Weights & Measures

"Weight loss not typical”. That’s the disclaimer line that is buried in the fine print on nearly every advertised weight loss program, from Jenny Craig to Weight Watchers. It’s usually just underneath the "After” picture of someone who has lost an enormous amount of poundage. What that seems to suggest is that even the companies that are in the business of helping us lose, don’t always see it happen. Why not? What does it really take to lose big?

Heather Yoner knows, and she’s thrilled to be such a ‘big loser’. One year ago in the spring of 2005, she was living a very busy life as the midday host of Nanaimo’s "102.3 The Wave” radio program, as well as pursuing her newly discovered artistic and creative talents as a freelance interior designer. But this woman with so much to do, was literally buried under the weight of it all.

At 240 pounds, Heather found daily living to be a chore. She felt unhealthy, tired most of the time and without the extra energy to get herself moving. Alone and lonely, and sensitive to people’s reactions and comments to her, she was also increasingly self-conscious: having to appear in public on behalf of the radio station where she was often put in the spotlight, her confidence and self-esteem were severely eroded. Ironically, Heather says she felt she was continually diminishing inside, while her physical self grew larger than ever.

But it didn’t start off that way. In 1984, she was young and healthy, a normal and appropriate size for her age, never worrying over her weight. She was also a recent graduate of a radio broadcasting program in Lethbridge, Alberta, where she’d battled large fears and doubts and overcome her rather timid nature to make it through. Following in her sister’s footsteps, Heather moved to Nanaimo nearly on a whim, (she says the sheer beauty of the ocean and the nearby mountains called out to her prairie-born-and-raised soul). She found herself building a life here very much on her own. Not having had the certainty or the confidence to chase after a big-city broadcasting career, Heather worked part-time in radio and banking. Both jobs provided for her living, but neither filled her life. She made some friends, explored relationships, spent some of her time completely alone and moved residences regularly – "Like a little covered wagon” – all around Nanaimo.

And little by little, her body started to reflect her ambivalence and her choices. Slowly, she began to comfort the emptiness in her life with food. Foods that felt friendly – those social and obligatory party favourites and all those childhood cravings and indulgences. Foods that seemed to be more sensory – strong on piquant and artificial tastes and very high in calories and fats. And then there were the foods that were just fillers – easy for a single meal and ready to hand, but most without any real nutrition or substance. A ten pound gain led to twenty, twenty led to thirty and then thirty led to one hundred. It just became a weight problem.

After 15 years of balancing her two careers, she changed her working mix and diverged. Heather went back to school again and took Interior Design at Malaspina College. From 2000 to 2003, the stresses of the new challenge, the change and the pressures of school classes, combined with her continued part-time work at the radio station meant very little sleep, lots of coffee and eating even more poorly. Her weight spiked at nearly 300 pounds. But she did gain more than just weight during the three years: she found she loved the inspiration to her artistic side and the new creative outlet offered through design and she also learned that she now knew with certainty, her true passion was fueled by radio.

Back to working full-time on the air, Heather’s weight did a little yo-yo-ing over the course of the next year. She lost a little, she rode her bike and exercised a little, she gained a little back. It was while the station was setting up for one of its "remotes”, a live on-air promotion, that the next and biggest "Aha” moment in her life occurred.

The promotion was for a weight-loss company called "Herbal Magic”. The owner of the store, Shelley Sims, and her marketing consultant, Rod Parker, who had also been associated with the radio station, noticed as Heather puts it, "That when I came to do the remote, I looked like a gal who could stand to lose a few pounds”, and they diplomatically and with sincerity asked if she would be willing to become a spokesperson for the company’s program and record her progress on-air. Heather felt that she’d been tossed a life-ring. She had already committed to and wholeheartedly embraced her career path, now it was time to stabilize the rest of her life. Much more than tired of being ‘fat’ and carrying all the extra baggage that went along with it – she reached out and grabbed for the ring.

In March of 2005 Heather began the process of turning over her new leaf. She began to eliminate the old, familiar habits and get comfortable with all new ones. She followed a program that reduced the amount of her food, while restricting it to just the healthiest of choices. She re-learned how to grocery shop and how to eat: mindfully and with appreciation. She added vitamins and supplements to her regimen and the weekly weigh-ins to her schedule. She journalled daily in a food diary and learned that cheating and declaring it was still an accountability. She learned that doing the process publicly still meant that it was up to her, and her alone, to do it all privately. It was a liberation for her spirit.

As the pounds began to come off, Heather noticed a corresponding increase in the weight of her inner qualities: her confidence and self-esteem were beginning to blossom again and her personality became even more vibrant and attractive. She exuded happiness and it was infectious. She drew to her, completely supportive, kind and encouraging people in relationships and at work. One colleague at The Wave commented: "Heather, you know, you’re turning into a two dimensional object. You turn sideways and we can’t see you anymore”. She says, "I wrote that one in my diary because I thought that was the best I’ve heard yet!”

Now one year down the road, Heather has lost over 80 pounds and 87 inches. She originally set her goals not knowing what the weight loss would look like – it looks just right. She has levelled off at 160 pounds and her body is liking it. She is on a stabilization plan where all the new habits become the test for her lifetime. She faces the world and all the ‘bad’ foods out there with a new attitude – one that says she’ll never go back to them, (goodbye Lime tostito chips!). She is adding more exercise into her days – she still loves the cycling – but she now needs to tone her body, there is excess skin to be reckoned with. And a whole new wardrobe to be tried on – because she’s a whole new woman.

Heather Yoner’s weight loss may not be typical, but she’s earned it. She credits many other people for motivating and supporting her, and making her accountable for her actions. She believes that she has been inspired by other people’s stories, celebrities included. So what does it really take to lose an enormous amount of weight like this and change your life? Ultimately, it’s what Heather has truly done: Make an enormous, loving commitment to yourself – mind, body and spirit – and get fit, stay healthy and live your life to the fullest. Way to go.

Janelle is a freelance writer in Nanaimo. Her email is jtraff@shaw.ca