And The Winner Is . . . .

Close up of Caucasian female legs standing on the floor scalesThere are only a few things that intimidate me. One is being in a situation that is completely new to me. The other is what anyone who has a weight issue has—body issues. So, when I got a phone call a month ago telling me that I won an honorable mention in a contest and they wanted me to come for a professional photo shoot, it raised my anxiety level through the roof.

IMG_0040All my life I have struggled with my weight. I look at photos of my youth, and I wasn’t really that big, but what is in our head and what we hear other people say, can burn itself in our brains. My brain said I was overweight and unattractive, and no matter what I did, that wouldn’t change.  Food was a part of our culture.  Our family ate to celebrate, we ate when we were feeling blue, we ate to entertain guests, and we ate just because we could!

I had my first child at 23. I gained more weight than I should have during the pregnancy. dietsSo, in 1973 I joined Weight Watchers. Weight Watchers was nothing like it is today. There were restricted foods, and we were supposed to eat liver once a week and fish twice a week. Regardless, I lost 28 lbs. but, of course, like many, I did not stick with Weight Watchers to make lifetime membership. Three babies later, my weight started inching up with each pregnancy. I became friends again with Weight Watchers, The Diet Center, Calorie Counting, Jenny Craig, Atkins, you name it. I was always somewhat successful, but never down to where I wanted to be before I got bored, hungry, or whatever else the excuse was. Once again, my weight would inch up.  Almost ten years ago I started walking. I found that helped me keep my weight in line, and I even lost a few pounds. Of course, the weather got bad, I got really busy at work, or something would cause me to stop walking.

The funny thing is that I never saw myself as large as I actually was, and yet, those voices saying I was overweight and unattractive still rang in my head at the same time. A couple years ago, I started to not feel well. I wasn’t sick, but I sure didn’t feel great. I went to the doctor to see what is wrong with me. All my blood tests came back within normal limits. The only thing that was discovered was that I had mild sleep apnea. When I went online to learn about sleep apnea, I learned that all the symptoms I had fit right into the sleep apnea list. What surprised me is that it also listed weight gain. So, getting a bi-pap machine relieved my digestive issues, and the headaches and fatigue I felt, but it didn’t take away the extra weight.

I began another diet. My husband joined me.  He lost 20 pounds, and I lost only a few pounds, I got frustrated and quit. I needed something to give me a jump start. But what was that going to be?

One day my husband was on his computer surfing the internet, and he said he ran across something he thought I might find interesting. It was a balloon doctors put in your stomach to make you feel full. It sounded really odd, but I was desperate to do something to make me feel well and healthy. I went to the website, and it said if you wanted more information, to complete the form, so I did. I got an email from a doctor’s office that they were having an informational meeting about these intragastrial balloons. I signed up to attend the meeting.

We drove to St. Louis and attended the meeting. I knew this procedure would not be a magic bullet, but maybe it would give me the jump start I needed. The procedure was noninvasive. They insert the balloon though an endoscopy (down the throat to the stomach). It takes about 10 minutes under anesthesia. The balloon can only be in place for 6 months, and then it is removed. While the balloon is in place, I would be under a doctor’s care, have a nurse practitioner, a dietician, and a behavior coach working with me for not only the six months the balloons were in place, but for another six months after that. I immediately signed up for the procedure.

Andrea_Kushnir_2_300
Dr. Kushner & me

In May of 2016, I underwent this simple medical procedure to help me lose weight. It was called ReShape. The dual balloon made of silicone was placed inside my stomach though an endoscopy procedure. Once the balloons were in place, they filled them with a saline solution. These balloons remained in my stomach for six months while I dieted and exercised. My goal was to lose 60 pounds in six months. I thought it was crazy goal, and one I couldn’t do in the past.

At the end of 6 months, the doctor removed the balloons the same way he inserted them (by endoscopy). I had continued support by this medical team for another 6 months as I worked on the skills to maintain my weight loss.  I have to say, I loved the process. I was so encouraged by this team, and my husband and family. I went from being pretty much a couch potato to walking at least 3 miles a day (dependent on the weather).

This method of losing weight was not magic. I had to diet. I counted calories and made sure I got in the protein required daily. I was one of the fortunate ones who did not feel sick and nauseated the first few days of having the balloons inserted. I was tired but not 21016100_10213730862403475_4873716014703469212_onauseated. If I ate too much, I would feel sick. My goal to lose 60 pounds in that six months became a reality. I was amazed when that happened.  Exercise also became part of this routine.  My husband and I are retired, and we live in the country.  If we walk our whole neighborhood, it is a 3 mile walk from walking out our door to returning.  I wasn’t up for that much walking in the beginning.  It was so bad that I started by walking around the swimming pool three to four times.  As the summer moved on, I started walking the neighborhood.  I would wear my swim suit under my shorts and tank top.  I walked the three miles, back in my front door, out my back door onto the screened-in porch.  I took off my walking clothes, and in swim suit, walked to the pool, jumped in and swam a few laps.  I’m not a great swimmer, but the cooling off in the pool was just what the doctor ordered–well, at least it was what make me feel good and refreshed!  

half_splitplate_bluefade1aI learned new little tricks. One was sharing meals at a restaurant rather than eating the whole entrée myself. If I didn’t have anyone to share a meal with, I asked for a container before I started eating and put half the meal in there to take home. If I didn’t ask for the container immediately, I found it was very easy to slip into old habits and nibble away on the food until it was gone.  I kept my calorie count on “My Fitness Pal” on my computer and as an app on my iPhone. The doctor also gave me a Fitbit scale, and my weight also fed into this app, so I could look at the graph of my weight going down!

