“How Did I Get Like This?” – FINALLY Inspired to Exercise

by Susan Critelli
“How Did I Get Like This?” – FINALLY Inspired to Exercise

Motivation to lose the weight.

I felt a tightness in my chest that started in my back and moved forward. A couple of Tums didn’t do anything. I had been hospitalized with chest pain in the past and it had always turned out to be nothing. Gastritis. Anxiety. Never cardiac. But when the pain moved into my jaw, I told my husband I wanted to go to the emergency room.

They took me right away for an EKG and blood work, and gave me a gown to change into. The woman drawing blood was irritated that she couldn’t find a vein. For my part, I thought she was the worst blood-drawer ever. She poked and prodded the crook of my right arm, then my left. She was neither gentle, nor apologetic about her roughness. Finally she inserted a heparin lock on the outside of my left forearm since that was about the only place a vein could be found large enough and close enough to the surface to produce results. I changed into the gown, and was sent back into the waiting room because there were no emergency beds.

Because of the flu epidemic, there were masks available, and hand sanitizer dispensers at every door. I put on a mask and sat down again in the waiting room.

Five. Hours. Later. It was pretty clear that they didn’t think I was having a heart attack. But I did have plenty of time to think about the predicament in which I found myself.

How did I get like this, anyway?

I never dreamed in a million years that I would ever be fat. When I was younger, I could eat anything I wanted and never gain any weight. Not that I ate much. When I was in high school, I weighed about 88 pounds dripping wet. When I got up to 93 pounds, I went to Elaine Powers Figure Salon to whip myself back into shape. After all, I was only five feet tall. Even a pound or two made a huge difference in how my clothes fit.

40 years and nearly 100 pounds later, I didn’t know whether that made me want to laugh or cry. I was a perfect size 4 – ring size, shoe size, clothing size. Then I fell in love with a talented amateur Italian chef and learned to love to eat. Specifically pasta, bread, potatoes, cheeses, Italian pastries, and more – all in vast quantities.

“Mangia!” they said. “It’s delicious!” they said. And it was.  By the time we got married, I was already up to 100 pounds. Then I got pregnant. After that, I never even saw 125 again. I gained another 40 pounds with my second child – which is all the more ridiculous when you consider that he was very premature and weighed only 2 lbs 13 oz. I did lose a fair amount of the weight, but I never saw 150 again.

Three of our parents, and a few grandparents passed away in the early 1990’s. After my mom passed away, my elderly aunt came to live with us, and after a few years became very difficult to deal with. We later learned that she had Alzheimer’s, but at this point I didn’t know that, and was killing myself trying to keep too many plates in the air. I was pretty active looking after two small children, caring for my aunt, homeschooling, gardening, and walking. But I was depressed, too. And I would find myself increasingly dealing with stress by eating. I would find myself looking in the refrigerator without the slightest idea how I got there.

My dad had died years earlier of a massive heart attack when I was 26 and he was 80. He also had atherosclerosis, and had flown to Texas when I was a little girl to be treated for circulatory issues by Dr. Michael DeBakey, the renowned cardiovascular surgeon. His autopsy revealed that he had already had two other massive heart attacks that nobody had ever even known about! All we knew was that he had never missed a day of work, and that he had heartburn a lot. He also had sleep apnea, so I shouldn’t have been surprised when somewhere along the way, I also developed sleep apnea. My snoring was legendary long before I ever gained weight. But there is no doubt it was exacerbated by my weight problem. Ever in denial, I didn’t follow up after my sleep study. Who wanted to wear one of those stupid masks like old people? But the people from the sleep lab called me and said they didn’t think I understood the seriousness of my condition. During the night of testing,  I had stopped breathing 213 times for at least 30 seconds. I started seeing a lung specialist and using a CPAP machine immediately.

But I still didn’t do anything about my weight. Hospitalizations, dangerous sleep apnea, a 50 lb weight gain, and familial heart disease were not enough to motivate me to change. Seriously?  I suppose I came by it honestly, with a father who evidently had massive heart attacks while not missing any work and a mother who did not bother to mention that she had Stage 4 lung cancer until 18 days before she died. Meanwhile, that 50 lb. weight gain crept up to 90 lbs. It was time to stop pretending I was not obese, and dangerously so.

The person with the clipboard called my name, finally. I went into the emergency room only to discover that they had a bed, but not a room. I hoisted myself up onto the bed with great difficulty and found myself out of breath. I briefly pondered that my paternal grandfather had died of endocarditis when he was about my age. I had always managed to avoid thinking about that too much because it was 1912 and he didn’t have the benefit of penicillin. But for the first time ever, it dawned on me that 58 was way too young to die.

After the hospital sent me home – again – with nothing wrong, I couldn’t sleep, so I ended up on the computer.  As I clicked around websites trying to find something to distract me, I remembered that the day before I had downloaded a PDF I had purchased from Amazon called “Inspire Your Fit Behavior,”  as a favor to a friend. I had decided I could use some inspiration, but wondered if this book would actually inspire me. Health scares certainly hadn’t worked. Neither had lectures from doctors, self-help books or advice from well-meaning friends. I figured I couldn’t be less inspired than I already was.

