'I'm a Doctor and Mother of 5--and I Lost 140 Pounds!'*


By: , SparkPeople Blogger

Dr. Birdie Varnedore (DR_BIRDIE) has been a member of SparkPeople since August 2007, but she was an observer for more than a year. Her successful weight loss prompted her to come out from the shadows and share her story with the SparkPeople Community. Though she was comfortable staying private on the site, she felt passionate about helping others who were struggling to lose weight.

Birdie, 35, and her husband wanted to break the cycle of obesity that runs in their families. She dropped about 140 pounds, and he lost 115 pounds!

Her journey wasn't easy, and the neurologist battled her mind more than she battled the scale. Along the way, her five young children kept her motivated.

With remarkable candor and honesty, Birdie, who lives in Orlando, shares her story in her own words with SparkPeople.

SparkPeople: Why did you decide to lose weight?
Birdie: I can't really pinpoint a single reason for losing weight. As a physician, I knew how unhealthy my weight was and that it would eventually lead to multiple medical problems and ultimately an early death. I knew that I had to be there for my five children and wanted to give them a full and active childhood. I had other typical reasons as well. I was embarrassed by my size and wanted to look better. I felt that being so extremely obese was a public statement that my life was out of control.

SparkPeople: What were your biggest challenges throughout your weight loss?
Birdie: My motivation was pretty strong for the first seven to eight months of my journey. Then I hit a pretty hard "mental plateau." I was in the middle of a marathon, and frankly I got tired.

I also had difficulty with finding the time to exercise. I very frequently had to do my cardio at odd hours. I would put my kids down to bed and start my cardio at 9:30 p.m. many nights. Sleep was an issue as well. I had to deal with kids, who didn't sleep well, and being on hospital call at night. I was always exhausted, but I still did my cardio. I still have to exercise occasionally at odd hours, but it's improved because all of my children now sleep well through the night.

SparkPeople: Did you hit any plateaus? If so, how did you get over them?
Birdie: I lost 100 pounds in less than 10 months. The longest plateau that I had on the scale was about three weeks. For me my "mental plateau" was worse than any standstill on the scale. I went through a period where I was tired of counting my calories. I was starting to question why I was trying to lose weight. I started to doubt that I could ever get to my goal weight. I actually gave up on my "goal weight."

I wanted to get to 135 pounds. I got stuck at about 160, and that's when I decided that I would rather just practice maintaining my weight. I had an experience in the far past where I was only a few pounds from my goal and I quit just because I couldn't get there. I have gone on to lose a few more pounds since I started to focus on maintenance. But, at this point I have no plans to try to lose any more. If I do lose some more, then great. But, I'm not going to beat myself up over not getting to a number that may not be right for me.

SparkPeople: What is a typical day like in terms of eating? What are your menu staples?
Birdie: A frequent breakfast for me is 1 cup of Kashi Go Lean and 1/2 cup of 60-calorie almond milk and an egg. I do sweeten my Go Lean with 2 packets of Splenda with fiber. I do substitute other cereals on occasion depending on what's on sale. I occasionally go to Starbucks and will have the oatmeal with nuts (240 calories) and a SHORT skinny vanilla latte (60 calories). I do add cinnamon and a little Splenda to my oatmeal. If I'm in a pinch, I will do a McDonalds Egg McMuffin (300 calories).

I don't like to deviate from my usual breakfast very much, because if I choose the wrong items I can get hungry way too early, and that's never a good thing. Every once in a while I will try something different, but I'm always conscious of how long it takes me to get hungry after I try something new. If I'm hungry too early, then I try to remember not to eat it again.

Lunch is varied. I've been known to eat frozen diet dinners. I also do fast food. I pretty much know what to get at all of the fast food restaurants. If I go to Taco Bell I will have a bean burrito (350 calories). I get a chargrilled chicken sandwich (270) and a medium fruit cup (60) at Chick-fil-A. At Wendy's, I usually get a large chili and a side of mandarin oranges.

