BY Gail Ballin/Sarah Fedele
In 2015, I was pushing 300 pounds and busting out of a size 20.
I was incredibly stressed and anxious, and eating to appease my feelings, thinking that with every forkful of pasta I was going to feel less stressed. Every spoonful of ice cream was supposed to make me happy. I would get out of breath just by walking from the kitchen to the bathroom. I was a hot mess. I was on blood pressure medicine, had high cholesterol, and knew I was at risk for heart disease and stroke.
My niece helped to change all that. I never liked wearing a bathing suit, but in 2015 I was visiting family, and we decided to all go to the pool. That afternoon, I recall sitting on the side of the pool dangling my feet in the water when my 6-year-old niece said, “Aunt Gail, do you know
who you look like?”
Now, anyone who has ever been overweight knows that a question like that makes you feel incredibly vulnerable. However, despite the feeling of angst in the pit of my stomach, I said, “Who?”
“Ursula, from The Little Mermaid,” she said. I closed my eyes and pictured the fat, grey, octopus-like monster, and it made me want to cry. This is how she saw me, likely how most people saw me. Everyone but me.
I realized that I didn’t want to be fat anymore. I had that same thought almost daily for decades, but a few days before, my friend Frann had a heart attack and we didn’t know if she would survive. Frann was just a few years older than me, and I knew in my heart that I was a ticking time bomb.
After some deep introspection, I realized that diets never worked for me and I didn’t want to give up the foods I loved.
I decided I would track my calories every day and stick to a specified calorie range. It was an effort to change, and I would stick with it as best I could, knowing that I would have good days and bad days.
I started making small changes the very next day. I ate what I wanted within my daily calorie range and started walking. I started feeling better, motivated, focused and determined. I went to the YMCA and joined group exercise classes almost daily.
As the weight started to melt off, I was even more motivated and would eliminate certain high fat/ high-calorie foods from my diet. I would also kick up my workout routine.
I lost 30 pounds and was surprised folks didn’t notice it. Then I lost 50 pounds and my kids told me how proud they were of me. At 75 pounds, I bought some new workout clothes.
When I lost 90 pounds, I bought running shoes in the most obnoxious color, and I wore them with the pride of a woman reborn. At 95 pounds, I cleaned out my closet and replaced my size 20 jeans with size 10s.
I’ve lost well over 100 pounds and over 39% of my body fat. The joy I feel in my heart is greater than any purchase or any material gift. I gave myself the gift of health.
I wanted to live a longer life for my kids and be able to do things I’ve never done before. I’ve since gone snow tubing and rode many roller coasters! I’ve hiked steep trails and run two 5Ks in a year.
I am off of all medication, and I am healthier and stronger than I have ever been. My journey has been incredible. My physical and psychological transformation is beyond words.
It all started with that first step, and I’m so proud of myself for taking it. I hope to inspire other women to start their own journeys. Mine has been amazing. If I can do it, so can they!
Gail Ballin is one of the American Heart Association’s 2018 Forsyth County Go Red Women. She is sharing her story throughout the year to help other women in Forsyth County make a change and take control of their health. Every 80 seconds we lose a woman to cardiovascular disease. However, heart disease and stroke are up to 80% preventable. The American Heart Association and Forsyth Go Red For Women Sponsor, Novant Health, encourage you to join Gail in taking that first step. March is National Nutrition Month. Visit heart.org/recipes for heart-healthy recipes for you and your family.