“I do not want to go outside or even be seen. I am fat and ugly.” — 2010
It’s hard for me to believe I had these kinds of thoughts a mere 18 months ago. I had just given birth to my second child and felt paralyzed during what should have been one of the happiest times in my life. At 285 pounds, I was at my highest weight ever and had reached an all-time low in self-esteem.
I can’t imagine where I’d be today had I not made the decision to reclaim my health. Learning to manage my weight through nutrition and exercise has not only given me confidence, it has helped me set a positive example for my family. But the path has not been an easy one. To tell my story, I have to go back to when I was a teenager.
“I am so embarrassed.” — 1994
Although I was never overweight growing up in Akron, Ohio, my curvy, 5-foot-7-inch figure made me feel huge next to my size-zero girlfriends. I wanted to be as thin as they were, no matter what it took. For me, the solution was purging.
By the time I was 16 I was throwing up meals almost every day. When my mom caught on, she tried relentlessly to keep me out of the bathroom, but that didn’t stop me. I’d hide plastic grocery bags in my room or go for a walk after dinner — whatever I had to do to stay thin. I felt ashamed of my disorder, but equally ashamed of my size. In my eyes, 115 pounds was still too big. Even though my family said I looked sickly, I ignored their concerns. For years, I continued to binge and purge, undeterred.
“I don’t understand why this guy is sticking around.” — 2002
When I was 23, I met my husband, Joshua. We were friends for a year, and then we started dating. I tried to hide my eating disorder, but he knew something was wrong. He bombarded me with questions: Why was I always using the bathroom? Why couldn’t I stay with him after dinner? Why did I always need to brush my teeth?
I didn’t want to be bulimic, but stopping seemed impossible. So finally, about six months into our relationship, I told Josh everything. Any other guy would have run the other way, but Josh stuck around.
Josh and I married when I was 26. I felt beautiful at our wedding. When I walked down the aisle, I weighed 140 pounds. But despite Josh’s love and support, whenever I felt depressed or out of control, I would binge — sometimes eating five fast-food meals in succession — and then purge.
“It’s OK to be fat when I’m pregnant.” — 2006
When I was 28 I became pregnant with our first child, Scarlett. I knew this was an immense responsibility, so for the first time since I was 16, I kept my food down when I ate.
But I had binged for so long that I lacked any willpower. This, coupled with a pregnant woman’s appetite, resulted in a nine-month, all-you-can-eat buffet. I weighed 155 pounds at the start of my pregnancy. By the time I gave birth in December 2006, I had gained 100 pounds.
Despite my joy over having a child, I felt miserable — a combination of postpartum depression and dissatisfaction with my heavier self. Thoughts of purging constantly filled my mind and I had to fight to suppress them. After a year of nursing Scarlett, I began purging again.
“I can’t keep my kids from going places because Mommy doesn’t feel good about herself.” — 2010
In late 2009 I became pregnant again. I felt happy, but nervous about getting even bigger. Although I lost 55 pounds after Scarlett was born, I knew what was coming: I wouldn’t vomit while pregnant, and I was already 200 pounds.
My second pregnancy mirrored my first. I ate carelessly, didn’t exercise, and used pregnancy as my excuse. In May, our family moved to Columbus, Ohio, and joined a nearby country club. Scarlett and I spent the whole summer lounging by the pool and eating junk food. By the time I gave birth to my son, Catcher, in August, I had put on another 85 pounds.
All I could think of was how I could get rid of this weight quickly. The answers that came to me were almost always of an extreme, unhealthy sort.
Then one morning, Scarlett said to me, “Does this make my butt look fat?” She was joking, but I knew where she had picked up the line. At that moment, I realized that my body image was affecting my family.
It was more than a poor example I had been setting; my disgust with my body was robbing Scarlett and Catcher of their childhood. While other moms took their children to the park, we stayed in the house because I didn’t want to be seen in shorts.
At my six-week postpartum checkup I weighed in at 260 pounds, and once my doctor had said that I was cleared to be physically active, I decided enough was enough. I wanted to feel good about myself and set a good example for my children.
“I love the way I feel — I have confidence again.” — 2011
In October 2010 I joined Life Time Fitness at Columbus, Ohio, with the children. I met personal trainer Colleen Kenney soon after joining. I felt extremely comfortable with her and we immediately laid out a game plan.
Initially, I aimed to lose a pound a week. Colleen introduced me to a heart-rate monitor, which I used to track my exercise zones. She also helped me create a routine, consisting of strength training and cardio on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and cardio only on Tuesdays and Thursdays. On Wednesdays, I trained with Colleen in a small group. While I worked out, Scarlett and Catcher played in the Life Time Kids’ Club.
I went from eating large portions of fried foods and sugary drinks to making whole foods the backbone of my diet. Although I still cook dinner for my entire family, I now limit my portions. And I snack throughout the day, but on healthy foods such as fruit, cheese and whole-grain pita with hummus.
Perhaps the biggest jump for me came when I joined Life Time’s 90-Day Challenge in April 2011, and dropped 12.4 percent of my body weight during those three months. The following month I also joined Colleen’s group for a 12-week fitness challenge, in which our team placed fourth nationwide. By July I weighed 170, having lost another 24 pounds.
“I am me again, only better!” — Today
In high school I was out of breath just going up the stairs. Now I can run four miles without slowing down. I’m confident and comfortable in my own skin, and I have no thoughts of throwing up, ever. At 150 pounds, I feel healthy. I look healthy. I realize that the goal of being a size 3 is ridiculous for me, but there is no reason I have to be a size 18, either.
My goals are to run a half-marathon this spring and become certified as a group cycling instructor. But for now, just being able to play tag with my daughter is worth it for me. I really enjoy being active, and I feel like I’m giving that to my kids. I love it when, after dinner, Scarlett says, “Are we going for a walk?”
I want my kids to play sports and take care of their bodies, and also to enjoy an occasional ice cream cone. I want them to have a healthy outlook on life, starting young.
Meet: Stephanie Roehm, 33, stay-at-home mom to Scarlett, 5, and Catcher, 1, wife to Joshua, 39.
Big Achievement: Learning to manage her weight in a healthy manner, after 15 years of bulimia and binge eating.
Big Inspiration: Her children — to set a positive example for them and to be an active, healthy mom.
What Worked: Setting small, measurable goals and having people who cared enough to hold her accountable.
What Didn’t: Trying to lose weight solely through exercise, while continuing to eat poorly.