Dorothy Washington of Bartlett is less than half the woman she used to be, now that she’s lost 135 lbs. Four years ago, her best friend’s death from weight-related issues shook her out of bad habits.
“It takes something like that to wake you up,” the 42-year-old said in an interview on Friday. “I didn’t immediately wake up. it took me probably a couple of months, and I just decided I wanted to live.”
She began putting one foot in front of the other for exercising. At first, it was a chore to walk even short distances without resting.
“I live in Bartlett Woods, and there’s a light there. Small goal. After five minutes, my legs would be killing me,” she said.
But she sat on the curb, rested, and kept getting up to try again.
She increased her distance every day and eventually started working out at the Planet Fitness gym when it opened in Bartlett. At first she concentrated on cardio and gradually started to use the weights as she saw others working out. Her workouts today vary, but one recent two-hour session included about 45 minutes of weights, two miles on the treadmill and about 20 minutes of ab work.
Other times, she works out a half hour in the mornings and again in the evenings. She varies her workouts by running, going to parks and staying active in different ways.
“It’s my therapy,” she said. “It’s a therapeutic thing. It really brings you so much calm. … It made me feel better. I didn’t think about stressful things. The first year, I lost about 75 lbs. — it was fun.”
Her gym’s staff have always greeted her by name, praised her efforts and encouraged her all the way, she said. To this day, she doesn’t feel like she’s just another anonymous face going to the gym for a workout.
“Everybody else is coming to MY gym,” she said with a smile in her voice.
She was encouraged when she started to see and feel changes. While exercise was what helped her most, she also improved her eating habits, saying, “When you start to feel better, you eat better.”
Today she’s down to about 130 lbs. and has an eye on the scales to drop just a few more.
“My entire life, I’ve always had weight,” she said. “I grew up in the South, on the farm, and my grandmother always showed love with food. Everything fried, everything smothered in sauces.”
Biscuits. Gravy. Fried pork chops. Carbs. Sweets. And plenty of soda.
“I can’t tell you the last time I ate pork,” she said. “And I don’t eat sweets. I had a serious sweets problem. … It took me a while to kick that sugar. But sugar was my main thing.”
She didn’t gain a lot of weight until she had children. It was 50 lbs. at first … and then it kept accumulating. She was active even at her heaviest, but not enough to lose the extra weight. As the mother of two grown children and three school-age foster children she adopted, Washington has stayed on the go as a school volunteer and an involved parent.
“I didn’t let that weight hinder them from having a parent. You have to put that smile on and go,” Washington said. “… What they see now is an active person.”
Now that she has improved her own health, she is teaching them healthier habits of diet, exercise and coping with stress. She has a punching bag in her living room, and she encourages them to give it a punch when they’re mad or frustrated.
Sometimes, the newly energized mother who sets higher expectations for them is a bit much for her children, who occasionally say, “I miss the old fat, happy you. You’re so serious about things now!”
She keeps teaching them anyway. “I want them to know what they’re putting into their bodies.”
Washington’s new zeal for health has helped her daughter Sabrina in particular with the roller-coaster ride of her own weight. Washington said the child at first lost a lot of weight and graduated from high school at age 16, but then she went to college and regained it. Sabrina’s now working at dropping the pounds again.
“She says I’m her hero,” Washington said.
Washington’s hard workouts took her from wearing a size 26-28 blouse and size 26 jeans to a trim medium top and a size 10 pair of jeans. She remembers how people used to give her unflattering side glances and treat her differently when she was overweight.
“People gravitate towards me now,” she said, explaining that people greet her and she is happy, responding with smiles.“When I was heavy, I looked down. I didn’t look people in the face.”
She even grocery shopped at night so she wouldn’t feel bad when critical people watched what she put in her cart. “And I wasn’t buying healthy things.”
That decision to lose weight was a life-changer for her. “Oh my God, it’s night and day,” Washington said.
She expects to keep the weight off long term after all her efforts. “This is Year 4 for me. There is no other way. The only way I won’t move is I’ll be in the ground. It’s a blessing to be alive every single day.”
Today, Washington is proud to say, “I’m the strongest person I know.” With a dry note in her voice, she added, “I say that everything I’m squatting 100 lbs.”
CAROLYN BAHM is the editor of The Bartlett Express. Contact her at (901) 433-9138 or via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.