“Inspire Your Fit Behavior” is a collection of inspiring stories of people who overcame various health challenges and regained a level of fitness they never thought possible. It is a video ebook, which means that a video about each person who tells their story is embedded right into it. At the beginning, it talked a lot about “forever athletes.” I started to click off and find something else to do, since I was never an athlete in any sense of the word. But I had promised to read the ebook, so I scrolled back to the beginning and something in the table of contents caught my eye.

its possible

“Realize it is possible to reverse your decline.”  As I read on, “The Admiral” was a man who had an “aha!” moment when he couldn’t get up off the floor when playing with his grandchildren. I couldn’t bend over any more to tie my shoes, and I was starting to have trouble even getting out of my easy chair. And my knees were hurting all the time – I dreaded going up and down the stairs, or down to the basement to do laundry. As I read on I saw that when he contacted a personal trainer, the trainer had him doing “baby steps,” like lifting a stick, pushing away from the wall, or stepping up and down a few inches. After a year of working with the trainer, his fitness improved and so did his attitude toward fitness. And it all started with “baby steps.” About a week later, I saw a post on the Fit After Fifty blog called “What’s the single best thing we can do for our health?”  It is one of those great videos where someone is narrating and someone is illustrating on a white board in triple time. And the conclusion was that exercising just 30 minutes a day would result in significant improvements in my health.

I don’t have time to schedule sessions with a trainer right now, but I have a treadmill in my house and I can still walk! So I started getting up early every morning and walking on the treadmill, building up gradually to a mile, then a mile and a half in about a half hour. The time passes pretty quickly because I also listen to my daily Bible reading on my iPad while I am walking. I also discovered that I feel a lot better when I eat less, and eat more protein. In just three weeks, I have lost about 7 pounds, and my clothes are starting to fit better. I don’t think I look any different, but I can tell that there has been progress because of small changes, like my wedding ring not being too tight any more. My knees don’t hurt all the time either, and I no longer dread going up and down the stairs!

I know I have a long way to go, but yesterday I knew something fundamental had changed when I discovered I wanted a couple of blackberries instead a bagel with cream cheese. While his testimony is not the only thing that set me in the right direction, I am really glad The Admiral’s story was included in that ebook, and that I owed my friend the favor of reading it.


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Chuck McEnroe February 9, 2013 - 7:55 pm

Very inspiring story. You sound like you have begun a new and healthy life that will benefit you, family and friends.

Susan Critelli February 15, 2013 - 9:33 pm

Thanks, Chuck! I have been really encouraged by my progress, and by the support of family and friends. Thanks for reading!

Jenith February 9, 2013 - 8:10 pm

Thanks for sharing your story!!! It is never too late to start making changes in your life. Very inspiring!!!

Susan Critelli February 15, 2013 - 9:34 pm

Thanks, Jenith – it means a lot to have someone to walk it with me. I’m sure we can help each other stay on track!

tinamarie2130 February 9, 2013 - 8:25 pm

Bless you <3

Susan Critelli February 15, 2013 - 9:36 pm

Thanks, kid. I know that you of all people know how hard it has been to overcome the family programming! Appreciate your support! <3

Kim Aubry February 9, 2013 - 9:00 pm

Thank you for sharing your story. The journey to health starts in many places…congrats to you for taking it on and making it your own journey….Blueberries over a bagel is BIG. Love you Kim

Susan Critelli February 15, 2013 - 9:38 pm

Thanks, Kim! Not everyone appreciates that the blackberries-over-a-bagel thing really IS huge! You would have been so proud of me the other day when I didn’t have any of the samples at Dolce and Clemente. And I am finding it happening more and more. I just want different things to eat.

Catherine Doucette MEd February 11, 2013 - 7:00 am

Courageous to share!! Thanks. It all happens in its own time. I’m down 22.5 lbs, and I can feel the shift in who I am. I’m sure another 17 will fall off just by me faithfully using portions and My Fitness Pal to keep me aware of what I put in my mouth,

Susan Critelli February 15, 2013 - 9:39 pm

Thanks, Catherine. Tell me more about My Fitness Pal. Is it a journal of some kind? If there are any tools that can help me record this journey (preferably free!) I would love to hear about them.

Carolyn Hughes February 11, 2013 - 7:01 am

What an honest and inspiring story Susan! It’s never too late to change and that’s what you prove! Wishing you lots of success as you discover the healthier you 🙂

Susan Critelli April 18, 2013 - 12:37 pm

Better late than never, Carolyn? I hadn’t realized I didn’t respond to your comment.I have discovered it is therapeutic to share. Once something is out in the open it can’t hurt you any more.

Leslie February 11, 2013 - 7:40 am

Great post! I love your vulnerability, which makes your story all the more inspiring and credible. Thank you so much for sharing!

