''I Never Expected to Inspire Others''

One day my soul woke up and it was fat! It didn't happen overnight; I wasn't always fat. I had spent the last 11 years eating emotionally. It started with my husband's death. We had been newlyweds. Emotional eating stayed with me long after my wounds began to heal and even after I remarried. It had become a habit. And even though I knew I was hurting myself, I felt powerless to overcome it. Food had control over my life for years, but finally, I decided to live differently. From somewhere came a glimmer of hope that my life could be different.

Then SparkPeople showed up with a soft knock and an invitation: "Can Audri come out and play?" This began a journey of self-discovery I never could have imagined. You see, I didn't realize that year after year, my personality and my future were slowly being buried under a growing layer of fat!

SparkPeople helped me realize for the first time that to be successful I had to make some serious changes. It wasn't enough to make a New Year's resolution and hope for the best. I had to commit to being different…but first I had to believe it was possible. So I started with what I knew to be true. I knew I had not always been fat. I knew others had overcome even greater weight obstacles than mine. Mostly, I knew that through my faith, I could do anything. After acknowledging these things, I felt prepared to commit to whatever it took to conquer myself. Within a week, I came up with the four strategies I would use to set myself up for success.

First, I assessed my battle with food in an honest way. My "If they don't see me eat it, it doesn't count" attitude had to go! Using the Nutrition Tracker, I took a close look at my food choices and it opened my eyes! Over time, I chose to eliminate caffeine, table salt, alcohol, sodas and excessively high fat, high-calorie foods from my diet. Some were harder to let go than others were, but one by one they fell by the wayside in exchange for healthier options.

Second, I stopped hiding my struggle. Those who loved me had known all along anyway—my size 18 wasn't a good disguise. I was only fooling myself. I realized I had fallen into a habit of secretly losing a little weight with the hope that others would notice. When they didn't, I became discouraged and eventually quit. I decided to try a different approach and bring God, my family and friends into the program with me. This way, I was encouraged and held accountable. Eventually, I joined a SparkTeam.

Third, I set my goals. I set concrete short, medium and long-term goals based on my interests. Some I knew were attainable, like doing cardio four days each week. Some were a stretch, like climbing Mt. Fuji someday—something that would take a lot of hard work to reach. I needed to have something on the horizon to aim at, a target. It was important for it to be realistic enough that I could focus on it instead of my overall weight loss goal. If I had begun by focusing on losing the whole 70 pounds, I would have become overwhelmed and possibly given up.

Fourth, I put a concrete plan in motion to help me succeed. I wrote out my plan on my SparkPage to keep myself accountable. This included making my Nutrition and Fitness Trackers public so others could see what I was tracking. I devoted myself to following my plan, even on the days when I wanted to quit. I determined there were only two choices: to quit or continue. And quitting wasn't an option.

Along the way, a funny thing happened. I found me! Each honest step I took loosened the control food had over me. Once I began to see the fruits of my labor, I realized that I could have done it all along. I had been making excuses and giving away my freedom to choose a better life. Through overcoming the old me, I realized that my personality had been stifled. I wasn't energetic enough to be on the outside the person I was on the inside. Now, I have a zeal that was lost for years. I am alive! I've even tackled new physical challenges and along the way come to think of myself as an athlete. In August, I climbed to the top of Mt. Fuji. And in November, my whole family decided to run the Marine Corps-sponsored Toys for Tots 5K on Yokosuka Naval Base. I'll never forget what happened between my son and me that day.

The horn blew and we started at a good clip, with my young son jogging easily and setting a good pace. It wasn't long before he was ready to slow down a little, and not long after that, he was ready to quit altogether. He had brought a lime green bandanna to wear around his neck but had taken it off. As he was about to give up, I took the bandanna from him and grasped one end tightly. Handing him the other end, I said, "Come on, I won't let go. We can do it together every step of the way." I wanted so desperately for him to overcome all that held him back and simply persevere to the end.

I spoke to him of children who would benefit from what we were doing and of those who walk more than five kilometers just to get a drink of dirty water. We spoke of climbing Mt. Fuji and other challenges that life still holds ahead of us. I pulled and pushed him. I cheered for him. I empathized with him. I shared bits and pieces of life wisdom with him. This was not the first time I had told him that I believe in him, that "You can do it!" Even still, today was different. Today was that opportunity for him to rise above something bigger than he was, and not just to call himself a conqueror, but also to feel it in his spirit.

During the last leg, as we could see the finish line, I was giving him a pep talk. I wish I could recall the exact words I said to him at that moment, but I'll never forget his response: "Yeah, just like YOU believe in me." At that moment, my heart swelled with love and hope. Hope that he will embrace those words and grow to be a confident man who does not fear life's challenges. He confirmed that he does truly listen to me and believes me when I tell him, "I believe in you."

As we neared the finish line, he told me he was ready to sprint. He let go of the green bandanna we had carried together for the last 3 miles and we sprinted together to the finish line. During the whole race, he never stopped moving forward—not once. He had ups and downs, but he never quit. And as we crossed that finish line side-by-side, he became a little more of the adult I will someday know him to be.

After grabbing some water and finding my husband, we stood together to listen to the race results. My softhearted 8-year-old son said to me, "That was the hardest thing I've ever done, but I'm glad I did it." In that moment, I learned the most beautiful truth: Today he came to believe in himself, like SparkPeople helped me believe in myself. This would have never happened had I not wrestled with my food and exercise demon and come out victorious, believing in myself. This moment was made possible by SparkPeople and one life changed—no, make that two.

I realized that perhaps the greatest consequence of my weight loss (60 pounds to date) is that I have the ability to help others in a meaningful way. I never thought I would see the day when others would call me an inspiration. Living as a fat person enabled me to relate better to the struggles of others. I guess those 11 "fat" years weren't completely wasted after all.