The incredible shrinking woman

When her beloved curves ballooned into bulges, this woman decided to get back to her former self. But her focus wasn't losing weight. She wanted to gain—energy, confidence and a clear head

The road to happiness begins in the strangest places—for me, it was Minneapolis. I was checking out the Twin City with my girlfriends last August. On a less-than-summery morning, I put on the only jeans I’d packed for the trip. But as the day wore on, so did the denim. My jeans began to feel loose, baggy, uncomfortable. And as we strutted around downtown, I realized I was getting catcalls: “Oh Droopy Drawers….” “Hey, Saggy Ass!”

I spun around, expecting to find some bottom-dwelling construction workers, but the taunts were coming from my friends. Looking behind me confirmed what they were already laughing at—I was hanging at the seat of my pants. Oh, great. These jeans were less than a month old and already they were ruined. So, I did what any nice Prairie girl would do: I went to the Gap and demanded new jeans.

“Look at this!” I said, shaking my baggy booty at the pouty Avril Lavigne-like salesgirl. “I expect better quality for my money!”

She looked at me as though I was insane, which in hindsight I realize I was. The saggy caboose wasn’t caused by faulty workmanship—it was because I had lost weight. Me. The girl who, for 32 years, blamed her growing heft on Italian/German genetics and Tyrannosaurus rex-like bones. I was so used to going up in size, it never occurred to me that I could go the other way. That day I left the store in frustration, but slunk back hours later when I realized my mistake. I tried on the same jeans, one size smaller, and wouldn’t you know it? They fit. I felt like such a loser…and I loved it!

The Little Engine that could

When people talk about weight loss, they’re quick to mention all the things they’ve cut out: calories, fat, fun. But I prefer to dwell on what I’ve gained, like the unexpected pleasure of having personal trainers stop me at the gym to rave about how I look. Or putting on pantyhose and no longer feeling like a meat packer encasing sausage. Or counting in 2003 and realizing, for the first time, I don’t have to put “lose weight” somewhere on my list of New Year’s resolutions.

In the span of seven months, I have lost 58 pounds—that’s the equivalent of one eight-year-old child, about six sacks of potatoes, or a medium-size microwave oven. My thighs no longer crash together like fleshy cymbals and my torso has lost its resemblance to the Michelin Man. Friends and family are amazed at the difference: “You look great!” they say. “Not that you didn’t before….”

And I happen to agree. I used to take great pride in looking more like Miss Piggy than Ms. Twiggy. I loved my hourglass figure, but as the sands of time disappeared, so did my waistline. I was having trouble doing up my zippers and there were bulges where there used to be curves. I wanted to get back my former self and that meant taking a closer look at the present me.

All aboard. First stop: denial

I decided to alter my lifestyle, with one exception—I would not change my eating habits. Man may not live by bread alone, but come PMS time, this girl needs her carbs. So, I set about exercising my other demons. I played baseball and went for bike rides. I walked an hour a day: to work, to the store, to brunch with friends. But no matter how much I busted a move, I was still bursting at the seams.

One day, a friend gave me a guest pass to her gym. I was in the locker room putting on my shorts when I noticed that the cellulite normally reserved for my butt had slid down to my knees. I couldn’t believe it. I had fat dimply knees! Then I stepped on the scale. For years I’d shunned the numbered beast, letting my clothes be my guide, but now it was time to find out where I really stood. I looked solemnly at the numbered bars before me, sliding the chunky bottom weight from 100 to 150. My throat tightened as I realized the weight wasn’t heavy enough. So, I set it on the dreaded 200 mark. And that’s when my heart snapped in half. The thing I had vowed would never happen had become a dark reality—I was more than 200 pounds.

That number was as good as money in the gym’s bank account. I barely had time to put on the rest of my clothes before I was at the membership desk. Next, I hopped on the treadmill. And that’s where I was, five times a week, speed-walking to nowhere.