Dinner is variable as well. I'm not a good cook. My husband doesn't cook much either. So, I do frozen dinners at times. I've been known to eat an egg white omelet for dinner as well. A serving of protein and steamed veggies is frequent as well. The popular SparkRecipe Salsa Chicken has been served so many times that we are on a break from it. Learning how to cook is in my plan! I've cooked pork a few times recently, and it's been pretty successful.

SparkPeople: How has your life changed since losing the weight?
Birdie: I'm much more active now. Before I lost the weight I pretty much just went to work and stayed home. Now I can be found out and about. I'm not hiding anymore. I am more willing to try new things. I also went from a size 28/30 to a size 8, so shopping for clothes is more fun as well.

SparkPeople: What is your favorite way to indulge now?
Birdie: I'm still working on balancing my indulgences. I can go overboard quite easily. I try not to keep any trigger foods in the house. I can't do 100-calorie treats or diet desserts. If I buy it, I will eat all of it, usually on the day that I buy it, so almost all of my indulgences are in the form of going out to dinner at a restaurant. I will usually get a small salad with dressing on the side, small steak, and veggies. What I order for dessert honestly depends on how I'm doing maintenance-wise. If I'm doing pretty well, I will have a scoop of ice cream with fudge. If I'm on the higher side, I will usually have a plain sweet potato or berries. Very occasionally I will go "all out" and share the worst dessert on the menu.

SparkPeople: What role does fitness play in your life? How often do you work out?
Birdie: Fitness has slowly become a staple. I have an elliptical trainer that I bought years ago. I dusted it off in 2007. I could only do about 10 minutes at a time, but I have slowly worked myself up to doing up to an hour at a time. I added running about a year ago. I started with running about 5 minutes at a time. Now I can run up to 45 minutes. Cardio-wise, I usually do at least 5-6 sessions a week of 35 to 60 minutes. If I'm on the higher side of my maintenance range, I go 60 minutes. If I'm on the lower side I will do less. I always monitor my heart rate and I usually keep it at about 140-150 beats per minute. It took me many, many months to be able to get up to this rate. I started out with staying in the "fat burn" range, which is about 120 beats per minute for my age. I gradually worked myself to a higher heart rate range. I have never worked out to the point that I felt sick.
I tell everyone who asks, "Do whatever, as long as it keeps you coming back." If it makes you too uncomfortable, then don't do it. Your fitness level will gradually improve at your own pace and you will become fit on your schedule. Just keep doing it and you will get there.

I want to stress that weight training is important so that you don't become "skinny fat." Don't wait until you've lost the weight to weight train. In my case, as I lost the weight, I uncovered a muscular body! The weight training early on was worth it because I think I would have been disappointed if I uncovered a thinner version of my heavier self.

SparkPeople: What advice would you have for someone who is just starting his or her healthy journey?
Birdie: If you have a significant amount of weight to lose, it's very easy to lose motivation. When you lose 30 pounds and no one notices, it hurts. It's frankly not very satisfying if you are looking for reinforcement from others. So it's important for your motivation to come from within. Know that for every day that you have stayed within your calorie limits, you have used a little of your fat stores.

The scale is only a guide. If you stayed within your calorie range, you did not deposit any new fat on your body. Tell yourself that the scale can sometimes hold on to extra water, leading you to think that you are not making any progress. Before you go to bed, pat yourself on the back and tell yourself, "I stayed within my calorie range today; therefore I did not gain any fat." Tell yourself that and stay on plan, and before you know it you will have arrived at your destination.

I also want to say that you will fall. You will binge. The scale will go up and down. But, if you get right back on plan, the bumps are temporary and the ultimate trend will be down.

SparkPeople: You said that you lurked on SparkPeople before finally emerging in the community. What inspired you to share your story?
Birdie: It feels pretty good to inspire others to lose weight. It's hard for me to not share my story because I remember how painful it was to be extremely obese. I just can't sit by and watch others suffer when I can offer hope.

SparkPeople: I heard that your husband also lost a significant amount of weight. Who inspired whom? Has your weight loss strengthened your relationship?
Birdie: My husband has lost about 115 pounds. We both had an extremely stressful life when we started our weight-loss journey. As you can imagine, working and raising five children is not easy. But, we knew that we were missing out and that we could get more out of life. We had neglected our bodies and our marriage and wanted to do better. I think that we both decided at about the same time that we needed to invest in our health and marriage. We inspired each other.

