Interview with Gabby ~ Part 1

February 4, 2014
Ok, I am super excited this morning! Today is the first installment of my interview with Gabby Blawas, who, I would like to add, as I’ve gotten to know her, through this interview and countless emails, is quickly becoming one of my favorite people ever!

I’ll be featuring Gabby and her blog each Tuesday, and she’ll be answering questions on her stunning weight loss journey. How she did it, why she did it, her life then, and her life now, it’s all in here. She’s willing to share recipes, secrets, and success with us all!

I will occasionally add in my two cents, but I’ll let you know when it’s me talking. And I promise not to do it often! Seriously, listen to Gabby! She speaks the truth!

February is American Heart Month. More women die each year in America from Heart disease than all cancers combined. Carrying excess weight and eating an unhealthy diet are two of the leading causes of heart disease. So, do it for your kids, do it for your spouse, most importantly get healthy for you! You’re worth it! Gabby can help us all lead healthier, richer, more fulfilling lives! So, let’s get started shall we...

Here we go:

1. Was there an event in your life that made you decide to begin your journey to health? Do you remember the very first step you made? Or the moment that made you decide to change?

Yes. There were two events that happened within a few days of each other. The first thing that happened was I put myself into a ‘food coma‘. Let me explain. I had gestational diabetes with both of my pregnancies. My endocrinologist told me in 2003 that if I did not get my health and weight under control, I would have full-blown diabetes within five years.  Unbelievably, I did not heed his advice. By the end of 2007, I was at my top weight of 260 pounds and desperately unhealthy. It is just amazing how we justify our unhealthy habits and continue down a path we know, in our heart, is wrong and destructive.

One fateful afternoon in late December of 2007, I had grossly overeaten. With all the holiday yummies around the house, I was having a hard time controlling myself on any given day, but this day in particular, I just went on a wild eating spree.

My husband was visiting his mother, with our girls, so I took full advantage of the empty house. I never over ate in front of my husband or anybody, for that matter. I was a closet eater. Shortly after my binge, I felt very tired. Not just sleepy tired but more like a drug-induced tired. It felt as if a doctor had asked me to count backwards after giving me anesthesia or something. It was so scary. The next thing I knew, I woke up from the couch… four hours later! I had lost four hours. Gone, just like that. I actually put myself into a ‘food coma’ from eating so much sugary junk. I was terrified. What if my kids had been home alone with me?!  My goodness, they were only 3 ½ and 8 months old!! They could’ve gotten hurt! I was not only horrified at the thoughts running through my head, but utterly ashamed and disgusted with myself. I sat with my head in my hands and cried. I cried for hours. I could not believe that I allowed my life to get to this point.

 My doctor was right. I was right on top of the five-year mark from when he told me I was certain to develop diabetes. Even after having to inject myself with insulin all day, everyday throughout both of my pregnancies, I STILL DID NOT LISTEN! During my pregnancies, I took care of myself perfectly. In fact, I only gained 13 pounds with my first and 24 with my second. I ate healthy and exercised too. But that was because I was doing it for them, my babies. I wasn’t doing it for me. Once I wasn’t pregnant anymore, I stopped taking care of myself. It’s just crazy what we tell ourselves in order to not make the changes that need to happen.

After I woke up from my food coma, I knew I could not lie to myself anymore. After 10 years of being overweight and failing at getting healthy, I knew deep in my heart I had to do whatever it took to learn a new and better way to get healthy… for good.

The second event that happened was just a few days later.  I saw my best friend Diana for New Years. Because of our busy holiday schedules, I had not seen her for almost a month. In that month, she had joined a gym, gotten a personal trainer, and was eating healthy. When I saw her on New Years, my jaw hit the floor. She looked like a completely different person. She looked so much healthier, happier, and her skin was actually glowing. Di and I have been best friends for 28 years now, and in that entire time, we had always been either skinny together or fat together. Not sure how it worked out that way, but we always paralleled each other in that way. I could not believe how amazing she looked. She looked so vibrant and self-confident. It made me tear up because it had been a long time since I’d seen her so happy. Her mood and her aura were so contagious. I wanted to feel that way too. In a big way.

