As I worked in the kitchen, I could hear the football game coming from the living room. The announcers were talking about a player who had arrived at training camp completely out of shape. He was six foot four and weighed 320 pounds. “That is a big boy,” they said. “Wow! He is huge.”
“Would you look at that guy,” I heard my husband say with disgust. “I can’t believe he got so fat! What a lazy bum.”
Those words cut me to the heart. I had created a happy home, with a happy husband and happy kids. But at that moment I wanted to die, because I outweighed that player by at least 10 pounds. I was bigger than anyone playing for the Miami Dolphins. And I knew I was anything but lazy.
I pulled the cookies out of the oven and felt nauseous. I was pathetic. I’d been overweight my entire adult life, but I was bigger than I had ever been. I was miserable but doing an excellent job of faking out everyone who knew me. I was five foot nine and weighed 330 pounds, maybe more. I didn’t know for sure because it had been months since I’d dared to step on a scale. Besides, the only one in the house was a conveniently inaccurate discount-store model with a wheel underneath that calibrated the scale. I had adjusted it to register the lowest weight possible. I was in denial, but I was also without hope. It was the autumn of 2000. I was twenty-eight years old and was starting to believe I would never live a long and fulfilled life. Not this way.
If an angel had landed on my shoulder and whispered in my ear that, in less than two years, Oprah Winfrey would have me on her show to tell a feel-good weight-loss story, I’d have sent that angel packing and gone back to my cookies. I wasn’t Oprah material. And there was absolutely nothing feel-good about my life. Call me when you want a feel-bad story. That was me.
If that angel had whispered that I would one day run a marathon, I’d have checked him in to an insane asylum. I couldn’t run around the block. Even in high school I hadn’t been able to run the required twenty-minute mile. My knees hurt all the time. I was morbidly obese—a term that I knew meant an early death. If one thing was clear about my life in the fall of 2000, it was that I could never, ever run a marathon.
But I did. I finished my first one in 2005 and after that ran four more— in less than a year. I went from weighing nearly 350 pounds to less than 150 pounds. And I have appeared on Oprah and Good Morning America and the cover of People magazine as one of America’s great weight-loss successes. Getting fit wasn’t easy—there was plenty of pain, deprivation, tears, and hunger along the way. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and I won’t try to sugarcoat any of that. But, honestly, I didn’t give myself a choice. Once I made the unconditional decision that I was going to lose weight and get healthy, nothing could stop me. And nothing will stop you if you make the Five Decisions to break the fat habit for good. That’s a guarantee.
Here is the secret I learned—the same secret I want to share with you. I realized I had to change my mind before I could change my body, my health, and my life. I discovered the Five Decisions, which brought about an unconditional commitment to getting healthy and fit. Once I started, I treated it like a job so that no matter what else was going on in my life, I did what I had to do to achieve daily goals, weekly goals, monthly goals, and eventually the target weight and fitness that I desired. After making the Five Decisions, getting fit was a matter of showing up for work each day. The process developed from the inside out, which was a new concept for me.
FIRST, YOU CHANGE YOUR MIND
People constantly ask me how I lost 200 pounds and started running marathons. When I explain that it took several years to achieve those goals, they wonder how I was able to stick to the plan when so many others can’t. I ask myself the same question. I had failed plenty of times before. I’d tried a few diets and failed, including a bit of foolishness called the chocolate-wafer diet, which I’ll tell you about later. I’d resolved so many times not to eat the entire package of Oreos, without success. So how did I lose all that weight and keep it off—reclaiming my health and gaining a new life in the process?
Here’s the simple answer: my brain changed. I decided to first become a different person in my mind and then learned patience as my body followed. My success wasn’t measured only by a declining number on a scale; it was much deeper. I had to change on the inside. I needed to change my mind before I could change my body.
It will work the same way for you. First you must get to the right place in your head, and then you can create the lifestyle to go along with that. Your body reflects your daily choices, so stop confusing it by the way you think.
The mistake so many people make is to focus on weight loss and how long it will take. In fact, the multibillion-dollar diet industry banks on people thinking this way. Don’t get stuck in the weight loss–weight gain cycle. What you should focus on is the person you want to be. Set your sights very high,and keep your commitment level even higher.
In this book I’ll explain how I did that. I went from being someone who weighed more than a Miami Dolphins lineman to someone who is strong and trim and can run twenty-six miles. I went from a state of hopelessness to a life of incredible confidence. And I want to help you achieve something great in your life. If you change your mind before attempting to change your body, you can do this.
