Jody Miller is 38 years old and, just a little over a year ago, she weighed 279 pounds.
She’s the mother of a six-year-old boy and works at a dog daycare in downtown Halifax; her weight was stopping her from having the life she wanted. “I didn’t want to go anywhere,” says Miller. “I didn’t even want to go to the movies because I was so anxious about where I would sit. ‘Am I going to have to sit at the end of the aisle? Am I going to have to squeeze past other people? Am I going to fit in the seat?’”
Her son would ask her to play with him on the floor, but she couldn’t. If she did, she would have to crawl over to a piece of furniture to hoist herself up again. Instead, Miller would avoid the situation by suggesting they read a book on the couch or play with clay at
But last November, everything changed when Miller received a coupon for a free family photo at Wal-Mart. “I finally decided that I’d had enough,” says Miller. “’I said, ‘OK, this is it. I’ll do this, but it’s going to be my last fat picture. I’m done.’ We went for the family pictures, and the next day I went and signed up for the gym.” Right away, she started going to the gym three days a week, making herself accountable by signing up for a personal trainer.
According to Devin Sherrington, owner of 360fit in Burnside, that’s a tough move for a lot of people, often harder for women. “Guys don’t seem to have the same guilt factor,” he says. “Women feel pulled in every direction. Their spouse needs something, their kids need them, and suddenly they’re last on the totem pole, after the dog.”
That’s why Sherrington and his team try to create a supportive fitness community. “We try to make it a fun, encouraging environment,” he says. “Three or four years ago, one of my clients told me, ‘This place is like Cheers without alcohol.’ Our whole goal is for everyone to feel comfortable and like this is his or her safe place.”
That’s important in a gym, especially for people who are self-conscious about their bodies. “When I started at the gym, I would have to take the elevator up, because by the time I got up the one flight of stairs, I was so out of breath I was embarrassed to walk by the front desk,” says Miller. “I did that for three weeks before I said, ‘Who cares if I’m panting, I’m taking the stairs.’”
Soon after starting at the gym, Miller quit drinking pop. She added leafy greens to her diet. She drank more water. She started eating breakfast. She taped a chart with the Canada Food Guide recommendations to her counter. “I’m down 65 pounds so far, 35 inches—and at least 10 of those are off my waist alone,” says Miller. “It’s just been a lot of hard work. I don’t do supplements, I don’t do protein powders, I don’t do any of that. I just follow the Food Guide and literally work my butt off.”
Although this approach worked well for Miller, dietitian Edie Shaw-Ewald suggests taking a more gradual approach to dietary changes. “Instead of subtracting things, starting with negatives like ‘I’m not going to eat any more ice cream,’ start by adding nutrition.” She recommends starting with small goals, like making sure your plate is half-filled with fruit and vegetables at mealtime. “Naturally,” she says, “your diet will start to include more plant food, vitamins and minerals, and then everything else will start to take care of itself.”
Sherrington believes the key is to set reasonable goals and stick to them. “You don’t get instantaneous results,” he says. “Be patient and trust the process. If you eat better and you exercise, you will be healthier. But you have to give yourself time to get through that process. The biggest thing is measuring yourself—not weighing yourself.”
Miller is happy now. “I’m at the point now where I’m comfortable in my own skin,” says Miller. “I went from a 4x to a size 16. Now, if my son wants to race home from school, I’ll run. I’ll be the first one to say let’s go swimming or let’s go play soccer.” Now, she craves fruit and vegetables, and if she misses a few days at the gym, she feels antsy: “like a kid who’s been inside for a rainy weekend.”
For Miller, the most unexpected part of this whole journey towards better health has been changing the way she thinks about herself. After wearing plus-sized clothing for years, she sometimes struggles to remember that she can go to the mall and find something that fits in almost any women’s clothing store.
And it feels like people treat her differently. “When you’re as big as I was, people don’t treat you the same,” says Miller. “I was so used to being in the background, whether it was because I put myself there or because that’s just the way society treats you when you’re bigger. I used to go to a store and no one would pay any attention to me. I’d just get my stuff and go. Now, especially the last few months, people look me in the eye and smile, and people hold the door for me… The attention, just normal human interaction, has been kind of weird to get used to.”
Just after Miller shared her story with us, she sent us a Facebook message telling us about a journal entry she’d found. “When I started working out, I couldn’t stand to see myself in the mirrors so I would work out with my back to them. It was better to have strangers see my backside then for me to face myself. It took me almost five months but one day I went in and not only faced the mirrors but watched myself without any negative thoughts going through my head. My entry that day was one of pride and joy. I haven’t turned my back since.”
When you’re tackling a new exercise regime, your body needs a little extra support, too. Amanda Crocker, a professional aromatherapist and registered massage therapist at Spirit Spa, shares a few tips for keeping your muscles happy.
Give yourself a massage
Make your own soothing massage oil by combining one drop of peppermint oil, three drops of lavender oil, and three drops of juniper oil with a tablespoon of almond oil.
Take a bath
Relax your mind and body with an Epsom salt bath. Just add one cup of Epsom salt, and mix in five to 10 drops of a calming essential oil like lavender.
Whether you’re going to the gym or just starting a regular walking routine, don’t forget to stretch. “Every new fitness routine has to include stretching,” says Crocker. “If you incorporate a little of that, you’re less likely to get injured.”