Wellness Coaching Success Story: Happy Danniversary!

Just over a year ago a 236-pound, 46-year-old mother of two looked in the mirror and could hardly recognize the face staring back at her.  In fact, that foreign face had become a major source of resentment and unhappiness, and the extra weight posed not only caused physical detriment, but also weighed a heavy mental burden.

Now, just over a year later, this special woman stands nearly 80 pounds lighter and more vibrant than a spring day after the rain.

That woman is Dana Lee.

After getting the courage to contact the CORE Wellness Program from ACI Specialty Benefits and getting in touch with ACI Wellness Coach, Dan Trongone, Dana Lee took action–and more importantly, took her life back.

This is a story of adversity, courage and determination.  This is a story of challenges, triumph and perseverance.  This is the story of Dana Lee.

A Year of Transformation

On January 3, 2010, at age 46, upon the advent of a new year filled with fresh possibilities and far off wishes, I wrote in my journal, “Hopefully I can lose a little weight this year – we will see – it would help so many things…”  On that day I weighed 236 pounds and had been obese for over a decade of my life.  Both my kids were newly graduated from high school and I faced an empty nest with a stark sense of doom.  Like so many women, I had made my family, my friends, and my career a higher priority than my own health.  Empty nest meant to me, at first, that the time had come that I was no longer needed, and so, for the first time in 25 years I was left alone to face the neglectful mess I had made with my own health bold in the face.  I was at a critical crossroads.

Dana Lee with husband and son prior to beginning wellness program

A few days after that, my physician noted in my medical record a weight of 236 pounds, blood pressure of 126/82 (controlled by medication for hypertension), along with severe acid esophagitis requiring annual scopes, asthma, chronic hip pain, painful plantar fascitis in my feet, and of course, morbid obesity.  When my physician asked me how I was, I couldn’t stop the tears.  I am not an emotional person, however, it hit me that there was nothing good I could say, no jokes I could make to mask the physical and emotional pain.  I had devoted myself completely to my children and my career, leaving nothing for myself.   Over the years I began to hide behind them as a means for ignoring taking care of myself.   I was miserable with myself and extremely unhealthy, sleeping most of the weekend, completely sedentary, stressed out from my hectic job, and basically just existing with food as my only solace.  My husband, although always loving and supportive, had learned over the years that he could do little to persuade me to change because it only made things worse.  He watched helplessly from the sidelines as I spiraled deeper into obesity related diseases and unhappiness.  My hips hurt constantly and it was difficult to walk without pain.  When we dropped my youngest son off at college at the beautiful campus of The University of San Diego, I could barely walk around to enjoy the campus with the rest of the family.  I looked for excuses to stop and rest, unable to keep up.  I had asthma attacks and took inhalers every day just to breathe.  Simple shopping became a chore and my increasing list of physical limitations began to alter the way we planned and enjoyed vacations. I realized that my health was impacting not just me but the people I loved the very most and their ability to enjoy life as well.  I began to wonder if I could ever really change.  But then, a ray of hope shimmered.

The Diocese of Stockton had implemented a company-wide Wellness Plan which initially even seemed more annoying than doing a tax return when you know you’re not getting a refund.  Like a tax return, I put off doing the mandatory elements as long as I could.  On January 26, 2010, I attended an ACI On-Site Wellness Seminar at St.Joseph’s Catholic Church in Modesto.  I took notes on my iPhone because I figured if I had to do this, I would see what I could get out of it.  I still have the notes from that first day, in my iPhone, pasted here word for word in the sidebars.

Wellness Seminar notes 1/26/11

  • Set goals
  • Tracking system
  • Set small attainable goals
  • Positive attitude
  • Confidence
  • Strong personal motivation
  • Willingness
  • Realistic
  • Determination
  • Patience
  • Write goal on the mirror (post-it notes)
  • Reward system in place
  • Have to put in effort!! No one will do it for you
  • Make a Commitment
  • Be certain this is a priority in your life
  • Acknowledge why you stopped trying in the past so you can plan for those obstacles
  • Be honest with all phases of your health plan
  • schedule exercise in your planner just like a meeting
  • Short term goals
  • Long term goals
  • S.M.A.R.T. Goals
  • S – Specific
  • M – Measurable
  • A – Achievable
  • R – Realistic
  • T – Time-bound
  • Schedule type and length and time of workout
  • Achievable- what do you need to achieve the goal? Do you have the resources?
  • Realistic- is it within your abilities and limitations?
  • Are you willing and able?
  • Is it available time?
  • Picture yourself in the act
  • 100% commitment required
  • Develop expert support systems
  • Develop personal support systems
  • Plan for obstacles
  • When you fail, recommit and reevaluate
  • Stress: the great obstacle – don’t be derailed- plan for a positive response.
  • I need a plan man.
  • My overall goal- would be nice to get off acid reflux and bp meds.

