Can You Be a Real Life Biggest Loser After Menopause?

As women reach menopause their bodies change. Lean body mass diminishes, fat body mass increases (especially in the midsection), and as a result, the metabolism takes a significant hit.  It is the perfect physiological storm to make weight loss difficult.  Even though the deck is stacked against us ladies, is it possible to lose weight after menopause?  Let’s ask Linda Hilliard.  At 69 years old, after 2 knee replacements, and regaining 100 of the 140 pounds she had lost 20 years ago, she made the decision to get healthy, turned her size 24 to a size 12, and has never turned back.

Linda at her current weight

Name:  Linda Hilliard

Age: 69

Who do you live with? Live alone

All time high weight: 300 pounds in the 1990s. Most recently, started at 250 pounds.

Current weight and height: 165 lbs 5’4″

Total weight loss: 85 pounds in the UMass Weight Center (I lost 140 in the 1990s – down from 300)

How did you gain the weight?  I have been a Monday morning dieter most of my life.  Usually by Tuesday morning (or even Monday noon), I have slipped back into my negative eating patterns.  I eat for comfort, for pleasure, when I feel good and when I feel bad.  I gained my weight from a lifetime of bad food choices, from binge eating, from unconscious eating – and because I love food.

When did you begin your weight loss journey?  I was a heavy child.  I remember – at age 13 – being mortified when my mother insisted I find a party dress in a store’s Chubby Girl department.  Over the years, my scale went up and down, but eventually it went up, up, up.  After my divorce (in which I ended up a single parent with two small children), my scale soared to the all time high 300 pound mark.

How long have you kept the weight off?  With my 140 pound loss in the 1990s, I kept the weight off for three years.  Even after that – the return of my weight was very gradual – not even worrisome until I saw 200 on my scale (and still kept eating!)

Linda before her weight loss

What motivated you to lose weight?  Did you have an A-HA moment? Rather than an “a ha” moment, my commitment to this program has been based on the pure misery of being – frankly – FAT.   The more I weighed, the lower my self esteem plummeted.  Feeling embarrassed is a strong motivator.  I am a business woman – it became increasingly difficult – and embarrassing to meet with clients and not feel self conscious.  No matter what my talents and skills, who would want to hire an overweight woman?

Unfortunately, there is so much discrimination in hiring based on the applicant’s weight.   To what extent had your weight affected your physical health? My other motivation has been health.  Over the past several years, I’ve had two knee replacements.  By my mid-60s, I was becoming an old woman – walking with a limp, having trouble breathing, suffering from inertia and self loathing.

How did you lose the weight?  Obviously the UMass Weight Center program was the right program at the right time for me.  And I will give UMass a huge amount of credit for a well planned and well executed diet program. But in truth (and I know UMass staff would agree), it was my inner motivation that worked. My Monday morning diets were just lip service – no motivation. When I started the B-Track program at UMass, my mindset was “This is it, this is my last chance.”  I’d tried many of the other big national diet programs, plus Atkins, hypnotist, acupuncture. I was such a diet “expert”, I told everyone “I could teach my own diet class!”

I lost the weight because I was finally motivated.  I was approaching age 70 after a lifetime of dieting and I decided I simply was not going to live out the rest of my life as a fat person with low self esteem.  Plus living out the balance of my life at a healthy weight might just extend my life long enough to see my grandchildren grow up.

What is your current diet and exercise regimen?  I admit it, I’m militaristic around dieting. It works for me, perhaps not for others.  I am absolutely faithful to the UMass core program.  A year and a half now – and I do not waiver.  No cheat days for me – no sneaking “just a taste.”  If I am  at an event and there’s nothing I can justify eating, I will not eat.  I will wait until I get home.  My friends know that I am committed to this – and support me.

Exercise wise – I go to the gym daily now.  Even if it’s only for a half hour, I hit the treadmill, elliptical or bike.  Which, by the way, for someone with double knee replacements is a very good feeling.  After years of limping and having trouble breathing – I can now outdo many of my contemporaries when it comes to cardio and strength training.

The UMass Weight Center behavioral track program (which employs yours truly!) endorses an elimination of 500-1000 calories per day, 1-2 pound weight loss per week, and 30-60 minutes of exercise per day on most days of the week.  Patients receive guidance from dietitians, psychologists, and exercise physiologists over the course of several months. Click the link for more information about the program if you live locally.

Who was the most influential person/people to you during the process of losing weight?  No one person – rather the team of experts at UMass.

It’s easy to let your diet drift or slowly stop exercising. What do you find to be the key to STICKING TO IT?  I am sticking to my diet because I know what it’s like to backslide.  When I lost 140 pounds in the 1990s, I was on top of the world.  Then I went back up to 250 pounds and the misery I felt was horrible.  I never want to go back to the realization that I am obese.

Just starting off, losing weight is hard.  Tell us, did it get easier or harder for you over time?  Oh, definitely easier.  I think the first few months of a diet are very hard – you’re breaking lifelong negative eating habits.  I can honestly say that my diet is now my lifestyle.  I don’t feel a sense of denial over foods I can’t eat (honestly – while I was putting on that weight, I got my fill of high calorie foods – I can live without chocolate cake now!)

What is the hardest part for you now?  It’s not hard now.

Wow. Sounds like you have nailed this.  I love that what was once so effortful feels just like your normal lifestyle now.  I always wish that people just starting off could believe that this is possible.

If you could tell your former self anything, knowing what you know now, what would you say?  Why did you wait so long?

Do you worry about gaining weight back?  How do you prevent yourself from gaining it back?    Yes, I worry.  The temptations are always there and – sadly – the people who will tempt you.  When I’m faced with a bounty of bad foods, I inwardly assess how wonderful it feels to be a normal weight and to feel good.  And I recall the wretchedness of the Fat Linda.

Can you tell us if and how your participation in social media, such as weight loss websites, Twitter, Facebook, blogs (reading them and writing your own) has impacted your weight loss journey? I record my food on Fitclick. But otherwise – no.

What is different (if anything) about your life (and/or health) now that you have lost the weight?  Oh my goodness.  This answer could go on for pages. I feel terrific on all levels.  I’ve gone from a size 24 to a size 12.  I feel great.   A day doesn’t go by that I don’t get a compliment on how good I look.  My daughters are proud of me. And my self confidence is soaring (can you tell?!).

One more addition: 165 pounds is by no means a thin person.  My eventual goal is to get into the 150s, then I will be satisfied. When I started this diet, I never aimed to be “model thin” in a size 8 or 10 outfit. My diet has always been about improving my health and the quality of my life.  That’s already happening.

Thank you Linda for showing us that after menopause, 2 knee replacements, and regaining 100 pounds there is still hope of turning it all around…and you are right, it’s not about the program, it’s about you and whether you see your limitations as excuses or challenges to be overcome.  You overcame and showed the rest of us how we can do the same.

Linda is and editor and writer living in Marlborough, Massachusetts.

Read about other Real Life Biggest Losers here.

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