I have always worried about how I look and been self-conscious around people because I have always been overweight – as early as the age eight. At age 36, when I suffered a serious illness and injury, my focus became how to survive. Looks were no longer important to me. It was now all about how to get healthy, how to beat the sickness, and how to remain alive for as long as I possibly could. My goal: to live to a ripe old age and die peacefully in my bed.
By 49 years old, I had tried all kinds of diets and attempted to get regular exercise, but failed. I couldn’t go out and do my own shopping anymore. I seldom went out of the house, not even to go to the movies. I had tried some physical therapy a couple of years ago, and it helped, but I lost interest.
In September, 2011 I came across an ad in the Des Moines Register featuring a man weighing over 400 pounds exercising and smiling while doing it! I had never seen that before – someone as large as me enjoying exercising. After a lot of encouragement from my sister, I decided to try one more time.
Having once weighed about 500 pounds (the scales wouldn’t weigh me) and struggling more than four years to get down to about 420 pounds, I was skeptical. I did not want to go to a gym where I felt everyone there would look like they didn’t need to be there. If anyone has ever been very heavy, they know there is always one ignorant and insensitive person who laughs at an overweight person and mocks them–that makes the person want to eat even more.
Finding a community
I started a program at Farrell’s eXtreme Bodyshaping called FIT Start. The place was kind of church-like, like a community center, where everyone was on the same page, all thinking the same thing. I was encouraged because no one made fun of me.
What I found in the class was not what I expected. The instructors were people who had actually been overweight or had weight and health problems and knew the struggle. They, along with other instructors, taught patience in fitness.
At the beginning, I was scared that I could not do anything. They taught that I can do anything for 1 minute, then increase those minutes until I see myself working out for 45 minutes, the entire length of the class. They taught me to not worry about keeping up with everyone else and to modify the exercises so that my muscles could get stronger without hurting myself. The sessions gradually made me stronger.
Food as fuel
This program led me on the way to health because though I was eating healthy already, I was eating too much at a time. I had to change the way I thought about food: as fuel.
I learned it’s not about size or age, fitness is totally different for each individual and what is fit for one person is not the same for another. I now know that being fit is not about being skinny. It’s about being physically mobile, active, and feeding your body the right fuel.
I am still very heavy, but now under 400 pounds. It is a long hard journey to relearn years of bad eating habits and being sedentary. It’s worth it though because I don’t want to be ill and bed-ridden. I want to be healthy. All my ailments are slowly going away. I do not measure my success by my size any longer, but by my degree of health, by how mobile I am; how healthy I eat, not how much I weigh or how many pounds I have lost. I am so glad that the Iowa Healthiest State Initiative is working to help people get healthier. It shows the state cares about the tiniest things regarding its citizens.
A sense of hope
These are pictures of me working in my garden at home in the Pleasant Hill, IA area. I had literally been inside the house for the past fourteen years and barely left it except to go to the doctor and dentist. I gave up hope of doing those things again. But since joining this fitness program I have gained a new sense of hope. I cannot put into words how much they helped me towards my goals.
Cheribum in the bean patch. (photo taken by her brother, July 17, 2012)
When I was younger, I walked everywhere and exercised. But as life went on, things happened as they do in life, I got older and forgot how to take care of myself; forgot how to get regular exercise; forgot how to control my eating. I suffered the deaths of my mother and a younger sister, and the weight piled on.
I think what this community did for me most of all was the mental and spiritual encouragement that came at every class that helped me to get back to the mind I had when I was young: to be healthy, fit and take good care of myself. I actually won the Farrell’s FIT Start challenge last year for my 10 week session beginning in October 2011 and boy was I shocked. No one ever paid me to lose weight and I never expected anything, but I won $1,000.00. There are not always monetary rewards for gaining health and weight loss, there are ones you will receive that you never expected to gain – that are permanent – such as happiness, and joy, and peace.
I would say to anyone: Don’t wait! Get that physical from your doctor. No matter your age or weight, get started!
I am now gardening and raising home grown tomatoes, green beans, potatoes, garlic, watermelons, squash, other greens. It all should be producing fruit soon, just like my exercise and diet plan – it all takes time. With steady working at it I will achieve my goals of becoming my healthiest. That is why I love gardening, especially in Iowa’s rich soil. It reminds me of my life. Seeing the smallest increments of success in getting healthy brings me joy. It is a tiny garden that my family and I are growing, but all the joy that working in it brings me, being able to stand up and walk around in the sunshine and work in the earth, cannot be measured by the size of it.
“It all should be producing fruit soon, just like my exercise and diet plan – it all takes time.” ~ Cherubim. (photo taken by her brother, 2012)