Name: Elizabeth C.
LIVESTRONG.COM Username: meshuge (member since: 2008)
Age: 50 Height: 5 feet 9 inches
Before Weight: 211 pounds Waist: 43 Dress/Pant Size: 1x to 2x
After Weight: 148 pounds Waist: 29 Dress/Pant Size: 8
LIVESTRONG.COM: What was your life like before joining LIVESTRONG.COM?
Elizabeth: In 1990, when I was 26 years old and in pretty good shape, I was diagnosed with a malignant carcinoid tumor in my right lung. It had already metastasized, and the initial diagnosis was that it would kill me within five years. I went to Sloan Kettering Memorial Hospital in New York and Dr. Patricia McCormack was able to do a pneumonectomy, removing my right lung. I ended up having four surgeries over the course of three years and have been in remission since 1995.
While I worked out a little bit, I could never really shed the extra weight, and I limited myself because I was afraid of running out of breath. Even after living with one lung for years, I didn't know much about what I could or couldn't do. I didn't much like myself or my body. I couldn't shop at stores like Banana Republic or The Gap because nothing really fit me. I tried exercising, but I would always give up. I convinced myself that my brief, fleeting years as an "athlete" had passed me by.
I tried to eat a lot of vegetables, but I didn't limit my intake of carbs -- especially white carbs like pasta, flour and rice. I loved mac and cheese, desserts and burgers. And I ate at different times every day. There was just no consistency. I felt sick all of the time. I lived for years with unexplained stomach pains.
LIVESTRONG.COM: What was your inspiration to make a change?
Elizabeth: I decided to make a change back in 2009 when I was looking over some photos from a trip to Europe I took with friends. It was a great trip, but we ate a lot and walked a lot and I was always exhausted or sick. I never looked at myself in the mirror or took photos, so I never really recognized how much weight I had put on. I saw myself as this thin, athletic girl, and when I looked at the photos it was a shock. I was fat and my skin was sallow. I looked really unhealthy. I knew then I had to change. But even that was a process.
I went to my doctor and he suggested trying an elimination diet. It took me more than a year to settle on one, and I started on August 8, 2010. I snapped a photo of myself in the mirror. I still carry that photo with me wherever I go. I can't even believe it was me. I promised myself I would give the diet three weeks. But three weeks went by very quickly and it seemed easy, so I started another three weeks and then another.
Then one day I was in San Francisco with friends racing to make the first pitch of a Giants baseball game. There was a long flight of stairs to get to the bleacher seats, and normally I'd dread climbing up something like that. I would always run out of breath. But I ran up the stairs without thinking. I felt so different that day -- like a weight had been lifted off me, and it had. By then I'd lost more than 20 pounds. I noticed that simply breathing was much easier.
It was after that day that I began to commit to exercise along with the diet, which I stayed on for months and still continue to follow most days. I'd always loved cycling, so I went to LIVESTRONG.COM for advice on technique and exercises to help me get stronger. I wasn't very good at first, but I rode for a year on my old mountain bike, getting better with each ride and sticking to my diet. I worked my way down to 170 pounds and then plateaued for a long time.
Then I got a road bike and learned how to ride it, and over time I got stronger and stronger. But something was lacking. I started looking at the various exercises at LIVESTRONG.COM and wanted to learn how to do them better, so I found a personal trainer in my town and started working out with him. Combining his workouts with the ones I'd found on LIVESTRONG.COM helped me get more weight off and, more importantly, it changed the shape of my body.
Today, jeans that were way too tight are now too big for me. I have discovered that I have muscles on my arms and my legs. For my 50th birthday in February, my friends and I rode 50 miles and climbed 2,000 feet -- my first 50 on one lung. In September I road my first 100K bike ride, which is 65 miles. I finished in less than five hours.
LIVESTRONG.COM: How did LIVESTRONG.COM help you lose weight?
Elizabeth: Early on I used LIVESTRONG.COM to track food and for area-specific workouts. And I liked reading about everyone's success stories because it made me feel like I could do it too. It also helped me connect with cyclists who taught me the basics and how to get better and stronger on the bike.
