Weight loss of any kind is a highly individual pursuit, with no two journeys looking the same. It can be full of ups and downs that can be difficult to put into words, and that’s especially true when it comes to the roller coaster 56-year-old Deborah Thompson had been on for years.
Her journey began in May 2009 when Thompson awaited a kidney-pancreas transplant following three years of dialysis. She had gained around 75 pounds from poor diet and inability to exercise while on dialysis, and, at 233 pounds, she was heavier than her doctors preferred her to be for the surgery.
While they went ahead with the procedure, she had complications post-surgery, developing a MRSA/VRE infection that required seven surgical procedures to eliminate — and that wasn’t the end of her challenges.
“In 2010, I developed scar tissue from the transplant [that] wrapped around my small intestine and pinched it off,” says Thompson. “The surgery was 16 hours and resulted in the removal of 15 inches of small intestine, resection, removal of appendix, removal of left ovary and scar tissue, and repaired a leaking pancreas.”
Post-surgery, she knew things had to change. Thompson slowly started to move away from her restrictive diabetic dialysis diet that limited carbs and contained no dairy or whole grains, was low protein, low potassium and phosphorus, and only consisted of four cups of fluid a day. She began adding foods with essential nutrients like oranges and vegetables, and she fell in love with Greek yogurt.
“I wanted the transplanted organs to last as long as possible and knew that I needed to be at a healthy weight,” says Thompson. “I [learned that] eating vegetarian could help mitigate diabetes. I knew that I wouldn’t give up meat, but the rest advocated eating less processed foods, fruits, vegetables and whole grains. [Experts] suggested trying the diet for 21 days and seeing how you felt at the end. I tried it and thought that it wasn’t difficult to stick to. I could do this.”
Besides a diet overhaul, Thompson also slowly upped her exercise routine, lifting weights six days a week, and logging four miles a day by alternating between running for two minutes and walking for one minute. She started seeing results, and dropped an impressive 96 pounds to weigh in at 137 pounds in January 2012. She even went skydiving to celebrate her second chance at life.
But, as many have faced while on a weight-loss journey, it’s one thing to lose the weight and another to keep it off.
Eight years later, Thompson found herself back at 229 pounds in January 2020. In March, the COVID pandemic hit eastern Iowa where she lived, and she made a list of all her health conditions that would lead to a poor outcome if she contracted the virus.
“I was over 55, immune-suppressed, had stage 4 chronic kidney disease, high blood pressure and was obese,” she says. “I decided to do something about my obesity and, hopefully, my high blood pressure.”
At this point, Thompson was back to primarily eating processed and fast foods, including lots of corn chips and diet soda. She started searching for a sustainable weight-loss plan and general information on nutrition and health, which led her to MyFitnessPal. She dove into the app’s tracking functionalities and expert content, where she started learning about everything from calorie balance and refeeds, to diet breaks and the pros and cons of various fitness activities. She also enjoyed the suggestions on how to maintain a healthy lifestyle during times of stress.
“Most importantly, [MyFitnessPal has] a knowledgeable, compassionate community of people of differing heath and fitness backgrounds who are willing to share their insight and experiences,” says Thompson. “Each night I turn to MFP and am inspired, supported and educated by the posters in the forums.”
Even though she was armed with new nutrition and exercise knowledge, the second leg of Thompson’s weight-loss journey was far from smooth. She developed an injury from walking that required six weeks of rest and two months of physical therapy to overcome. In November 2020, her fiance was admitted to the hospital for health complications from COVID and pneumonia. Unfortunately, he died less than a month later.
“I determined that I would not be a puddle on the floor, overcome with grief,” she says. “I cried but kept to my newfound healthy habits of calorie counting, eating within calorie budget and exercising. These habits provided a sense of comfort and normalcy in a suddenly-changed world. I felt secure each time I completed every subsequent day and, looking back, realized I was better able to cope with stress than with the binge eating disorder I had suffered from in previous years.”
As of March 2021, Thompson has dropped from 229 pounds to 146 pounds and is still using MyFitnessPal to work her way through her last 12 pounds before reassessing her goals.
After a weight-loss journey spanning more than a decade, she’s found strength to continue in a few different ways. She’s learned to not look to others for motivation, and instead change habits from within. She’s also learned to reward herself with non-food rewards to celebrate both big and small victories.
“I set goals that aren’t scale-related, I try not to compare myself to others, I try to learn something new about health and fitness on a daily basis, and I’m now open to trying new experiences,” she says. “I don’t say that I must weigh ‘x pounds’ before I will learn to do such-and-such activity or do such-and-such. Get out and connect, grow and live your life.”
Once things open back up and she gets the COVID vaccination, Thompson plans to hire a personal trainer to improve her weight-lifting form and dive deeper into resistance training. She also wants to start a jogging program (depending on her knees, of course), and train for the ‘Insane Inflatables Obstacles’ run.
“As the world opens up further, I would like to learn archery, go trampolining, drive an exotic car in the Xtreme Experience, and see a Chicago Bulls game at the United Center,” she says. “I always have a dream and a goal, and am open to new experiences and different ways of thinking.”
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