Is it possible for a woman who has carried 45 extra pounds for several decades to lose the weight after menopause and keep it off long-term? My friend Judy did it, and here’s her story.
Judy and I met through our husbands. My husband is a pulmonologist, and Judy and her husband own a company that supplies respiratory equipment to hospitals. The four of us ended up sitting together at a business dinner, where Judy and I got to talking about health and lifestyle. It became obvious that this gorgeous woman — inside and out — was struggling with her body image and she was clearly concerned about her health, her weight, and the challenges she was experiencing in early menopause. I casually offered her my contact information, inviting her to call if she really wanted to try to make changes in her lifestyle.
Judy called me a few weeks later and we decided to meet and talk about her current health status and any goals she had. She acknowledged being unhappy with her weight and felt like she was “losing ground” as she aged. Her overall cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) were elevated and she had a relationship with food that was making her unhappy. But, when I suggested tackling her diet and also starting an exercise program, she quickly indicated reluctance to do both. She wanted to start exercising and “see how it goes.” She did say that every time we exercise I could offer some food education but not put any pressure on her. She agreed to work out with me twice a week and was pretty committed, rarely missing a session. The payoff was increased energy and stamina and that “wonderful feeling” you get, when you realize that you are getting stronger and more toned.
We added a third day to our week for weight training, balancing exercises, and some interval training that incorporated aerobic exercise. Every time I brought up her diet, she would put up her hand and say, “Not yet.” We did begin to see some changes in her body, including muscular definition in her arms and some weight loss. This relationship continued for four years. On January 1 of our fifth year working out together, I called Judy and said: “I am coming to your house to do a fridge and pantry clean out.” I knew she was ready for the second large lifestyle change component, but the question was: Would she know that as well? There was dead silence and then a quiet, “OK.”
Armed with several trash bags, we did a major clean out of all high-sodium, high-fat, and high-sugar products. We organized the fridge and pantry into the six food groups — fruits, vegetables, dairy, fats, grains, and proteins. We went shopping and spent a couple of hours going through food labels and shopping techniques (shop the perimeter) that would help Judy to mostly fill her cart with healthy selections. We spent the next several months:
I taught Judy how to combat cravings and how to navigate the saboteurs in her life — people who were beginning to feel threatened by her weight-loss success.
Because her job required some travel, Judy learned how to pack healthy non-perishables to take along, how to scout out a local supermarket to buy foods, and how to only book hotels with a gym onsite and a fridge in the room. One huge lesson was navigating holidays and celebrations by creating recipe makeovers and establishing food rules for temptation moments.
In that fifth year of our relationship, Judy lost 45 pounds and her body mass index moved to a healthy number. As the weight slowly peeled away, her muscle definition began to really emerge. Judy reconnected with the joy of shopping and dressing up. She also began to show signs of empowerment in other areas of her life. She became more assertive in business and it was almost as if her body and health transformation became a life transformation. Along the way, I wore the hat of nutritionist, personal trainer, and to a degree life coach, because you can’t really navigate this dramatic a lifestyle change without also dealing with a “life change.”
To date, over 12 years into menopause and her lifestyle change, Judy has maintained her weight loss and muscle mass. Despite some physical injuries and health challenges, she has never abandoned her exercise program or her dietary commitments. Sure, there have been times when she felt frustrated with the curveballs that life threw her way. But she used a list of “guiding principles” that she created as a sort of bible and roadmap that she could refer to for reinforcement. Some of the pearls on the list include:
Always eat breakfast.
Pig out on steamed vegetables.
While on a weight-loss program, weigh yourself weekly. No more. Chart your progress.
Be willing to pay extra at a restaurant to get exactly what you want (extra salad and healthy swap outs).
Do some form of exercise daily.
Think about what you are eating when you are eating it and delight in the good you are doing for your body. Example – While eating blueberries in your oatmeal think about the antioxidants in the blueberries and how wonderful it is that you are including them in your diet.
Keep healthy snacks in your car for days when your time out of the house is extended. Almonds or an apple are a good example.
Make friends with the feeling of a little bit of hunger.
No crazy fasting or trying to lose it all in a week, even if you fall off the wagon.
Now, Judy has inspired others to change. And, while we still work out “together” three times-a-week via Skype, Judy doesn’t need me to keep her going. We both appreciate the friendship that has grown out of working together toward her goals.
What’s so inspiring about Judy’s story is that, menopause or not, tight finances or not, there is a personal journey waiting for anybody to take toward losing weight, getting healthier, and frankly, finding a new lease on life. You can do it, too, by starting slow and using one of the many challenges or programs we offer on HealthCentral, including 5 Weeks to a Healthier Heart: Take the Challenge or our 12-Month Plan for a Lighter, Healthier You.