I would have to say that my journey began at a very young age. During my teens I hated my curves, I hated gym class, and I think I hated me.
I did everything I could to avoid gym class or anything to do with exercise – little did I know that very thing could have helped me with the issues I had with my curves.
I’ve always been a “curvy cut” girl…small waist with hips that are just the opposite. I always felt out of place, like people were looking at me. I was so insecure. And I hated gym class – I was not in the popular crowd and what I remember the most was the ever present “team picking.” I wasn’t (and still am not) very coordinated and didn’t know anything of the rules of the sports we played in gym class. My family never followed sports so just thinking about playing any sport was out of my league. Combine lack of coordination, lack of knowledge, and lack of popularity I was usually picked for teams very close to last – how humiliating. When I was 19 I had a baby, it was the best thing that happened to me, I’ll always have a part of me in my son; and I love him more than I can ever begin to say. Well, you know what happens to a woman’s body when it does what it is meant to do – have a baby – it gets curvier, I was no different. This did little to help me with my body image. And I had no idea how to go about exercising or eating right. And so began my battle with weight.
I tried diet pills, Weight Watchers, fad diets of all kinds, starving myself, almost anything you can think of – I tried. Buying clothes was depressing – changing clothes was depressing. I was depressed. My weight was like a roller coaster – up and down countless times for years! I really battled every day – different battles at different times of my life. At one point I purchased a weight bench and at another time an exercise bike. I worked at the weight bench for a while but the only instruction I had was the manual that came with it I had no idea the correct way to lift. I got discouraged because I wasn’t seeing any results. Then the exercise bike came along and I got up really early every day to ride it, I pedaled 10 miles almost every morning. I saw some results but got bored pedaling in one place every day, sure I read some books while I was pedaling, but I just got bored. So I stopped. My weight loss also stopped.
In 1997 I started experiencing excruciating headaches every day. I felt like my eyes were going to pop out of my head – little did I know how real that feeling was. I went to the doctor and we tried various treatments for the headaches. I suffered with these headaches for almost two years, did I mention that I had these headaches every single day, my head hurt when I got up in the morning, my head hurt when I went to sleep at night. During a routine visit at my eye doctor in November 1998, my optometrist noticed that my optic nerves were swollen. He asked me some additional questions and ordered a visual fields test which showed enlarged blind spots in both eyes. He gave me an initial diagnosis of pseudo-tumor cerebri, explained that if we did not get this under control I would go blind, and referred me to see a specialist at Geisinger in Danville. I was scared beyond belief and took this very seriously. It turned out the cause of pseudo-tumor cerebri is obesity. I weighed over 250 pounds. What happens with pseudo-tumor cerebri is the spinal fluid your body produces to protect your brain builds up and causes excessive pressure in your head. The only place for pressure to release in your head is your eye sockets, so the pressure builds on your optic nerves and they swell which can result in blindness. The only “cure” is to lose weight, take anti-diuretics to control fluid, and/or have spinal tap(s) to drain excess spinal fluid. I did them all. I lost 70 pounds by counting calories and half starving myself eating salad after salad (oh how I got sick – physically sick of salad), took medication (for fluid and pain), and had two spinal taps to eliminate excess spinal fluid. I did not exercise. The pseudo-tumor cerebri went into remission. I relaxed and again started eating everything I wanted and lead a sedentary life. All the while, I continued to see my optometrist every 6 months to watch for changes.
By 2006 I had gained back all of the 70 pounds I had lost plus more. What I now understand as the addiction to wheat and sugar kept calling. I had not changed my habits, just postponed them beyond the scare of losing my sight. I loved heavy dense bread smothered with butter, and potato chips. I would buy a loaf of heavy dense rye bread, slice it, toast it, smother it with butter and eat the whole loaf in one day. I would buy a big bag of potato chips and eat the whole bag in one sitting. I was addicted to carbohydrates – to the sugar effect they cause. By this time I weighed 288 pounds, and the doctor told me I was morbidly obese. I remember the first time a doctor described me as being morbidly obese, I was devastated and when I dug into the definition of that term I felt even worse. A simple definition of morbid obesity is the condition of weighing at least twice the ideal weight. For my height of 5’5” I was well over twice the ideal weight. During a visit with my primary care physician we discussed weight loss surgery. He offered to give me a referral for a visit to the Obesity Clinic at Geisinger Medical Center in Danville. I took him up on the offer.
With the support of my husband and son and after doing some hard soul searching, I decided to start the process to have Roux en-Y Gastric Bypass Surgery. I entered Geisinger’s program for gastric bypass patients. It is a 6 month program and there are goals that must be met along the way: You have to lose 10% of your body weight during these 6 months (which was 29 pounds for me), pass a psychiatric evaluation, attend support group meetings, and change your eating habits, along with so much more.
One of the things I did, thanks to my sister, was started going to a local gym – she wanted a workout partner for encouragement, accountability, and to help reduce the cost. We had two sessions each week where a trainer ran us through various weight machines and either a treadmill, elliptical, or stationary bicycle for a cardio workout. I started to like the way this was making me feel. I was losing weight and proceeding through the 6 month gastric bypass program with flying colors.
