How Losing 224 Lbs Changed My Life
by Elizabeth Fisher


May 1: Dear Diary today is the day. I'm really scared but I've got to do something. It's time I I'll ask someone to help me who loves me so much she cannot say no... May 10: Dear Diary last week (my sister) Rae called me at work to tell about someone who lost over 100 pounds on something called Optifast. All I could manage as a reply was a befuddled "really?"

Today, wearing a pink blouse and brown polyester pants Mama made me, I went for my first appointment. The nurse took me to a room titled "Weight Management," and before long I was sitting there in a gown that barely covered me, being examined by a doctor who immediately put me at ease. In his office after the exam, he asked me lots of questions about why I was doing this, and he really seemed to care about what l was saying. I told him, "Because it is time... It's because of my health. My mother and an older sister have both had cancer within the last year, and if anything like that happened to me, it would be difficult to treat me because of my size."

I couldn't own up to the real reason--I want to start living my life, and that I'd made a vow to myself that I would either diet or die. Staying fat wasn't an option for me.

These are entries from my diary, dating back to May of 1988. I was 27 years old, and had only just recently been kissed for the first time, by a man who once told me the body is the most accurate calorie counter in the world.

The woman who recorded my weight and measurements that first day used two tape measures, and measured my then 80-inch hips from behind so I didn't have to see the numbers. I watched in wide-eyed amazement as the scale spun up to 419 pounds, but for all I knew the number could just as easily have been 519. I hadn't weighed in at least ten years.

Eighteen weeks into my 420-calories-per-day, medically supervised liquid fast, I crossed the hundred-pound loss mark and began taking iron pills to treat borderline anemia. The president of the company where I worked marked my weight-loss milestone with one-hundred brand new $1 bills. By twenty-four weeks I had lost 129 pounds, and started taking zinc to help minimize my hair loss. By thirty-six weeks, I had lost 182 pounds, and my white blood cell count was low enough to alarm my doctor. He warned that if it continued, he'd have to do "something." At forty weeks, and a 194 pound loss, I had replaced my homemade pink blouse with a trendy pink sweatshirt from The Gap that fit nicely over my now 50-inch hips. Men were flirting with me at every turn, and I was so constipated that even Milk of Magnesia wasn't helping. Within two weeks, and weighing a little over 200 pounds, the doctor broke the news to me that my body was showing signs of malnutrition. My ten-month fast was over. I had my first meal that night (baked chicken and steamed veggies), and continued my weight loss while being reintroduced to solid food.

If you were reading this in some mainstream women's magazine, you would probably expect to hear the "she lived happily ever after as a thin woman" part right now. Actually, I have been living happily ever after (but not in the way some might expect), and I hope you'll help me celebrate my tenth anniversary of losing 224 pounds--a loss that landmarked the beginning of several substantial gains in my life, many of which I've shared with you in previous columns.

In the dark months that followed my tremendous loss, my body rebelled mightily against my self-imposed starvation. I had absolutely uncontrollable cravings for food. I remember sitting in my car in the parking lot of a grocery store crying after having gulped down half a small jar of peanut butter with a plastic spoon. I berated myself for bingeing (I ate six Weight-Watchers popsicles); I forced myself to vomit "bad" foods; I even resorted to laxatives, and when that didn't work--diet pills. It took me years to stop bingeing and establish a healthy relationship with food, and that welcome relief came only after I stopped dieting.

Despite regaining all I lost on Optifast and more, I can truly say that the most important thing I learned from the last ten years is that it is possible to accomplish in life no matter what your weight. I have a husband, friends, a degree, and a job I never dreamed I'd have, and I've even learned to love the limelight I got a taste of at Optifast for being the biggest "loser" they'd ever had. It's just that now my limelight comes from real accomplishments, like hearing from someone whose life has been affected by reading one of my columns, helping fat students with school issues, or even figuring out a complex bit of computer program code, instead of trying to whittle myself down so I take up less space on the planet.

Ironically, one of my greatest fat fears (having to have surgery) was realized as a result of Optifast. Like countless other rapid-weight-loss dieters, all I have left to prove that I ever had a gall bladder are a few small scars. Luckily I made it through the surgery with no problems. I was back at home the next day, and back to a reduced class load two days later.

I know I'm not the only person Optifast failed. Matter of fact, I don't know even one person who did not regain their lost weight, including my friend Frannie. We didn't know each other back then, but we've been making up for lost time since we met a year ago.

Recently Frannie and I, along with our friends Cathy and Melissa, found ourselves in a new limelight when a half-page picture of us marching arm-in-arm at the Million Pound March (held in Los Angeles in August) appeared in two tabloids, available on almost every checkout counter in the U.S. (Check out our tabloid coverage

Today as I researched material for this column, I uncovered a stack of books I accumulated over my years of dieting. Flipping through them brought back old feelings of denial and hunger, but before I burn them all, I'd like to share the one salvageable tidbit of advice I found that sums up how I feel about myself, and how I hope you feel about yourself: "I am a terrific person, and I like myself right now, no matter what I weigh." Happy tenth anniversary to me! Live Large.