Attention, please: This lady knows how it's done. If you don't think you can lose weight, get healthy, and turn your life around, read this...
I met Ranae Whitmore at the recent Health 2.0 conference. She was there because she is an example of the most amazing Health 2.0 success story you can imagine. In the last 20 months, this 52-year-old Red Cross employee from Iowa managed to transform herself from morbidly obese and dejected to a healthy weight and healthy attitude using an array of online tools and communities. She's lost 140 pounds and is well on her way to losing the last 30 she wants off, plus she's now dedicated herself to helping others find the connection to Web-based tools, support and friendship that made the difference in her life.
DM) Where you always heavy, or how did you get to that extreme place?
When I was younger, I weighed more than the other kids. I got teased about it, so then it becomes kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy. After I had my daughter (who's now 31), a lot more weight came on. In hindsight, there were a lot of emotional issues I wasn't dealing with. I was just eating them. As I 'didn't deal,' my weight eventually came up to 330 pounds. I'm 5'6".
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DM) Did you just not realize...?
Oh, I knew. I came from a medical background -- I used to run the front-office of a doctor's practice -- so I knew all the risks. I knew I could get diabetes, heart disease, and much more. I even developed asthma symptoms, which the doctors said were not related to my weight, but they were. I just couldn't get myself to do what I needed to do.
I wasn't very mobile. Taking the stairs was a major project. Imagine picking up another human being and carrying them around with you all the time. That's what I was essentially doing.
DM) Was that the impetus to take charge and make a change?
No. It took the kindness of a stranger. At the time I was working for Maytag, which was going through a difficult merger with Whirlpool. I was working with this gentleman in another state over email and phone calls. He really validated my work, and me as a person. He stood up for me when things got tough. He made me see myself through his eyes. And I thought, "If a stranger can show me this integrity and caring, I should do that for myself, too. It's time to start taking care of me."
To this day, I haven't met the man in person, but he changed my life.
DM) So how did you get involved with all the websites?
Actually, it started with email. I created an email network of friends and supporters. Then I started searching for calorie counting sites, recipe sites, exercise sites, and the like. At one point, after I'd already lost 110 pounds, I hit a bad place. I'd started binging and purging. I knew I couldn't go back, but I also felt powerless to go forward. The old behaviors started popping up, but I just couldn't return to that place. One day I just started searching for "support," or something like that, and I stumbled into DailyStrength.org. It was the best decision I've ever made.
DM) Wait, you mean you lost all that weight even before discovering the community sites for support? How did you do it?
I'd tried all the diet programs; I knew all the right things to do, just like most people who are extremely overweight. But it finally became really clear to me that what you eat minus what you expend equals your body size. It's simple physics.
I bought a scale and started weighing and measuring everything. I cut out the junk food and focused on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats. Heavy on the protein, which helps you feel full longer. I put signs on my cupboards that said, "STOP: are you REALLY hungry?" A lot of times I wasn't. Eating was just an emotional outlet. I'd just grab something and throw it in my mouth.
I stared writing down everything I ate -- boy, that was eye-opening! And I researched restaurants online before we went out, so I knew what I could order. (I always ask for a box right away and put half the portion out of sight before I start.)
For exercise, I started with walking, which is easiest, and then I used home aerobics videos. Later I finally got over my fear of being so fat -- of having people make fun -- and I joined a gym. I started using the treadmill and weights. I figured if they wanted to laugh at what I was doing, taking care of myself, then let them laugh.
DM) So you hit this crisis point, and then you found the Social Media sites?
I'd say the support community is crucial. They helped me through that rough spot, and they've kept me motivated and going even on the worst days, when I want to pull my hair out.
A group of us got together and started organizing weight-loss challenges. For that we used Yahoo Groups and a site called SquareSpace, where we could post goals and our daily progress. For the first one I was a team captain. We had five teams of 10-11 people each, from all over the country. I also met a new friend who lives in London, and we talk almost every day now.
The latest weight-loss challenge was leading up to Valentine's Day. We got a group together and used Skype for our calls about organizing the challenge. That was also about 50-60 people. We use DailyStrength a lot, where I'm known as "Heartgirl." The anonymity was important, since at the time I didn't feel like broadcasting my problems to the entire world.
DM) So what does life look like for you going forward?
I'm now at 193 lbs, and my goal is 174. I used several height-weight charts to figure out my ideal weight. I'd like to reach out and help others change their lives this way, too. This is an issue that hits people across the board -- young, old, big, small, different backgrounds. But you have to feel that you are worth it, that you are valuable. It's also so important to be in contact with other people who can validate your issues and cheer you on. That's what I'd like to do with my life.
NOTE: See Ranae in the Glamour blog this month (!) She does not have the 'betes, btw, but is thinking of starting her own weight-loss blog, and getting involved in online communities in some more formal way. Got questions for her? Or ideas? Please feel free to post them below.