Johnni Southerland, 60
Current weight: 152
Heaviest weight: 182
Lightbulb moment: Realizing my weight was hurting my health
Biggest benefit: Feeling more fully alive now than I did 20 years ago
Even though I ate whatever I wanted growing up and I've never been athletic-I'd take a nap over a walk any day--I was always thin. I didn't even have to worry about baby weight. The most I weighed during both of my pregnancies in my mid-20s was 127 pounds. Still, that felt like a lot because I'm only 5-foot-1, and I was used to weighing around 104. But as soon as I started breast-feeding, I could eat like a pig and the pounds would melt off.
That all changed when I hit my 40s. My metabolism slowed down and the scale started to climb.
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I'd also been a smoker for years and tried to stop a few times, which started me on a yo-yo; I'd go up a few pounds each time I quit and back down when I started smoking again. I did step aerobics for about a year to get back in shape, but I had to stop when I hurt my left knee.
Still, my weight didn't really take off until I hit my 50s. Around that time I met my boyfriend, John. Cooking is the way to a man's heart-at least it was in my generation-and I wanted to impress him and show him that I knew my way around the kitchen. He loves your basic meat-and-potato foods, so I'd whip up dishes like meat loaf or pot roast with buttery mashed potatoes. While John could use the extra pounds he put on his tall frame, I could have done without them.
I rarely weighed myself, but my clothes went from being a little tight to very tight when I finally quit smoking for good at 56. I traded one bad habit for a new one: snacking! Peanuts became my best friend. I was also chewing tons of Nicorette gum--a pack a day--so even though I was helping my lungs, my nicotine addiction was as strong as ever.
I knew I was gaining weight, but I swear, I think I had some sort of reverse anorexia: I felt thin even though I was fat!
Part of the problem was that I rarely saw myself naked. I have only one mirror in my bathroom, and it's on the medicine cabinet, so you see yourself only from the shoulders up when getting in and out of the shower. I also made the mistake of investing in a few pairs of very pretty elastic-waisted pants. You could weigh 500 pounds in them and never even know it!
"I always thought it would be cool to be one of those people who get old and do yoga."
In the summer of 2011, I weighed 162 at my annual checkup. To make matters worse, my blood pressure was still borderline high; it had been for years. While my doctor wasn't too concerned--she told me it would probably go down if I lost weight--my mother had high blood pressure and died of a heart attack, so I decided to be proactive and started taking a low dose of blood pressure medication. I knew I really had to do something about my weight, but you know how it is-summer vacations and then the holiday season made it easy for me to make excuses. Plus, I'd developed plantar fasciitis in my right heel; combine that with my achy left knee and exercise wasn't at the top of my list. In January, I was shocked to find that I weighed 182, the heaviest I'd ever been.
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After that, I felt like my life was in a rut. I was tired a lot-I generally didn't make it through the day without a nap-and I felt like I needed something new in my life. My 60th birthday was coming up in August, and I wanted to make some changes before I hit that milestone. That January I decided it would be my year for transformation, and I made a goal to hit 140 pounds by my birthday. First I decided to get off the Nicorette--it was an expensive habit--so I swapped it for sugarless gum. I also quit drinking diet soda and replaced it with unsweetened iced herbal tea or seltzer water. It was a start, but I needed to do a lot more to get in shape.
About a week later, Bonnie, my friend at work--at that time I was a speech therapist for preschoolers--asked me if I wanted to take a hot yoga class with her. She'd started doing yoga to get in shape for a skiing trip and looked great--her skin was glowing, she'd lost weight, and she seemed to carry herself differently. I'd always thought it would be cool to be one of those people who get old and do yoga, so I decided to give it a try, even though I wasn't sure I'd be able to do it with my achy heel and knee. I've also always been sensitive to heat. I even had heatstroke at a baseball game a few summers ago, so knowing that it would be between 95° and 105°F in the room was a little scary.
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