In 2003, at the age of fifty-six and a height of five foot two, I weighed 221 pounds. As a physician, I knew how unhealthy this was. I wasn’t heavy. I wasn’t overweight. I was obese.
I knew that for every pound I carried above my ideal weight of 136, my risk for a myriad of medical problems rose further into the danger zone. Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, gall bladder disease and many other potentially deadly conditions lay ahead for me if I didn’t change my ways. I had already developed hypertension and, as the numbers on the scale edged up into the stratosphere, so did my blood pressure. Both were becoming harder and harder to control.
I was—and to some extent, still am—a workaholic. When I got my first real medical job, on a typical day I would work from 8 am until 8 pm, with barely a break to even use the ladies room. During the years that I kept that schedule, I gained most of my excess weight. After work, I devoted my remaining waking hours to my children and husband. At the end of the day, after putting my lovely angels to bed, I might cuddle with my hubby for a bit and then roll over, falling into a fitful sleep for a few hours and then get up the next day and do the whole thing all over again.
How did I relax? Going to a movie? No way. How about Latin Dancing? Never. Was I able to veg out in front of the TV? Not very often. Was I able to indulge myself with a spa day? Are you kidding? Did I have time to read a novel or go to a concert? Get serious! The only thing I did “for” myself was regularly eat myself into a stupor. And, of course, that packed on the pounds in record time—which led to more stress, which increased my desire to eat. Almost a hundred pounds later, I finally realized that I needed to take a break.
Suffering and an early death were going to be my fate unless I could steer myself onto a path that led into the land of normal weight and a healthier lifestyle. Because I was a physician, I was supposed to be a shining beacon, a role model for my patients—guiding them towards the happy green pastures of good health. Instead, I was a living testament to the bad life. I was the exact opposite of what my patients needed. I was a glaring signpost on the road of life that said, “Do Not Take This Route—Danger Ahead!”
In May of that year, an old friend—someone I hadn’t seen for more than thirty-five years--sent me an email. He had googled me and found me. When he told me that he had seen my picture on the internet, I was overcome with shame. The lovely, svelte 120-pound nymph he had known decades before had morphed into a replica of a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade balloon. Being a gentleman, he didn’t mention how appalled he was at my decline, but I was mortified.
For each of us, the moment of truth may come in a different form. For some, a heart attack brings them to the brink of the abyss and forces their eyes open to the painful reality of their weight. For others, it’s the frightening onset of uncontrolled blood sugar in the form of Type 2 diabetes. For still others, excess pounds interfere with mobility, making them dependent on canes, walkers and even wheelchairs. For me—a doctor—the flashing light should have been my hypertension. If not that, then the alarm bell of my patients being hospitalized for obesity-related illnesses should have been awakened me from my denial. But the prospect of an early death from diabetes or heart disease had done nothing to keep my eating under control. The humiliation of having my patients silently question my “do as I say, not as I do” appearance wasn’t enough to motivate me. No—it wasn’t until I suffered a body-blow to my ego that I finally went down for the count.