The weight loss has strengthened our relationship in every way! He has been and remains my weight loss/maintenance partner. He's awesome. I recommend that all married couples lose weight and exercise together. It's a great relationship builder!

SparkPeople: Now that you've lost the weight, what are your other life goals?
Birdie: My No. 1 goal right now is to maintain my weight loss. Maintenance is the ultimate goal of this process. It's really true that losing the weight is the easy part. Ninety five percent of all dieters gain the weight back. I plan on being in the five percent club. I still struggle and know that I will for the rest of my life. Wish me luck!

SparkPeople: Do you have any other advice for our dailySpark readers?
Birdie: Losing a significant amount of weight is like watching paint dry. Think about and journal about how you will look in a year from now instead of focusing on how you will look next week or next month. If you have stayed on plan most of the time, you will look dramatically different in a year. Next month? Not so much. It took about 50 pounds before people started to ask if I had lost weight, so don't look to others for reinforcement. Stay on plan and the weight will come off in time. Calories in vs. calories out: It's so simple, but I know that if were that easy we would all be thin. So, in my opinion, this is where SparkPeople really shines. The wealth of information available about goal setting and emotional eating is priceless. The Success Stories found here and in the supportive Community are also priceless. Learn and embrace SparkPeople! In my opinion, SparkPeople is very special, and every tool that you need to formulate your own weight loss program is right here.

SparkPeople: What advice do you offer your patients? Do you think that losing weight has helped you relate better to your patients who might be facing similar struggles?
Birdie: I try not to minimize the dangers of obesity. I am quite frank with my patients and offer them advice and support. I, of course, always recommend SparkPeople because of its wealth of accurate information regarding weight loss and support. I do think that my losing weight does help me relate better because I lived it. I know how it feels to be trapped in an obese body and to feel like there is nothing you can do about it.

SparkPeople: One of the realities of a 140-pound weight loss is the excess skin that remains, which as you know can't be eliminated through exercise. You made the decision to have excess skin on your stomach removed, and you had a breast augmentation. Can you explain why you decided to have these procedures?
Birdie: I actually started to contemplate having procedures done before I even lost the weight. When I finally came to terms with how morbidly obese I had become, I started to research what could be done to repair the damage. I looked at before and after pictures on the internet so that I could get an idea of what the skin would like like once I lost the fat. I also watched those surgeries shows on Discovery Health to learn about the procedures and to see the before and after results as well. I was not very hopeful that I would have minimal excess skin as I had--and still have--many stretch marks. In addition to being extremely overweight, I also had a twin pregnancy and had breastfed five children for at least one year each. So, I was pretty sure that I wanted to have some work done before I lost a single pound.

It was difficult to decide when to have the procedures done. I had this goal weight in my head (135 pounds), and my body was not cooperating. My husband encouraged me to get a consultation with a surgeon because he felt I needed to hear it from a professional that I had indeed lost enough weight. My husband is so sweet. He actually scheduled a consultation for me as a surprise and as a way to tell me that I was now thin and ready! Anyways, when I went to my consultation I was expecting to hear that I should lose a little more first, but my surgeon thought that I was ready. Only 1.5 pounds of skin and fat were removed during my procedure, which demonstrates that I had done the hard work on my own. I wear the same size now that I wore before the surgery.

The breast lift/augmentation was important to me as well. I actually planned on having only the tummy tuck at first, but when I found out the procedures could be combined I went for it. I wore lots of padded bras so I don't look much different in T shirts. A bikini, that's a different story!

SparkPeople: What difference did they make in your self-confidence--and your life in general?
Birdie: I am very glad I had the procedures done. It has definitely improved my self confidence. I am thrilled with the results. I feel that it's like icing on the cake.

But, I want to stress that excess skin is not an excuse to not to lose the weight. I look the same now fully clothed as I did without the surgeries. I have not repaired my arms and legs, so the excess skin remains with me to this day. I am sensitive to the fact that not everyone can afford to do what I did. I just want everyone who is thinking about or losing weight to remember that your health comes first and that the weight must be lost in order to life a long and more fulfilling life.

