful—like when you’re trying to run in sand or walk toward the deep end of a pool. I just didn’t want to be weighed down and in pain for the rest of my life.
When I was at my heaviest, I would actually fall asleep at night thinking about death, panicked that I would stop breathing in the middle of the night. I also wanted my life to be fuller, more social. I wanted to be able to participate in physical activities—hikes with friends, maybe even a bike ride or a run—and not have to abstain because I would be too out of breath or in too much pain. Additionally, I was suffering from severe sleep apnea. I was chronically exhausted, with headaches and treatment-resistant manic-depression. And after all these years, I desperately wanted the energy and mental health benefits of a decent night’s sleep.
When did you start your journey? How long did your transformation take?
March 2020. 17 months, but still ongoing.
How did you change your eating habits?
My weight loss has had two phases. First, I used dietary changes and gentle exercise. Second, I used sleeve gastrectomy weight loss surgery.
I’ve done weight loss programs in the past and lost (and then regained) the same 30 pounds over and over again. After doing this about five times over 25 years, I decided that using tracking systems like Weight Watchers or MyFitnessPal wasn’t sustainable. I would find myself bouncing back and forth between getting too obsessive over numbers (which felt terrible for my spirit) and feeling so diet-fatigued that I not only stopped tracking, I stopped my healthy eating and exercise altogether. I decided this time I needed a more easeful approach—one that just felt like me living my life.
I suffer from joint pain all over my body and, at the beginning of my journey, I was at my greatest weight ever (333 pounds). I was unable to walk even to the corner store. I was also a hardcore sugar addict consuming massive amounts of sugar in drinks and desserts every day. So, without much of a plan in mind, I started cutting out all added sugar. I cut out fake sugar, too, so I could adjust my taste buds to the taste of unsweetened food. That’s no sugar, corn syrup, maple syrup, honey, stevia, agave, Splenda or Equal, or fruit juice, but I still ate whole fruit.
It was the beginning of the COVID shutdown, and I was working from home, so I tried to use those strange circumstances to control the food in my environment. In some ways, this created a safe space to start my journey.
Cutting out sugar had a rapid positive effect on my body. Within days of that first detox (note that as with other addictions, you often have to detox again and again), I had much less inflammation and swelling in my joints, and they felt markedly better. In addition, my migraine frequency dropped; within weeks, I started to lose weight. This inspired me to take steps towards eating more whole foods.
I reduced my takeout consumption from almost daily to a once or twice-per-month treat. I taught myself to cook healthy, delicious meals, which was really satisfying for me and heartening to our household during the first year of COVID. We focused on organic meats, seafood, eggs, healthy oils (note: we were not shy about oil!), full-fat organic dairy, TONS of organic veggies and fruits, and, from time to time, high-protein grains and pasta.
In our house, we’re also big fans of nuts (all kinds), nut butter, and fruit, especially berries. We have a weekly household ritual of making homemade dry-roasted muesli (rolled oats, dried fruit, nuts, sometimes coconut) to top our morning yogurt. This is not to sound healthier-than-thou—trust: I still like salty snacks like potato chips and have been known to make a mean no-added-sugar peach cobbler. Also—many times, as I said, I’ve slipped and eaten sugar, only to have my joint pain and headaches return. Learning, relearning, and getting myself back on track has been an important part of it for me. I lost the first 40 pounds this way. It was slow and imperfect and far from a straight shot, but I was happy because I didn’t have to obsess about it. I could just treat my body the way it needed to be treated, and it began to heal itself.
I had Sleeve Gastrectomy [VSG] 4 months ago, and I’ve lost 46 additional pounds so far. I’ve continued my healthy eating, but of course, with smaller portions and some other adjustments. You tend to like different foods post-op than you did before. For instance, sometimes I prefer lower-fat dairy now, and I seem to have less of a taste for the richer cheeses. However, whole foods with high protein and high fiber are still working wonders for me. The small stomach provides a ceiling on how much I can eat in a day, but I find the more small meals I can squeeze into the day, the more efficiently I lose. Nourishment, not starvation, is what has worked for me throughout this process.
The surgery for me has not been a quick or easy fix. I’m glad I did it, ultimately, but I’ve definitely struggled with the new eating patterns—and pace—it requires after eating so robustly for the previous year. Life after surgery requires planning, mindfulness, and acute attention to the body that most of us are unused to. I often eat in a kind of trance, just shoving food in my mouth because it tastes good. I find the surgery requires so much more intentionality. In other words, you have to make good choices and take your time eating or risk physical discomfort. What’s more, the surgery can be easily undermined, especially by someone like me who is a hardcore sugar addict. Sugary drinks can slip right past the small stomach without filling you up, and the weight will pack right back on.
What did your workout routine consist of? How often did you work out?
I do physical therapy exercises to strengthen the muscles around my knee and hip joints and support my back and relieve my lower back pain. During my best, most disciplined times, I try to do that daily. When I do, it works wonders for my stability, mobility, and my endurance on walks.
I try to take walks in my neighborhood a couple of times per week, even if they’re short (though sometimes they’re longer). I often go with my housemate and best friend, and we try to make the walks pleasurable in other ways—by looking at the neighborhood gardens (we love gardens!) or walking to the local park and reservoir. We don’t exactly power walk. We just try to get moving and enjoy the fresh air.
Finally, I really see my body as in recovery. But I want to counter the assumption that, for every fat-bodied person struggling with disability, their disability can be completely resolved with weight loss. This is reductive and unhelpful and can be a hateful misunderstanding of both fatness and disability. I think it’s important to say: it’s crucial to take the body changes as they come (or don’t). For instance, I haven’t yet experienced a 100% cure for arthritis or sleep apnea. That’s OK. Everyone’s body is different. Even changes as powerful as exercise and healthful food are not a quick fix for anything. The relation between weight loss and recovery is different from person to person.
What was your starting weight? What is your current weight?
I’ve gone from 333 pounds to 247 pounds. (86 lbs!)
What is your height?
Tell us more about your decision to have surgery?
Yes. I had Sleeve Gastrectomy surgery one year into my journey. I’m glad I did it. At the time that I began the process of preparing for the surgery, I had diabetes, sleep apnea, high blood pressure, osteoarthritis, migraine, treatment-resistant manic depression, GERD, and severe back pain (all of which can be improved with surgery). I was 44 years old and felt too young to be so sick. Everything on that list required attention and treatment, but for me, the sleep apnea and the pain were the issues in which I wanted to see improvement the most. After years of poor sleep and discomfort, I needed a change.
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned so far?
To have patience with myself. My journey doesn’t have to be fast or perfect. To use a variety of measures for success, especially ones that don’t involve numbers. The biggest one is—how do I feel? Is movement easier? Was I able to walk farther today?
What advice do you have for women who want to lose weight?
You don’t have to change your whole life all at once. That can seem too daunting. Do one small, impactful thing first, like drinking more water or cutting out takeout. Something that feels doable. I think you’ll inspire yourself to go further. (For example, years ago, I switched from drinking cola every day to just drinking water, and I dropped 20 pounds in a month.) Finally, choose methods that are sustainable for you. Don’t set yourself up for a program or system that you can’t live with peacefully for the long term.