LIVESTRONG.COM: Who was/is your support system?
Elizabeth: I have to give props to MyPlate, LIVESTRONG.COM's calorie tracker app, and the UltraSimple Diet by Mark Hyman, which I read about on a LIVESTRONG.COM community post -- both helped immensely. There's also a group of cycling friends in my town who literally helped me up hills: Jodee Anello, Sarah Quider, Andre Pinel, Darin Kokolik, Pedro Rusk, Kate Burgess, Dan Harting and the folks at my local bike shop, Richard and Liz Peacock, Fritz, Kimberly, Doug and Matt. They were my mentors, teachers and support group. Last, but certainly not least, my trainer Josh Wade of No Excuses Gym in Healdsburg. He told me I could go way beyond my goal, and he's been right.
The tools available at LIVESTRONG.COM helped keep me focused. I could always find a specific recipe or a strength workout regimen or tips on cycling.
LIVESTRONG.COM: What's the biggest challenge you faced?
Elizabeth: The biggest barrier is inside. Measuring how far you have to go to get where you want to be isn't something I think you should dwell on, because if you have a big goal it can seem unattainable. So you can't look at it as a mountain, just a series of small hills that you take one at a time at a pace that makes sense at the time.
Keep challenging yourself, but try to set goals that are just out of your reach; that you know with work you can accomplish. I learned this on my bike, where many of my breakthroughs came from. Being a good cyclist is learning a little bit about suffering. Not the bad kind where you risk injuring yourself, but the kind that teaches you about yourself.
I feel such accomplishment when I can climb a hill on my bike -- with one lung. Every time I get to the top of a big hill it's like I'm beating cancer all over again. It's as if I'm laughing at my limitations. I'm not as fast as other riders, but I'm steady and I get to the top. Every time I do it, I feel there's nothing I can't do. I've really changed my whole life. I don't wear frumpy clothes anymore or only sneakers. I wear dresses and high heels. People say I look great. And I love it when they do.
LIVESTRONG.COM: What's your biggest secret to success that you want to share with others?
Elizabeth: This will sound trite, but you have to take it one day at a time. You'll actually be amazed by how easy it is if you look at it like that; if you take each challenge on its own. Tackle them one by one, and before you know it you'll be looking at old pictures of yourself wondering who the heck that other person is.
LIVESTRONG.COM: What's you life like now?
Elizabeth: I just turned 50, and I've never felt better. I drink a protein shake every morning and I do a workout, either on my own or with a trainer. I do a lot of cross-training -- some of which I get from LIVESTRONG.COM (like a recent post on working abdominals). I read all the cycling stuff and continue to check out recipes and food ideas too.
I'm still hoping to get in better shape. I'm addicted to working out now, and my goal is to lose another 10 to 13 pounds and get leaner. When I started, my body fat was 45 percent. I'm about half that now. I've begun to tone my arms and stomach and legs, and I want to continue that -- if only to help me conquer more and higher hills as a cyclist.
I've changed so much that people I've known for years that I haven't seen in a while are shocked. When I tell people I'm 50, they don't believe me. I was always a tomboy (and still am), but now I wear skirts and dresses and wedges and heels because they look good and I can pull them off. I have more energy than ever, and while I haven't measured it, I bet I use a lot more of my one lung than most people use of both of theirs. I want to ride my first century (100-mile race) next year, and I've got a couple of mountains I'm going to try to climb. I want to do a lot of things -- except go back to who I was.
Readers – Since we first published Elizabeth’s success story she has lost an additional 15 pounds (for a total of 78 pounds)! Click here to read Elizabeth’s update and find out how she’s doing now.
Ann Rusnak is LIVESTRONG's Sr. Community Manager. Her quest to lose the baby weight before the baby finished elementary school sparked an interest in health and fitness that continues to be a passion to this day. She loves hiking and yoga, and thinks the best exercise is one you can do with a good friend. Over the years, Ann's desire to fit into a certain size has evolved into what she feels is the more important goal of feeling good and having energy to live life to its fullest.