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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