By Stephanie Shenouda, Daily Staff Reporter
Published February 3, 2015
Editor’s Note: This semester we’re launching a new Life section within the paper. We’re beginning this endeavor with a few individual installments with stories related to healthy eating, fitness, and mental health. Our goal is to provide information relevant to college students and to help interested readers lead happier, healthier lives.
When LSA senior Lisa Schlosberg walked into the newsroom at 420 Maynard for her interview, I thought I knew what she would say. I knew that she used to weigh around 300 pounds and lost 150 pounds during her sophomore year at the University. This was supposed to be a tidy 600 word article on how to maintain weight loss on a college campus from someone who’d been there. Over the course of our 90-minute interview, however, I learned that host of complexities associated with losing weight. It's not just a physical journey, but a mental journey.
At first, it seems simple.
“I lost a lot of weight sophomore year,” Lisa said. “I was overweight my whole life, after freshman year here I started Jenny Craig and did that for seven months before taking it into my own hands and dieting myself.”
Though some people who decide to lose weight report an “aha moment,” Lisa said she’s not sure what prompted her to make such a drastic change to her life, especially because she was usually happy before losing weight.
“It’s the one question everyone asks me that I still don’t have an answer for. It was just time,” she said. “I took a gap year before college and I think going abroad and being alone and independent kind of set me up so I could do something like that. For me it wasn’t what it is for a lot of people: I wasn’t bullied, I wasn’t sad, I didn’t hate what I looked like. I just needed to do something for myself.”
Lisa said she’d been overweight her whole life, but never felt compelled to do anything about it because she wasn’t interested in understanding nutrition or how to live a healthy lifestyle. She’d been on a slew of diets growing up but none of them stuck because her heart wasn’t in it.
“My parents tried and tried, but there’s only so much you can do for a kid who has no interest in losing weight,” she said. “This time was different. I couldn’t count points — I wasn’t doing that again. I just followed the rules and did what I had to do and I saw it start working so that was good.”
Lisa selected the Jenny Craig program because she said it was like dieting for dummies.
“When I first started I had no idea how to eat right, even if I wanted to. I had no nutritional knowledge and I had no interest. I just thought, ‘If I have to go through this, let’s make this as easy as possible.’ ”
Lisa began the program, seamlessly replacing her favorite foods with the pre-portioned food sent in boxes by Jenny Craig. While it may seem like a tough adjustment, Lisa opened the first box and never looked back.
“When I started Jenny Craig I think I was on 2,300 calories and then as you go you drop off hundreds of calories. They give you snacks and dessert and from the very beginning I thought I didn’t need snacks or dessert, or dressing on my salad. I cut it all out from the beginning and I shouldn’t have. I really didn’t know any better.”
Lisa said she learned a lot from her weight loss consultants, including the difference between good and bad fats, why fiber is filling and how to incorporate protein into meals. But because of the nature of the program, she didn’t have to apply what she learned. She just had to eat the food they sent.
“Once I started everything was black and white, things were allowed and things were not,” she said. “I wasn’t patient. I wasn’t lenient. I was trying to lose as much weight as fast as possible.”
After seven months on the program, Lisa decided that she could lose the rest on her own and decided to take dieting into her own hands. She knew that as she lost weight she was supposed to eat less, so she began restricting her caloric intake even further and continued to drop weight.
“On one hand I learned a lot. At the same time, they didn’t teach me enough and I don’t blame them, but I wasn’t prepared to do what I thought I could.”
Though losing weight didn’t change her personality, Lisa said the extreme measures she took to shed pounds often did. December 2013, she realized she was getting dizzy and saw black spots in her vision a lot. She wasn’t hanging out with her friends because her life revolved around making food, avoiding it or working it off. By February, she refused to try even one of her favorite mini cupcakes she received in a care package, though she realizes in retrospect it wouldn’t have meant the end of the world or her diet to indulge once in a while. It was around this time she recalls she didn’t want to eat at all, and that her health began to decline.
“I remember calling my mom from the library during finals and telling her I couldn’t study or see straight. I went to doctors for those few months and trying to get to the bottom of why I felt like shit all the time.”
Lisa said she was told repeatedly that her symptoms were side effects of her rapid weight loss, and that with time and maintenance her mind and body would recover. But because she still had 15 pounds to lose before she hit her goal weight, Lisa ignored their advice and continued consuming fewer calories.