HITTING ROCK BOTTOM
While I was learning how to lose weight and regain my health, I faced setback after setback. My husband lost his job, and my mother was diagnosed with cancer—and those were only two of the crises that came along. Changing your life will never be easy, and that’s why in order to succeed, you first need to be ready to succeed. It’s a choice you make.
In the fall of 2000, when I was baking cookies and overhearing my husband’s criticism of an overweight NFL lineman, I fell into despair. I realized my life was out of control and I was headed for an early grave if I didn’t change. But even then, I wasn’t yet ready to make the commitment that was necessary to change my life. The truth is, on that dark day I still wasn’t miserable enough to change.
I hit rock bottom about six months later. I was at my heaviest ever—349 pounds, I think. Though I was still mostly in denial, I was starting to see myself clearly, and I hated what I saw. I’d look in the mirror and say, “You are pitiful! How could you have let this happen?”
My appearance started to affect my family life. We live in South Florida, where every weekend is a pool party. My daughters were young, but they were being invited to a few parties, and I was horribly uncomfortable in a bathing suit. I knew it wouldn’t be long before my girls would be embarrassed by their mother, and that made me want to cry. It did make me cry. But that was the least of it. I was more worried that their mom would die young. I’d seen fat people, and I’d seen old people, but rarely had I seen fat, old people. If I couldn’t change for myself, maybe I could do it for my kids.
One night I was driving home alone from an event at church. I felt trapped in despair. At age twenty-nine, my body felt old. I had recently had an emergency gallbladder operation, and the doctor had told me he was afraid to cut through all my layers of fat because of the risk of infection. Imagine being worried about your diseased gallbladder and experiencing anxiety about surgery. And then you learn that your weight problem makes you more prone to infection.
That night in the car I felt like the most pathetic person who had ever lived. I believed that God had made me and put me on earth for a purpose, and I was not living the life He intended for me. I knew I had to change.
As I drove, drowning in self-pity, I began to envision what my life would be if I weren’t fat. I thought of all the things I could do—even simple things, such as walking down an airplane aisle without having to turn sideways. I’d be able to board a flight without getting fearful stares from people hoping I wouldn’t sit next to them. And there were deeper things, such as being able to go down a slide at a playground with my kids. And I wanted never again to feel as if I was embarrassing my husband when he introduced me to business associates. I was tired of feeling prejudged by every server in every restaurant for what I ordered. I wanted to be able to shop in the same clothing stores as all my friends.
I wanted a normal life.
As I drove home from church, I came to the realization that I absolutely could not go on with my life as it was. I pulled over, sobbing. In total despair I cried out to God. I remember every word. “This is it!” I said. “I can’t live like this anymore. I’m done. I give all this pain to You. I surrender this battle. I need You to take over and give me a plan. Otherwise, I don’t want to live anymore.”
Almost immediately a sense of inner peace filled me, and I calmed down. I had gone to church all my life and had a relationship with God, but I had certainly never felt anything like that before. The peace was real, and in my mind I heard from God. I clearly heard these words: You are not being the best you can be. It wasn’t a booming voice like in a movie, but it also wasn’t a voice coming from me. The words were a jolt to my soul. And that moment would change my life forever.
Again, with crystal clarity, I “heard” a whisper: You are not being the best you can be. And for the first time in my life, I understood that this was a choice. I could choose to be the best I could be or not. We all have the same choice. We can’t choose our natural talents or what opportunities life is going to throw our way, but we can choose to do this one thing: we can do the best job of living that we are capable of. After praying alone in my car, I knew I could do better.
THE CHOICE IS YOURS
No matter how overweight and out of shape we are, our bodies and minds are capable of much more than we think. No matter what battles we face in life, we can have victory. The amazing thing is that so many of us choose not to. I know this is true because I was as guilty as anyone. For years I’d made poor
choices and come up with excuses for why I really didn’t have a choice at all. I was big boned. I let myself overeat because I was pregnant. I skipped exercise because I didn’t have the time. I was too far gone to ever recover. I told myself whatever it took to hide the truth that I was not doing the best job of
I was also being scammed by the diet industry. We all have been taken in by the hype. “We’ll give you your eating points,” the industry tells us, “and let you spend them on any food you want. And we’ll love you when you get on that scale, whether you’ve lost weight or not. We’ll keep hugging you for the next twenty-three years if need be.” Counting my points was not going to save me. Choosing the right frozen entrée and having it delivered to my home for the next two years was not going to save me. I didn't need the unconditional love of strangers; I needed unconditional commitment from myself.