One of the last notes I plugged into my iPhone notes was “I need a plan, man,” and on February 13, 2010, ACI Wellness Coach Dan Trongone called me for my first wellness coaching session by phone. Little did I know that I was getting more than a “plan,” I was getting a real “Plan Man.”  Dan was a trained health and wellness professional who could create customized exercise and weight loss plans just for me.  His voice crackled with enthusiasm and energy on the other end of the phone.  I found it more than a little irritating how sunny and happy he was.  I smiled to myself thinking, “that must be what good health feels like.”  Well, I only need four Wellness Coaching sessions in order to fulfill the incentives of the plan, so let’s see how this goes.   But, to my utmost surprise, at the end of our first conversation he happily said, “Would you like me to call you every week at this time?”  I thought rapidly to myself that this sounded like a time commitment and in Texas where I come from, a commitment is something you do and not just say that you do, If he was going to commit to calling me every week, that meant that I would have to do my part too by rearranging my busy work schedule so that nobody bugged me when he called each week, and horror of horrors, actually do whatever he asked me to do because that was the whole idea, right?.  I said, buying me time to think, “You would do that?  Call me every week?” To my surprise, he said way too quickly with New York certainty, “Of course I would.”  I thought about it, chuckling, buying more time.  I finally said, “Sure, why not.  That would be great.  If you call me every week, I’ll do what you say, but you’ve got to promise to do your part too because I’ll be counting on you.”  He seemed more enthusiastic than I was, in the beginning, so sure I could succeed, and I think it was his immutable glow of enthusiasm that inspired me to first believe that I could really change.  Like good religion, he called me every Friday, and it was just what I needed.

We agreed at first that I would track my caloric intake on the Livestrong MyPlate application (since I had dabbled with it before and was comfortable with it) and that I would get out and walk regularly.  I have now tracked my calories for over 365 consecutive days, never missing a meal.  This is a key habit for me because I really did not realize how much food I was eating or what normal portion sizes looked like.  I have stuck with this as a fundamental habit.  When you are obese for such a long time, you really need to get a handle on your food intake, and reconnect the mind with the body.

That first week was hard, as my knees and hips rebelled against the foreign use.  I also got violently sick with Gastritis shortly thereafter and thought I would vomit up a lung because I felt so awful.  That miserable experience made me realize how sick my habits had made me and that I wanted to get better, forever.  I decided to do everything in my power to bring positive changes into my life.

On February 25, 2010, my husband gave me a beautiful new ring for our 25 wedding anniversary.  He was half-joking when he said, “This ring is going to change your life,” and I thought to myself, “Why not?”  Why not let this ring be a symbol of change and love in my life? Why not choose to accept only positive and life affirming actions from that day forward.  I had a wonderful loving husband and family, a great job, great friends, and a wonderful new Wellness Coach who was encouraging me with knowledge and wisdom towards a healthier me.  I recognized the incredible support in my life from family and friends and I felt blessed.  I chose to be positive every day.

After a few short weeks I began to experience weight loss.  By March 14, only one month after my first coaching session with Dan, I had lost 22 pounds!  I already felt better!  Dan began to encourage me to do more.  Wasn’t this enough?  I thought he was crazy.  He encouraged me to try the elliptical machine that had been gathering dust in the extra room at home, to journal more for stress relief and to track exercise, drink more water, and get 7 to 8 hours of “restful sleep” a night.  At first I could only do 3 to 5 minutes on the elliptical and walking for regular exercise.  I was embarrassed to exercise in front of anyone.  I would shut the door to our spare room and lock it from the inside, exercising in anonymity.  My husband respected my privacy and left me alone.  Dan encouraged me to begin working out with resistance bands.  I found them in the grocery store, and followed his instructions.   He taught me how important it is to build lean muscle to burn more calories and fat.  I began to wake up early to do my workout before work.  Make no mistake!  I am NOT a morning person, but I was determined to be sure that I put myself first, so that meant getting in my exercise before my day got started.  I had to change from getting up at 6:00am to 5:30am.  It was a small but powerful change.  No matter what chaos befell me, I could make sure my workout was done.  I decided to cut out drinking coffee because caffeine aggravated my acid reflux.  I gave up my 5 cups of coffee a day and my $4 Starbucks Latte and replaced it with early morning exercise.  I felt better right away and I had more energy!  Eventually, Dan said I should consider joining a gym for access to the free weights.  Again, I thought he was crazy.  But, I figured when I got to 50 pounds of weight loss I would reward myself with a gym membership, and that would get me access to more free weights than I could ever outgrow.