So, those two events happening so close together were enough for me to find the courage to change. I honestly think the food coma was enough for me, but seeing someone who already opened the door and walked through it, well, that just pushed me over the edge. I made a vow to myself that I would do it this time. My kids deserved a healthy mommy to take care of them. And for once, I needed to start taking care of myself.

2. I know personally that when I began my own journey, and ultimately lost 65 pounds, that I quickly realized that it was going to be a completely different life, if I was going to keep the weight off. Can you tell us a little bit about what your day to day life looked like at over 250 pounds and what it looks like now?

Whew, I would need a week to fully answer this one! Wow, life is mind-blowingly different now! I feel so blessed and grateful to not only have a healthy life but all the energy that is needed to fully live it!

At 260 pounds, my mornings started off with a lot of aches, pains, and groans. My body was so worn down from carrying all my extra weight. It was always in some state of duress. I had chronic back pain and was forever pulling muscles and developing mystery pains. When I woke in the morning, I felt completely exhausted, as if I hadn’t slept at all. I had a difficult time going up and down our stairs. One trip upstairs would leave me breathless and panting. It was to the point where I couldn’t even tie my shoes because my giant belly wouldn’t allow me to bend far enough to reach my shoes.

Basic household chores seemed gargantuan, and God forbid I had to leave the house. The thought of going to the grocery store or to the bank spun me into an anxiety-ridden state. If we had an event to go to, forget about it. I would be beside myself with depression. I didn’t have anything to wear. I felt so ugly, and I definitely didn’t want to run into anybody I knew. OMG, just to think about it made me so upset. I would ruin the whole week beforehand obsessing about it.

Even though it was what got into trouble in the first place, I’d spend the whole week eating my feelings. I’d eat until I was so full the only thing I could think about was how bad my stomach hurt. It was a destructive cycle that continued to worsen. Instead of finding the strength within me to give myself the kick in the butt I needed to change, I gave up on myself. Every time I thought of all the hard work it was going to take to change, I’d get scared. I didn’t know if I could do it. What I eventually figured out was that if I didn’t change, things were gonna get much, much scarier. What I couldn’t do was continue to live an empty life as an empty version of me.

When I think back to that part of my life, I can’t believe it was real. I can’t believe I endured such heartache and sadness for so many years. For all those years, I wasn’t me. I was a lost, sad, and very bloated version of me. I would look in the mirror and not even recognize myself.  I felt so disconnected and so far away from the real me. I didn’t see that girl anymore… and even scarier, I didn’t feel like her anymore either.  I think one of the worst things we can do to ourselves is live a life that prevents us from being who we are and who we were meant to be.

Even though it wasn’t that long ago, it’s so many worlds away from how I am and how I live now.  Six short years ago, almost to the day, I had just embarked on the journey that would not only change my life but save it. Body, mind, and soul… I was saved.

My life today is so blessed, and I wake each morning with a grateful heart. I no longer wake with a creaking, painful body. I wake with energy, with determination, and most importantly with belief, belief in myself. Belief that I can overcome any obstacles because I have already climbed the highest of mountains. I know whole-heartedly that all the strength and all the answers I’ll ever need are already inside of me.

Losing my weight didn’t just give me a strong and healthy body, but a strong and healthy mind as well. I have the energy to not only do all the everyday chores and errands but all of the extra energy I need to run and play with my little girls. I push myself to go further at each workout,  explore new things, and experience life. Paired with all that energy is excitement. With that winning combination, I find myself smiling a lot more these days

I don’t dread going places anymore. Ok well, I still don’t like going to the grocery store or the bank, but who does? But I do love going to events and activities. Even getting together with friends for poker night or game night is so much fun now. I don’t sit there the whole time wondering how I look or feeling tired and wanting to go home.   

