A lot of people have asked how I lost my weight, so I thought I'd take the time here and talk about the program I'm on and what I've had to do to get to where I am today.

First though, I think my history is important.  I have been overweight my whole life.  For as long as I can remember I've always been "the fat kid" in school and in my group of friends.  Starting as early as kindergarten I knew that I was bigger than the other kids in my class.  My mother has also had a weight problem and whenever she went on a diet, I would also.  Throughout elementary school and junior high I tried every diet my mom did - and that was pretty much every diet out there.  We did Weight Watchers (and this is back in the 80's - it's changed a lot since then!), Nutri-System, the Atkins diet (though it wasn't called that at the time), the vegetarian diet… pretty much anything out there you can think of.  Then when I was in high school my parents went through the Opti-Fast program (which is what I'm on now, and I'll detail later).  I joined as well, but being a stubborn teenager I did not stick to the program at all, and simply didn't have the willpower to maintain any of the weight I lost.  My parents were also unsuccessful due to other family problems that arose as they finished their program.  Non of us went to the maintenance program that they offered, and all of us put all of the weight back on - and THEN some.

After that I pretty much decided that I was just going to be heavy for the rest of my life.  In my family it was never really a negative thing.  Sure we all dieted, but being overweight was never something bad.  So many of my aunts are overweight, that it's just not an issue.  Out philosophy is that as long as you're happy, you're doing good.  And I was always happy… so it didn't bother me that much.  Sure part of me wanted to look like Jennifer Anniston, but that's just not realistic.

Then about two years ago I was diagnosed with a pseudotumor cerebri (benign intracranial hypertension).  Basically, it's where your body thinks you have a brain tumor, but there's nothing there.  I had an excess of cerebral spinal fluid around my brain, which caused my optic nerve to swell, and the most heinous headaches you could possibly imagine.  I saw many doctors and specialists.  I endured countless blood tests, CT scans, MRI's, angiograms, eye tests and spinal taps… all just to relieve the symptoms I had since there is no "cure" for this problem.  Every doctor I saw said that this "disease" affected most people in the 4F factors: Female, Forty and under, Fertile and Fat.  Well… since I can't change the fact that I'm female (without some serious surgery), or that I'm under 40 (that's a long wait) or that I'm fertile (without getting pregnant, which isn't advised while still seeking treatment for the pseudotumor)… the only left for me to do was lose the weight.

I put it off for more than a year just because I wasn't ready to do anything like that just yet.  I suffered through more tests and another spinal tap before I decided that I'd had enough.  I talked with my neurologist and he assured me that if I lost weight, even as little as fifty pounds, it would vastly improve my situation.  So late last year I began looking into my different options.  A lady I worked with had the gastric bypass surgery and did absolutely amazing with it… and for a few months I considered doing that.

After attending several meetings on the gastric bypass surgery, I decided that it was not for me.  It has done wonders for other people, and I can't deny that it is effective… however it wasn't the right move for me.

In January my parents approached my brother and I and said that they were going to join the Opti-Fast program again, and if we'd like to join with them, they would cover the costs.  It was like a sign from up above that their offer came around at the same time that I was secretly looking into those options myself.  I jumped at the chance and in March of 2002 I started the program.  My mother started a week after I did and my father started a week after that.

The Opti-Fast program is a doctor supervised fast (all liquid diet).  I went through a complete two part physical and met with my specialists regarding my psuedotumor to make sure that I was healthy enough to take on such a program, and that the program itself would be helpful for me.  All of my doctors agreed that it was worth a shot, and if I thought I could do it then it could only do good things for me.

In this program I get 5 shakes a day.  They come in powder form and I mix that with diet sodas to drink my "meals" every 3-4 hours.  The shakes are mostly protein and contain all of the nutrients your body needs throughout the day.  The only thing it is lacking is potassium and that’s only because when added to the shakes, the potassium made it taste bad, therefore everyone on the program is on a potassium supplement.  It would be possible to live off of these shakes forever, however you'd just keep losing weight.  There are people who have a lot of weight to lose who have been on the shakes for two or even three years and are in great health.