SparkPeople: What advice would you have for others who are considering such procedures?
Birdie: My advice is to lose the weight first. It can be difficult to know if you are ready because the excess skin does add some weight. If you think that you are ready and that you are of a normal body weight then go for a consultation. A good surgeon will tell you if you should lose additional weight before the procedures. I also recommend that you spend some time looking at before and after photos. You need to have a realistic expectation of what the surgeon can and can't do. You will have scars as a result of the procedures, but you are trading one scar (stretch marks) for another. I also recommend that you have the procedures when you are as physically fit as possible. My recovery was rapid. My rapid recovery can also be attributed to the fact that I had very little fat removed. Liposuction is very draining physically, so if you have little fat removed you will recover better. I was on the go about one week after the procedures, which is pretty impressive.

Birdie had such impressive results that she was selected to be part of the People magazine feature "100 Pounds Gone and Bikini Ready." The issue is on newsstands now. Plus, she'll be on ABC's Good Morning America on Tuesday morning to talk about her weight loss--and SparkPeople! Be sure to pick up a magazine and tune in. Way to Spread the Spark, Birdie!

What did you learn from Birdie's weight-loss journey? Did you face a similar mental plateau?

*Weight loss results will vary from person to person. No individual result should be seen as a typical result of following the SparkPeople program.

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    Thanks for sharing your story! I just started this journey and struggle daily to keep in track. Many days I doubt I can make it but I deny to stay overweight. Its posible as I read yesterday: "Step by step". - 1/20/2012   3:39:03 AM
    I would love to know what you did for weight training. I have just started my journey and have along way to go. But I am determined no matter how long it takes. I have set my first goal at 33 lbs. by May 30th. I have excess skin now so absolutely want to firm up as much as possible as I go along. I don't know if I will ever have surgery due to the expense. - 1/17/2012   11:04:38 AM
  • 562
    Way to go, BIrdie. Thanks for sharing your story! - 12/31/2011   10:33:03 AM
  • RINA2002
    This is the pick-me up that I needed today. Thank you so much for inspiring me to maintain the new good habits I have started. - 12/28/2011   10:10:56 PM
  • 560
    Thank you for sharing your story! you have really incourage me and i will try to do some the things that you are doing. You are an big inspiration and you look great. - 12/24/2011   9:15:50 AM
    Way to go Birdie,

    You look happy and confident. I'm glad you post your story hopefuly other doctors take a life lesson from you. There are some excellent cookbooks on the maket for 30 minutes meals you and your family can enjoy cooking together.
    Keep up the good work.
    BTW when we workout at odd hours 3:00am or so, the good thing is there is no waiting for equipment at the gym. I love it.
    God Bless you in your journey - 12/14/2011   12:27:20 PM
  • 558
    What an inspiration. Thank you! - 12/1/2011   7:40:33 PM
    what an ispiration, I'm saving this and keeping it posted, also requesting your friendship and follow. Maybe this will help my motivation. - 11/30/2011   10:41:40 AM
  • 556
    Saving this story for a day when unhealthy food temptation hits! - 11/25/2011   2:38:50 AM
  • 555
    this is a great story, you were very determined which is the lesson I'm taking away from this what with 5 kids and having to exercise at odd hours, your story is inspirational, thank you.. - 11/21/2011   6:24:06 PM
  • 554
    What an amazing story and role model you are. Thank you for your honesty and transparency. Your family is so lucky to have you!! - 11/18/2011   8:50:57 PM
  • 553
    It's stories like this that keep me motivated to keep pushing and that it is Possible to reach your goals...Congratulations to you and I am working my way to get to onederland with you. Best wishes to you! - 11/18/2011   3:44:48 PM
  • 552
    This is an amazing story i almost didnt read it im glad did - 11/9/2011   12:32:15 PM
  • PGDIVA1920
    Your article is so wonderful. It resounds the message I've gotten from my close friends as well as my doctor. congrats on your success and thank you for sharing. - 10/26/2011   10:04:26 AM
  • 550
    Awesome! Congratulations on your acheivement for yourself and others you touch. You will be able to be such a compassionate and inspiring source for your patients! - 10/9/2011   8:41:04 PM
    Thank you for sharing your story. I really need this type of motivation. - 10/7/2011   3:56:10 PM
    Thank you for sharing. I seem to be stuck at 32 pounds. I have 68 to go. - 10/7/2011   3:54:12 PM
  • GBELL11
    inspirational story!

