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400 Pounds At 40: Gigi's Story

In conjunction with the HBO documentary “Weight of the Nation,” WebMD is examining some of the issues surrounding the nation’s obesity crisis. In this piece, 41-year-old Gigi Filippi talks with WebMD’s Valarie Basheda about how she confronted her weight problems. Since the documentary was filmed about a year ago, Gigi has lost more than 100 lbs. and plans to lose another 120. Her 16-year-old daughter has also lost 100 lbs. Gigi also started a wellness committee at the call center where she works that offers challenges on food and fitness.

Photo of Gigi Filippi


Question: When did your struggles with weight begin?
Gigi: When I was really little I did not have a weight problem. By the time I was 8 both my parents were dead….. I can actually pinpoint it to the age 8 when my father passed away…It’s been a progression over the past years and has been worse and worse. To be 40 years old and 400 pounds last year, there were a lot of issues somewhere….  I had tragedy after tragedy in childhood I searched in the wrong places for that void to be filled in life.

My greatest support is in the workplace. I told the owner that she’s saved my life. I will always credit the environment she’s created here in the work place to give the confidence that I can do this myself.

Question: Did something happen to prompt you to start losing weight?
Gigi: Something did happen. I had to go to Vegas for a convention. The flight was full coming back. I was stuck in the very back row on the airline. They were asking for volunteers to get off the plane because the plane was too heavy. A man was sitting next to me, he got off the plane, he changed his whole flight because he said I was too heavy to sit next to. At that point, I was just like, “I don’t want to live like this, I have to fix what’s broken in me….

It was my lifestyle, it was the choices that we made, being a single mother, working all the time, trying to make the dollars stretch and feed her, feed me, and the choices were all wrong…..  My daughter was miserable, she was starting high school. I had so much guilt on me… I’m very strong in my faith. Every night when I prayed, I would pray I would not die in my sleep. I was so afraid I was going to die.

Question: How did you get started?
Gigi: If you put your mind to it, you have to do it for yourself, you have to do it for your family. You have to start, and as a female, and as a single mother, for some reasons it’s embedded in us that if we take the time to take care of ourselves, it’s selfish. Yes, it is cheaper to go through the McDonalds drive through, and yes it is cheaper to make processed foods. It’s cheaper now, but the end result…has a consequence, either immediately or down the road.

I take time to invest what I put in my mouth because I’m investing in myself and the future of my daughter. I have learned to find a way. We cut cable out. We don’t need cable, if that’s taking away from us eating healthy, then cable is the first to go. If we have time to sit around and watch TV, we have time to be exercising.

You have to find what your weakness is. What are you spending you money on, what areas can you cut from. Friends ask, “How are you doing this?” It’s always they can’t, can’t can’t …. You have to learn to get out of your mind set and believe in yourself and have the determination that you can do this. If you want it, it’s achievable and it’s necessary.

Question: What other changes have you made?
Gigi: I don’t try and find the closest parking spot anymore. It’s nice to feel I can walk from point A to point B now. I’m getting a little bit of exercise in. I don’t have that fear anymore that I am going to have a heart attack. I don’t have that fear that I am going to drop dead if I walk a little….

I’ve learned through this whole process that if I don’t plan what I’m going to eat I’m setting myself up for failure. Sunday I prepare meals for the whole week. I bring my lunch every day…. I cannot allow any excuses. I’ve also learned where I can go to eat that has healthier options. When groups of people go out, it’s not about the food, it’s about the fellowship.

We eat spinach 2 or 3 times a day. We joke that we eat like little old ladies. Fish and spinach have become our best friends and we really enjoy it. For a 16-year-old-to ask me for fish and spinach I’m all on it. She has always loved fruits and vegetables and I felt so guilty before our weight loss because I would tell her I just didn’t have the money. Now, we do it.

I even got rid of my SUV and got a 2-door car to save on gas so I would have extra money. So when I say I’m serious about this, I’m serious. I know because I live it.

As a female, what I can’t stress enough is that ok to take out the time out yourself. If you’re a struggling single mother, as I have been for 16 years, there is a way out of this. You have to take care of yourself to take care of your family.

Question: What’s the best change that has come out of your weight loss so far?

Gigi: I’m a stronger person, the healing process has started after 40-plus years. I feel like a different person mentally, physically and emotionally and I fell like I’m able to start living again and I can be a part of every day society.

Photo: Courtesy of HBO
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