“That summer, I hit the worst plateau and couldn’t lose any weight, so I spoke to a nutritionist. She told me I was literally starving myself and the whole summer became about trying to reverse it.”
Lisa said it was at that point she wasn’t able to recognize herself or how she’d let it happen.
“I was in Ann Arbor over the summer and I never wanted to go out to eat. If people went out, I made excuses not to go. I was never that person. I love drinking and I love getting drunk with my friends. I love to eat and I love food and I love going out with my friends to eat food. I’m not a scared, paranoid person and I’m spontaneous, and that’s when I realized this had taken away everything. I wasn’t at all who I used to be.”
“It was obvious to me that my entire life had been an eating disorder, either it was overeating or it was under-eating.”
In addition to changes in her diet, Lisa committed to exercising for the first time, though she’d worked with trainers off and on in the past. Initially it wasn’t fun.
“I hated exercise, but I did it all the time. From the very beginning I would work out twice a day,” she said. “I would swim after my lifeguarding shift and go home and do cardio at the gym. I really, really hated it so much, but it was just like everything else, I had to do it. All I did was cardio because I wanted to burn calories.”
Lisa said she was motivated by her own progress and strived to be a few seconds faster every day. She stuck to cardio because she didn’t know much about working out, but knew that if she was sweaty and out of breath, she was doing something right.
“Months later, I started to realize I was kind of enjoying this and the way it makes me feel. I never, ever thought that would happen. Months and months later I started getting into lifting and strength training, but when you’re so used to cardio it doesn’t feel like anything,” she said. “Now I love it, working out is my favorite thing. It’s how I blow off steam. I do it every day. I do Insanity DVDs a lot; I love running. I pretty much do everything.”
Lisa has come a long way since her first 17-minute mile and has even taken the steps to become a certified personal trainer. Lisa said she’s not sure if she wants to make a career out of personal training or how long she’ll be doing it. When she arrived at the University her freshman year, her love of travel led her to pursue an international studies major, which she said she’s enjoyed and learned a lot from. However, she said this process has changed everything and that she wishes she could have more formal nutrition and psychology education.
“I don’t know where I’m going to be after graduation and I’m not looking for a long-term career, so at this point there’s no better job than working in a gym and helping people lose weight,” she said. “I can’t think of anything I’d rather do, so I have the opportunity to do this, time-wise.”
As excited as she is for opportunities to pursue fitness at a higher level, Lisa admits she never saw it coming, even as she began her own journey.
“I always heard about people who would lose a ton of weight and become a personal trainer and I thought that was never going to happen to me and now I’m that person, I’m so that person.”
Lisa said when she began losing weight she thought it was going to be solely a physical journey. She thought she would be thinner, but her life would stay the same. Though her journey has had many ups and downs, Lisa said she’s a stronger person physically and mentally after what she went through.
After losing more than 150 pounds and then struggling with an eating disorder, Lisa said she applies the dedication and mental toughness to every aspect of her life and that now, everything is possible for her mentally.
“I thought I was just going to wake up thinner and move on with my life and that’s so far from what has happened. I feel like I can do anything, I know how to talk myself up and be positive and self motivated and dependent on myself, so that helps in everything I do all the time.”
Lisa said that her close friends have had only positive things to say about her transformation and that nothing about that aspect of her life has changed.
“I feel to the core, I’m the same person and I always have been,” she said. “Having consistent people is a testament to that. I’ve heard countless times that nothing has really changed, and I’m grateful for that. I wasn’t losing weight to look good, so I never had the mindset of a social climber that was going to get skinny and get cool, but there are for sure people who have treated me differently. There are people who are more friendly now and they’ll comment on all your Facebook pictures and don’t even try to hide how transparent they are.”
However, Lisa added that she’s noticed people she’s not close with often treat her differently now that she’s thinner, from boys to bartenders.
“It’s hard to explain what it was like because I was so unaware,” she said. “I didn’t attribute anything to my obesity and I was fun and happy and outgoing and loud and never blamed being overweight for anything people didn’t like about me. I remember walking into a frat here freshman year, and I’ll literally never forget this guy opening the door and glaring at me. I knew exactly what it was, I was 300 pounds and with my hot freshman girl friends. I didn’t want to think about the fact that it was because of how I looked, but I knew. There were moments like that all the time.”
Lisa said she realizes she was more or less “ignored” before she started losing weight, and that “skinny privilege” was something she gained by slimming down.
