"I had to reach the bottom to come up again, but now that I'm on top, I'm grateful for this journey, for these lessons and for my strength to get here."
Every weight loss journey is unique, but almost all of them begin with an "a-ha" moment. Some might call it a rock bottom, an epiphany, a crossroads. For Gail, the turning point was a broken ankle.
Gail had been overweight for most of her life. Food was always a focus—she ate to celebrate, to banish boredom and to curb anxiety. In addition to the extra pounds, she carried around plenty of embarrassment and resentment. "I lived in a perpetual cycle of eating and then feeling guilty for eating, then feeling anxious that I ate and then eating some more," she says.
Like so many others struggling with their weight, Gail was angry at herself for not being strong enough to change her situation. Over the years, she tried every diet imaginable—from pills and shakes to pre-made meals and point systems—but the weight always came back.
And then, suddenly, her marriage of 21 years came to an end, and Gail found herself on her own for the first time in her life, with the additional responsibility of caring for two kids and running a household. More anxiety led to more food. Gail ate to try and diminish the sadness, the stress and the fear of being alone.
"I was anxious and depressed, going through the motions of life, eating my way to death."
Then came the night that changed everything. While out with some friends, Gail tripped off a curb and broke her ankle—a misstep that would send her into a downward spiral of physical and emotional turmoil. Weighing in at 297 pounds, Gail couldn't use crutches because she wasn't strong enough to hold herself up. She rented a scooter and needed assistance with everything from driving to getting up and down the steps of her home.
If there was a silver lining to those tough months of recovery, it was that they allowed Gail to slow down and reflect on her life, goals and dreams. "I knew I was unhappy," she recalls. "I had allowed my weight to handicap me. I chose not to participate in activities because I didn't have the confidence and feared I would get hurt or have a heart attack. I felt a sense of hopelessness and started to feel stuck."
"I describe it as feeling frozen because I wasn't sure what to do, even when I knew what I had to do."
At her lowest point, Gail got the nudge she needed during a visit with her out-of-town brother. During a family pool day, Gail's six-year-old niece swam up and told her she looked like Ursula from The Little Mermaid. "She wasn't being mean intentionally. She was just calling a spade a spade. I wallowed in self-pity for a few days and then realized that I had a choice: I could accept that I was overweight or stop making excuses and make an honest effort to lose the weight."
"I remember looking at my kids, thinking how I'd been overweight most of their lives. I wanted to be there for them long term, for them to be proud of me."
This time, Gail committed to a lifestyle change. She started educating herself, tracking her food and using exercise videos. After spending thousands of dollars on a string of failed fad diets and struggling to adhere to unrealistic food restrictions, she started eating what she wanted, but within her calorie range. "Over time, I learned how to make better choices, eventually substituting healthier options that helped me navigate to success," she says.
For breakfast after early-morning exercise, Gail usually eats four egg whites with cheese and onion and an apple. Lunch is usually a salad with protein or a sandwich on light bread. For snacks throughout the day, Gail grabs yogurt or veggies with hummus. Dinner varies, but is usually a protein with veggies. When she has the urge for something sweet, she indulges in Skinny Cow Caramel Truffles.
Gail has learned to distinguish between emotional and physical hunger. Now, when she feels hungry emotionally, she makes a cup of hot tea with some sweetener and a drop of creamer. "It's an indulgence that's low in fat and calories, but allows me to sip slowly, get the sweetness I crave and think about why I felt the need to eat in the first place."
That doesn't mean every day is easy. Gail faces her share of challenges, particularly when she travels for business, attends social events or has a tough or stressful day. A self-described sugar addict, she still struggles to avoid her trigger foods and control her daily cravings. When temptation looms, she uses these strategies to stay focused:
For Gail, the biggest surprise in her weight-loss journey was that losing more than 100 pounds wasn't as difficult as she'd anticipated. "I ate what I wanted, exercised and never gave up on myself," she says. "I set small goals and rewarded myself along the way."
Aside from the weight loss, Gail's biggest accomplishment has been learning to care about herself. After so many years of putting the needs of others first, she's finally prioritizing her own wellness, which includes exercise and healthier food choices.
"Every day, I make a conscious effort to get to the gym, eat my proteins and stay away from my trigger foods," she says. "And every day, I remind myself how good I feel and how healthy I've become, so I'm less likely to reach for the cookie or sleep in and skip my spin class."
For those just starting their own journeys, Gail's advice is to start with a single decision. "Once that commitment is made, follow through by eating mindfully, tracking calories and moving every day, and you'll succeed."
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