Celebrating your health successes

Dropped extra pounds, extra energy and more me-time: find out how eight Chatelaine readers achieved their Healthiest Year Ever goals – and how you can, too

New year, new resolutions – a lot of us make them only to break them. But it doesn’t have to be that way. We asked you to make 2004 your Healthiest Year Ever (HYE), and we’re celebrating readers who did just that. One of them can now say she loves her body! Another feels giddy enough, after losing 60 pounds, to wear hot pink high heels. Here, their secrets on how you can share in their successes.

Lose 75 pounds
Last February, Debbie O’Rourke’s husband, Jeff, woke up in the middle of the night with severe stomach pain. At the hospital in Campbell River, B.C., the doctor told them Jeff needed gallbladder surgery, but not until he lost weight.

Suddenly aware of her own health, Debbie got on the scale the next day and was shocked to see the needle pointing at 214. “I thought, If something happened to me, what would my family do?” says Debbie. “We realized we had to make some really drastic changes.”

So, Debbie and Jeff’s kitchen cupboards and fridge got a makeover. Cookies, crackers and pizza were replaced with lean protein, vegetables and whole wheat pasta and bread.

Debbie also joined a gym. Soon, she rediscovered parts of her body she’d thought were gone forever: “I have elbows and wrists now!” Today, Debbie is down to 154 pounds and has gone from a size 18 to a size 8, while Jeff has dropped 50 pounds.

“It’s nice to watch my husband’s face light up when he sees me,” says Debbie. “After 13 years together, it’s as if we’re newlyweds.”

· What Debbie learned “Sometimes I felt as if nothing was working. Now I realize that even though I wasn’t always losing weight, I was still losing inches.”
· Her inspiration Being able to wear hot pink high heels. “Before, I would have fallen over if I’d tried to wear them.”
· Her advice to you “Every once in a while, you get tired of doing squats. Give yourself 10 minutes and if you really don’t want to do them, drop them. Come back tomorrow.”

Be kind to yourself
Susan Maher went on her first diet when she was nine years old.

That was the beginning of a cycle of dieting and self-criticism the Victoria resident continues to fight even today. “Everything I felt about my body was self-hate.” So, she declared 2004 Be Kind to Susan Year.

Now every time she starts to make a joke about her size, she stops, and encourages friends to remind her of her promise when she lets herself slip. “I also try to recognize my efforts at being healthy in a positive way, rather than making the scale the almighty judge.”

She focuses on healing her relationship with food and meeting her target of walking 10,000 steps a day. “I do it because it’s attainable. I can walk 2,000 steps now and another 2,000 an hour from now.”

· What Susan learned “I have gratitude for my body. I don’t allow it to end up the brunt of stupid jokes anymore.”
· Her inspiration “I would like to do a lot of things. I’ve never ridden a horse, never gone water-skiing.”
· Her advice to you Treat yourself for a change. “For me, it’s sheets straight off the clothesline on the bed after a lavender bath. That is heaven.”
Find peace with your body
As a kid, Rose Heck endured countless taunts about the size of her behind. The Olds, Alta., native still struggled with her body image even after giving birth to five children, becoming a personal trainer, running in several half-marathons and coming in third in the World Masters Powerlifting Championships in 2003.

Eventually, her negativity began to affect her clients and her family. “I can’t be effective when I tear myself down,” Rose says, with new-found insight. This year, whenever she criticized herself, she tried to think about what her body does for her.

Rose has come to see that the parts she begrudged most are the ones that serve her best. “My butt is shapely and has to be strong for doing squats and dead lifts. My abdominals are actually quite defined. And my legs are powerful,” she says.

· What Rose learned “I need to focus on my emotional well-being to function better as a wife, mom, trainer and friend.”
· Her inspiration “I tell myself, ‘If this is the body God gave me, then it’s OK with me.'”
· Her advice to you “It’s internal beauty – from exercising, eating right and having a strong network of family and friends who love and accept you – that’s important.”
Make time for important things
Edith Hamann, a training co-ordinator with the Department of National Defence in Trenton, Ont., used to feel as if there weren’t enough hours in her day. “I would look up at the clock and notice it was 10 at night, but I still had lots to do,” she says. The pressure led to pounding tension headaches, exhaustion and, often, unhappiness.

So, for her Healthiest Year Ever, Edith started prioritizing. She now postpones cleaning the kitchen after supper, for example, in favour of playing cards with her 10-year-old daughter. “The dirty dishes will get done eventually,” she says. And instead of letting thoughts of the office nag at her all evening, she writes them down and doesn’t think about them until the next day. When things get too crazy, Edith walks away. Strolling around the block at lunchtime every day calms her and restores her energy.

The payoff? Fewer headaches, better sleep and new-found vitality. Plus, she’s smiling more. “I have more time to do the things that I like. Little things that used to bug me don’t bother me so much anymore.”

