The battle of the bulge is something that many Americans fight on a regular basis.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, there were 93.3 million obese Americans in 2015-2016 with nearly half of the population on a diet between 2013 and 2016.
Many people fail at their weight loss attempts and gain back more than what they’ve lost.
And if losing weight and hitting the gym were among your New Year’s Resolutions for 2020, chances are you’ve already quit by the beginning of February. Or even more specific, you quit on Jan. 19, 2020, also known as Quitters’ Day according to Strava, a social fitness network, which has surveyed more than 800 million logged user activities.
For those who’ve lost weight and kept it off, they say the key is to realize it’s not just about hitting a one-time goal and thinking the work is done. It’s a lifelong commitment to better eating and exercise habits.
Sarabeth Wheeler didn’t struggle with her weight until her late teens.
In 2009, she was on an ROTC scholarship in Colorado when she began putting on weight despite her rigid daily physical training regimen.
“We’d run every day,” said Wheeler. “I put on weight and was not passing my PT tests.”
Not long after losing her scholarship, she discovered she had polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). One of the disorder’s symptoms is weight gain.
“The doctor said it can be very difficult for those with PCOS to lose weight. What I heard in my head was ‘it’s impossible to lose weight,’” she said.
With that thought in mind, Wheeler gave up trying. She said she resigned herself to being the “big girl.”
That changed when in 2011 at the age of 21 she was coaching gymnastics, and the parents of one of the gymnasts she was coaching pulled their child from the program because of Wheeler’s weight. She realized she had to change something. She dreamed of a future with children of her own, and she didn’t want to be the overweight mother who couldn’t keep up with her offspring.
“I didn’t want to sit on a bench at the park while they played,” she said.
At her highest weight, she was 265 pounds. She started by attending Weight Watchers and figuring out healthy portions. Then she enrolled in kickboxing classes.
It took her about two years to lose 100 pounds, but during the course of that two years, she and her husband, who had joined the Army, had their first child. Wheeler said she left the hospital after giving birth to her son, Karsen, weighing less than she did before she found out she was pregnant. She’d continued exercising during her pregnancy with her doctor’s approval.
Wheeler’s husband spent five years in the Army and during that time, he was deployed twice, and the family moved seven times. They moved to Grovetown in 2016.
Despite that stress, Wheeler kept the weight off and continues to pursue fitness.
She admits there were plenty of times she wanted to quit, but she didn’t because she knew she’d end up where she started and she’d made too much progress to quit.
There were times during her weight loss that she’d reach a plateau. She switched up the types of exercise she was getting. She was a runner at one point and ran a couple of half-marathons before realizing that running wasn’t the best choice for her body, namely her knees. Her current exercise of choice is CrossFit, which she does at the Wilson Family Y.
Wheeler said she likes taking classes with other moms and has found a community of friends there.
Now a mom of three, Wheeler said she wants to help her children make healthy choices when it comes to food and exercise.
1) No matter what exercise you choose. Make sure you sweat.
2) Know that your fitness journey isn’t the same as someone else’s and don’t compare yourself to them.
Lisa Calhoun was an athletic teen, taking gymnastics and participating in multiple dance classes while a student at John S. Davidson Fine Arts Magnet School, but when she went away to college in Alabama, she learned that the “freshman 15” wasn’t a myth.
“When I was in high school, I could go to McDonald’s and go to the gym and then go home and eat three bowls of pasta with no weight gain,” she said.
But at college, she continued with her high school eating plan without the calorie-burning exercise. She didn’t really notice it too much. At the time, Calhoun’s fitness apparel wasn’t sleek, tight spandex, but sweatpants and oversized shirts, which hide a multitude of pounds, she said.
“A friend of mine asked me to be in her wedding,” she said.
That meant getting a formal dress, and Calhoun, 32, said she was shocked when she went in for a fitting.
“I wore a size 2 in high school, and I was having to try on dresses up to a size 10,” she said.
That prompted her to pull out video workouts to try to regain some muscle and lose the extra pounds. Calhoun said she weighed 145 at her highest.
She said she was glad that she caught herself early because it could’ve caused a downward spiral.
“I definitely could’ve seen me becoming obese,” she said.
While Calhoun maintained a good weight, she began a different sort of fitness journey in 2017 when she started working out with a friend from work. They met at Gold’s Gym every day for more than a year. He’d come up with a workout involving free weights and together they worked on the proper techniques. But more than that, he planted an idea in her head.
She said he’d joke about the two of them doing bodybuilding competitions.
“I was self-conscious, and I wasn’t at the place where I wanted to be vanity-wise. I knew I couldn’t get on stage in what’s like a bra and underwear and heels,” she said.
The idea kept percolating as she continued to work out. She started to see the definition in her muscles from the weight training.
In November 2018, she hired a coach and started pursuing her goal, but her coach didn’t tell her it would take Calhoun a year to become competition ready. She said if she knew that upfront, she might’ve quit.
During the course of her year in training for her first bodybuilding competition, she shifted her focus and realized that the competition wasn’t her goal after all. Her ultimate goal was to be fit and healthy – not just physically, but mentally as well.
By November 2019, Calhoun said she was in a place where she could walk out on a stage to be judged for her hard work. At the Lee Haney Physique and Fitness Games in Atlanta, Calhoun had a stage weight of 117 pounds and placed first in both the novice division and the open division and will be heading to a national competition in May.
1) Just do the bare minimum to start. Sometimes, people have a huge weight loss goal in their lives and want to change everything about their eating habits as well as their exercise routine. Make small changes at first and then change other things along the way.
2) Instead of taking something away, she recommends adding something to your diet such as more servings of vegetables or one day at the gym. If you try to start out at seven days a week in the gym and miss a day, you’re more likely to get discouraged and quit.
Dead before 50 was where Ron Turner could’ve been if he didn’t make changes. He’d seen it in other family members. Deadly heart attacks in their late 40s.
“About two years ago, I hit 208, and I’m only 5’10”,” said Turner, 48. “I felt terrible, and it was the heaviest I’d ever been. I’d quit smoking and my metabolism had changed.”
Turner had never really struggled with weight. He’d swing by a fast food joint on the way home from work as an appetizer to dinner.
The first place Turner started was with portion size. And he added in exercise.
But Turner became overzealous in his efforts.
“My wife was concerned that I was starving myself, but I was bound and determined. I started going to the gym and became fanatical about it,” he said. “I felt like I had to push myself to the extreme.”
One of Turner’s eating problems was an addiction to sugar.
“I love cake. I love sugar, but my body doesn’t like sugar,” he said.
Turner began researching nutrition and cut out processed sugars and other processed foods. He also watched his portions. His wife was diagnosed with celiac disease, and he began to look at the things in his own diet that his wife could no longer eat. He didn’t feel it was fair for him to be able to eat what she could not because of health reasons.
About two months ago, Turner removed beef from his diet, but he continues to eat eggs, milk and cheese. He enjoys eating foods such as bell pepper, Brussel sprouts, cauliflower, lentils and beans and he’s found plenty of tasty recipes online to support his diet. He’s also implemented intermittent fasting into his routine.
Since he began, he’s lost more than 40 pounds.
“I feel better,” he said. “It’s a game changer.”
Turner also continues to work out, but he’s not as obsessed with getting to the gym every day. He’s turned to the out-of-doors to help him get his daily exercise. The Aiken resident enjoys hiking in Hitchcock Woods in Aiken and at the Savannah River Bluffs Heritage Preserve in North Augusta.
“My movement has improved so much,” he said.
1) Be realistic in your goals. It’s not going to happen overnight.
2) Don’t get frustrated and go back to your previous habits.