That Time I Gained Back 34 Pounds.
“Lisa, I’m overwhelmed with __________!”
You can fill in the blank with anything. With work. With kids. The car broke down. The roof leaked. The doctor gave bad news.
“How do I eat clean and exercise when all this other stuff is going on?”
Some of the things my clients are going through make my breath catch in my throat. One is a mother of five (including 18 month old twins!) plus she works. Another client is recovering from a double mastectomy. A third is trying to lose 100+ pounds so she can qualify to donate her kidney to her friend’s daughter; she’s also deaf and has injuries that prevent her from doing a lot of exercises.
Their struggles are real and if I had to walk in their shoes I’d be overwhelmed too. Each woman faces her own roadblocks and has to figure out what will push her to climb over it. As a woman who faced my own obstacles, I’d like to share my story and hope that you can avoid some of my pitfalls or apply some of what I did to your own situation.
In 2014 I was 40 years old and life was pretty good. After entering a bodybuilding competition I managed to lose 50 lbs. and keep the weight off for two years. I truly believed that I figured out the key to my weight issues and wanted to share it with the world. So I wrote my memoir about the experience, “She’s Losing It!”
After losing the weight I decided I was going to do everything I ever wanted but was too afraid to try. At 38 I did the bikini competition. Because when you’re middle aged and your doctor calls you borderline obese, is there really a better time to enter a bikini competition?. At 39 I went skydiving. Because when you’re staring down 40 is there really anything better than jumping out of a plane? This was the big year though. 40. For my 40th I decided to try pole dancing. (I got 2nd place in the novice division, who knew?)
But none of those things amounted to the fear in the pit of my stomach when I waited for my brother in New Jersey to call me back as I sat in the sweltering Texas heat that second day of July. See, my mom and I were really close and we called each other every day. I called on July 1 and she didn’t answer or call me back, which was weird. But she might have been on one of her senior trips to Atlantic City, I mused. The next morning I called again. No answer. No call back. I began to feel anxious; something wasn’t right. At 8pm I called again. No answer.
I called my brother, who lived 10 minutes away from my mom, and asked him to drive over there. Ten minutes stretched to 20.
My brother told me he found her on the floor in her bedroom. She felt sick and fainted coming back from the bathroom. She was dehydrated, but alive and the ambulance was on the way. She had been on the floor for 24 hours.
I was on the next flight out from Texas. The fever that made her pass out was from an infection caused by kidney stones. But during her tests they discovered she had lung cancer. Surprise!
Only the process was slower than that. Agonizingly slower. Doctor visits. Fighting with insurance carriers. At one point she was literally in the hospital, on a bed, hooked up to an IV, ready to get a biopsy when the nurse came back and said the doctor wouldn’t do the test because the insurance carrier might not pay the bill.
If you ever want to feel frustrated, get sick in America.
But once the news was delivered, and my mom decided to live with me, that gave me less than six weeks to completely renovate her house and sell it, pack her up to move and still deal with my two kids who came with me. (My husband stayed in Texas to work.)
During this time of doctor visits and construction, I dropped out of the fitness competition I was two weeks away from and focused on getting everything done, because sometimes having six-pack abs is not my top priority.
My brother helped me to paint and I contacted contractors for a new roof, pest control, and flooring. I contacted realtors and moving companies and kept a notebook of what every doctor said and which medications she had to take. Plus I had to contact an insurance broker in Texas to see how to transfer her coverage mid-year. Thank God for Obamacare otherwise she would have been denied for pre-existing conditions.
My friends Jenny, Deirdre and Meghan (and their parents too!) were rock stars, babysitting my kids so I could work and taking walks with me so I could cry. I don’t know how I could have done it without them.
My husband, while back in Texas, told me he was having chest pains and was going to the doctor to check it out. While driving to Home Depot I sat at a red traffic light and a woman rear-ended me. Back at my mom’s house, my brother almost passed out painting on the roof, and turned pale blue and started panting. He had been 100 lbs. overweight and even though he was losing it he was still on high blood pressure medication and diabetes meds.
As I had him sit down and drink water, my thoughts began to snowball. “I’m going to take care of my mom during cancer, I’ll have to take care of my brother because he’s a bachelor, my husband’s going to have a heart attack, I’ll have to be a single working mom and this will be my life until I die.”
I wish I could tell you that I jogged around the block and ate lettuce; instead I walked to Wawa’s, bought a box of Entenmann’s chocolate chip cookies and finished the entire thing as I sat on a park bench and sobbed.