· What Edith learned “People who laugh are healthier. Stress is very destructive.”
· Her inspiration “I think about my little girl and how I want to spend more time with her.”
· Her advice to you “Start off by changing little things. A lot of women set high goals and then when they don’t succeed, they get discouraged.”

Participate in a triathalon
When Charlene McMorris feels stressed, reaching for her running shoes and hitting the pavement helps her cope. “I’m focused on where my feet are landing on the road and my breathing, so I can’t think about my problems,” says the Coquitlam, B.C., resident.

That wouldn’t have always been Charlene’s first reaction to stress, though. She didn’t start exercising until a few years ago, when she began walking to recover from foot surgery. For her Healthiest Year Ever, Charlene was ready to take on a new challenge: a triathlon. From January to June, she trained almost every day in preparation, whether swimming, running or biking.

Meanwhile, Charlene’s mother was in and out of the hospital 12 times with heart problems. “The only thing that kept me going with my training was the posts of support on the Chatelaine forums,” Charlene says. (Intrigued? Visit

Since completing her 20-kilometre triathlon on Father’s Day last June, Charlene has had one thing on her mind: “Training for a longer one!”

· What Charlene learned “Doing events helps me stay accountable to my overall fitness goals.”
· Her inspiration “I did this in honour of my father, who was a fitness role model.”
· Her advice to you “Try to exercise with someone else and sign up for group programs to stay on track.”
Lose 28 pounds
You may recall reading about Chatelaine research assistant Lisa Weaver’s 14-pound weight loss in our April 2004 issue. The Toronto resident has since dropped another 14 pounds, meeting her weight loss goal. It all started when she no longer fit comfortably into the largest sizes at her favourite clothing stores.

“I couldn’t even tie my shoes without feeling out of breath,” says Lisa. A good friend of hers had lost 80 pounds, and another had joined Weight Watchers, so Lisa figured she had nothing to lose except a few unwanted inches.

“Once I started, I realized that it was easy,” Lisa says. She boosted her fruit and vegetable intake and cut back on sugars and starches. “The results kept me motivated,” she says.

Now Lisa doesn’t worry about trying on clothes. And the too-small outfits banished to the rear of her closet have found their way back to the front.

· What Lisa learned Dine wisely. “I eat out a lot and I started asking myself, ‘If I was eating at home, would I have this giant plate of french fries?'”
· Her inspiration “My friend who lost 80 pounds. She exudes happy energy and self-confidence now.”
· Her advice to you “It’s important to make a goal for the right reasons. Do it for yourself.”

Walk 5km a day
Rhonda Habart had tried every diet out there and finally decided, “I’m meant to be a fat girl.” Then, at a physical in late 2003, her doctor asked a question that changed Rhonda’s thinking: “What would you do if your teenagers, Cassie or Breanna, were 50 pounds overweight?”

Something snapped. “I knew then that nothing was going to keep me from my goal,” says Rhonda. Around that time, she read about a 105-year-old woman, also in Guelph, Ont., who walked five kilometres every day. “That got me thinking, If she can do it at 105, I can do it at 45.”

Rhonda started by walking around the block. “Afterwards, I would sit on the floor for 20 minutes just to catch my breath,” she says. But as her Weight Watchers-inspired food choices helped her shed pounds, walking got easier.

Today, 56 pounds lighter, Rhonda walks five kilometres with ease every single day. “I have amazing legs, and my face has this glow. It’s changed the way I look at myself in the mirror.”

· What Rhonda learned “I have to be disciplined. I said to myself, ‘If you don’t do this today, you’re not going to do it tomorrow.’ So, I haul myself out of bed at 5:30 a.m.”
· Her inspiration Wearing size 10 pants for the first time in 15 years. “I came dancing out of the fitting room. My oldest daughter said, ‘Have we told you how incredibly proud we are of you, Mom?'”
· Her advice to you “Take it slow. There’s no quick fix out there.”

Regain strength & swim competitively
Since being diagnosed with lupus, a chronic inflammatory disease, four years ago, Brenda Hall’s been on a journey to get her mobility back. She started fending off the disease’s arthritic symptoms by swimming, at first with an inflatable jogging belt for support, eventually working up to 60 laps five times a week.

This past year, the Hay River, N.W.T., resident gave in to her competitive streak. She started training every day for the Canadian Masters Swimming Championship, even when temperatures sank below zero.

The event itself was a blast. “My mother thought it was neat to see my name up in lights at the competition,” says Brenda. Up next: adding cycling to the mix and training again for the World Masters Games in July 2005. “When I swim in the morning, it grounds me.”

· What Brenda learned “Competition makes me want to try harder.”
· Her inspiration “On the Lupus Canada website I read about how one woman regained her strength through swimming. I swim for me and my family, and I swim for lupus.”

· Her advice to you “Don’t wait for an illness to get you on track. You have to take care of yourself now.”