    - 9/24/2011   2:22:14 PM
  • 546
    Love love love your story! It's good to read a real story of weight loss success who ate reg food that I can relate to. An egg mcmuffin is so realistic rather than a hummus and tomato sandwich. - 9/14/2011   6:46:00 PM
  • 545
    Awesome story, just the lift I needed today! - 9/14/2011   10:03:20 AM
  • 544
    Very inspiring and very sensible. Your honesty gives others hope. I'm especially pleased that you feel that maintaining isn't giving up....it's being real. - 7/1/2011   9:43:41 PM
  • 543
    WOW is all I can say. I've been with sparkpeople since 2008 and I'm still going back and forth on being an observer. But seeing you and reading your story has me more focused. I'm tired of saying it and now I'm DOING IT! - 6/13/2011   12:11:01 PM
  • 542
    You are amazing and such an inspiration for your patients. - 6/6/2011   7:03:06 AM
    Birdie Still----
    I had the pleasure of seeing you on Oprah Show this week and I must admit--you truly inspired me. Your story is one of the most inspiring stories I have seen. And I have read many over the years. I used to clip them out of Weight Watcher 's magazine and keep them in a folder. I was in desperate need to get inspired and get motivated.
    Now, I am going to print and clip your story.
    I am 53 years old and spent a lifetime trying to get people to love and accept me as I am. Two marriages to the wrong type of men, one with domestic violence--I am tired of being pre-judged because of my weight.
    Well, today, I am making a decision to begin a weight loss effort. No surgical procedures, no" get thin quick" gimmicks, no diet fads, no eating disorders.

