It was October 2008, but Andra Ruscoe remembers it like yesterday. She was looking at vacation photos from her recent trip to Puerto Rico, and she didn’t like what she saw. “I looked at the pictures and thought, ‘Who the hell is that fat woman? How did I do this to myself?’” recalls Ruscoe, 40.
Ruscoe, a nurse from Marietta, Ga., had been grappling with eating issues for more than 25 years — and struggling with her weight as a result. On this day, though, she decided it was time to put an end to her lifelong battle with food. She’d had enough of eating out of control when she felt stressed, angry or sad; had enough of feeling uncomfortable in her own body; and, above all, had enough of extreme weight-loss plans.
This time, Ruscoe vowed to do things differently. She would make small, sustainable changes toward a healthier lifestyle; she’d set realistic goals and work toward them gradually. And to help her stay true to her deepest motivations, she would write about her experience in a blog.
Ruscoe knew this would mean baring her heart and soul — as well as her weight — to the world. And that was all part of her plan.
“I got on the scale this morning, something that I don’t love doing,” she wrote on Oct. 14, 2008, at www.lovetoeathatetoexercise.blogspot.com. “In the interest of giving honesty and accountability a try, I’m putting it out there. I weigh — cringe — 277 pounds.”
And with that simple, truthful statement, Ruscoe set about the business of changing her life.
A Troubled Food History
Ruscoe’s struggles with emotional eating began at age 13, when her parents divorced. Desperate to fill the void left by her shattered family, she began using food — pizza, pasta and sweets, in particular — as an emotional salve.
The excessive eating, compounded by a lack of physical activity, led to significant weight gain, and by the time Ruscoe left home for college, she’d put an extra 50 pounds on her 5-foot-2-inch frame. Inspired by Oprah and her dramatic Optifast-fueled weight loss, Ruscoe began a liquid diet and dropped the weight in 1989. But the regimen didn’t encourage exercise or help her transition back to solid food. “They teach you how to get the weight off and then you’re basically left to your own devices,” she says. “So you find yourself in the Burger King parking lot pounding double cheeseburgers.”
As the years passed, Ruscoe tried various extreme weight-loss plans, yo-yoing between 175 pounds and her peak of 310. By 2007, her body had reached its limit. She was prediabetic and suffered from gallstones and pancreatitis brought on by years of dietary abuse.
Doctors removed her gallbladder later that year, but even that didn’t motivate Ruscoe to change her eating habits. Having never tackled the emotional eating and food-addiction problems at the core of her struggles, she continued in her old ways, and the weight kept piling on — right up until the day she started writing about it.
Ruscoe launched her blog in October 2008, with the notion that chronicling her shift to a healthier life would be cathartic, and would also help her stay more conscious and accountable. “I wanted to practice healthy habits every day, making better choices, so I could build a foundation for a healthy life, little by little,” she says.
To avoid falling into her old patterns, Ruscoe made two commitments: to not think of what she was doing as dieting, and to master one change at a time. “If you do too much at a time, it sends you back to the on-the-wagon/off-the-wagon mentality. It’s counterproductive,” she says. “I had to break the all-or-nothing mentality.”
Ruscoe put her plan into motion by first focusing on her diet, cutting out soda and fast food, and retraining her taste buds to enjoy fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and natural ingredients.
Then she addressed the root causes of her overeating, incorporating the four rules of self-help guru Paul McKenna: Eat when you’re hungry; eat what you want, not what you think you should have; eat consciously — enjoy each mouthful; stop when you think you’re full. After years of eating without intention, she learned to tune in to her body’s signals.
Within weeks, Ruscoe noticed significant improvements. She was no longer bloated or in a trans-fat and sugar fog. She started sleeping better and felt more emotionally stable. And she was losing weight without much effort, dropping 8.5 pounds the first two weeks and another 11 in November.
Inspired to keep going, she added exercise to her routine, doing a workout video at home twice a week, before eventually venturing outside. “That first walk absolutely killed me. I was so unfit,” she says. But she didn’t get discouraged. On low-motivation days, she invited her fit friend Lisa Shaw along to help get her moving.
As the months marched on, Ruscoe embraced a regular exercise regimen and gradually pushed herself to do more. She joined a gym and hired a personal trainer to guide her in strength training, and the following summer she started trail walking. She loved how energetic and happy she felt after her workouts, and she also loved the changes she was seeing on the scale: an average loss of 6 pounds a month.
All the while, Ruscoe blogged about her experiences and feelings. The blog also gave her a forum to openly discuss her eating issues and gain support from others.
Ruscoe’s husband, Rob, quickly became one of her biggest fans. “The passion Andra has developed for learning about, and living, a healthier lifestyle is clear in everything she does,” Rob says. “She’s become supercharged. The weight loss she has achieved is just incredible, but it’s just a side effect of the choice she made to change the way she goes about her daily life.”
More than 100 pounds lighter and still shedding weight, Ruscoe is healthier than she’s ever been. Comfortable and confident in her body, she’s doing more of the things she loves, including traveling, cooking healthy and nutritious recipes, and trying new things like hiking and lifting weights.
More important, though, she’s no longer ruled by fear. “For years, I hid behind my layers of fat and the comfort of food. I was afraid to get out of my comfort zone, afraid of living, really,” she says. “Embracing health and fitness and the resulting weight loss has made me fearless. I’m not afraid of living anymore — I want to push my limits.”
Suzy Frisch is a freelance writer from Minneapolis.