Aimee February 11, 2013 - 8:25 am

Wow, great post and you are a talented writer. It’s a big step making a declaration, so good for you. Have you gotten in touch with what is your motivation? As it seems that ill health and possibility of death hasn’t done it for you before, it may not be what can help drive you. I find this is a crucial crucial step. I know for me, I am actually very healthy although a couple of sizes overweight. Being thin wasn’t enough motivation to me, there wasn’t enough reward. It wasn’t until I got clear about not just showing love for my body, but more importantly as A Course in Miracles teaches, that my body is here to extend love that I finally had motivation. I had a reason to want to be kind and accepting of however it is – I can show more love and help the world. I’m not saying this is your motivation, but just that there can be multiple reasons and it’s critical to get in touch with yours. 🙂

Alexandra McAllister (@alexandrawow101) February 11, 2013 - 8:31 am

Thanks for sharing your story, Susan. I know you’re on your way to better health…some times it takes a scare to remind us. God bless you!

Cathy Taughinbaugh (@treatmenttalk) February 11, 2013 - 9:58 am

Enjoyed reading your story Susan. It looks like you are on the right track to finding better health. All the best in the days ahead. I know you will be proud of the new you.

lorettaschoettler February 11, 2013 - 9:59 am

I am so happy I read this story. I enjoy and appreciate your honesty. Something missing a bit these days with so many promotional blogs. I know you will find your way!

Norma Doiron ´*•?. (@NormaDoiron) February 11, 2013 - 11:29 am

Thanks for the inspiration… I too need to get serious about losing some weight. Loved your honesty in sharing your struggle… x0x

Elizabeth Maness (@ElizbethLManess) February 11, 2013 - 12:19 pm

Yikes! I had done that to myself and worked my way from a size 8 to a 20.. It’s easy to do when you are a mom and not ever focusing on you!

Barbara Billig February 11, 2013 - 1:20 pm

Good that you are looking at yourself and have come to some healthy conclusions. Like yourself enough to follow through. You are worth it!

Meryl Hershey Beck February 11, 2013 - 1:52 pm

Susan–I usually dread the longish posts but not yours! I eagerly read every word and thank you for sharing yourself so openly. I know, firsthand, about emotional eating and hating the scale. I may be starting a support group to help folks end emotional eating and if it’s something you’re interested in, please let me know (fb private message). I wish you much success on your journey. {{{hugs}}}

Moira Hutchison February 11, 2013 - 2:34 pm

Thanks for sharing your story so openly and honestly! Your journey and the sharing of it is very inspirational – I’m thinking that the level of inspiration you felt when reading the Admiral’s story is being passed on to others by you with this article. I wish you continued success.

Anita February 11, 2013 - 3:11 pm

I love it when folks are real and share from their life experiences! I eliminated cigarettes a couple years ago…gained about 50 pounds or so. So I hired a trainer in November 2012 and at the end of the month I broke my ankle. I am just starting to walk and I cannot exercise normally for a year but I have adjusted my eating habits and that has helping 🙂

Liz B February 11, 2013 - 3:16 pm

As everyone else said…thanks for sharing!!! It is always good to have a clear view of yourself…it will be interesting to see what other changes that this epiphany makes for you : D…

Sherie Venner (@trancingqueen) February 11, 2013 - 6:50 pm

Wow, this was a really inspiring post, Susan. I think we tend to take our health for granted and think that nothing bad can ever happen to us. I really, really appreciate this reminder, my dear, and your honesty in sharing. I am sharing…because a lot of us need to be inspired.

Sharon O'Day (@sharonoday) February 11, 2013 - 8:04 pm

What a great combination: somewhere inside us we have to be ready. And then we have to have the right trigger. The Admiral’s story was that for you, for whatever reason. Congratulations, Susan … keep us up to date on your progress!

MamaRed February 12, 2013 - 10:12 am

Susan…I know it isn’t always easy to look in that mirror (believe me, I’m there too!) and say “how did I get here” and now what. Kudos to you for having the courage to share and to take YOUR next DO-ABLE step. Sending you lots of loving energy.

Carl Mason-Liebenberg February 14, 2013 - 3:28 am

Susan, it sounds like you had a revelation moment, one that if you will hold on to it, not let it fade once again into the background or buried unlife, will propel you forward to success in your goals! It is a journey of learning what real foods are, learning to be more active and learning that it al is a lifestyle, not a hobby or a new project! the journey and if I can help you in that, just let me know and we will make it happen!

Lisa Birnesser (@LisaBirnesser) February 15, 2013 - 6:14 am

Thank you for sharing your story and inspiring me to continue on my weight loss journey. Your courage motivates me and I’m sure many other people. Thank you and keep on going!

lisafrederiksenbreakingthecycles February 15, 2013 - 5:03 pm

Oh my gosh what an inspirational story, Susan, and so beautifully, engagingly written. I wish you all the best – I know you’ll do it and congratulations on your “ah ha” moment!

Helena Bowers February 18, 2013 - 8:51 am

Thanks for sharing your story Susan! You’ve inspired me to re-commit to improving my own health and fitness.

All This In Just a Month?" Benefits of Exercise Happen Quickly » FitBehavior March 14, 2013 - 5:18 am

[…] A month ago I wrote an article for this blog describing how I was inspired by FitBehavior’s ebook to begin exercising (“How Did I Get Like This?” – FINALLY Inspired to Exercise”). […]

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