One of the most amazing changes that has occurred between then and now is what kind of mommy I am. My little girls used to see a mommy who was sad, irritable, and not confident. They saw a woman who let her emotions overwhelm her and paralyze her from taking action. I want my baby girls to grow up self-confident and strong. I want them to believe they can do anything they put their minds to, respect themselves and demand respect from others, and to never let fear prevent them from living a full life. Children must be taught all of these things. Not only through words but through actions. They model what they see.

My girls were never going to get what they needed from me, if I continued to live so buried under all of my weight and fears. I am so very thankful they now have a mommy that is strong and happy. It is for this that I’m most proud of myself. In changing the direction of my own life, I have changed the direction of theirs.  

3. Were you given any advice when you began? If you could give someone wishing to lose a significant amount (over 20 lbs.) of weight now, what would it be?

Oh my goodness, I wish I had had advice in the beginning! Other than some exercise advice from my brother, I really was dangling by a strand of hope all by myself. I did have support though. My husband, who was a rock throughout my journey, my close family, and best friend. They all encouraged me and supported me.  As for advice, I was at a loss. Everything I had tried for the last 10 years didn’t work, so I was back at the drawing board. I read everything I laid my eyes on… articles, weight loss stories, and anything health or exercise related. I researched every night.

As for advice on anyone trying to lose weight, goodness gracious, I could talk your ears off! But for me, I think there were four lessons learned that proved to be the most helpful throughout my journey and proved key for making my success permanent.

A. LEARN ABOUT NUTRITION AND WEIGHT TRAINING. A true turning point in my journey was when I really starting to learn what proper nutrition did for my body. I think we all have an idea of what we should be eating, but most of us don’t know why we should be eating it. This proved to be monumental for me. I’ve always been a fan of the sweet stuff. To say I have a sweet tooth is quite the understatement. When I learned how our bodies react to sugar and how addictive it is, I started to look at things differently. I was amazed to find out that white breads, pastas, and rice are processed in our bodies as sugar. No wonder I loved it all! Did you know that when you take a bite of white bread, it already starts digesting in your mouth?! I was so grossed out by this. Most foods need your powerful stomach acid to start digesting and breaking down food but white foods, refined foods, and sweets have no subsistence to them. They are void of any nutrition or meaningful properties. By the time they hit our bellies, they are already digested and have nothing to offer us. This is why we get so hungry so quickly after eating these types of foods. Our body needs something meaningful, and it will keep telling you that you’re hungry to try to get you to eat real food. This is just one of thousands of facts that will allow you to look at food differently. When I started to truly learn how our bodies react to the good foods vs. the bad foods, my mindset started to change. Up until then, I had a very unhealthy relationship with food.  I used to look at food as a medication. I would eat my feelings. Now I look at food solely as fuel for my body. This shift in my mindset set me up to succeed and win battles over my cravings.

In all of my years trying to lose weight and failing at it, I was missing an essential element. Weight training. I used to think weight training was what the Arnold Schwarzeneggers of the world did. I thought weight training was like what you see in the Strongman Competitions with all the grunting and lifting cars above your head.  I couldn’t have been further than the truth. Let me tell you something. If you drop down to your knees and do five modified pushups, you just weight trained. If you pick up a set of one pound dumbbells and lift them over your head 10 times, you just weight trained. It’s not as hard as you think. Weight training is anything and everything that taxes your muscles and makes them grow. You don’t need a gym membership to weight train, you just need your body… and I’m pretty sure you have one of those.

My advice would be to learn about weight training. Not only forms of it that you can actually do but learn why it is so important. Read about it and expand your knowledge. The more knowledge you gain, the more confidence you gain. Building lean muscle mass is key to losing weight, avoiding plateaus, and maintaining your weight loss. The more lean muscle you have, the more calories your body burns up… even when you’re sleeping!!! Muscle demands a lot from our bodies. They constantly need tended to and fed. Our body burns up mad calories taking care of our muscles. Fat requires nothing from our bodies. It just sits there like a blob (pun intended). Cardio is also important, but we all pretty much knew that already. In fact, cardio exercise is the only exercise most people think of when they hear the word exercise. Cardio definitely is a piece of the puzzle in losing weight, but it alone cannot get you to where you need to be.