During the 6 month program toward by-pass surgery I asked my husband to go with me to all the doctor appointments, I knew I wouldn’t/couldn’t remember everything and two sets of ears are better than one. It was a trying 6 months and I continued going to my workout sessions with my sister. In fact, I did so well that I lost about 60 pounds during those 6 months. During this time I was counting calories which was something that I had done so many times before and hated with a passion. The only thing that made this bearable was the knowledge that I was doing it a final time.
On June 15, 2007, the surgery was done laporascopically with 5 small incisions. After two weeks of recovery at home, a liquid diet for a month, soft foods for two weeks I eventually was told I could eat anything I wanted – but I had to chew every bite to the consistency of applesauce. I can’t completely describe the emotions I was feeling: excitement and fear both at the same time. My husband stuck by me through all of it. He reminded me to chew every bite to the consistency of applesauce when he noticed I was not (there are times this continues to be an issue for me). The importance of chewing this much is because the opening from the pouch (think stomach the size of an egg) created by the surgery is the size of a pencil eraser. If I don’t chew thoroughly food gets stuck and then I’m in pain for hours. Let me just say at this point, this surgery is a tool – not a cure. There is nothing easy about having this surgery.
When I finally was able to eat food, I had more lessons to learn. Along with chewing food to the consistency of applesauce, if I didn’t stop eating with that very bite that made me feel full I would be sick for hours. There are some foods that make my very “gassy” (gas is a natural thing that happens to everyone, but for me it was torture as you’ll see). Immediately after surgery I used protein shakes as a means to consume 60 grams of protein every day. I searched for a protein mix that was not packed with sugar – because one of the side effects of this surgery is called “dumping.” Dumping is caused by sugar alcohols in the blood and for me was – well basically – extreme diarrhea – the kind that if you’re not close to a toilet the result can be devastating. This protein mix, along with the oranges and bananas I was eating created gas. According to the doctors I was seeing every month or so, I was eating well, still losing weight, things were progressing well. Within a year I had discovered some things about the way my system handled this surgery: my stomach doesn’t “growl” like a normal stomach does when it’s empty, it cramps causing excruciating pain; certain vegetables (cabbage, brussel sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, sweet peppers, cucumbers, etc.) cause gas for me and more than a bite should be avoided at all costs.
During this first year I was not exercising much, I had stopped going to the gym with my sister. My place of employment started offering bootcamp sessions after work, each session lasted 6-8 weeks. These sessions were lead by a trainer from a local gym. A friend of mine was gun-ho about these bootcamp sessions and we signed up together. The price kept increasing and we didn’t feel like we were benefiting much so we didn’t re-enlist. I, again, stopped exercising, but I kept losing weight and progressing as the doctors expected.
About a year and a half after my surgery I was experiencing excruciating pain in the area of my stomach. I doubled over with pain. My husband took me to our local emergency room. They weren’t equipped to treat gastric bypass patients, searched for reasons for the pain but couldn’t identify it. I was in pain if I moved and I could not go to work so I ended up going on short-term disability. I do not remember how long it took (weeks), but I eventually got an appointment to see the surgeon who performed my Roux en-Y Gastric Bypass Surgery. After more tests, they determined that I had a Peterson’s Space Hernia, only a small percentage of patients get this hernia. (According to the International Journal of Surgery a “Petersen's space hernia is caused by the herniation of intestinal loops through the defect between the small bowel limbs, the transverse mesocolon and the retroperitoneum, after any type of gastrojejunostomy. The laparoscopic approach facilitates the occurrence of this type of hernia, due to the lack of post-operative adhesions which prevent bowel motility and hence, herniation.”) In short, when the surgery is performed a stitch is made to hold the rerouted intestines in place, sometimes the stitch lets loose causing a Peterson’s Space Hernia. To fix this they had to go back in through 5 small incisions (laporascopically), move my intestines back to where they were supposed to be and restitch them in place. Through this episode I was off work for about 8 weeks, and again stopped exercising.
Again, I recovered as expected. At some point (I don’t remember the month) after this hernia repair a group of friends were signing up for these bootcamp sessions that were again offered at my place of employment, I signed up again. Again, the price kept increasing, and I felt like I wasn’t getting enough for my money. But, I was moving, I was exercising, I was enjoying the way it was making me feel.
We have a local publication called the “Grapevine” and I kept seeing a little advertisement for Women’s Bootcamp sessions being held close to my home and was less costly than the bootcamp sessions after work. After seeing this ad for about 4 months, in October 2009, I called the phone number. Little did I know what making that phone call would do for me. Stress was building up from all directions – I needed to find something to relieve that stress.
