Just before my father’s death from lung cancer on Sunday, January 15, 2012, I asked if he had any special advice for me. He looked me over head to toe and said, “Lose some weight.” Not the kind of advice I expected!
Soon after, I ran into Jenni at Central Market, and she asked when I planned to come see her. She had donated a gift certificate to a silent auction I organized for Austin Animal Center, and a friend bought it and gave it to me. Remembering Dad’s “advice” for my life, I promised to come soon. I finally made good on that promise in late February 2012. Challenge accepted, old man.
I believe that I probably weighed over 140 pounds, but I refused to go near a scale. I told Jenni during our introductory session that I wanted to lose weight and get in shape. When Philip and I married in 1987, I weighed 108 and I had a 19” waist and stood 5’3”, so 110 seemed like a good goal. I have no idea what my measurements were; Jenni measured my waist and hips. (To this day I don’t know what those measurements were.)
She promised to guide me but she emphasized that the ball was now and always would be in my court. The very first thing she had me do was to start jotting down every single morsel that crossed my lips. Being ever so slightly OCD, I plunged in with a vengeance.At that point, I thought I ate pretty well. I tried to be mostly vegetarian, and I prefer chicken and eggs over other meats and proteins. I love beans, I enjoy salad – I thought I had it made. I told Jenni that there was one absolute: I would not give up tequila. She advised me that I would not need to give up anything except for processed food and refined sugar.
Slowly, Jenni helped me shape my diet and trained my sense of portions and combinations. For instance, before, I would have toast with jelly for breakfast, a sandwich and chips for lunch, and chicken with potatoes, salad, and a roll for supper. Jenni simply pointed out that I needed some sort of protein with breakfast, and I could lose the jelly (organic nut butter – problem solved); I could have an open-face sandwich with no chips for lunch (celery is crunchy – problem solved), and chicken with just a couple of red potatoes and salad for dinner (no roll – problem solved). I learned what to eat when, too, and less of it. Apparently, the sound of my whining was music to Jenni’s ears.
Soon, I had lost five pounds, which motivated me immensely. Then, on April 23, 2012, I Zumba’d onto my left foot and promptly tore my left peroneus longus tendon. I wore a boot for just over eight weeks, and went to physical therapy for three months. Still, by managing my diet with Jenni’s help, I continued to lose weight, although more slowly. I also discovered that I could stretch farther in yoga, and I could get into poses more fluidly. I slept better. The aches and pains that I attributed to being over 50 were vanishing as my strength and diet improved. Some work-outs were brutal and others plain fun but the weights were increasing and the movement patterns turned more complex.
I struggled often. That year was tough. I would think about Dad and get very sad. Dealing with his estate and our family business caused unimaginable stress. My leg and ankle hurt like crazy for months. I became irritable and snappy. But through it all, Jenni stood by, patient, tolerant, and very forgiving. I improved my diet. I kept coming to see her. I talked with her about every problem, including personal situations that weren’t really diet or exercise related, and she helped me strategize ways to cope with everything and other potential issues, like holiday parties and family dinners (hint: eat a small salad with lots of veggies and some sort of protein before you go). Amazingly, after about six months I found that instead of devouring a whole basket of chips and Bob Armstrong dip, along with an entire entrée and two margaritas, I wanted only 3 or 4 chips, a couple of spoonfuls of Bob Armstrong dip, about half my entrée, and only one margarita. I became a cheap date again!
From the first time I stepped on Jenni’s old-fashioned scale, I refused to watch as she fiddled with the weights. She teased me about it all the time, but she honored my request that she not announce my weight unless I made it to a five-pound interval. Sometimes, when I dreaded climbing on that scale, I would hear to my delight that I had lost well. Sometimes, when I thought I would impress Jenny, I would find that I had somehow gained back a pound. Finally, in April 2013, Jenni weighed me and said the magic words, “Turn around.” I had done it. The scale showed that I weighed just under 110 pounds!
My journey is best summed up in my January 2013 visit to my GP for my annual exam. I strolled into the exam feeling pretty cocky. While I had never gotten any caution from him about my weight in the past, I knew it had been steadily increasing for the 22 years I had been seeing him. I sat in the exam and answered all the usual questions about my habits and health, and he did all the usual tapping, poking, and listening that goes with a check-up. As the session seemed to be winding to a close, I was about to jump through my skin because he had not made any mention of my weight loss (then about 20 pounds). I could stand it no longer, and I blurted out, “Stephen, say something about my weight!” He blinked, peered at me over his reading glasses, and said very mildly, “Oh, yeah, you lost some weight.” I replied in a somewhat strangled tone, “WHAT?” He chuckled and said, “Yeah, that’s great, but here’s what’s really good: your cholesterol , which was fine before, is down by 75 points. That’s what’s really impressive.” Wow. And that was never even on my radar for improvement.
This whole endeavor has not been only about losing weight or building strength or improving my cholesterol, even though all those things happened. It’s been about making a permanent lifestyle change for the better. Some days the scale shows me I need to cut back; other times, it’s like a pat on the back. I still have carb-attacks; I still drool over doughnuts. I’ve learned tricks that work (staring at a doughnut or cookie or whatever for a while seems to alleviate my craving) and some that don’t (having just a spoonful never seems like enough; for me, it’s better to not have any). I have most assuredly NOT given up tequila. I have dragged Jenni into yoga. The journey continues and it’s a whole lot of FUN!