Imagine being obese your whole life. When people see my baby pictures, they often say, “You were chunky even then,” and laugh. Do they know, understand or realize the power of their words? Do they know that after 31 years of laughs, taunts and physical attacks, you no longer have the will to live? That was me: a once strong and happy girl reduced to a recluse.
Although I struggled with my weight growing up, I didn’t let it stop me from pursuing my passions until my early 20s. Once a promising singer, I gave up my dream when a college professor dismissed me because I didn’t have “the look.” Classmates and strangers laughed at and taunted me. Then, when I was 24, an acquaintance assaulted me, and my world was sent into a tailspin. For years, I struggled with depression and thoughts of suicide. I was lost and lonely, and food was my only comfort.
As my weight soared to more than 500 pounds, I was afraid to leave the house, unable to drive a car, and barely able to take care of myself.
I was 31 years old and felt my life was over. I had high blood pressure, sleep apnea and severe edema — my legs were the size of my thighs all the way down. I knew I was going to die young; I was resigned to that. But then my grandfather, who was very ill, held my hand and told me he loved me and was proud of me. It was as though he knew how lost I was, and in that moment, something just clicked. I thought, “What am I doing? I don’t want to die.” That was the year, 2008, that I decided to make a real change.
I went home that night, got down on my knees (which was hard to do) and prayed for my burdens to be lifted, for the ability to forgive those who had hurt me, and for the courage to reclaim my life. The next morning, I felt strong.
One Day at a Time
Under the guidance of a doctor, I began a new eating regimen. Instead of Mexican food, fast food and endless refined carbs, I ate strawberries and blueberries, cottage cheese, and simple skillet meals of lean ground turkey, onions, mushrooms and greens.
It was incredibly hard. I cried. I got mad. But I stuck with it, and the changes I began to see were exciting. Within a month, I began craving healthy meals more than ice cream and French fries. I realized that I had been using food not as nourishment, but as a tool to fill a hurt, empty place deep in my soul.
I also started walking almost every day, even if it was just 10 minutes, and even if I was gasping for breath. It may seem crazy that I didn’t slip up, but when you fear dying, it’s amazing how strong you can be: By the end of the first year, I had lost 180 pounds.
I had changed my body, but also my relationships and everyday life. I had support from my family and friends, who were celebrating every milestone with me. And I was adding activities that I once only dreamed about, like tennis and yoga. Every day, I focused on doing a little bit more than the day before.
I was disciplined, but I was also so grateful to be alive. Instead of looking down at the ground, as I had for years, I began to look up. I began noticing the small and beautiful things around me, like the family of egrets that lived in my neighborhood. I began to appreciate the new things that my body was strong and healthy enough to do. And I kept at it.
By the two-year mark, I had lost more than 300 pounds. I was running, swimming and cycling, and maintaining a healthy diet of lean proteins, healthy carbs, and fruits and veggies. You might think that I would feel better than ever, but I was starting to have increasing worries about failing. Emotional issues that I had tucked away — buried with food — were resurfacing. I never wanted to go back to the place I was before, so I was running myself ragged with exercise. I felt I was losing control of my life again, but this time in a different way.
The Right Kind of Support
That was when I joined Life Time Fitness in Austin, Texas, and met personal trainer Ray Tindol. He listened to my story with amazement, and understood that I needed someone who could challenge me to achieve my best, but also listen to my fears and continuing struggles. I needed someone who could help me get not only to the next level of fitness, but also the next level of my life.
Although I had been working out for two years, I still had gaps. I hardly had any balance, and my strength wasn’t where it needed to be. So Ray focused our sessions on resistance training and building core strength.
Once unable to use any weight, I can now leg press close to 300 pounds, perform walking lunges with weights and do plank pushups on the BOSU balance trainer. I continue to meet with Ray three days a week, dividing the time between upper- and lower-body exercises on machines and high-intensity plyometrics. On “off” days, I swim or do other cardio work. I am so grateful for Ray’s guidance, but even more than that, I am thankful that he has been a sounding board for me. On the days I just need to talk, he always listens.
At 5 feet 8 inches tall, I currently weigh 211 pounds. It’s wonderful, but I have more to do. I plan to have surgery to remove the 35 pounds of skin that remain after losing so much weight so quickly. I want to compete in a triathlon. And I want to begin speaking to others who are like I once was.
When you’re extremely obese, it can be hard for others to understand where you’re coming from. In some ways, the world stops recognizing you as a person. When I took that first step, my friends and family were there for me. When I needed help getting past an emotional and physical plateau, I found a personal trainer who listened. As hard as this struggle has been, I have learned one thing: Don’t give up. You’re never alone.
Hattie Shares Her Story (VIDEO)