Name: Janet Solbakken
Location: Hayward, California
Although Janet came from a family that encouraged healthy eating, she feels genetics were to blame. "My brother, my father, my mother, and I were all overweight, and then there was my skinny little sister," she says. "We all ate the same foods, which included lots of fruits and vegetables. My mom was very conscious of healthy eating because of her own struggles with her weight, but except for my sister, we were all still overweight. That makes me think genetics had something to do with it."
Janet and her family tried everything they could think of to get healthy, and every once in a while, Janet was able to lose a little bit of weight—but it always came back. Decades of yo-yo dieting followed until, finally, a health scare led Janet to take control of her weight—and her life—once and for all.
This is Janet's story.
How did you attempt to lose weight as a teen?
My mom took my brother and me to a program called "TOPS," or Take Off Pounds Sensibly. It's basically a weight-loss support group. She also took us to a nutritionist, who put us on diet pills for a little while. You have to remember, this was in the 1970s, so they did things like that. I remember the nutritionist also giving me a stamp book of foods I could eat; I was supposed to use the stamps to keep track of calories. I didn't really use it.
Did anything work?
One year, when I was around 10, I stayed with my aunt for a few weeks during winter break. She put me on a really great diet where she just gave me three meals a day and I could have healthy, low-calorie snacks like cucumbers. I actually lost a lot of weight with her, but when I went home, it was into an environment that was a lot less structured. My mom was working at that time, so I had to fend for myself when it came to food. Once I lost my aunt's supervision, the weight came back pretty quickly.
Did you have any success with losing weight as you got older?
I lost weight three times as a young adult. When I first left high school, I had gotten to 268 pounds. I freaked out and remember thinking, "My gosh, that's too heavy!" I got back to 205 pounds, but the weight crept back on slowly until I reached 295. Once again I managed to drop the weight—reaching 210 this time. My cycle wasn't over though: I hit 390, managing to get back down to 260 pounds that time. With each successive weight loss, I actually gained weight.
Weight: 379 lbs.
Weight: 170 lbs.
I did it the right way all three times: I exercised a lot and watched what I ate. I didn't starve myself; I just cut back on unhealthy foods and tracked what I was eating. But once I lost the weight, I'd slowly slip back into unhealthy habits. I'd treat the weight loss as an excuse to have an unhealthy meal, then two, then three, and eventually, everything I was eating was unhealthy. Yo-yo dieting had become a pattern for me. I knew I could lose weight again if I gained it back, and I used that as an excuse whenever I started to gain weight again.
What was your turning point?
At 49, I weighed 379 pounds. I was down in Mexico with a friend of mine, and we were walking. She was walking fast and we were walking up a slight incline. Because I was trying to keep up, I really pushed myself physically, and my heart started beating so hard. It was the first time I thought I might actually have a heart attack. That was my wakeup call. Feeling my heart pound like that made me realize how sick I was and that I could, in fact, actually die.
That experience made me face the fact that I just didn't feel good. I was scared because I started to think about how I might have to have someone take care of me. I was 49, and all of a sudden, I started to notice that getting up off the couch was a big deal; forget bending down or picking something up off the floor.
What was the first step you took to get back in control of your weight?
I had lost weight before by taking long walks, so I thought I would start there. I went for a walk. There's a mall that's about three miles from my house, so I decided I would walk there and back. On that walk, I saw a sign outside someone's house for personal training.
What did you think about the idea of hiring a trainer?
I had actually contacted a personal trainer prior to that, but she didn't show up for our session. It was a really negative experience, so I didn't try again for a while. But, by the time I saw that sign, taking a chance had already been in the back of my mind. I decided to go for it, and it helped that I like the name on the sign, too: Ungifted Athletes. I thought, "That's me!"
How did your trainer get you started on the path to getting fit?
The first thing he had me do was sit down on a platform and get back up. The height of the platform was adjustable, so as I got stronger, he'd make the platform get lower and lower. It was sort of a build-up to doing squats.
When did you start to see results?
I started seeing my trainer weighing 379 pounds. I lost the first 20 pounds really quickly—probably about a month or so. That was a small change, but I felt like I had more energy. I felt lighter and better. That made me start to feel more positive, and it gave me some motivation to keep going.
Did you make changes to your diet as well?
My trainer didn't give me a diet at first, but I knew I wanted to eat right. I was still eating some junk food—particularly candy—but I started keeping a food journal to keep myself accountable. I ate a lot of lean meats and vegetables.
How did you fight cravings?
My biggest craving has always been ice cream. I told my trainer I was struggling with that, and his advice was to just wait. If you have a craving, follow the 10-minute rule: If you wait 10 minutes, the craving will pass. That worked really well for me.
What does your diet look like now?
Whole-wheat toast 2 slices
Egg whites 1/2 cup
Whole egg 1
Spinach 1/2 cup
Mushroom 1/2 cup
Onion 1/2 cup
Turkey sausage 2 oz.
Chicken breast 2 oz.
Chicken breast 4 oz.
Broccoli 1 cup
Zucchini 1 cup
Brown rice 3/4 cup
Low-fat Greek yogurt 1/2 cup
Turkey tenderloin 4 oz.
Baked potato 1/2
Fat-free sour cream 2 tbsp
Steamed carrots 1 cup
Mustard greens 1 cup
What kept you motivated throughout your transformation?
I lost 200 pounds in about two years. As I kept working out, I started running and found that I really enjoyed it. My trainer helped me set goals to start racing—first some 5k and 10k races, and then a half-marathon. Eventually, he challenged me to run a full marathon. Training for that was hell. I'm not very fast, so I was running for 7-8 hours on Saturdays to get in 18 or 20 miles. My whole Saturday was gone.
How did you overcome your training difficulties?
If I didn't do it, I'd have to go back to my trainer and explain why. It's not so much that I was scared of him being mad, but I didn't want him to be disappointed. As my trainer, he's the main person who helped me get the weight off and keep it off. It felt like we were a team. We did this together. When he asked me to do something, it meant something to me. It wasn't just him being a pain in the neck; it was about me progressing and getting better.
Plus, it was amazing to set out and achieve my goal and to finish a marathon at my age. How many people can say that?
What workouts helped you reach that goal?
What are your goals now?
The best part of my journey is definitely all the things I can do now that I could never do before. I went horseback riding for the first time. Finally, after all these years, I was able to get on a horse. That was really cool. I went on a zip line, and I noticed the weight limit; there was a long time that I wouldn't have made that weight limit, but this time I could partake.
Even just being able to go to a restaurant and sit in a booth comfortably is so nice. Going to movies, flying on an airplane, fitting into rides at the fair—all of those things were so difficult to me before because of my size. Now, I don't have to think twice about them anymore.
I've been thinking about what else I want to do. I like to hike, so I've been thinking that I'd like to visit Yosemite National Park. At my age, I don't think I want to run another marathon, but maybe I'll work my way up to half-marathons again. I feel like I can do anything now.
How did you discover Bodybuilding.com?
I had surgery to remove excess skin from my abdomen, which laid me up for a while. I used that time when I couldn't exercise to train to become a trainer. I did a search looking for certain kinds of exercises, and Bodybuilding.com came up. I loved the site. The variety of exercises has been really helpful. It gets me excited about new training approaches and gives me information I can use to help my clients.