By Indira Levine, as told to Jennifer Clopton
At my heaviest, I was 336 pounds.
I didn’t get to that number on the scale overnight. For as long as I can remember, I’ve struggled with my weight, and it slowly went up over time.
This challenge runs in my family. Growing up, I was surrounded by love, lots of southern food and people who wanted to lose weight but didn’t really know how. People in my small hometown weren’t going to the gym to lift weights or running 5ks on the weekend, and I just didn’t know how to change my exercise or eating habits. So I lived a pretty sedentary life, and I ate whatever I wanted.
By the age of 12, I was wearing a girdle. A few years after that I was carrying an inhaler everywhere I went because climbing just a few stairs would leave me out of breath. And in my 20s, I was so addicted to sweets that I would order wedding cakes from the grocery store, move the shelves in my refrigerator to fit my enormous purchases and eat them all by myself.
By the time I was 25, I had crossed over the 300-pound mark and my mother was dying from a long illness not related to her weight. Shortly before she passed, she sat me down and said, "Indira, whatever you do, lose the weight. You can’t go on living like this.”
Her dying request was the motivation I needed to change. But I had no idea how to do what she was asking. All I knew was I couldn’t do it myself. So I put my mother’s pictures around my house to inspire me, and I called a trainer and paid him 2 months upfront so I couldn’t back out.
I ended up losing 140 pounds. It took me 9 years.
People are often shocked when I tell them I spent almost a decade losing weight but don’t think I’m saying this apologetically. I am so very proud of the way I went about this and truthfully, I don’t think any other way would have worked for me.
Big problems don’t develop overnight so it’s unreasonable to expect that they’ll go away quickly. So I started small and slow, with habits I knew I could keep up. I got off my couch. I got more active. I started working out, got workout buddies to hold me accountable and learned to lift weights.
I watched what I ate. I measured and prepped my food. I cut out sugar. I celebrated good days and used my bad days as motivation to try harder. And slowly - very, very slowly - my mindset, body and habits began to change. I was no longer pre-diabetic. I started to understand what I needed to do to get healthy and I actually wanted to do it.
The most amazing part of my story is that as others saw me progress on my health journey, they began to ask me to help them on theirs. Nine years later, I’m now a fitness coach and help run a gym, which seems crazy because I used to be the least athletic person you can imagine. But I’ve made it to a point where my life has transformed and I can teach others to make the changes they dream of too. In doing so, I have come to realize that all true transformations take time.
It takes time for the pounds to fall off and muscle to build up.
It takes time to recover from mistakes. (It took time to make those mistakes, too).
It takes time to get healthy enough to no longer need medication to manage high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes – but I’ve watched many people do it after a lot of hard work and it is so rewarding.
It takes time for your insides to catch up with your outside.
And it takes time to find your motivation, day after day, year after year, decade after decade.
None of this is easy. It’s actually really hard. Things that really matter often require a lot of effort and that is still true for me. So I still reach out to others for help and inspiration. I still measure my food and force myself to go to the gym, even when I’m tired. And I still regularly remind myself that after this level of success, I don’t want to go back to the old me.
In late 2017, I was finishing my first Spartan Race - a 5 mile, military-style obstacle course that was insanely challenging. I ran it with a great time and as I jumped over fire at the finish line, I realized I was bawling. Tears were streaming down my cheeks because I knew in that moment that my mother must be so very proud of me.
As I then ran under a giant sign announcing that I was crossing the ‘Finish Line,’ I also realized that my health journey is actually just beginning and that’s where the pride in myself comes from. I figured out how to change the direction of my life, had the patience to see those changes through, and now I commit, day after day, to keep it going.
Indira Levine is a news photographer for a television station in Washington, D.C. and a personal trainer at Les Talk, More Training in Capitol Heights, MD, where she has helped about 150 clients start their own journeys to better health. She is now a practicing power lifter and recently competed in her first tournament. To learn more about Indira's health journey, follow her on Instagram.