Gina Guarino has been overweight for the majority of her 27 years. It’s been a long, sometimes uphill journey, but she recently lost 85 pounds by following Weight Watchers and adopting a fitness regimen that her high school Phys Ed teacher once told her she’d never be able to do. Nonetheless, Gina still copes daily with her body image, weight-loss plateaus and staying on track. Her successes and her struggles are what makes her, in my opinion, an everyday heroine. Healthy weight loss and positive body image go hand-in-hand. But for many of us, like Gina, who have battled both for most of our lives, weight and body image harmony will always be a work in progress. Gina talked about her personal progress with The Body Logic…
The Body Logic: How long have you struggled with your weight and relationship to food?
Gina: My weight issues started as far back as I can remember, since I was probably 6 years old. I was always eating seconds or thirds (and trying to keep up with my father and two older brothers), so the weight just kept packing on and packing on. Because my mom tried to control my eating habits, I would just go to bed so hungry all the time. But then, I would actually hide food under my bed, in my closet, in my dresser, so that when I went to bed I had comfort food, and I went to sleep happy. I even remember getting up when my parents went to bed and very quietly I would go into the kitchen and make Toll House chocolate chip cookie batter (over time, I memorized it and got very good at being quiet and very clean, so it was not noticeable) and just sitting up in bed watching movies and TV in my bedroom until the whole thing was finished. Food was a big comfort for me back then, it was really my only true friend.
What were your first attempts to lose weight?
Gina: In junior high, I experimented with weight loss pills of all kinds, laxatives, a friend’s mother’s prescription of Fen-phen, and I also went as far as becoming bulimic to lose the weight. I remember joining my very first real weight loss plan the summer of my junior year: Richard Simmons. It was rough to stick to, and I lost about 35 pounds just in time for my senior prom. But I don’t remember even being happy with the weight loss. I was still a size 14, which to me back then was obese compared to other girls at school.
How did your struggles progress into adulthood?
Gina: After high school, I worked as a waitress at night and on the theatre circuit, auditioning during the day. The weight gain started right away. I was eating at work constantly, and I was eating on the go much more frequently, as well. I became a fast food junkie. Before I knew it, I was 20 years old, and I had ballooned up to about 210 pounds and I was a size 18/20.
My best friend and I decided to join Weight Watchers. I was very dedicated, and I ended up losing 47 pounds. For the first time, I was in a size 10. When we both had gotten comfortable with the program, we decided to stop paying every week and do it on our own. Bad idea. Within a couple months, the weight started packing on again. Soon, I was bursting out of my 18/20 and had to buy size 22/24 pants.
Was there a “a-ha” moment, a turning point that turned things around for you?
Gina: I was in a production of Thoroughly Modern Millie, and I remember that costume week was the worst week of my life. They could not find any costumes to fit me. My doctor said that I was borderline diabetic, and my weight was a whopping 287 pounds. I had a meltdown and decided something had to be done. I decided to give Weight Watchers another try; and this time, I was even more dedicated than the first time. I began losing, and after I hit the 50 pound mark, I just remember thinking, I don’t want to stop now, I can do so much more, and I accomplishing so much. I will never be the weight I was ever again. And from that point on, I stuck to the plan.
What do you like most about Weight Watchers, compared to other plans you’d tried?
Gina: I could buy my own at the store if I wanted to, I could still eat out, not feel I was on a “diet” and I could still cheat here and there and have snacks when I felt the urge. Weight Watchers just seemed so much more natural than the others, something I could follow for life and not just for a few months or a year.
How have you dealt with weight-loss “pleateaus” during your Weight Watchers journey?
Gina: I have plateaued twice. I was hardly working out in those first 50 pounds—it was all just eating right and cutting my portion sizes. I decided after about two months of no loss, I had to do something. So I started doing aerobics at home, going to the gym sometimes and walking. That helped jump start my metabolism again to break the plateau and lose another 37 pounds.
The second plateau happened to me about five months ago. My body just stopped losing all together. But a friend of mine who has lost over 60 pounds was on this running kick, and she really wanted me to start running with her. I’ve always hated running—did not want to run unless I was being chased. But she told me it will help and encouraged me to just give it a chance.
One afternoon, I joined my friend for a run, and I told her to cut me some slack and take it easy. We literally would just sprint from point A to point B and then walk, sprinted then walked. I didn’t exactly enjoy it or want to keep doing it. I just knew running wasn’t for me. In high school, my P.E. teacher told me that “fat girls can’t run,” and ever since then, I believed it.
Even though you hated it, what made you decide to keep trying?
Gina: My friend told me that she was going to do a half marathon. She really wanted me to just try to do a mile straight through without stopping, staying at an even pace. I only agreed, because she was my friend, and I knew I needed exercise anyway. So, we went to this indoor track, and I had my iPod, and I said to her, “One mile, then I am done.” So, I was running around this track at a good pace and listening to music, feeling a little winded here and there and walking a bit, and before I knew it, my friend turned the corner and held up 5 fingers. “5 miles!” I was shocked! I just ran 5 miles? Oh my God?! So, I figured that since I wasn’t dying, I could keep going. Before I knew it, she said, “7 miles!” Except for the fact my body could hardly move the next day, I felt great! I became addicted to using an outdoor track that’s not far from my house. I enjoyed being outside in the nice weather, while doing something wonderful for myself and my well being.
How has your body image changed since you’ve lost weight and started running?
Gina: Well, I will be honest. I still see myself as a fat girl. There are still times when I walk into a clothing store and head straight for the plus sizes like I am on automatic pilot, cause that is still in my head. I do know I look better than before, and I feel so much healthier, but I still have a really hard time appreciating the work I have done and looking in the mirror and saying, “I’m happy.”
What do you think about using the scale as a measure of success?
Gina: Scales are the devil. When I was a dedicated Weight Watcher, I only weighed myself at my meeting, once a week and didn’t even own a scale at home, and I had no problems. The minute I decided to do it on my home with a home scale, it made me go nuts. I found myself weighing myself when I got up, after work, after I ate, before I went bed. Every chance I got! After a couple months of that, I knew I had to either hide the scale or get rid of it. I told my boyfriend to hide it and only bring it out to me once a week. The best thing I ever did! I have come to the realization that the number on the scale should not bring happiness. I need to take my own advice, and be more happy with how my clothes fit than what number I see on the scale. Success should be measured on how you feel, not what size you wear, how much you weigh – but, it’s hard to think that way with how programmed we are to look at the number.
What keeps you motivated to stay on track, to keep running and pushing yourself even further?
Gina: How I want to see myself and how I want to feel in the future. I don’t want to be 30 in the next couple years and be unhappy with everything I wear and every time I look in the mirror. I also think about how unhappy I was when I was almost 300 pounds and how I never want to get that big again. Feeling healthy and more vibrant helps, too. Also, I’m motivated by friends around me who have lost a significant amount of weight and are working hard toward their goal.
What would you recommend to a girlfriend who is frustrated with her weight or is struggling with a plateau?
Gina: I would suggest digging deep to figure out where the weight gain came from. What makes you eat at 1 a.m.? What makes you go up for the second or third plate? There is a lot of self-searching that comes along with losing weight. It’s more than just changing your eating habits. It’s changing your life for the rest of your life – a complete lifestyle change. And you also have to make sure that you are ready for it and that you want it for you. No one can make you or help you lose weight but you.
Struggling with a plateau is hard. What I can offer is that you can’t nuts over the gain-lose-gain-lose process, it comes with the territory. You just need to keep pressing forward. Do not let it bring you down and hinder your success.
You can read more from Gina on her personal blog, Are We Ever Thin Enough?