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The Biggest Loser In Our Very Own Backyard

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“It seems like just about everyone has noticed my weight loss…it happens everywhere I go. A stranger, who sees me most mornings on her way to work, stopped to make a comment about my weight loss. It is very flattering and motivating when people take the time to let me know that they notice the changes.”

Courtney is a 29-year-old New Yorker, who has lost 116 pounds over the course of the past 9 months. This amazing accomplishment grabs the attention of passers-by, family and friends alike and yet, Courtney does not always recognize just how far she has come. She admits that this is something with which she struggles: “When I see a picture of myself at my ‘top’ (highest) weight I can tell that I do not look like that now but I do not see the dramatic difference that others can see. It is frustrating…I want to actually see the difference.” Courtney began her diet on April 6, 2009. She recently hit a plateau, a common occurrence for people trying to lose weight. She deals with the situation by “trying not to get discouraged and reminding myself that I am still headed in the right direction.”

courtney-beforeShortly after Courtney’s 29th birthday, she was diagnosed with Sleep Apnea. This disorder is characterized by pauses in breathing during sleep and Courtney views it as “the last straw for me. I found it to be utterly embarrassing because I knew this would not have happened if it were not for my weight…I am grateful as it was a wake-up call that I needed to make serious changes before more health problems began to pile on.”

When asked if she could have changed anything about her life up to this point, Courtney responded: “I wish I could say that I never had issues with food, but I don’t think anyone, even the most fit person, can say that. I do wish that my relationship with diet and exercise came easier to me, but it is a struggle. I think that this is something I have come to terms with just recently. Regarding health and fitness, I have spent too much time regretting the past, it’s time for me to move forward, continue getting healthy and change my future.”

The struggle Courtney faces is one which affects a large majority of our population. It affects us so much that an entire market has developed in order to cater to the weight gain epidemic—the diet plan. Everyone seems to be in the market for a diet plan these days. There are so many to choose from that it can make a person dizzy. Once a diet plan is chosen, it is not even guaranteed that the plan will work for that particular individual.

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Courtney has “spent a large amount of my life attempting different diets, and fell of the wagon just as much. When I [fell off], I would easily gain all the weight back because I messed up and saw no reason to continue.” What does seem to work best for Courtney this time around? “I think the main reason I have been successful is that I now know that it is all about choices. If I have a good day with the food plan, it is because I made the decision to and the same goes for the days when I eat something I should not—that is a choice I have made as well. When I started diets in the past, I went in with an ‘all-or-nothing’ mentality. The moment I ate something I should not have was the moment that the diet ended. It is completely unreasonable for me to think I can have the perfect diet everyday for the rest of my life.” Falling off of the wagon is a daunting thought. However, Courtney says, “I do not need an excuse to fall off of the wagon, my history proves that anything is reason enough. Now if I eat something I should not, I acknowledge it and move on and try to make the right choice.” Such a positive and realistic attitude towards weight loss helps Courtney adhere to her lifestyle change.

courtney-against-brown“Top Weight Courtney” and “Current Weight Courtney” are two very different people. The biggest distinction is that one has an abundance of energy over the other. Courtney declares, “I have an energy that I never had before. When time permits, I love to walk wherever I need to go. Before my weight loss, walking was something I absolutely hated to do. The energy I have now makes me feel alive. On the weekends when I have more time, I walk just about everywhere and ditch my Metrocard. I even walked a couple of miles in a cold rainstorm. Until I arrived at my destination wet and freezing, it did not occur to me that I should have taken a bus or train.” This newfound energy excites Courtney because she is now able to accomplish things she never thought possible—things like training for a half-marathon.