Weight loss came, it wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t hard. The hard part is keeping the weight off. In the informational meeting, the doctor told us that statistically only 25% of those who lose weight keep it off for five years. I want to be one of those 25%. I don’t want to go through all this work and later have nothing to show for it.

It has now been a year and a half. My weight is stabilized. I do a lot of walking. My goal is to walk 10,000 steps at least three times a week, and at least 5,000 the other four days. I have been successful at that, usually getting the 10,000 steps in more often if the weather is cooperating.  I feel good. I love being active again. Some days are a struggle—a struggle eating the right things or exercising. I do not beat myself up for those tough days. I just set the next day to be better than the bad day before.

The company that manufactures this balloon has a website for all those who are using the procedure. We can log into this site and share our experiences with each other. One day on the site I saw that they were offering a contest for us to write our success story. I thought this might be a good thing to do, but I waited to enter. Actually, I waited until almost the deadline time, because I wanted to know that I had control of my weight before I bragged about my success. I completed the online application and included my story.

In December 2017, I got a call from a representative of ReShape, who asked that I come IMG_4138to California for two days for this photoshoot. My first response was that I was on vacation in Florida on the dates they wanted me. Heidi said they would fly me from Florida. It wasn’t that easy to me. The dates they wanted me was when I was in Panama City Beach, but the next day we were to drive to Fort Lauderdale. No problem to them—they would fly me from the one location and deliver me back to the other.

00 GLAM SQUAD
My Glam Team – me, Debra (my wardrobe guru), Merri (my hairdresser), Terri leading the project, & Amber (my interviewer).

I left Panama City Beach at noon, and I arrived at Orange County (John Wayne) Airport at 6:30 pm on Thursday. By 8:00 pm, I was in the suite in the hotel getting a fitting for clothes to be worn the next day in the various photoshoots. The first dress Debra had me try, was totally wrong for me. I hated it on the hanger, and hated it even more on me. Now I was really intimidated by the process. Then she handed me this blue dress, sleeveless on one arm, and a shawl-like sleeve on the other. I loved the dress. it was unique and beautiful. Through the fittings, the team from the advertising agency selected three outfits for me—pin-striped slacks with a blue top, the blue dress described above, and a purple dress. I was done for the evening.

00 CLOTHES
Clothes used for all the winners.

Friday morning started at 5:30 am, with hair being styled, and makeup applied. By 8:00 am, I was in outfit #1 and whisked away to a small boutique for the video shoot and interview. The party dress that was selected was hung on the rack with their other dresses. The camera crew was busy moving clothes racks, setting up lighting screens (for lack of a proper knowledge of their technical names). This process was a lot of “hurry up and wait.” Then I was given the instructions to walk around the rack of dresses, stop, look through them one at a time, stop at the designated dress, pull it out, hold it up to myself like I am admiring it and thinking how great it would look on me (all of how I do not shop)! They took the first shot and said, “great,” then they said, “do it again.” So funny—they were all great but I had to do several retakes. This is Hollywood!

Now the dress is selected in the video. Scene #2: Stay in the slacks and top. Sit on the stool and do an interview about my experience of the ReShape medical procedure. Now they are moving racks of clothes around, deciding if they want to use stools or chairs to sit on, moving all the camera equipment around. Then comes the young man with the clapperboard. He put in right in front of my face and says, “Take 3, soft sticks.” I had no idea what the “soft sticks” was all about, but they began filming at that time, until the director would say, “Cut.” Yep, this is real Hollywood-like! Amber was my interviewer. She would ask the question, and I was to reply by answering the question using the question as the beginning of my sentence. Sometimes, I would start to answer, and then forget the what the question was! Most of the time, I did okay, and once again, Hollywood-like, they will tell me it was great and then ask me to say it again!

00 HEIDI
Heidi with me.  She was the one from ReShape who called me to tell me I was a winner!

Once the interview was finished, they instructed me to change into the party dress. Now was the time for this non-actress to make her Loretta Young entrance! Okay, I didn’t have a winding stairway to float down, but I was to open the curtains of the dressing room, walk out, pretend to look at my husband to show off my dress. I think I took at least six takes on that one! Of course, before all that happened, racks were moved out of the way, lighting screens were moved around, test shots were taken. It was “hurry up and wait” once more!

