I battled with my weight for many years, yo-yoing up and down with whatever the hot new diet was. My husband, Dan, on the other hand, was as skinny as a toothpick for years, until middle age set in, and his beer belly began taking over his stomach. Neither of us felt obese, but we both needed to lose more than a few pounds. Before he died, my father even made a check out to me for $500 on the condition that I could lose 30 pounds and keep it off. I still have that check in a frame in my kitchen.
Then, in July 2003, my youngest daughter got married. When I went to buy a dress, I had to get a size 22. I had reached my highest weight ever, 208 pounds, on my 5-foot-3-inch frame. Dan, also at his largest, had to buy a new suit, a 44. He weighed in at about 240. Looking back, I see this was the turning point. I was 40 years old, approaching middle age. It was time for a change.
I started eating what I should have been eating all along. It actually wasn't that hard. I stuck to about 1,200 calories a day, and walked one mile each day on my treadmill. I only cooked meats that were broiled, baked or grilled, nothing fried. We ate mostly chicken and fish. If we bought meat, we made sure it was the leanest cut. I made sure we had asparagus, broccoli, beets or some other vegetable on our plates, and realized I actually could get full on veggies alone. We still ate carbohydrates, but everything was whole wheat—bread, noodles, the works. No more potatoes, unless baked, and then only without butter.
I didn't have a hard time making this switch, but Dan did. He always seemed to notice that the noodles were whole wheat. I read every label, counting grams of fat, sodium and sugar. I cut out all mayonnaise and ketchup. Instead of salt and butter, I added red hot pepper flakes to everything. The funny thing is I didn't like hot flavored foods before that, but I grew to love the heat.
By April I had lost 55 pounds. Dan had only lost about 15 pounds and he wasn't exercising. Even so, he was feeling good about getting in shape and we'd just gotten the news that our daughter was expecting. But to our surprise, when Dan went in for his annual physical, he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. They sent him for surgery the next day, and he started chemotherapy the day after that because the disease was at an advanced stage.
We were all in a daze, but luckily, we continued to eat well, and the strenuous chemotherapy treatment, which his doctors called "red devil," did not crash Dan's system. He couldn't keep much food down, but what we were eating was wholesome and healthy. Dan took a leave of absence for six months from his job, to finish the chemo.
We both tried to keep fit throughout his illness. I had decided to add a gym workout to my routine, and it was great to have something to keep my mind busy during my lunch hour or early mornings. I added a weight-lifting program to my daily walks on the treadmill, and by June I had dropped another 25 pounds, bringing my total weight loss to 80 pounds. Dan lost a total of about 45 pounds, though most of it was from the cancer and chemo treatments. And yes, we had a new grandson in December of that year to celebrate, too.
The worst of the crisis is behind us and we're maintaining those healthy eating habits and daily exercise routines. Yes, sometimes I cheat a little, but I make up for it by working out harder or walking a little more. I have gone from a size 22 to a 6, and Dan is in a 38. We are very proud of our accomplishments. Dan continues to see his oncologist every six months, and so far has had great checkups. Exercise and eating right has added so much to our lives—especially in the hard times with Dan's cancer, it helped us feel healthy, both mentally and physically. Now we say good luck to everyone else who sets their minds to changing their lives.
Wehrle lives in Tullahoma, Tenn.