As well as the shakes, I'm also drinking a lot more water (instead of the diet coke I was addicted to!) and walking.  Right now I average about 3 liters of water a day.  Actually, I don't like plain water so it's half Crystal Light and half water - just to give it some flavor.  I also take a half hour every day - my lunch time at work since I'm not eating - and I walk the parking lot.  You're supposed to get between 20-40 minutes of excersize a day, so I cover that easily.  Occasionally I'll go walking in the evenings… up to the movie theater or something.  But on a regular basis I do the half hour a day.  Due to the low caloric intake I'm getting (and almost no carbs) I can't do any muscle building work outs, so lifting weights is out.  I do have a Pilates video that I do as well as a low impact aerobics tape.  I haven't been doing the tapes as often as I should, but I try to get in at least one tape a week (usually on the weekends when I'm not working).

I meet with a counselor/physician every week for my weight class with a group of other members who are all on the program as well.  Right now there is about 15 other people in the class with me and that is such a great support structure for me.  Just being able to talk about it with people who actually know what I'm talking about is great!  The classes cover a lot of the emotional and background reasons for why we're overweight.  We deal with and discuss anger issues, why and when we choose to eat, relationships, struggles… everything like that.  We don't discuss the "right" way to eat, because these classes are geared for us to find out why we became fat in the first place… "how" to eat is addressed later.

The average weight loss per week for females on this program is 2-5 pounds a week.  It all depends on your body, how much you drink, how much excersize you do and how much you have to lose.  As a general rule the more you have to lose the faster it comes off (at first).  Personally, I'm averaging 3.2 pounds a week… so I'm right on target.

With these classes at the clinic, I also get my blood tested every two weeks.  Everyone does.  The results go not only to my weight loss counselors, but also to all of the doctors I am currently seeing so that they can all keep track of my health that way.  I meet with my other doctors on a regular basis as well, just to keep in check.

Once I get within about ten pounds of my goal weight (which is 145-155… so when I get to about 160) I will start PFE's (Progressive Food Encounters - sounds more like a vacation, huh?).  PFE's take anywhere from 4-8 weeks and during that time the doctors slowly "wean" me back onto foods.  It would be unhealthy to go from 5 shakes a day to eating full time without any kind of preparation… I'd be sick.  So what they do is add food slowly.  First they'll add 3 oz of very lean meat (tuna or chicken… something like that) and that's all.  You do that for a few days, then add 1/2 of a cup of vegetables for a few days (while you still have the shakes).  It progresses until eventually you're eating 5 times a day and having no shakes at all.

After being on full foods for a few weeks, then you go into a mandatory 10 weeks maintenance class.  So all in all, once I get down to my goal weight, I'll still be attending classes for another 10-14 weeks.  Once you begin the PFE's and through maintenance, that is when you will learn how to eat basically.  I mean, everyone knows how to eat, and even overweight people can tell you how to eat healthy.  The program just helps you along to make it your routine - as well as offering support.  I'm not to maintenance yet, so I don't know exactly what's covered, but my father is through his (and has maintained within 3 pounds of his goal weight for 15 weeks) and said that he really enjoyed it.  My mother is doing her maintenance right now (she has another 2 weeks I think) and she has maintained within 5 pounds of her goal weight for the last 11 weeks.

This program definitely is not for everyone.  It is fast, aggressive and very difficult if you're not 100% committed.  I'm not going to sit here and say it's been easy for the last 30+ weeks, it hasn't.  But when I weigh the pros and cons of everything I've been through… this is definitely the right option for me.  I went into this 30+ weeks ago feeling positive about what I was doing, and being incredibly excited about starting the whole process.  That enthusiasm has continued and each week that I go and weigh in and meet with everyone… it only increases.  I'm dedicated to this weight loss and I know that when I'm finally at my goal… there is nothing that will make me get back to where I was.  Having been there, and here… I know that's nothing I want to experience again.  I was happy and I loved myself even at 280.5 pounds.  That was never an issue.  But overall right now I'm even happier and I have so much more self-respect than I did before - and I never knew I was lacking.

In the end though I know that my health has improved immensely, and I think that is really one of the most important factors here.  As long as I'm healthy, the rest of me can be happy :)

If you have any questions regarding my experience in the program, please feel free to email me.

 My Before and Now pictures

If you have questions regarding the program itself I'll have to suggest that you talk to your doctor or check into weight loss options in your area.  I'm in no way qualified to give any kind of medical advice… only my opinion on what I've seen so far.