By Jennifer Oppelt, LMT, C.H.E.K HLC1
Jennifer Oppelt is a mother, wife, business owner and health educator with a passion for helping people find true health
As a child I was healthy and lean. Not skinny, not overweight, right in the middle. I began to gain weight in my sophomore year of high-school. It is hard to say what started it. I was going through some emotional issues with my parents’ separation and the typical high-school relationship drama. At around same time though, I became interested in animal rights and environmental activism and I decided to become a vegetarian at age 15. By the time I was 16, I was overweight. My diet did not include meat but it did include plenty of pasta, bread, cheese and sweets. I was not a big fan of vegetables, kind of ironic for someone who calls themselves a vegetarian. Sadly, this is pretty typical for young people who decide to follow a vegetarian diet. Without proper guidance, children and young adults tend to eat for fun and comfort and not for their health. I started my first diet at age 16. I joined Nutri-System and began eating pre-packaged meals. I lost about 10 lbs. before I quit. I do remember one positive thing, after eating such bland and processed meals for a few months I craved fresh produce and whole grains. From here on into my mid-twenties I fluctuated between 150-180 lbs. I avoided following any structured diets, I just tried to “be good”, sometimes more diligently than others.
At age 25 I went through a big life change during what I refer to as my “mid-twenties crisis”. I was completely unhappy. I was in an abusive marriage that was getting dangerous. I wanted to have children and I knew that I could never bring a child into the life that I was living. I left my husband, in a short time after left my career as a retail store manager and started over. I had great intentions of being by myself for awhile, living alone, losing weight and becoming a stronger more independent person. It was not very long before I met my current husband and fell madly in love. So much for being alone! He loved me just as I was, which felt really good. In the next few years my confidence soared and I blossomed in many ways but I still wanted to lose some weight.
After the towers were hit on September 11, 2001 I felt an overwhelming need to make another life change. I decided to pursue a career as a Licensed Massage Therapist. I enrolled in school with a good friend of mine. My friend Nancy is a very special person who just exudes vitality. I had some talks with her about how I wanted to lose weight and be healthier and she gave me support, guidance and introduced me to the Zone Diet by Barry Sears. I was still a vegetarian and I followed the Soy Zone plan diligently for the next 10 months while I was in massage school. I was working full-time during the day and going to school every night. I packed all my meals and snacks each morning for the entire day. I gave myself some slack on the weekend. By the time I graduated I weighed about 140 lbs., my all-time low since age 15.
The following year, I got married. Slowly, I started gaining weight again. I had stopped doing the Zone plan. I felt like I just couldn’t eat another veggie burger, hold the bun, again. I thought that if I incorporated more animal protein in my diet that would help. While not a ridiculous idea, it did not help at all because the truth was; I was still eating too much – too many processed carbohydrates, too much cheese, too many sweets and not enough vegetables. Before I knew it, I was back up to 170 lbs.
About a year after getting married, nearing age 30, my biological clock was on overdrive. Finally, we decided to have a baby! I was elated. I had really wanted to get in shape before getting pregnant but I was not about to delay the process. My pregnancy was overall very good. I was healthy, low risk; I had the typical discomforts but nothing major. What I did have was a seemingly never ending appetite. My first trimester was plagued with cravings. I wanted sweet and salty; cereal, fruit, chips, waffles, ice cream…you get the idea. The women in my family all typically gain 50-60 lbs. in pregnancy so I expected as much for myself. I really didn’t care at that point, I was happy to see my belly grow big and round. With 4 weeks left to go I got word from my mid-wife that if I gained more than 50 lbs. that I would have to get a second opinion from an obstetrician before I could have a home birth. It was not looking good at my current rate of weight gain. I really wanted to have a home birth so I made efforts to eat more mindfully. It worked; I was right on the mark the day of delivery weighing in at 220 lbs. Alchemy Nirvana was born on April 20th 2005. The birth went beautifully and I delivered a very healthy baby girl at home with an amazing support team.
About two weeks after delivery I stepped on the scale and I was 200 lbs. With no baby in my belly to blame it on I was hit with the reality that I had a lot of work to do. Luckily with nursing, the weight did come off, slowly but surely. Once I got down to 170 lbs though, the weight loss stopped. While unhappy with my appearance, I had no energy to do anything about it.
I was fed up with not only my weight but my overall attitude. I was tired of being, unhappy. I had a good life; there was nothing to be unhappy about. But still, that nagging feeling arose again that I had to do something about my health. In almost an act of desperation I joined Weight Watchers. With this plan, I could eat whatever I wanted BUT, I had to budget my food choices. If I ate junk, I couldn’t eat very much. If I ate healthy, I could fill up a nice plate and enjoy a good meal. It was a good lesson in portion control and making good choices. At first I was fascinated by some of Weight Watchers and other diet products but soon they lost their appeal because I knew that the artificial sweeteners that most of them contained were just not good for me. After time, I became weary of tracking every bite with the points system. But without the counting, I’d begin to gain weight again. It was obsessive and exhausting. I knew I had to find a more natural approach. I needed balance, peace and ease. I had to stop counting, for me… so I let my Weight Watchers membership go. I kept adjusting my diet until I was eating more healthful, whole foods. I actually started to enjoy vegetables. Salads, steamed vegetables and vegetable soups have become my saving grace to round out meals that might otherwise seem a little on the lean side.
Along with a new attitude towards food, I started to embrace a more mindful approach to living. I started taking my self-care routine more seriously and eating organically as much as possible. I started doing more yoga, meditation and self-work through exploration of the chakras. As I got healthier, I started to love exercise. I joined a gym and I enjoy having the healthy outlet that serves a time and place for me to get away. The thing that I had to find is a way of eating and living that not only helped me loose weight, but brought me balance and joy. Overtime, I went from a size 14 to a size 4, loosing about 35 lbs.
This whole process has been a journey and a transformation. It has put me in harmony with my true nature and opened me up to realizing my purpose. Whenever you lose a significant amount of weight, everyone wants to know, “how did you do it?” We all want to know the secret. Through my many conversations on this topic I realized that I have some good information to share. I will tell you that there is no secret to weight loss. You just need to be ready to make permanent change in your life. However, gaining some practical tools to get you started and developing a support system will give you the best opportunity to be successful. I’m not going to tell you that maintenance is easy. I struggle when times get stressful and my schedule becomes hectic. But I pause, remember my goals and get back on track before I slip to far backwards. Having a clear vision keeps me going. I’m doing a lot of research now on emotional eating and for me this is a big topic of interest. We have to define and usually change our relationship to food in order to make permanent change in our bodies. I now see the self-discipline approach to diet as a temporary fix, a band-aid. For lasting success, finding peace with food and our own bodies is critical. It’s still a journey for me but I am happy to be steadily moving in the right direction.
I know now that I can keep up this this way of eating and living for the rest of my life, and that is the only way to be successful. It is my wish that you are able to experience the same sense of pride and accomplishment that I have and that you realize your greatest potential through your commitment to your own health.