Believe it or not, the government was right. The USDA food pyramid--with its five-a-day fruit and vegetable servings--truly does work. I know because, following the guidelines, I lost 75 pounds and have kept it off for two years.
It used to be that gravity pulled me down, and I slouched around feeling heavily dissatisfied. I avoided cameras and felt that food was comfort and entertainment. How did I get out of that rut and into a healthy lifestyle that resulted in my shaping up both physically and emotionally?
Knowledge is power, and with research, I reeducated myself about nutrition. I exercised the power of choice every day. I chose what I ate and how I prepared foods. The first couple of months, I spent a long time in the grocery store, reading labels to ascertain fat and cholesterol, calorie and nutritional content.
I learned about portion sizes: a tennis ball for fruit or vegetables, a deck of cards for meat. Because I had never been a breakfast eater, I gravitated to Ultra Slim Fast shakes for the first meal of each day, washing down a multivitamin. When I craved something sweet, I would have a Popsicle or a homemade low-fat cookie. And when it was salt and crunch I desired, microwave popcorn or pretzels hit the spot.
Rather than making one big change, I made lots of small ones. I changed the way I cook, carefully trimming fat from any meats, adding fruits or vegetables to any dish I could. I figured I could eat about 2,000 calories a day and lose weight; I rounded it off and kept the daily tally in my head. I didn't count plain fruits, or vegetables spiced with vinegar or herbs in the daily tally. I did count snacks, breads, meat and milk.
I have always been an active person, but with the excess weight, it was difficult to keep moving for any length of time. I attended water aerobics classes three times a week, and, in conjunction with my low-fat healthy way of eating, the weight dropped and I firmed. My total cholesterol went from 214 to 156.
Going from a size 18 to a size 9 took a year and a half, but along the way I received encouragement from compliments, from feeling fitter and more energetic, and from health-focused publications that reinforced the lessons I practiced. One of my son's friends saw me for the first time in two years and said, "Mrs. Weber, you've lost 20 years!" He took my hand in his and kissed it, then asked, "May I call you Virginia?"
I do, indeed, feel younger, more energetic and more in control of my own life and destiny. As my body shrank, my spirit got larger. Every day I appreciate the beauty of this world and don't mind its gravity; it doesn't pull me down like it used to.
Want to Share Your Success Story?
Losing weight is as individual as gaining weight. Do you have a story on how you got in shape and stayed there? If so, we'd like to hear from you with a 500-word essay listing what worked in terms of diet, exercise, encouragement / support as well as your emotional and physical changes.
We'd also like you to send us full-body color photos of you, before and after.
Send essay and photos to "How I Did It," Health, Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053, and include daytime and evening phone numbers. No phone calls, please. Submissions cannot be returned.
In addition to publication, winners will receive a Los Angeles Times gym bag and a gift certificate for a free pair of athletic shoes of your choice, redeemable at any Big 5 Sporting Goods store.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
Name: Virginia Weber
Occupation: Grant writer and community volunteer
Height: 5 feet, 7 inches
Old Weight: 215
New Weight: 140
Time to Get There: 18 months