Obesity to OMG: one woman’s journey

RobertabeforeafterwimbleThanks to the wonders of the internet, I’ve had the pleasure of speaking to many inspiring and successful people. One such person is fitness coach, Roberta Saum, who has honoured me by allowing me to interview her. Thank you, Roberta!

Darren: Tell me a little about your background.
Roberta: I currently work as an online fitness coach but previously worked for Hewlett-Packard for 25 years. I started working for HP at age 17 and at the same time started my passion for fitness and outdoor activities. I currently work as a fitness coach and Brand Ambassador for several companies: 1st Phorm, Hopelessly Romantic Media Productions and The Venus Factor. I’ve started my own blog.

Over the years I ran marathons, ultra marathons, lifted weights, played sports, practiced martial arts, hiked, biked and enjoyed the outdoors and back packing. I’ve always been strong and active yet the weight crept up year after year until I reached the point of obesity at age 48.

I currently volunteer as a Reserve Deputy Sheriff and still love weight lifting, Muay Thai Kickboxing, Yoga, running, biking, and hiking.

Darren: Clearly, you have made an amazing fitness transformation – what has been your inspiration to achieve this?
Roberta: I have always had a passion for fitness and healthy eating but could never understand the continuous weight gain even though I was so active. I finally reached the last straw when I’d reached 197 pounds (I am only 5 foot tall). I was very unhappy and depressed and I thought something was wrong with me. I had a lot of health issues and was tired all the time. I had tried so many diets over a 15 year period that I finally decided to focus on portion control and watching what happened to my body.

The secret I learned was “mini meals” and “mini fasting”. For me that meant eating food in smaller portions on dessert plates and shortening my eating window by either not eating in the evenings or not eating in the mornings (breaking my nightly fast later in the day).

I never realized I was such a small person until I lost 85 pounds. Since I was active and strong people always said “You must have big bones” or “Muscle weighs more than fat”. But the reality was that I am small (hint short) and that there really isn’t such thing as “big bones”. It’s the muscle combined with fat that make females look bulky. Once you lose the fat, the bulkiness goes away. The smaller you are the less food you need.

I combat adrenal fatigue and low thyroid and hormone issues that come with age. I still have those issues, but that does not cause weight gain. Those hormone issues make it hard to control food portions which is ultimately what makes us gain fat. Control the food portions and control the body fat level. You can call the food portions whatever you want: calories, carbons, portions, points, meal plans. The bottom line is that it’s the food energy and how your body reacts to the amounts that matters. If you are gaining fat it’s too much food for you. It comes back down to that time and time again. It doesn’t matter what any tool, chart, guru, doctor, theory, book, calculator or calorie counting tool says – your body is the end game.

It is very easy to go down the path of emotional paranoia about hormones and metabolism. I still have to push aside my emotions about that and remind myself that it all comes down to amount of food, consistency and patience.

Darren: And what now motivates you to continue?
Roberta: It makes me so sad to see other women especially going down the same path. I see obesity climbing and people not aware of their food intake and I want to help.

As for myself, I finally achieved the dream I’ve had since a teenager. I didn’t achieve that dream until age 50. I never want to give up that dream or go back to what I once was.

Many of my health issues have been reduced or completely disappeared since losing the weight. I had chronic lower back pain for 15 years that went away once the weight was gone. It made me realize what a huge unhealthy burden all that extra fat was on my body and small 5 foot frame. It’s no wonder I was sick and tired all of the time, that’s like carrying around an 80 pound back pack 24×7. Just getting out of bed in the morning is painful effort at that point.

Darren: What are your top 3 tips for those inspired to follow in your footsteps?
– Exercise consistently, but start where you are at even if that is just walking or air squats and wall pushups.

– Track your food intake accurately. Take your diet in small sustainable steps. At first maybe just cut out desserts and extra portions of high fat and high carb foods. Eventually get to the point where you eat mostly 1-5 ingredient foods, home prepared meals, or similar fresh store prepared meals.

– Get your family and friends on board to help you. You can’t rely on willpower alone. Setup a small team, and setup your work and home environment for success. Get specific foods out of the house or around you at work that hinder your goals.

– Bonus Tip: Take ownership for food intake. Never again give that ownership to friends and family. If you are at a party and there is cake, you can decide for yourself to have the cake or not. Own what you put in your body. You don’t have to explain why you decide to not have cake. You don’t have to explain you are on a diet. Just simply say “No thank you” and OWN IT.

Roberta-AFTER-HRMP-skirt-standingDarren: What has been one barrier to your success and how have you overcome it?
Roberta: The biggest barrier was not understanding that my body needed less food. It really was that simple. It didn’t matter what anyone else or any calculator said, if my body was gaining fat it meant too much food.

Food rules and myths were a barrier. Ditch all the food rules and myths about breakfast, eating before bed, meal timing and fasting. Find what works for you and just do it.

Diets were barriers. Many diets don’t work because they deprive you of specific foods. Don’t deprive yourself of foods you love. You can have all the food you love but probably not every day, and certainly not all at once. Depriving yourself of specific macros sets you up for failure. We all need protein, fiber, carbs, fats and nutrients. Find the right balance for yourself. For the most part we all feel best with the main focus on protein and veggies and the rest can fall into place if you include them in appropriate portions for yourself. We all pretty much know what healthy food is, we just need to find what we like that is healthy and include all the various colors. Having a diet you don’t enjoy or that is not sustainable usually sets you up for failure.

Too much stress is a barrier. Sleep and stress management is key for fitness success. That must always become first priority as the rest falls apart without that balance. Stress drives up our hunger and destroys our ability to recover from or perform workouts. Lack of sleep seems to be the biggest stress and hindrance to achieve fitness goals.

Listening to the advice of others is a barrier. There is too much conflicting information and a lot of information overload. Advertisements are full of scare tactics. Ditch all the rules, start with what seems reasonable to you and adjust as you learn. Make it your own experiment while you pay attention to your body and your health.

Being impatient is a barrier. This is not an instant gratification process. Be willing to focus on the process of exercise and diet consistency day in and day out without looking at the results until later. They will come later. Even now, if I want to see a small change I give it a minimum of 3 weeks, and then I must be extremely accurate and consistent for 3 weeks to even see that small change.

Darren: Have there been any mistakes you’ve made along the way?
Roberta: The biggest mistakes were attempting shortcuts with artificial foods, sugar free, fat free, etc. The bottom line is that there are no short cuts. For me the artificial foods caused bloating and more food cravings and other health issues which ultimately caused weight gain instead of loss.

You can’t rely on willpower. There is just too much food available to us at all times. We have to develop strategies against it and ways to avoid it. Our willpower is stronger in the morning so it’s easier to delay the first meal and save portions for later in the evening.

Darren: What are your future fitness goals?
Roberta: Right now I just need to maintain. At 54 years old I’ve probably reached my genetic potential for muscle growth and strength. I can tweak here and there if I want to get better at a specific sport, but for the most part I’m “there” and I need to work to “stay in place”. It still requires constant effort. Our lives have ebbs and flows and we don’t stay exactly in the same spot. It’s kind of like being on an escalator and sometimes you walk up the steps a little faster or slow down and have to catch up, but you know you never need to get off the fitness escalator.

Other than that my biggest passion is to help others, especially women who experience the same frustration and hurdles as I have. The biggest struggle for me going forward is balancing work load stress as I am becoming more and more in demand and like everyone else I only have 24 hours in each day.

Once again, I’d like to thank Roberta for taking the time to answer these questions.