From ‘Fat to Fit’: Maryville woman trims more than 100 pounds
By Melanie Tucker (email@example.com)
At 49 and with deteriorating health, Janice Church knew she might not see 50.
She had battled ulcerative colitis for years, high cholesterol, numbness like that experienced by stroke victims and severe depression.
She was living in Maryland at the time and finally reached out for help.
“I was near death at the age of 49,” she said. “I had many serious diseases and was on strong medication. I knew I didn’t have long.”
That was back in 1997. Church found the help she needed at the Weimar Center of Health and Education in California. The weight loss facility taught her how to eat, what to eat and got her on an exercise regimen. She stayed at the residential program for 18 days and left knowing how to take care of herself for life.
“When I arrived there I couldn’t walk a block,” Church said. “When I left I was walking three miles a day. I lost 13 pounds in 18 days.”
Today, Church is 62 and a resident of Louisville. She has lost more than 100 pounds since she first cried out for help. She’s now taking what she learned from her stay at the California facility and sharing it with others like her who have come to the realization that they were on a crash course with disaster.
One of the first things she did was give up meat and dairy, not so easy for someone who grew up on a meat and dairy farm. But today, Church has overcome the ulcerative colitis that almost cost her life. She said the vegan diet is what healed her body and she follows it to this day.
She has been offering cooking lessons from her home for people interested in this alternative lifestyle. She is a member of some meet-up groups and provides members with the motivation they need to make a change.
Then recently Church became a bit more recognizable. She was named one of the winners in the AARP Fat to Fit Challenge, which had 18,000 online participants. This AARP member had gone to the Challenge website and offered her first-hand wisdom and encouragement to others needing a gentle push.
The site has people wanting to know how to exercise from a wheelchair or tips on how to keep motivated with no outside support, Church said. She was one who felt a responsibility to pay forward what had saved her own life.
At her heaviest, Church, who stands 5 feet and 6 inches tall, weighed 275 pounds, in April of 1997. She lost down to 150, but recent hip surgery has kept her from being as active as she wants and she now sits at 170. “And working my way back down,” she said.
Her cholesterol used to be a dangerous 312. It has lowered considerably with the diet and exercise changes. “I honestly didn’t think anybody could help me,” Church said, remembering when she was at her worst. She had to be helped out of a chair.
The first year, Church lost 60 pounds. Then 20, 10 and 10 more over the next three years. She has managed to keep it off by hiking regularly and working out at the gym.
Church includes a large variety of foods in her diet, including ethnic foods like Thai and Chinese stir-frys with rice, three-bean chilis, Ethiopian lentil soup, baked veggie wraps and spinach lasagna. She uses maple and agave syrup and fruit juices as sweeteners to replace sugar, which has no nutritional value.
She is never far from the memories of those critical days. She only has to go to the grocery store or department store to see people her age in motorized chairs to see how things might have turned out. In her case, she knows she probably would not have made it that far.
Instead, Church has a marathon under her belt (she walked the 26.3 miles) and she almost climbed to the summit of Mount Whitney. Bad weather prevented her from reaching that goal.
She is happy to have been selected as one of five winners in the Fat to Fit Challenge. She won a Resistance Chair for her efforts, which she donated to Weimar Center.
It has been satisfying for Church to see others encouraged by her story. She said her best gift is that of motivation. After all, no one can be a better role model than someone who’s been down for the count and then regained their life back through hard work.
“All of the people who won in the challenge just wanted to share their knowledge,” Church said. “I didn’t even know it was a contest. The motivation wasn’t to win a prize.”
When she shares her story, Church said she gets people to think about their future and quality of life. “I remind them that if they don’t take care of themselves, someone else will have to take care of them and that affects other lives.”
One of her biggest desires is for people to really pay attention to what they are putting into their bodies. She said not eating meat and dairy has cleared up several of the problems she once had. We can’t expect our bodies to function properly if we continue to abuse it, she said.
“People would never think of dumping tar or sand into their car and expect it to run, but we dump fat and grease, oil and sugar into our bodies. I really think that is fundamental.”