“Let go of your baggage so you can see how far you can fly.” – Ann
Ann is one of my role models. She exercises, eats healthy food, takes steps to improve herself, and enjoys hiking in mountains. But she wasn’t always this way. At one time, Ann was thirty five pounds heavier and struggled with bulimia.
Ann was the oldest child in a family of 10 children. After she married Mark, the couple faced several challenges within a few years including struggles with infertility and two miscarriages. “It was a different era. If you had a miscarriage, no one sent a card or called you.”
Besides this, Mark’s parents both died from cancer, and her mother had a diagnosis of terminal cancer. These traumas all contributed to Ann’s overeating and weight gain.
When her daughter, Ellen, was three months old, Ann took a fitness class at Hinsdale Hospital. “I was overweight. I couldn’t walk around the parking lot—a quarter mile distance. It was cold. I was depressed.” This made Ann want to get in better shape and she played tennis and took up jogging. “My husband helped me get back into it. Side by side, encouraging me.”
Brian was born three years after Ellen, and when he was almost three years old, Ann had to return to work full-time because her husband was starting his own business. “I was very grateful to have my children—and I still feel that way. Working full-time wasn’t my intention and it was hard.”
Ann was almost 40 when her mother passed away. “I felt the loss very keenly. Most of my friends hadn’t lost their parents so they didn’t understand. My siblings were younger than me so I felt I had to support them. My youngest sibling was 16 years old. We all grieved together.”
Ann struggled with bulimia and tried to lose weight for many years. “The real key came when I was at a very low point. I was let go from a job that I loved. I had dabbled in many diets and Overeaters Anonymous, but what helped the most was pulling out a ‘12-step’ book. I read and followed the program on my own. It was a spiritual and emotional approach to weight loss.” Affirmations helped, too. Ann repeated, “I am strong,” “I can do this,” “God loves me,” and “Don’t be scared.”
Ann had to learn how to comfort herself. “I had to find a way to handle anxiety without eating. How can you comfort yourself besides with food? I’ve always exercised but I had to eat differently. I had to eat less.” Ann learned to drink a cup of tea for comfort and to fill up with vegetables and fruits. “Then if I did have anxiety, I wasn’t hungry.” Ann considers herself lucky because Mark does the shopping and washes the vegetables. “I put them in a container and bring them to work. It becomes a habit. 80% of the time I reach for vegetables rather than chocolate.”
She also started keeping a Gratitude Journal. “This turned my life around. Think of all you are grateful for and all that you do have when you’re feeling empty from losing a job or whatever.” Other ways that Ann self-comforts are to read, exercise, and to keep up on current thinking about the body and spirit. She recommends these books:
- A Course in Weight Loss: 21 Spiritual Lessons for Surrendering Your Weight Forever, by Marianne Williamson
- Self-Compassion by Dr. Kristin Neff
- The Courage Quotient: How Science Can Make You Braver by Robert Biswas-Diener
- The Icarus Deception: How High Will You Fly? by Seth Godin
Ann also watched how people she admired take care of themselves. “I watched how they do portion control. They allow themselves a treat. It was OK to have one cookie.”
Other challenges were when Ann’s brother died at age 53 of colon cancer, and a cousin died at age 50 of complications from diabetes. “Being with them on their journeys was hard, but I did it. I felt sick to my stomach driving to Grand Rapids to be with my brother. I drank tea and listened to music. After they died, it inched me forward to take more risks. I realized my life will be over too. Their gift to me was the reminder—if we’re willing to listen, that life is a gift.”
Ann has always worked in the nonprofit world including serving as the Executive Director for nonprofits. Currently she works for an organization that serves the elderly. “We had a Valentine’s Day party. To see an elder who has not been able to get out of her home—and she’s bald due to chemo—to see her dance is a beautiful sight.”
When asked if she sees herself as a leader, Ann answers “I don’t see myself as a leader in a grandiose way. I lead in small ways.” Besides her leadership at work, Ann leads a small group of women who discuss spiritual books at her church.
“I try to have reachable goals. If you have goals you can’t reach, you constantly feel ‘less than’. There is pain in letting go of grandiose ideas but I feel good about what I can do.”
Ann is now 63 and didn’t expect to reach this age. “I’m older than my Mom was when she died, and much older than my Dad. It’s strange. I feel grateful, especially because I’m healthy. My Mom reached age 62, but she wasn’t healthy.”
“A big part of my life is relationships—supporting my brothers and sisters, friends, nieces, and nephews. By support, I mean that I talk to them once a week. I’m close to all my brothers and sisters.”
Ann speed walks three days a week, does the Daily Method three times a week, and does yoga two times a week. “I do better if I have to show up on time for a class. Being with a group helps with long walks, too.” She recently did two 10-mile walks and has a 13 mile walk coming up.
When asked if she considers herself fit, Ann says, “Not really. I think of fitness as where I want to go. It’s a process. I set small goals—for example, to do more men’s pushups.” However, Ann has exercised for about 20 years. She finds role models in fit women who are older than herself. “I walk with a woman every Saturday who is ten years older than me and she leaves me in the dust! She has been a gift to me. She has a spunky, ‘can do’ attitude.”
Last summer, Ann and Mark went hiking in the mountains in Utah. The most strenuous day was 5 hours of hiking with a 2100 foot elevation in Zion National Park. She and Mark hope to go mountain hiking in Colorado this summer.
“I want to see where I can go physically, given my age. How much can I walk? Can I climb mountains? If I still had that weight, it would be giving up. I freed myself by getting rid of that excess baggage. In some of my exercises, my hands are back, and it’s almost like flying. Let go of your baggage and see how far you can fly. And celebrate when you take a risk.”
Ann is careful with the risks she takes. “I have my comfort zone, and I think ‘What is a way I can try something new?’ The first time she walked with a hiking group in a forest preserve, Ann made sure it was a forest preserve she was familiar with, she brought a cell phone, and she asked Mark to be on call.
“Life is a personal journey. It’s a personal adventure. You don’t know the end goal but you’re on that journey.”
When asked how it is that she is always striving to grow, Ann responds, “I have no idea, but I watch no TV except for Downton Abbey and maybe a movie once a week. I’m a doer and a reader.”
When asked if she has advice for others, Ann quotes Winston Churchill, “Never, never, never give up.”
After all that she has accomplished, Ann is most proud of working hard on a good marriage and raising her children in the best way that she could.
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Ann’s Favorite Quotes
- “Life is like a game of cards. The hand that is dealt you represents determinism; the way you play it is free will.” – Jawaharlal Nehru
- “Only a heart familiar with death will appreciate the gift of life with so deep a feeling of joy.” – David Steindl-Rast
- “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in. – by Leonard Cohen
- “At any given moment, you have the power to say: This is not how the story is going to end.” – Christine Mason Miller
- “He allowed himself to be swayed by his conviction that human beings are not born once and for all on the day their mothers give birth to them, but that life obliges them over and over again to give birth to themselves.” – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
- If your Nerve, deny you—Go above your Nerve” – Emily Dickinson
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What baggage can you let go of? What is your next adventure? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.