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150 Pounds Later

She was hooked on quick-fix diets until she found a long-term solution.

Jane Shukitis

“I’ve got pictures!” my sister Kim sang out, waving a plump packet as she breezed in the front door.

A few weeks earlier she’d gotten married. I had been her matron of honor. It was a beautiful wedding, outdoors with a Hawaiian theme. But, boy, did I dread what I’d see in those pictures—what I did my best to avoid seeing almost every day of my life.

Kim spread the photos out on my dining room table. I oohed and aahed at how beautiful she was in her gorgeous wedding dress—as radiant as a bride can be. “Doesn’t Mom look great?” I said. My husband, George, looked wonderful too in a Hawaiian shirt and orchid lei.

Then there was me. The lady in the tent. No matter how big my smile, no matter how strategically I tried to position myself behind people, no matter how lovely the fabric of my dress, no matter how beautiful my flowers, I was the “heavy” woman.

My arms were huge; I had at least three chins. There I was, all 282 pounds of me, preserved forever in photos that would be handed down for generations.

It would be one thing if I could just go on a quick diet and lose the pounds. But this was how I had been for years. A size 16 in my own wedding gown, 40 pounds added that first year of marriage, more weight gain with each of my two children.

I put on 70 pounds with my second child. The doctor was concerned. I was concerned. I was a registered nurse. I knew the health risks obese people faced: diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease. I saw it all the time on my job.

Other people went on diets, lost weight and kept it off. I’d go down 10 pounds and then balloon right back up. The grapefruit diet, the high-protein diet, liquid diets, nothing worked and I couldn’t stick with anything for more than a few months.

I’d always think about how everyone else was eating things I couldn’t—and how unfair that was. I’d been teased about being fat ever since I was a child—but I managed to be a success in other areas of my life.

George and I had been married and in love for more than 20 years. Our two children were grown and doing great. I’d moved from direct-care nursing and was now a senior executive for a large healthcare system.

I could organize a meeting, deliver a PowerPoint presentation, manage a multi-million-dollar budget. I just couldn’t lose a pound and keep it off. Why? Why was it so hard?

Kim left a few photos for me to keep. I hugged her and said thanks, but I wanted to burn every one of them. As though that would somehow solve the problem, that all at once I would never worry again about fitting into an airline seat or dread having my picture taken.

I could be disciplined in my life—in college, nursing school, at work—but not when it came to my weight. I sank down next to our bed, the wedding photos scattered around me, and got on my knees.

In desperation I prayed, I just don’t want to live like this anymore. I’ve got to do something. Help me, Lord!

I signed up for the Weight Watchers program—again. I knew Weight Watchers well—my mom had used the plan for years. I had never lasted very long in the program. But if I were serious, I needed a system, some structure. I knew I needed the support of a group.

I practically crept into that first meeting. There were women there in all shapes and sizes. Some were plus size, others were so slim they could have just come from the gym.

“All I really need,” I overheard one woman say, “is to lose 10 pounds.” Ten pounds! No one would even notice if I dropped 10 pounds.

The moment I really dreaded was the weigh in. I was glad to get tips on healthy eating and to learn the system of figuring out what you could eat by counting points—that was all good—but I hated walking to the back of the room and getting on the scale.

I was sure everyone was watching me. Only two of us could see what the scale said, but I could imagine it screaming out the number for all to hear: “282! 282!”

I didn’t dare tell anyone that I was going to a weight-loss program. If I failed—and I always failed—I didn’t want anyone to know. Better to keep it a secret. Then keeping it a secret had its own pitfalls.

One day at work, a colleague celebrated her birthday with a sheet cake in the conference room. “Here,” she said, handing me a jumbo slice, “take a piece with a rose. I know you love that.” I barely managed to smile and shake my head.

The food points on that one slab of cake alone would be more than I could afford to have all day. My heart raced and I practically ran out of the room.

George, of course, knew I was dieting. “I’ll help you,” he said. Because he gets home before me he often makes dinner for the two of us. “Show me how to count points,” he insisted. So I taught him how the Weight Watchers system worked.

One afternoon I was fighting a ferocious battle against surrendering to a sugary snack. Just then George called.

“Honey, how many points do you have left today?” His telephone call got me back on track.

Still, I wondered if I were going to make it, even as the weight came off, one slow pound at a time. Doubt was my bigger enemy. I never felt this way when I was going to college or getting my nursing degree.

Then again, I’d never faced such a daunting goal before. I wanted to get down to 155 pounds if I were ever going to look at myself in the mirror again or be in someone’s wedding photos.

I remember one meeting—I’d been so good all week, eating George’s perfectly calibrated meals, never sneaking or snacking—and at weigh in I expected to be rewarded with a good number. At least a few pounds. I looked at the scale. Something was wrong!

The woman shook her head slightly. She wrote down the number. I’d gained four pounds that week! How? I was devastated. I couldn’t even stay through the rest of the meeting. I picked up my purse and drove straight home, crying the whole way.

I knew that fluctuation was a very normal part of weight loss. At the time, though, it threw me into crisis. It made me wonder how my husband could stand it, how he had tolerated my weight and my unhappiness about it for all these years.

What did he see in me? Why did he still love me? I felt so unlovable!

This is the hardest thing you have ever done, Jane, I told myself, harder even than earning a nursing degree or learning how to be a good manager. All those achievements had been external things. This, I now knew, was something deep inside of me. Something that I had to face.

That next morning I got up early, leaving my husband still in bed, and went into the kitchen to read my Bible and think and pray. In the quiet of the morning, with the sun just coming up over the trees outside, I thought of George and all of his love and support.

He didn’t see me the way the wedding pictures showed me. He loved me as I was, yes, but also for all the potential he saw in me, all the good he’d always encouraged in me.

Listening to the birds outside and seeing the sun glinting off the trees, I realized, That’s just the way God sees me too. His love is without conditions, as mine is for him. A voice seemed to whisper in the morning stillness, With me you can do all things. My love makes anything possible.

It was a turning point, the turning point. I made God a real partner in my weight loss. I woke up early in the morning and asked for his help. I went on long walks outside—I’d never been one for much exercise in the past—and kept up the prayers.

In all my efforts in the past I felt so alone. Not now. I’d shared my secret.

For the first time I could feel how much God wanted me to succeed. The weigh ins, what people thought, none of it mattered much anymore. What mattered was that losing weight was bringing me close to God, and that felt better than any success I had ever experienced.

In just four years—four amazing years—I reached my goal. I was down to 155 pounds! I felt great and was ready to celebrate. But I wanted to see if I could lose a little bit more. I kept up my exercise, the prayers and the meetings. In six months I went down another 23 pounds!

For the first time in my life I was wearing a size-four dress. Size four! It seemed almost impossible. And I’ve been able to keep that weight off—150 pounds gone for good.

I am happier, healthier, I’ll live longer and have more years with George and my children. Yes, I am thinner. But it’s not just about being thin, at least not for me. It’s about being a whole person, the complete person God wants me to be, wants you to be.

He is here to help us. It is the one thing I will never doubt.

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