I was also scammed by the “fat gene” scientists who insisted that my weight problem was out of my hands. They were wrong; it was in my hands. Chantel, I told myself, this is not cancer. I knew, because my mother had leukemia, and I had spent more tearful nights than I could count praying for her recovery—something I couldn’t do anything about. I prayed that chemotherapy would work and that God would heal her. But I realized that I’d been thinking of my obesity in the same way, as an illness. I’d even been told by experts that drastic surgery might be my only option. But that was another lie. The way I lived my life and how I contributed to my health were completely in my hands.
Every one of us knows what we should do, but we don’t always do it. Instead, we pretend it’s out of our control. We take the easy way out and let ourselves down. Gaining weight doesn’t come about by accident, and it’s not forced on us. We gain weight through a series of poor choices made on a regular
basis over a long period of time.
The same process holds true for achieving a goal related to your health and fitness. Whether it’s weight loss, athletic accomplishment, or any other personal or business goal, you achieve what you seek by learning to make the right choices and not being scared of self-sacrifice. I began wondering what my life would be like and what I would be capable of if I simply started being the best me I could.
It was time to find out.
After hearing God tell me, You are not being the best you can be, I made my decision, and I said it out loud: “I can do this. I will do this.” I repeated it, and I meant it. At that moment by the side of Cypress Creek Road, my life turned around.
DO IT, THEN TALK
Having made the commitment, I knew I was going to change my life, but I didn’t have a specific plan. I knew I’d have to start exercising, no matter how much I dreaded it. I knew I would have to change the way I ate, and I would need to learn more about nutrition. And to become a different person, I knew I would have to start thinking like the person I wanted to be and not the person I had allowed myself to become. I didn’t know how I was going to do all this, but I knew I would have God by my side. He might not make it easy, but He’d give me the strength to do everything that was needed.
When I got home that night, Keith was already in bed. He had never criticized my weight, for which I was incredibly grateful, but I knew how he must have felt. I looked into my husband’s eyes, told him that God had spoken to me in the car, and announced that the next morning I would begin losing
weight and getting healthy. (I even mentioned that one day I would write a book to reach others in my situation.) I made it clear that I was totally committed to being the best I could be.
Keith smiled at me and quoted one of his favorite sources of inspiration, the self-made billionaire Art Williams: “Do it, then talk.”
He was right. I shut up. Keith fell asleep, but I had a burning passion that kept me awake that night and has kept me up many nights since. Making the unconditional decision to change—the complete commitment with no turning back—had to be followed by action. First you change your mind. But to change your body and your life, you have to get moving. You have to do things and do them differently from the past. Do it. How incredibly simple—yet how long it had taken me to get to a place where I could see that clearly. Getting fit and accomplishing my dreams was simply a matter of choosing to do it, following through every single day, and understanding that failure was not an option. I could do it. I would do it.
And I did.
Keep reading, and you’ll find out how to change your life through five crucial decisions. The Five Decisions change your brain, giving you a new way of thinking about yourself, your life, your health, and your future. As long as you keep thinking the same way you always have, you will keep doing the things you have always done—including the unhealthy habits you have developed.
Join me in the next chapter as we explore the past—including all the influences that worked together to bring us to where we are today. Understanding the messages that influence our self-perception and the way we respond to obstacles enables us to make the new decisions that are necessary for permanent change.
What Do You Want to Change, and Why?
As you prepare to make the mental changes that will lead to permanent life
change, think through the reasons you want to change. What is motivating
your desire to lose weight and reclaim your health? Use the questions that
follow to think in detail about your life, your goals for the future, and what
you’re willing to do to make this happen finally and forever.
1. Beyond losing weight, what do you most want to change about
2. Are you willing to do whatever it takes to see certain areas of your
life undergo radical change? If you’re not yet willing, what is holding
3. When in your life have you felt the most hopeless? Are you now
ready to move past those scars and never look back?
4. When you gained weight in the past, what factors caused you to
lose your focus on health?
5. Identify three reasons or influences from the past that convinced
you that you couldn’t achieve permanent life change. After considering
these reasons, can you now admit they were merely
6. Think about the necessity of changing your mind before you
attempt to change your body. Do you agree that lasting change
begins on the inside? As you consider being the best you can be,
are you ready to work from the inside out?
7. A total life change involves your mind, body, and spirit. Think about
the spiritual aspect for a moment. Do you accept the role that faith
plays in the process of changing your life for good?
8. When have you been held back by a fear of failure? Write down
your biggest fears in this regard. As you face your fears, can you
decide to let them go and give your all to permanent life change?