B. THROW THE SCALE OUT. Please, please, please forget about that devil scale! I cannot tell you how long it took me to learn my lesson on this one. OMG, I could fill up a swimming pool with all the tears I cried because of that damn scale! It got to the point where my husband was so upset at seeing me devastated time after time, that he threw the scale out. I was so mad at him, at the time, but it ended up being the best decision ever! That became a pivotal turning point for me. After that, the tears stopped and so did my self-doubts.

Here’s the deal. The scale has no idea what is going on inside your body. When you start exercising, particularly weight training, you gain muscle. When you gain muscle, you look smaller. But even though you look smaller, muscle is a very heavy tissue.  Muscle is much more dense than fat but it takes up much less space. For instance, let’s say for four weeks you have been working your tail off and doing everything exactly right; moreover, let’s say in this time you have lost some fat but at the same time gained some muscle. This is absolutely amazing, right? Right! And that means you’ve been working hard, right? Right! Well guess what? The scale will not budge. You will weigh the same. On the inside of your body, these incredible, miraculous changes have occurred. Changes which you busted your butt to make happen and which you should be so insanely happy over.  But according to that devil scale… you’re a failure. You think nothing happened. You think all of your hard work and endless good choices were for nothing. Well, you’re wrong… and so is that scale. Forget the scale. It does nothing but lie to you. If you were to be standing in front of me, you’d never guess I weighed 140 pounds. I look much smaller. People don’t believe me. My own mother didn’t believe me for months on end. She swore I was no more than 115 pounds, maybe 120 pounds soaking wet she would say. Lean muscle is where it’s at. Trust me on this one.

To track your progress, take measurements. Measurements don’t lie. If you’re smaller, then what you’re doing is working. If you’re not smaller, take a look at what you’re doing and tweak it. At the very end, the scale will say what you want it to say, but in all that time from now until then, it is deceiving, misleading, and especially discouraging.  Measure yourself either bi-weekly or once a month. I recommend once a month. It allows your body enough time to process all of the constant changes and it gives you a truer reading. It’s best to have someone else measure you but in the case that you don’t want that or have that option, just make sure you measure in the same exact place every time. Just a few inches higher on your thigh or further up your arm can be off by 1-2 inches.

C. USE VISUALIZATION. People look at me like I’m crazy when I talk about this, but I cannot stress enough how much visualization helped me throughout my journey and even still to this day. Any spare moment, in the shower, at a stoplight, in line at the bank, or when I lay my head down for bed, I would close my eyes and envision what I wanted my life to look like. I would visualize how I wanted my body to look, how I would dress, and how my husband would look at me. I visualized running in the backyard with my kids, playing in the snow, and  swimming at a public pool. I envisioned my girls and I laughing and giggling as I chased them around at the playground.  I envisioned their little arms being able to fit the whole way around me. I envisioned all of this… and so much more. In the beginning, I was so far away from the life I dreamed of that I found solace and happiness going to that place in my mind. It gave me a taste of what it was going to be like, and it gave me a glimpse of who I really am and whom I‘m suppose to be. Before my journey when I would think of these things, it made me even more depressed and hopeless. Hopeless that I could never live the life I dreamed of living. Once I was on my journey, I would get so excited when I went to that place in my head. It lit a fire that burned so hot and so bright inside of me that I couldn’t imagine living any other way. I was determined to make that life happen! During the course of one day, I’d go to that place in my mind numerous times. I loved that place. The entire time I worked out I went to that place. I used visualization during every single minute of every single workout. I envisioned my body lean and strong doing all the moves and steps that I was doing. I envisioned myself as a bad ass warrior, doing hardcore workouts, and pushing her body to the limits. All the while, I was really this morbidly obese woman nearly dying in her living room and gasping for air… but in my head I was a force to be reckoned with. Quite honestly, that was all that mattered. I believed in myself, and if you got that going for you, you’re golden. This may seem crazy to you, but I swear on my life,I could not have gotten through my journey without doing this. I have no idea if it will work for others as much as it did for me, but it was my salvation. Seeing the life I wanted when I closed my eyes made me work that much harder when my eyes were open. I wanted it so bad. I was not going to stop until I made my dream come true.

