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After years of research and determination, she won the battle with fat

June 13, 1997|By JEANNE RHODES

Having lived most of my life as a fat person, I know firsthand what it's like. Even as a 5-year-old, I was fat. At the age of 9, my mother took me to a pediatrician for help. Through him I experienced my first failure at low calorie dieting, which produced no weight loss leading him to believe that there might be a "glandular" problem. After the appropriate tests, he advised continuation of the diet and added thyroid medication, a combination he felt would produce weight loss. Elated that the reason for my weight problem had been found, I looked forward to being like other children without the restrictions that being fat placed on me. I wanted to wear attractive clothes and to run and climb as easily as the others. Friends paid little attention to my weight, but I felt uneasy being so different. I was the only fat child in the neighborhood, plus both of my brothers were thin, and neither of my parents was heavy.

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Being fat not only disturbed me, it was of concern to my parents. On one occasion, my mother was attempting to alter a woman's size 18 dress for me to wear to a special school event. The shoulders were too wide, the waist was too long, and the skirt was dragging the floor. In sheer desperation, she made a statement I'll never forget, "If you weren't so fat, I could dress you in cute clothes like the other little girls wear!" Shocked and hurt, I realized that my weight was bothering her as much as it was bothering me. To make matters worse, the thyroid medication did not help my weight problem and had to be discontinued.

At age 11, weighing 165 pounds, I was a diet "veteran" as diet after diet failed. By my teens, I had tried every diet I could get my hands on. Nothing worked. Since all the diets had failed, there was only one way left to lose weight - stop eating. I began living primarily on toast and tea with very little else. I was thin for the first time in my life! I also became a majorette in the high school band, got the lead part in the senior play, and was on the girl's high school varsity basketball and softball teams. I was on a high and loving every minute of it.

My parents were now desperately trying to get me to eat, even enlisting the aid of our family doctor on several occasions. How ironic that not too many years before, I had been sitting in a pediatrician's office who insisted that I was eating too much and "sneaking" food. Dieting had produced no weight loss, just a lot of deprivation, hunger and false accusations. I was determined never to be falsely accused in that manner again. But the future was not as bright as I had thought.

My dietary routine of toast and tea continued for several years. Every time I added more food to my diet, a 5- to 10-pound gain followed which prompted a quick return to my old standby of toast and tea. Health problems mounted, and, in my late 20s, I was admitted to Johns Hopkins Hospital, anorexic and with a life-threatening illness. The doctor's message was blunt - "Either you start eating or you will die."

I decided to eat a very carefully controlled low calorie diet, but once again the weight continued to increase until I was overweight again. Old diets, new diets, fad diets - all were a futile attempt to control the weight. Over and over again, I would lose weight only to regain what was lost, and then some.

At almost 200 pounds, I attempted, for what seemed like the 150th time, to lose weight again. But this time was different in many ways. There was no dieting, calorie counting, eating "special" foods, or going hungry. I adopted a wellness approach with healthy exercise and diet modification. My energy was increasing and my health was improving.

This time the pounds came off a little slower but the weight loss was steady, and to my delight, my normal weight goal was reached in about a year. But more importantly, my health and energy improved beyond all expectations and for the first time in my life, the weight stayed off.

This accomplishment still seems miraculous to me, having spent more than 30 years of my life fighting the scales, losing weight over and over gain with each new diet which always failed .

As I write these words, my cholesterol is 131, my blood pressure is 110/68, and my weight has remained stable for 20 years.

Jeanne Rhodes is a nutritionist, author, owner and director of Rhodes Preventive Health Institute in Hagerstown and a nutrition consultant for the state of Maryland. Write in care of The Herald-Mail Co., P.O. Box 439, Hagerstown, Md. 21741.

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