Now during all this filming, Debra, my wardrobe guru, was tucking, pulling, lint rolling, double taping bra straps not to show.  Cassie, my makeup artist, was constantly retouching my face. If I needed a drink of water, she was over immediately to touch up the lipstick. Mary, the hairdresser, was constantly moving, spraying, keeping each hair exactly where she wanted it. What a crazy ride—having these folks making sure the look was perfect! We spent almost three hours at the boutique filming before 00 STILLSthey were all satisfied with the work. I changed out of all these clothes, put my jeans, shirt, and sneakers on, and was put back into a car and whisked back to the hotel for a quick lunch.

Once I had lunch, the process started again. A new dress, a pair of heels, hair retouched, makeup retouched, and down 12 floors to a conference room for a photoshoot of still shots. This team was fun. Maybe I was finally more relaxed. I had all these photos taken in front of a white screen. They were teaching me how to pose. I do not envy any professional models. “If it doesn’t hurt, you are not posed,” was pretty much the mantra for that session! I spent 90 00 MORE STILLminutes with this delightful team. I think we laughed our way through this shoot. They were so nice, funny, and we worked hard.

You would think I would be done by now, but no, one more thing to do. Fortunately, I was handed a pair of hotel slippers so I didn’t have to wander the halls in heels all day. Now off to another hotel room with three ladies from a marketing group that handles the social media. By this time I was exhausted, and just glad they gave me a comfy chair to sit in. It was another interview, and I just went through pretty much the same questions I got from the early agency team. This interview, though, was a lot more casual, and we just chatted.

00 ALMOST DONE
A few more of the folks in another interview.

Finally, I was finished. It was 5:30 pm. I had just done 12 hours of dressing, filming, interviewing, filming, and interviewing. I had a wardrobe person, makeup artist, and  a hairdresser. I lived a day of “Hollywood.” By the way, I got to keep the two dresses, slacks, shirt, and two pair of shoes! I got to fly from Florida and back. I got to meet a ton of interesting people. I got to be treated like a star.

It went by so fast, I feel like I kind of missed savoring the moment.  I would have loved to have spent more time getting to know all these great people.  I will probably never see any of them again. I am grateful that I won this honor. Yes, I also got a financial prize along with all the clothes. They say I will receive the photos—I don’t know when that will be.

What I am most grateful for is that I was finally successful at my weight loss.  For me it was not about being thin–I am not “thin.”  I am healthy. I am physically active now like I have never been before. I have met so many wonderful people, from the doctor’s office, to my “Hollywood” friends. I am a lucky girl. Who would have thought that this kind of thing would happen to a little girl from St. Louis, Missouri? Who would have thought that this would happen in her senior years? Who would have thought she is so blessed to have wonderful husband of only 4+ years who has been her cheerleader through all of this? God has truly blessed this girl from the Midwest. From my roots as a first generation American on my dad’s side, 2nd generation on my mom’s side, all the challenges I have had in my life, and this week it was a Cinderella story.

I am grateful that I had this medical tool to get me jump started. I am grateful for the new learning and the support I got from the medical staff, and especially my husband, who went along for the ride of eating healthier and working out.

P PigThis is not a one time and “that’s all folks” kind of thing.  Watching my weight, keeping it in control, and exercising regularly must be an ongoing activity of my life.  This is my lifelong struggle. I know that.  When the few pounds inch up again, I need to remember to remove it from the “denial” part of my brain, and stop it in its tracks. This is my new reality.  It’s one I think I really like.002 Clapperboard

25 comments

  1. Great writing. Great story and a very cool experience. How nice to be a queen for the day! Your pictures were pretty and the dress and you were like very.

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  2. I have a friend who had his teeth redone by a dentist in Tulsa. He was asked to be in a calendar for this certain dental procedure. They flew him and his wife to California for photo shoots, etc. They had a similar experience to yours. Lots of waiting, lots of nice people, lots of great pictures. He was the oldest one in the calendar, but he is a good looking 70 year old man. I am so happy for you!! I loved reading your story!!

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  3. What a wonderful adventure you went on. I loved reading your story, and I don’t think ReShape could have choosen a better winner! Wishing you continued success in keeping the weight off and enjoying the walks.

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  4. Congratulations on your honor, how exciting! Enjoy every minute and do your best to look and feel as good as you can. The alternative is to sit in your rocking chair and wait for death to overtake you, I tell my husband I want one more great adventure and off we go. I’m very proud of your effort to be your best . You look great and happy.

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  5. Andea you are an Amazing, and Beautiful person. I’m so glad our paths in life have crossed. Thank you for writing about your experience, tenacity and resolve to improve your health. You inspire all those who read your words, to strive and reach their goals ♥

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  6. Congratulations, Andrea! What a wonderful experience for you, and, yes, all that hard work paid off! You look stunning in your new suit of confidence and accomplishment!! Beautiful You!

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  7. What fun, Queen for a Day! (old tv show I watched with my Mom) I am so proud of you, you make me want to try this weight loss program. My daughter has been after me for some time to do this, but I was afraid. I will have to get more info from you. I enjoy your writing, you should try a book. Carolyn

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