D. I saved the most important one for last.
 DON’T PUT YOUR HAPPINESS ON HOLD. I’m the kind of person that doesn’t believe in regrets. I believe that everything that happens in our life is either a blessing or a lesson... and often it’s both. From all of my struggles and losses throughout my lifetime, I have gained knowledge and perspective that has better equipped me for future tribulations. In all of my forty years on this planet, I have only one regret. I regret not seeing my worth, importance, and beauty BEFORE I lost my weight. I felt that, if I was able to let myself get so fat, I didn’t deserve any praise of any kind. I felt weak and defeated. I truly believed people saw me as ugly and worthless. How could I be worth anything? I couldn’t even go a day without overeating. I couldn’t muster up the strength to even go for a short walk. I was afraid people would see me and think horrible things of me and then go run and tell everyone they knew “Hey, OMG, you’ll never believe this, Gabby got soooo fat! I mean big-as-a-house-fat!” I thought I’d be the talk of the town and the butt of everybody’s fat jokes. Here’s the truth. NO ONE GIVES A CRAP!!!! The most that really happened was if I saw someone who hasn’t seen me in a long while, they might tell the first two or three people they ran into, who also knew me, that I got fat. Who cares? I did get fat. If they get true enjoyment out of that, then that’s someone I shouldn’t care about in the least. After they tell one or two people, it’s old news. Because the next week when they went out, they saw someone else who got fat, or so-and-so’s husband cheated on her, or Billy down the road was in a car wreck or… well, it goes on and on. Nobody is fixating on you and your weight for more than ten minutes. Everybody has lives to lead, problems to deal with, and busy schedules. Nobody has time to make your fatness the center of their world. And as for those who love you. They love you for you, not because you can squeeze your booty into skinny jeans. I so wish I would’ve known these things while I was heavy. I truly regret not seeing it. There was so much life I didn’t live because of these negative and destructive thoughts. All the times I wanted to go on the dance floor but was too embarrassed of how my body would be jiggling, all the times I told my toddler we couldn’t go to the playground because I was embarrassed to be up there with the other ‘skinny’ moms, all the times my husband wanted to go to a picnic or a party and I said no because I was embarrassed to let all of our old friends see how fat I’d gotten. I not only stole moments away from myself, but I stole happy moments away from my husband and little girls. Ten years. I stole ten year’s worth of moments from all of us. I knew I was doing it at the time, but I could not overcome my humiliation and fear. It has taken me a long time to forgive myself for that. To this day, I try not to let my thoughts wonder back to those times too often. If I could go back in time, knowing what I know now, I would’ve hopped my jiggly ass right out onto that dance floor. I would shake it for all I was worth. I’d march up to that playground and plop myself right up in those other mom’s grills and join in the convo. I would show up at all the picnics and parties with bells on, just like I used to do before I got fat and just like I do now.

If there was only one thing that anybody could get out of this interview, I would want it to be this: DON’T WAIT TO BE HAPPY. Don’t think that your happiness is sewn into those size 6 jeans or in that itty bitty bikini. It’s not there. Don’t deem yourself unworthy of happiness just because you’re overweight. Don’t steal your moments like I did. You never know how many you have left. Live your life right now. Do fun things and go fun places. If you stay the course on your journey, the jeans and the swimsuits will happen in the end. And when it does, it’s great and all, but it’s not what makes you happy. Those things are just the ’hip hips’, they’re not the hooray. The hooray is how you feel on the inside not how you look on the outside. The hooray is that fiery passion you have to live life to the fullest. You see colors more vibrantly, you hold your head up proudly, and you feel unstoppable. It took me until the end to finally realize that all of this strength and confidence and beauty was there the whole time. I just refused to believe it. So, the next time you look in the mirror, don’t look at the outside of you. Look into your eyes and find that person who has been screaming in there. The one who is dying to come out. Let her come out and live right now. Don’t wait to be happy. 

Photos taken by: Illene Marshall Photography

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