By making an effort to go to the gym 4-5 times a week, she sticks to her exercise schedule. Finding time to fit in workouts can be stressful but Courtney finds that “when getting together with friends during the week, I try to meet them later than I normally would so that I can be sure to get in my workout.” In addition to running, she uses the elliptical machine as well as the treadmill for power-walking. “I used the elliptical and power-walked from day one but now I am much faster on each machine.” Her improved speed comes as a bit of a shock. Another thing that surprises her is that, “I can run. I had a session with a personal trainer in September. Before the session, I told him the one thing I refuse to do is run.”

courtney-silhouetteOn March 21, 2010, Courtney will be one among thousands of athletes to navigate the six miles of Central Park, head directly through Times Square and down the West Side Highway to the NYC Half-Marathon finish line in Battery Park City. Completion of the half is one of Courtney’s goals for the new year. She has “never been a runner. Never. The most I ran was once a year in high school when everyone was required to run a mile in gym class. It was always difficult and it took me forever to catch my breath in the end.” Courtney began to run after being convinced by a friend to join RUN NYC, a free running club sponsored by Nike. After only a few short visits to the club, the same friend sent her a half-marathon training schedule to pique her interest. It worked. “I first laughed at the idea of it, but I could not get it out of my head,” she says. “I never thought I would be able to run a mile and now I can run three miles and it feels amazing to prove myself wrong. I am hoping to prove myself wrong again and run 13.1 miles.”

Courtney admits that she is not scared about the concept of running the half-marathon—she’s terrified. As a way to curb her fears and commit to the goal, Courtney has “told people about my plans to run so that I actually go through with it. My biggest fear is that I will not be able to finish. It would mean everything to me to actually be able to do this. I will be turning 30 a few days before the race and I cannot think of a better present to give myself than to complete such a huge goal.”

courtney-runningCourtney’s number one cheerleader is her mother, Linda, who will be on the sidelines come race day along with Courtney’s sister and niece (Erica and Fatima) and her closest friends. “Running has always been something that other people do, not me. I secretly wanted to do something like this, but never thought I would actually be fit enough” she says.

Due to the recession, a cheaper gym membership (hers was slashed by almost half the price) has helped her stick to her fitness routine. The recession has positively influenced her lifestyle change in other ways as well. For example: “My office is located right next to a conference room that is often used for breakfast and lunch meetings. Before the recession, it was not uncommon for there to be food 3-4 times a week, a couple of times a day. Since the recession, the number of meetings with food have cut down dramatically. The lack of food around the office definitely helps as that added temptation is no longer present.” Oddly enough and to a certain degree, the recession actually benefits Courtney.

A question Courtney has asked herself lately is “How do I feel?” Her answer? “For the first time in my life…I feel free.”

Courtney’s Top 7 Tips:

1. Keep a Food Journal. “I have been successful on a low carb/low calorie diet. I think keeping a food journal has been helpful. Writing down everything you eat for the day really makes you aware of what and how much you are eating. Just the act of journaling has been a motivator as I also keep track of how many days I have been following [my lifestyle change].”

2. Institute a “Cheat” Day.” Once a week, I eat what I want and I skip the gym but I walk everywhere. This ‘cheat’ day makes all of the other days of sticking to my diet much easier. If I want something I should not have during the week, all I have to do is wait until my ‘cheat’ day to have it.”

3. Compete at the Gym. “The hour I spend at the gym is usually the longest hour of my day. To get through my workout, I will sometimes have a competition with the person on the machine next to me. Of course, they are not aware we are competing but I will see if I can go faster and farther than them. It helps to keep me focused on what I am doing and if I ‘win,’ then that is even better!”

4. Have a Healthy Snack. “I love clementine oranges. They are low in calories and very sweet.”

5. Workout to a Fun Song. ” ‘Let’s Get it Started’ by the Black Eyed Peas is a favorite. It is a fun song and it reminds me of my best friend, Jason. Reminders of Jason help to distract me from my workout!”

6. Plan Ahead. “When I go out to dinner with friends, I plan ahead. I check the menu out online before going to a restaurant. Going in with a plan prevents any self-sabatoge to my diet.” (Author’s note: www.menupages.com is a very helpful site.)

7. Find a Motivator. “When I need motivation at the gym, I think of Ron from The Biggest Loser: Season 7. He walked an entire marathon at nearly 300 pounds with a lot of health problems. There was no reason he should have been able to complete a marathon, but he did. I tell myself, ‘If Ron can do it, so can I’ when I think I cannot go further.”

Woman Around Town will continue to check in with Courtney as her weight loss and half-marathon training progresses so stay-tuned!

Kenley Ferrara is a certified personal trainer and running coach for Professional Personal Training Systems (PPTS) as well as a Pacer for Nike. Her website is www.pptswellness.com.

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