City: Trenton, Ont.
By The Numbers: 284 pounds at my heaviest, currently 160 pounds (though 140 pounds at my lowest). Total weight loss of 144 pounds.
The Weight Gain: I was always the "chunky but funny" girl growing up. I played sports and was always outside playing, but the weight never went down. During college, I was still pretty active and fit , but once I was married and comfortable the weight slowly started creeping up. Then I had my three kids and I just couldn't get the weight off. I was also not as active as I could have been.
I remember trying Weight Watchers, Atkins, South Beach and NutriSystem — you name it, I tried it! I even tried those nasty pills that wreaked havoc on your guts.
In 1998, I had a vertical banded gastroplasty done in Edmonton. They basically cut my stomach in half, then put a mesh band around the usable stomach to form a pouch. In 2009, I became very sick and couldn't keep any food or liquids down, because the mesh band had so much scar tissue it had closed itself off — it was less than the diameter of a pinkie finger. I had a surgeon who told me the only fix was to completely reverse the original surgery, and my weight just ballooned. I was so nutritionally deficit and starved that my body grabbed every calorie it could, and I gained 100 pounds.
Final Straw: I was fat, unhappy and scared that I couldn't get a seatbelt around me on a plane. I remember sucking it in so hard so I would not have to ask for an extender! After that plane trip, and subsequent roller coaster rides where I was again fearful of not fitting into the seat, I decided this is not who I am. Change needed to happen.
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The Plan of Attack: Ontario was just starting out with weight loss surgery (WLS) and I went to a surgeon, but due to inexperience, they sent me to the U.S. to see a more skilled surgeon, Dr. William Graber in Utica, NY. Even he was worried but he said he could do it. They did a laparoscopic gastric bypass and it worked perfectly.
They are very good at this clinic, making sure their patients are successful. They encourage healthy eating and exercise and follow you very closely. Even today, four years post-op, I still visit them yearly.
Post-surgery my stomach capacity was quite small, so I was restricted portion-wise, but I still had to make good choices. No sugar, little carbs and tons of protein. In 11 months I lost 103 pounds. I did this by increasing my protein and limiting carbs. This was the easy part. Keeping it off would be the struggle.
The Exercise Factor: I have been a consistent gym goer since 2011. When I first started losing the weight I would go for a run at night, in the dark, when nobody could see me and make fun of me.
I used to make fun of people who ran and thought I would hate it. I LOVED it and quickly became addicted. I ran my first 5k in 2012, then ran 10k's, then half marathons, to full marathons and finally an ultramarathon of 56k!
I started out thinking that exercise was going to help me lose weight, then I started weightlifting and CrossFit and I wasn't losing any weight. But I was leaning out and getting muscle definition. Now I no longer focus on the number on the scale but on the changes in my body. How my pants fit, the size of my quads and biceps. No more scale shame for me!
The Food Element: My typical eating pattern was eggs, cottage cheese, meat and veggies. I then gave up meat entirely, eliminating most dairy too, and I went vegetarian for two years. I ate a ton of legumes, lentils, beans and vegetables.
The hardest thing for me was making sure I was eating enough. I tried so hard to not eat bread but I love carbs a lot! To me, food is fuel. If you feed your body the nutrients it needs to keep moving, then calories don't matter. I also do not stuff my face with cake daily.
The Current Day-to-Day: Everyday I go to the gym first thing in the a.m., before my brain has a chance to say NO! I meal prep and always have food with me. I drink protein shakes after every workout and eat tons of chicken and sweet potatoes.
Cutting out meat worked for me for those two years, but recently I have introduced it back into my lifestyle. I believe in the magic of protein to build and fuel muscle gains.
I run almost five times a week and I lift weights six times a week. I still run ultramarathons and I will be starting a 12-week lifting program in the new year. The day I ran for nine hours and 40 minutes during my first ultramarathon, I kept telling myself that this is something you have worked so hard for, do not quit. The old me Fat Dawn was gone forever and the positive new Dawn was here to stay.
My weight has not fluctuated in three months and I stay pretty consistent around the 160-pound mark. I'd like to lean out more, and that will come with proper nutrition and exercise.
I regret nothing. It hurts when people say that having WLS is the easy way out, but I know a lot of people who have failed at it. My dedication to fitness and nutrition is what has made me a winner. I learned through many failed attempts that "fad" diets don't work. They really are gimmicks fed to us to buy into this thinking that this is the easy way. There is no easy way. Focus on what goes into your mouth — if it was made in a factory, don't eat it. Eat real food and move your body every single day!
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