The good news was my brother felt better and so did my husband, so at least I didn’t have to worry about their health too.
My mother’s belongings were packed in boxes. She didn’t want to say goodbye to her friends. She didn’t want to look at the house. She didn’t want to leave her New Jersey home of nearly 40 years and lose her independence in the process.
At the airport she tripped over my daughter’s suitcase and hurt her hip badly. When we arrived home no doctors would see her because her Texas insurance wouldn’t start until the following month.
At emergency care they tried to kick us out. My mom was stoic. I was not. In the middle of a crowded waiting room I had an absolute shitfit and began sobbing. “Why won’t anyone help my mother!?!” (There is a reason why my blog is called ShesLosingIt.com and not ThisWomanHasHerShitTogether).
A male nurse took pity on us and said they would see her anyway. She got a walker and had to go to physical therapy. And start chemo. With chemo they gave her 12 months to live.
I ate chocolate. A lot. Chemo days were the worst. My mom would sleep but I would be sitting next to her and watch the other patients come in. There was a girl with Down Syndrome getting treatment. Smiling like there was not a cloud in the sky. Hadn’t she already been through enough? I thought. Does she need cancer too?
Another woman just didn’t know what to do. She had missed so much time from work she was going to lose her job – and medical coverage. At 50 she was too young for Medicare. She was estranged from her family and had no one to care for her. I felt helpless listening to her plight.
When I came home I tried everything to not eat. I took a walk around the block, I drank a glass of water, I tried to distract myself with other things. My hands were still shaking. I went to HEB and bought three chocolate chip muffins and eat them one after another until I felt calm again.
During this time I also found out I had my own mild skin cancer that had to be removed from Mohl’s surgery, we were going through issues with extended family members and my book, “She’s Losing It!” was being released.
“She’s Losing It!” my book about how I managed to lose 50 lbs. and keep it off, and fix my messy life in the process. Only since July I had gained back almost 34 of those 50 lbs. I dropped out of the women’s bodybuilding team I was on. I felt like a fraud and a loser and suddenly found myself in the clothing store having to buy larger jeans because I couldn’t fit into my own.
My daughter said, “Mommy you like you did before you started going to the gym!” My mother looked at me and said, “Lisa, what are you doing to yourself? Don’t gain it all back.”
And then I got rear-ended again. On Surrender Avenue. For real.
My friend, Obidia, had worked with a trainer named Robin Johnson. She said, “You’ll like him, he’s mean.” That’s sort of a joke, because I tend to work really well with alpha male trainers.
I told him that I just didn’t want to gain back everything that I lost. I confessed eating the three muffins in a row and feeling ashamed and out of control and angry. He said something I wasn’t expecting. “Sometimes you need to do what you need to do to get through it. Next time just buy a single muffin instead of a three pack.”
It stopped me from gaining more, but I wasn’t losing any weight. He told me he and a client of his were entering the Arnold Classic, the second biggest bodybuilding competition in the world. They were both at the top of their games, having won overall in their divisions across multiple federations.
Personally, I always came in dead last. Like dead last. Like first, second, third, eleventh, fifteenth, dead last Lisa Traugott. But in the bikini division you didn’t need to have won before. I may not have an award winning body, but I did write a great cover letter.
I actually met Arnold, back when he was Governor Arnold Schwarzegger and I was heavier. My goal was to get into the bikini competition and then hand him a copy of my book. I guess you could say I was Chasing Arnold.
Life moved on. The same night my daughter was to celebrate her First Reconciliation at church and my son in kindergarten decided to give himself a haircut, my mom got pneumonia after chemo. It was a few days before Thanksgiving and I wondered if she would make it.
Just as her fever broke and we knew she’d be ok, I got the message that I was accepted into the Arnold Amateur. I began jumping up and down screaming in the hospital room, “I’m in the Arnold! I’m in the Arnold!”
“That’s great,” she said, “What’s the Arnold?”
I sent a text to Robin, “I’m in the Arnold! I guess I have to eat clean now, lol.”
Getting in was a lifesaver for me. Suddenly, I had something to look forward to. I had a reason to eat clean. I had a reason to wake up early and go to the gym. I felt like myself again.
And Obidia was right: Robin was mean, lol. I told him, “My only goal is to not come in dead last. I set the bar low for you as trainer,” I laughed.
He didn’t laugh though. “No, that’s the bar you set for yourself. I have higher standards.”
