I grew up in a loving Seventh-day Adventist Christian home. Both of my parents were very knowledgeable about healthy food, as they owned a health food store in Gardena, California called Nature’s Garden. My mom would often juice carrots, celery, and apples. She would give us simple lunches during grade school that consisted of a sandwich with sprouts on homemade or hard whole grain bread, and a fruit. The type of fruit often changed, but the sandwich was always the same. I looked at the lunches all the other kids had. They contained sandwiches made with soft, processed Wonder Bread, a side of Pringles potato chips, and ever-popular Oreo cookies. I would often trade my apple or banana for their boxed, prepackage goods that I thought had more value than my nutritionally balanced homemade lunches.
Knowing what I know now, the big food companies were actually marketing to me with their brightly colored wrapped goods, their sugar laden cookies, and their fried potato chips that were packed with greasy fat and loads of salt. They wanted to lessen the value of Mom’s homemade lunches that she had prepared with care. That being said, I mostly escaped the advertising and marketing ploy of the Big Companies because of the steadfast and tireless work of my parents. My mom continued to cook healthy, balanced meals that were filled with vegetables, grains, and legumes, although we enjoyed the occasional indulgence of home made dessert for a Sabbath meal on the weekend.
Fast forward to college where I was able to finally have what I thought I was missing out on as a kid… candy, french fries, dessert, and even a root beer if I wanted. Since it had never been the norm for me to eat all of these things, I still made relatively good food choices, but the excess fat, sugar, and salt was present daily and was used to treat myself after a long hard day of studies.
Fast forward a few years and I married the sweetest man you could meet. Bryan grew up in a wonderful two-parent Adventist Christian home, but indulging in ice cream, cookies, and chips was a weekly occurrence for his family. When we married, I knew he liked those things so I kept the house stocked with them. We ate them together and the weight started coming on. I didn’t know how much because many of my clothes had an elastic waist and had room for expansion (more about clothing later). A year and a half after we married we became pregnant with our first daughter, and that’s where the majority of the weight came on. I gained 70 pounds during this pregnancy.
Fast forward a bit more, and daughters #2 and #3 were born. I had been working as an Occupational Therapist before this, but we eventually decided to homeschool our children, which meant I would be staying at home. There was no need to buy nice clothing to meet the public at work. I stayed home and opened our home business of Residential Care for the Elderly and proceeded to raise our daughters. I always taught my girls about proper nutrition and exercise, but it became apparent as they got older that it was not what I said, but what I did, that made the biggest impact. When things got busy for us, I would grab what I thought was a healthy vegetarian alternative for my girls (a Del Taco bean burrito) for their lunch. Some days, when I wanted to be really “healthy,” I would tell the Del Taco staff to “hold the cheese”. I thought I was a being a “good mom”. This concept is ridiculous to me now, knowing what I know about food, nutrition, and the hidden dangers of fast food, restaurant food, and most packaged foods.
I got into a bad habit of going out to eat with my family. I saw it as a reward, buying into the idea that restaurant food should be valued more than home-prepared food. The same big food companies that marketed to my mom several years earlier were now taking a stab at me, but this time it worked. A whole generation of kids were convinced that industry food was preferable to homemade food.
I topped the scales at 280 pounds, but I was happy. I had a wonderful husband who loved me, and he never said anything about my weight. He loved the fact that I was a good mom to our daughters and had started a nice business for our family. All was well; I had convinced myself that I wasn’t really that big. In my African American culture, curves are celebrated over being skinny. We use terms such as “thick” instead of overweight and obese. I found out there are more fast food places than grocery stores in most racially populated communities. There was no LA fitness, Gold’s Gym, or fitness 19 growing up in Compton California. There were no water parks, or swimming pools, or tennis courts around to offer the variety of exercise focused activities which would have been very important in our quest for optimal health… just many types of unhealthy food.
So as an adult, I had to really change my mindset toward exercise, because I wasn’t surrounded by a community where you saw people jogging and biking for fun (or biking because they had no car), Well, I take that back, my dad valued exercise and he bought an exercise bike and treadmill after he was diagnosed with diabetes. Because of his condition, it was imperative that he exercised, but he still did not have the facilities in town to support this decision.
Last year, when taking my daughter to college, we boarded the airplane and the seat belt would not fasten. I was determined not to embarrass myself by asking for a seat belt extender so I just flew to TN without a seat belt. Upon returning home, we took our middle daughter to celebrate her 15th birthday at Knott’s Berry farm. While we were there, my youngest convinced me to get on a roller coaster with her. I did… but the seat belt would not fasten. I quickly alerted the attendant of my plight and he jammed the seatbelt together, threw the safety harness over my shoulders and off I went–you would think that those two incidents would have been my “aha” moment– but I was still in denial.
My denial continued until I was at a family dinner where my brother, who happens to be a Chief Cardiologist, showed me an old video clip of me telling my deceased dad that I was going to lose weight. I recognized that the video was 13 years old and that I had been saying, “I’m going to loose weight” for a long time. I started looking at people around me. I looked at my elderly residence, I looked at obese, unhealthy, unhappy looking people in the grocery stores, and I asked myself: is this what I want for myself? Is this the life God intended me to live? I had been thinking that being overweight was just how I was supposed to be… but God has freed me from the bondage of obesity.
Just like our relationship with God, which we must develop and nourish daily, the decision to practice the Habits of Health must be a daily decision. These are the habits that will support the life that you want to live.
I had to make a decision to learn how to care for my body and put these things into practice even if I didn’t see the results. This is very important to remember, because people who are overweight want to see the results right away, and if they don’t, they say, “I might as well eat what I want, since it doesn’t seem to affect me”. The key is learning what produces fat loss and what produces fat storage. Losing weigh is not just about diet and exercise, although these things are very important. Losing weight is also about sleep, stress management, water, and having a good support system. You must surround yourself with positive, like-minded people and this is often the most difficult part for many people. You must not let your blood sugar drop and have huge fluctuations in your insulin levels, this is where unhealthy cravings come into play. It is very important to eat portion controlled, low glycemic, low fat meals and avoid snacking between meals.
I lost 100 pounds in one year and I feel like I have been reborn (in a physical way). What finally made the connection? How did I do this after being morbidly obese for 19 years (since the birth of our first daughter)? I’ve watched people on the biggest loser show, and always longed to make a change. I thought that I had heard it all and that I knew what to do, but I just needed to do it. But loosing weight has less to do with willpower and more to do with creating healthy habits that support your desired outcome. Losing weight is about becoming more mindful about what you are doing and why. Are you eating those chips because your tired, frustrated, sad, or happy? I had to understand the effects of fat, sugar, and salt on my body. I realized that it doesn’t take much of this dangerous combination to put you into fat storage mode. I had to understand that drinking half your body weight in water was important and that the effects of sleep on weight loss is huge in its connection with our hormones. I understand now that the more sugar laden foods (processed pastas, breads, white potato, cheeses and other fats) you eat, the more you put yourself at risk for health complication such as heart disease, hypertension and diabetes.
Now, the example that I am giving my girls is the example my mom gave to me. I am living the healthy lifestyle and reaping the benefits instead of just telling them about it. If you don’t have a support system, and need one, feel free to message me on Facebook and I will be glad to help you. And remember with God all things are possible.