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Wellness Journey: Marshall finds motivation, inspiration to live more healthy lifestyle

by on September 16, 2015

AEP cares about the safety, health and well-being of its employees and retirees. All employees and retirees are invited to share their stories about the changes they are making to live healthier lives. This “Wellness Journey” is from Helen Marshall, regulatory consultant senior at AEP Headquarters in Columbus. If you have a story that you would like to share, please email Dave Waitkus at

Where I was and how I got there:

I have struggled with my weight my entire life — I went on my first diet when I was 12. I have lost weight many times, but like so many others, I’d eventually put that weight plus more back on. However, I was lucky in that no matter what my weight, I didn’t have any associated health issues such as high blood pressure or cholesterol, and despite my weight, I exercised almost daily. I had some slight knee pain but doctors attributed it to osteoarthritis.

Helen Marshall is shown with her husband, Ken, in August 2014.

Shortly before meeting my husband in 2008, I lost 85 pounds and was in very good shape. But as often happens in a new relationship, the weight started to creep back on as we dined out and I missed workouts. I managed to stay at a reasonable weight for about two years. Once the weight started to come back on after that time, I’d make half-hearted attempts and lose 20 pounds or so, but would gain it back.

My turning point:

After starting at AEP in November 2013, I commuted weekly from Cincinnati for about two months, and not having my home gym and eating out put me at my highest all-time weight in January 2014.  I signed up for office-sponsored weight challenges. I lost 22 pounds, but lost my motivation and gained back 9 pounds by year’s end.

At that point I was having more knee pain, and I scheduled an appointment at a local medical facility. While on their website, I noticed they had a weight management program. I have always done well with organized weight loss programs, and so I attended an informational meeting. I liked that the focus was not solely weight loss, but total well-being, including exercise, nutrition and behavior modification.

Significant changes:

After being evaluated by the physicians at the program, I started on January 20. The program has several options, but I chose to start with the very low calorie diet (VLCD) plan, which uses high protein, low carb meal replacements. I’m an emotional eater, and I felt giving myself a break from food would help me learn to deal with my emotions in better ways. I used the meal replacements for 12 weeks before starting to integrate food back into my plan. I lost 48 pounds during that time.

The program requires weekly attendance at classes taught by nutritionists, psychologists and exercise physiologists. For the first month I had to see the physician every week and have blood draws to make sure my body was handling the high protein diet; after the first month I had monthly appointments and lab work.

My original goal was to lose 70 pounds. While that would not put me at the lowest weight I’d been previously, it was one I felt was maintainable. I reached my goal at the end of June.  Because my husband and I had a two-week European river cruise scheduled for the end of July and I wanted to enjoy my vacation without stressing about gaining weight, I decided to lose a few more pounds.

Helen now lives a healthier lifestyle that has helped her not only lose weight, but to maintain a healthy weight and fitness level.

By the time we left on vacation, I had lost 77 pounds since starting the program in January, and 90 pounds from my highest weight in January 2014.

While I indulged on vacation, all the walking and working out I did paid off — I came home 3 pounds lighter!  Since returning from vacation, the scale has dropped a bit more, and I’m currently down a total of 98 pounds. I didn’t plan on losing those last few pounds, but I’m glad to have them gone as I work to fine-tune my maintenance diet.

Staying on track:

Every dieter knows it’s not losing weight that’s hard, it’s keeping it off! I have been focused since Day 1 of my current journey on what I need to do to be successful this time, since I haven’t been in the past. It requires much more vigilance than I was prepared to put forth previously. I know that I’m going to have to follow a 90/10 plan when it comes to eating — 90% good, healthy food and 10% splurges. On vacation I had dessert at lunch and dinner, but generally ate only half. I’ve learned the value of protein in my diet — it keeps me full much longer!  I always carry a protein bar now.

My relationship with food has improved significantly. I’ve realized generally when I want to overeat, it’s because I’m tired or stressed, not hungry. I’m still not perfect, of course, but I’m much more aware of my moods, and can usually avoid mindless eating.

I used to ignore the scale when I knew I’d gained weight, but the weight management program requires me to continue to attend maintenance weigh-ins and classes twice a month — they are vested in helping participants keep off the weight. I have all the resources of the program available to me should I need them.

Pay it forward:

My husband never said anything to me as I gained weight, but I always felt bad that because I was thin when we met, he didn’t realize how much effort it required for me to maintain my weight. He always supported my weight loss efforts and never chided me when I didn’t stick with it. This time around, he fixed many of his own meals while I was on the program. He lets me pick when and where we dine out, and he never questions the time I spend exercising. But then, I never question the time he spends playing golf, so that’s a fair trade for him!

I have received a lot of support at AEP as well. My manager runs every day at lunch and encourages us to take a break, so since starting here I’ve used the 1RP gym every day. The positive comments and “thumbs up” from my department co-workers and the gym regulars have been great. I appreciate that gym members leave “my” elliptical and treadmill open, knowing I’m usually there at the same time every day. Three months ago I started running, and a few weeks ago one of the regulars asked me about my progress and said, “I’m proud of you.”  That meant a lot to me.  I’m now running up to five miles, which is something I never thought I’d do — especially in my 50s!

I realize I took what some people would consider an extreme step to lose weight — every person needs to find what works for them. Starting small works! Cut back on dining out, swap a meal or snack with one that has fewer calories, or add a short walk to your daily routine. Before our vacation I bought a Fitbit so that I could keep track of my activity, and that’s a great motivator.

Look around you for support if you need it — your friends and family, co-workers, an organized program or an online community are all there for you. No one can make the decision to change for you, but once you’ve made it, you’ll be surprised at how much better you feel!

From → Wellness

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