    ***If you get a chance, please write me and tell me just a few tips to get started.****

    Thank you from Angel - 5/15/2011   2:46:40 PM
    What an INSPIRATION!!! - 5/13/2011   6:05:33 PM
  • 291130
    Birdie this is extremely inspirational. I strive to have the same dedication. - 5/10/2011   2:04:53 PM
  • 538
    I love Birdie's advice about focusing on what you'll look like in a year instead of next week or month. Her amazing transformation is the cumulative result of incremental changes that, individually, aren't noticeable, but in sum are nothing short of amazing. I'm definitely inspired! - 5/9/2011   9:49:25 AM
    Dear Birdie, THANK YOU! I cannot say how much your sharing has meant to me. I am afraid that I will be a watcher for a while longer, I have to gather the emotional strength to be motivated. I also find the wealth of information and all of the options on spark people to be wonderful, but, at this point in my life, quite overwhelming. I get lost on the website and lose track of what I am doing here. So I think that I am not quite ready, but your sharing has certainly moved me closer. Thank you so much. I live in Ocala, Fl and am in the medical field as well, high stress, low satisfaction, low support. Thank goodness for spark - 5/7/2011   9:16:40 AM
  • 536
    WTG!! I want to personally thank you for sharing your story. You ROCK!! - 5/5/2011   2:34:45 AM
  • 535
    Thank you Birdie. The story of your journey is so inspiring. I love that you tell about your binges and things you "should" not have eaten. If we are to be successful all of these foods will not go away. You had a system to work them into your normal life. The scale can be a bummer and really do a number on you. I have a love/hate relationship with mine now. I should not be plateaued but it seems I am. I love that your advice is to continue tracking and take some comfort that fat has not been added during this "no loss" period. You are PHENOMENAL. - 5/3/2011   3:16:28 PM
  • MJ7DM33
    Birdie, your journey is so inspiring & encouraging! I am going to save your blog so I can refer to it when I feel like I just cant do it anymore. You Go Girl!!! Thank-You so much for sharing with all of us! - 4/26/2011   8:52:32 PM
  • 533
    Birdie is AWESOME !! - 4/8/2011   12:13:19 AM
    Birdie, I'm going to echo everything that has been said thus far ! You sound like an authentic person, one I can relate to ! I love that you said you eat fast food and count calories ! I really do appreciate you. Now maybe I won't do the lap band, and maybe I will because I have Multiple Sclerosis and I won't be able to do much cardio. Thanks again ! - 4/5/2011   7:24:45 PM
  • 531
    Your story/journey is sho'nuff motivation to somone like me who struggles everyday to get healthier - 3/26/2011   12:19:48 PM
  • 530
    Thanks so much for sharing your story. It is very encouraging. - 2/21/2011   1:23:27 AM
  • 529
    I applaud you! Way to go...and thank you for being so candid about your journey! It has inspired me. - 2/18/2011   12:53:02 PM
  • 528
    congrats and thanks for sharing your before and after looks like Mother and Daughter you look fabulous - 2/6/2011   12:09:59 PM
  • 527
    You look amazing. Thanks for sharing your secret. - 1/19/2011   11:38:48 AM
  • 526
    Incredible Job!!!! - 1/18/2011   5:18:04 PM
  • 525
    Congratulations on your dedicated effort along with the ups and downs. Your story is inspiring and will help me to focus on my journey to lose weight and live a healthier lifestyle. I've just started the Sparkspeople program and so far so good but have a ways to go. - 1/17/2011   12:41:45 PM
  • 524
    This story is so informative. I have been over weight most of my life and have tried over and over to get if off. SP is it for me, no matter how long it takes, how often I struggle this is it. Years of not taking care of myself and having to come to grips with it. SP offers such wonderful support and valuable information that this time I will reach a healthy weight for me. Thanks for sharing your victory because you reinforce that I CAN DO IT! - 1/15/2011   10:52:24 AM
  • 523
    About halfway through my weight loss, I, too, hit a mental plateau. I am self employed and got so busy that I fell off the wagon and back into my bad eating habits. I stopped exercising, too. I thought I could handle it without gaining any weight back. Now I have reagained 20 of the 25 pounds I lost. I could kick myself. I stay awake at night admonishing myself for what I ate the day before and not exercising. I have started over so many times. Why can't I stay on track? I did so well last year. Today has been a good day. I have exercised and eaten well. Maybe I can calm my demons tonight. This story is a true inspiration. If you can do it, I can too!!! Thanks for sharing your story with us. - 1/14/2011   6:01:31 PM
  • 522
    There is hope. I lurked for a month and decided to invest myself in myself. You and spark people have been a great motivator. Blessings on all of you. - 1/11/2011   10:40:05 AM
  • 521
    Wow what an awesome story. great job all your hard work paid off. Good work !!!!!! - 1/3/2011   9:20:47 PM
  • 520
    Birdie - you are me.... 240lbs, 5 kids- twin pregnancy last, breastfed all of them for a minimium of a year, I am a CPA though... thank you for inspiring - from the bottom of my heart. I have had a 3 month plateau, but I won't give up.

    THANK YOU. - 1/3/2011   5:52:27 PM
  • 519
    thanks for the motivation - 1/3/2011   10:53:44 AM
  • 518
    Thank you for including the real food that you eat out. A lot of times I am on the go and I will pay closer attention to the fat food choices I make. Thanks again for your story. - 1/3/2011   8:00:09 AM
    Well done Birdie! It's good to see a husband and wife inspiring each other in their weight reduction journey.
    Thanks for all the useful advice and insights. You have helped a lot of people by giving out your great story. - 1/2/2011   8:56:38 AM
    Wow! wonderful job - 12/29/2010   10:40:44 PM
  • 515
    an awesome story! thanks for sharing.. and thanks for adding in the part about people not noticing.. I've lost a total of 47 pounds since my heaviest and, aside from my partner and my former boss who know well the value of the comments, no one has noticed, or at least said anything.... in a way this is a good thing, as in the past as soon as people did comment my progress stopped.. this time I KNOW this will not happen - I got a Spark behind and within me!!
    Birdie - congrats to you and your husband... continued success to you both! - 12/16/2010   10:44:31 AM

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