I was so completely blown-over and put at complete ease by the woman who answered my call. She described herself as a very tall, woman who loves to give hugs, and just wants to help people be fit and vibrant. She and I talked about what I was looking for and she welcomed me to come work out with her during her bootcamp sessions. She stressed that there is no judgment by anyone and that there were just women in the group. I started going to Blueberry Hill Academy Fitness bootcamp sessions, with Joan Karp. Initially, I went to bootcamp twice a week and that felt good enough. I was noticing changes that didn’t happen when I was paying for those pricey bootcamp sessions, I felt good. There was a point where I fell into that old habit for just a while and didn’t go to bootcamp, can’t say why - I just didn’t go for about 3 weeks. During that last week of “slacking off” my supportive husband asked me, “Did Joan offend you?” My reply was, “No, why?” To which he answered, “I just wondered, you need to go back to bootcamp.” So, of course the hairs on the back of my neck started to tingle and I asked, “Why?” He said, “It makes you a nicer person!” I had to laugh, and that’s been a laughing point for us ever since. Seriously, the man was right. I FEEL BETTER when I workout, it DOES make me a nicer person, it is a means for me to relieve stress.
I started going to EARLY morning and some evening bootcamp sessions with Joan. At the same time, I was noticing MORE benefits of exercising, I was firming up, my arms were getting some definition and I NEVER thought they’d “recover” from being SO large. Joan had mentioned to me a time or two that I should think about being a trainer, she thought that I’d be good at it. My mother-in-law and sister-in-law kept telling me that “if it weren’t so far away” they’d go to bootcamp with me. I had an idea, I had time on my hands. One afternoon I bounced it off my husband. IF I took bootcamp to my mother-in-law and sister-in-law they could no longer use the “if it weren’t so far away” excuse, I could see if I really liked being a trainer, and I got to exercise MORE. So being the supportive man he is, he said, “I don’t know, let’s go see.” So we went to Bellefonte (that’s where they live…about 20 miles from our home). I proposed the idea to my mother-in-law, she was excited, and my sister-in-law was excited. So on June 1, 2011, we began two bootcamp sessions a week in my mother-in-law’s yard. There were times that there were 5 or 6 family members joining in, sometimes a couple friends even joined in. They sweated, I loved it, they loved it! When it rained we moved to her kitchen, when the mosquitoes started gnawing on us we moved to her kitchen. It was good, they were noticing changes, and it was good!
Joan kept nudging me, planting seeds, to become a trainer, I was still training my in-laws – I loved it! I had done some research on getting certified to be a trainer. I was nervous to spend the money, so I stayed in that little comfort zone I had built up and didn’t move forward. Then one day, a co-worker asked me if I was a trainer…because I had been talking about it. I had to swallow a lump and tell her the truth … that I was not, but had a goal to become certified. THAT was the little push I needed. I ordered the program, began studying, and studying (which is something I had not done to that extent in 30 years). I was finding it a little difficult to remember all the things I needed to remember. Then in November 2011 Joan put up a little challenge to eliminate wheat and sugar. I accepted. I had not been eating sugar for years but I was using artificial sweeteners. I eliminated wheat and the artificial sweeteners. It took about a month, then one day I realized that the things I was studying were just sticking in my head…my brain was like a sponge. It was something that I’d known for a long time, that artificial sweeteners are not good for you, they do nasty things to your brain and your body. But I had not pushed myself to quit using them before this challenge. So eliminating the sugar and artificial sweeteners didn’t seem like a big deal, but it reaped huge results. Eliminating wheat was something new to me. I was not eating bread, hadn’t for years, but I was eating pretzel nuggets, club crackers, cheese crackers, a LOT. I learned to replace this mess with WATER. I hadn’t been drinking enough water on a daily basis.
I was loving the way I was feeling. I felt stronger, I felt more confident, I felt good! I took the test for my certification and passed! It took a few months of the no wheat/no sugar dietary changes until I noticed HUGE differences. I was getting lean, my muscle definition was becoming more noticeable. I dropped my pants size from a 10 to a 2 in about 3 months – all from eliminating wheat. Because of this challenge I no longer eat grains or consume sugar or artificial sweeteners. I eat lots of meat, vegetables (being very careful to avoid a lot of gassy vegetables), some nuts, and very limited fruits (they are a natural sugar). I’ve learned to think before I put food in my mouth (most of the time if I feel the urge to eat something I’m really thirsty and a nice glass of ice water is what I need). I am not perfect, I still fight the urge to eat tons of potato chips – I think of where I’ve been in this quest, how I’ve worked so hard to be where I am now, and I don’t want to lose that progress … again.
I started a business: Matis Fitness Quest. I offer private training sessions, I have group fitness sessions at my home, at Old Gregg School in Spring Mills, and at work. I am excited to see where my quest will take me.
I am so GLAD I have taken so many LITTLE steps to get to where I am today. I am on a quest and I look forward to where this quest will take me.
Special thanks go to:
My husband, Todd
My son, Drew, the reason I want to be a healthy mother
My Trainer and Good Friend, Joan Karp of Blueberry Hill Academy Fitness
My Mother-in-Law, Sandy who has been one of my biggest supporters
My Sister-in-Law, Betsy who has been there since the beginning
And, it wouldn’t be fair not to mention Mom, because if it weren’t for her, I may not have the drive I feel today. I do NOT want my son to have to live with a mother who could be healthier by eating good food and exercising.
I love you ALL!