My face turned hot and I realized how scared I was. Without meeting a single competitor I had already decided in my head that they must be better than me.
When I got home I sent him a text. “I’m tired of losing.”
“Let’s fix that,” he replied.
Once I was committed, really committed, to training for this competition, my workouts got harder. I had to weigh in Every. Single. Day. and he gave me grief if I ever backslid or skipped cardio. The weight came off and I started to feel like myself again.
Then my brother and I had a really bad fight the night before my training session and when I sent Robin a picture of my weight he noticed it had gone up. The scale was ratting me out.
“Why are you heavier today?” he texted.
“Cupcakes,” I replied.
“You have a lot going on in your life right now and you can’t keep falling back into bad habits. I think you should take today off and re-evaluate your goals.” He was kicking me out of the gym before I even got there.
“No I want to punch something.” He took pity on me and let me come in. That was the day he taught me how to box.
My mom still had doctor appointments. My kids still had school and all that comes with it. My husband and I still had to keep up with our family business and pay the bills, but I had the Arnold to hold on to. Being excited for that goal made me want to follow my meal plan and train to win.
One day Robin pulled up a chair and sat next to me after my workout. “I had to fire a client today,” he said, “because she wasn’t trying hard enough and that’s a waste of time and money for both of us. When you train there’s a cost, not just money but time. Time you could use to spend with your mom or your kids. So when you’re here you have to give 100%”.
And I did. It was like I was training for my first competition again, excitement-wise. I focused on getting my head right. I read books to motivate me, like “Total Recall” by Arnold Schwarzenegger.
My family watched a lot of comedies to keep our spirits up. Volunteers from church came every Sunday to give my mom Communion, since she struggled to walk and felt weak. My husband and I gave up our bedroom for her and moved upstairs. My daughter had tea parties with Grandma where they talked about her First Communion and my son watched cartoons with her in bed.
My kids joined me in the garage to do cardio when my mom took a nap. My husband took the kids to school so I could sleep in after leg day workouts (I trained at 5am and leg days made me so sore I could barely walk.) My friend, Regina, helped me deal with all the legal paperwork for dealing with my mom’s hospital bills and finances. My friend, Obidia, did cardio with me at night and my friends from home sent me text messages to keep me encouraged.
My mom told me she had a dream that I won 3rd place.
My brother flew out from New Jersey to take care of my mom and kids when my husband and I went to the Arnold competition in Ohio.
It took a village. I lost the weight I had gained back and did the best I ever did in a bikini competition – 20th out of 38! I was wearing the red bikini I had dreamed about wearing and felt confident and strong. And guess what? At the very last minute I actually saw Arnold and gave him a copy of my book! I have no idea if he read it ever, but you never know.
Five weeks later, I entered a local competition, the Texas Shredder and won 3rd place. It was the first time I ever won an award in bodybuilding. I was beaming showing it to my mom.
Two weeks later she passed away. I wrote her eulogy on Mother’s Day.
When I think back now on that time in my life I wonder how I ever got through it. But I guess that’s like most of us. We all go through periods of hell and catastrophes but somehow survive stronger, knowing that we’re still standing.
If you are going through a rough time in your life and are worried about gaining back weight, here are some things that I learned that maybe will work for you too:
- When you’re going through the worst of it, do what you need to do to get through it. Sometimes having six-pack abs is not your top priority and that’s okay.
- When you are ready to get fit, get help. Hire a personal trainer or a friend willing to be mean to you and hold you accountable to your goals.
- Pick the biggest, baddest, boldest goal you can think of and train for it like you’re going to win.
- Don’t get snowballed into planet overwhelm. Chunk down your to-do list into smaller parts and include eating healthy meals and exercise on your list of things to do.
- Get even more help! Now is the time to ask for moral support and babysitter favors from friends and family. In time, you will return the favor in kind.
- When you’re really angry don’t eat a cupcake, hit a punching bag.
- Get your head straight. Read motivational books, watch movies that make you laugh, pray a lot and spend time with your family
Whatever you are going through, I’m sending you a virtual hug right now. I hope my story helps. And just remember whatever you are going through is temporary. This too shall pass and you will emerge stronger.
Lisa Traugott is a Mom’s Choice Award winning writer, fitness blogger, wife and mom of two….and Original Cast Member of AMERICAN GRIT, starring John Cena, on FOX!!!
ShesLosingIt.com (c) 2012-2017 Lisa Traugott. All rights reserved. No portion of this blog, including any text, photographs, video, and artwork, may be reproduced or copied without written permission.