I met her at a Borders book signing three years ago. She was 43 years old, five feet five inches tall and weighed 260 pounds. She was morbidly obese. Believe it or not, this kind of information is typically shared with me even in the first few minutes of meeting with someone -- kind of like confession. But with her, what started out as a brief signing and chat turned into something more. I'll call her Samantha.
Instead of leaving after meeting me, Samantha hung out in the back of the store and watched from a distance as I chatted with other individuals. I had a feeling she wanted to talk more.
As the room cleared my feelings were confirmed. She approached once again. And while the clean up continued around us, I learned even more about this young woman. Married for 15 years and mother to two school-aged girls, Samantha was recently diagnosed as a prediabetic. She had sleep apnea, indigestion and high cholesterol and was concerned about what she was passing down to her children. But the thing that struck me about Samantha was her negative attitude.
She didn't believe she could lose weight -- she had regained everything she had ever lost before. Her parents were fat and she was a product of the "clean plate" club. She had struggled her entire life and had no will-power.
As we moved to the coffee shop and continued talking, I challenged her to take that first step and try again. She didn't have to believe in getting to goal, she only had to believe she could find a healthy program and stick with it for a day. One day. And then repeat it.
Samantha didn't join my group, because back then I had no group for her to join. But we did stay in contact through email, phone and an occasional meeting.
She decided to try counting calories, but wasn't successful. After a month she had lost three pounds and gained them back. Each time she started to work on her program, something happened which threw her off track. One girl got sick and then the other. Old friends came to visit for the weekend. They brought German chocolates. She was overlooked for a promotion at work. And there was a birthday in there somewhere, too. Each week a new hiccup and with each hiccup she gave up again.
I told her that there was always going to be "reasons" why food would seem a good option. Life was full of them for everyone. It was time for her to learn to cope with them without food.
But it was no good. Samantha continued to point out every problem, recount every argument with her husband and tell me about each tempting food brought by skinny co-worker saboteurs. She was a victim with a victim's mentality and believed no one had it as bad off as she did.
At the end of the month we met again and I laid it on the table for her. I told her that unless she started to take personal responsibility for her choices and her weight, she was going to be 260 pounds forever -- and that, if she was lucky. I apologized for being so straight forward and told her I understood if she didn't want to stay and listen, but I could only share the truth as I saw it -- she was looking for all the reasons why she couldn't lose weight -- and finding them. Unless she stopped using life's difficulties as excuses for her eating choices, she was going to eat herself to death.
I also let her know that she did have choices. It wasn't too late to change. But it all had to begin with being honest with herself. I had her repeat after me, "The only reason I'm overweight is because of my choices. I have the opportunity to make new ones. I can do this." I told her that with this honest mindset she could stop putting the blame for her weight problem on other people and things, which only gave her what she was looking for ... excuses to do nothing. We can't change unless we recognize that we have to change and that we have the ability to change.
I didn't see Samantha for a while, but almost a year later she emailed me, thanking me for our conversation! She said that as hard as it was for her to hear at the time, the words had slowly sunk in. She finally realized no one was coming to rescue her from her fat. That knowledge actually gave her the freedom (yes she used the word freedom) to stop waiting for the intervention and get busy with the hard work of weight loss. She was 54 pounds slimmer and well on her way to a new lifestyle ... her new lifestyle. Then she said the words that have stuck with me ever since ...
"Kim, as hard as it was to turn around the habits, recipes, groceries -- all of it -- being fat was harder."
Kim Bensen, a lifetime yo-yo dieter who lost more than 200 pounds, currently leads motivational weight loss meetings at Calvary Church in Trumbull at 6:30, Wednesday nights. For more information or to sign up for Kim's free e-News, go to www.KimBensen.com or call 203-926-0629.