“I didn’t know I was uncomfortable until I knew what it was like to feel comfortable in social situations. It’s so easy for me now,” she said. “I don’t think that most people take it for granted being a normal weight and an able bodied person, but once you’ve gained enough weight to be on the other side you know how society works and it’s disappointing.”
Lisa, a member of the Sigma Delta Tau sorority, said living with her 55 sisters sophomore year motivated her to get healthier, and refers to herself as a “Greek life success story” because her membership has only done beneficial things for her. Though she acknowledges that stereotypes about the Greek community exist, Lisa said she’s proof that’s not always the case.
“I never felt like they just wanted me to get skinny so I would fit in better. I never felt that way and I think it’s because I fit in before I got skinny. I made friends, I loved pledging, I loved my pledge class, and I loved freshman year and I attribute almost all of that to my sorority. They were there for me with the entire thing and with good intentions. All my friends are still my friends, and if anything, weight loss has only brought us all closer.”
While the rush process is often thought to be superficial, Lisa said it depends on the school and the house. When she pledged the University’s chapter of Sigma Delta Tau at 300 pounds, she felt like they focused on who she was, not what she looked like, ultimately leading to her acceptance.
"For SDT you're not allowed to consider anything about their physical appearance," she said.
“I felt like I belonged there as soon as I was there and it was reciprocated on the other end. I was really overweight and I was completely accepted from the beginning. It’s almost crazy to me how well it worked out in my case, I know what I looked like, but it just worked out perfectly. If it were superficial, I don’t think I would have been accepted anywhere at that time.”
Even though she’s been the same weight for a year now, Lisa admits she’s still learning how to maintain her weight and live a balanced life. Last year, while participating in the Semester At Sea program, Lisa resolved to fulfill her travel bug and recapture the person she knew she was inside. But after months of obsessively tracking what she’d eaten and managing her portions, it didn’t come easily.
“The first port we went to was Hawaii for a day,” she said. “I remember I had a lot of peanut butter at breakfast and there’s a lot of calories in peanut butter, so I was trying to calculate how many calories I’d had while everyone else was touching land for the first time. Later in the day, I ordered a salad and they didn’t have any so I had a sandwich instead, and that’s what I remember of Hawaii.”
During the beginning of the trip, Lisa was uncomfortable eating without knowing exactly how many calories she was consuming and would practice workout moves she’d memorized in the hallway outside her hotel room.
“I was really scared, I didn’t feel ok with it, but I promised myself I would do this trip right,” she said. “At that point, my priority over everything was not gaining weight. It wasn’t about enjoying the trip. I was trying, but one almost always came before the other.”
Lisa said her anxiety was magnified by the fact that she’d never been able to enjoy her life while maintaining a healthy weight before. She thought if she was eating what she wanted she would wake up 300 pounds again. She said it took several instances of indulging in China, Vietnam and Cambodia before she was able to trust she would still be herself in the morning.
“It makes sense to everybody else, but I’d never experienced this before. I basically knew I had to do exactly what I didn’t want to do, and doing it over and over again would make it easier.”
Her turning point was March 25, when she was able to eat and enjoy her 21st birthday cake and the ice cream it came with. That was the first time she remembered eating cake and indulging without regretting it. Lisa said this was only possible because she began to see the importance of moderation and the possibility of enjoying her life while still being healthy.
“I had to come out of it at some point and I promised myself that I was going to end this on the other side,” she said. “If I looked back on this experience and didn’t do it the right way, I would never get over that.”
Paying it forward
Lisa said if she could start over, she would begin her journey differently and lose weight in a healthier way. After battling her demons and being able to help her old self and her new body coexist, she’s become passionate about sharing her story and helping others achieve their goals and lead healthier lives. Though she doesn’t advise people to be as intense as she was, Lisa said the most important thing is to commit to making a life change.
“I heard time and time again that it’s not a diet, it’s a lifestyle change, but my mindset wasn’t in it. The process taught me over time that you’re changing your life. My health matters to me now, and it didn’t before. I thought that advice didn’t apply to me, but if you want to do this the right way there are no temporary fixes.”
“Starting is the hardest part, it’s so painful and I hate anyone that denies that,” she said. “Deciding to restrict what you eat and voluntarily making yourself physically uncomfortable isn’t fun and it sucks in the beginning. After you get past the first couple weeks you have momentum. Power through the beginning and then go as slow and steady. Be flexible and lenient and forgiving, and all of the things I wasn’t.”