By May 15, I had dropped below the 200 pounds mark and was ecstatic!!  I weighed 198 pounds and had lost 38 pounds! I never thought I would ever drop below 200 pounds! I began journaling in earnest regularly, at Dan’s encouragement.  I made a commitment to write in my Fitness Journal every day, even if it meant I wrote “bad day, do-over day”.  One year later, I am on my fourth fitness journal.  I don’t know what I would do without it!  By the end of May I had lost 40 pounds and had an opportunity to visit the ACI offices in San Diego because we were picking up my son Tyler from school. It was nice to share my success with Dan and to put a face with the voice on the phone.  When I made it to 50 pounds in August, I thought perhaps that was as far as I could go.  I remembered my promise to myself to join a gym, and with Dan’s continued encouragement, my husband and I joined the local gym.  Really?  Me?

At this point I realized that Dan was certifiably crazy.  He expected me to lift free weights in the “guys”section of the gym.  I put him off for a month telling him I was intimidated by the weights, it looked like a labyrinth of testosterone in there, it smelled like iron, old man sweat, and what if I looked stupid or got stared at?  Finally, one day I gave in when under a severe time crunch I grew frustrated with two perfectly coiffed “barbies” chatting away in pink spandex, taking up valuable real estate on the one singular weight bench upstairs in the“women’s” portion of the gym.   In disgust, I just turned up the AC/DC on my iPod and marched into the free weight room, pretending that nobody was there except me. Guess what, ladies, the guys didn’t care!  They weren’t in there chatting about the latest episode of “Say Yes to the Dress”, or updating their Facebook, or lounging across the benches in Speedos!  To my great surprise and relief, nobody cared or noticed when a short white-haired lady walked in and claimed a bench with a pink towel.  Nobody laughed when I picked up two 20 pounds dumbbells off the big weight rack. I instantly saw an advantage that when you don’t lift as heavy as the guys, the smaller weights are always available for you on the rack.  I worked out, did my thing, and left. It was ridiculous how much fear I had built up over nothing! Every step of the way, from being afraid to exercise in front of my own husband to being afraid of trying military pushups, I have learned that being afraid only serves an attitude of inaction. I have learned to put fear away.  Fear no longer serves the healthier happier me.

Dana Lee after losing 76 pounds

Today, this “not a morning person” gets up out of bed at 3:55 am to be at the gym by 4:30 am for a 45-minute workout.  I can deadlift 135 pounds, do lunges with two 30-pound dumbbells, and so much more! Dan told me to get gloves and now I don’t have to worry about calluses or “man hands”.  Weights are now my very favorite form of exercise and after nearly a year of resistance training, I feel stronger and more vibrant than ever before!

I am so proud of how far I’ve come in just a short year with being active and eating consciously for health. I eat mostly organic whole foods, trying to eat every couple of hours with a little protein at every meal.  I enjoy fish at least 4 times a week, and lots of fruits and vegetables!  I track everything that goes in my mouth.  I do weigh every morning,it helps me stay conscious, but I am not obsessed about it.

I am obsessed about being active, positive, and spiritual.  I went from sleeping in all weekend, and watching TV for recreation to living a life of activity and joy.  Yoga has also changed my life.  After losing the first 50 pounds I started doing yoga and found that my hip pain quickly disappeared.  I am as limber and strong as I was in high school.  I do yoga 3 times a week, elliptical workouts 3 to 4 times a week after work, or brisk walking, and weight training 3 to 4 times a week.  I am fitter today than I was 20 years ago. Dan taught me that our bodies are designed to moveI am going to move mine in challenging ways until I’m dead.  I felt half-dead a year ago, and today I celebrate life everyday by moving my body with joy and appreciation.

Today, I have lost over 77 pounds, and counting.  I AM A NEW PERSON.  I HAVE MY LIFE BACK.  I am enjoying every day on this journey of new life. Although I am not to my ultimate fitness goal yet, I have learned to embrace every success, move gently past small disappointments, and to be kind to myself for simply having the courage to change. I laid aside negative thoughts and friends that I had carefully nurtured over years of self-denial.  Fear does not serve me anymore.  With every pound that melted away, another layer was revealed of my true self.  My light and personality came shining through again.  I will never let her hide inside me again.

I am so thankful to my employer for bringing this opportunity to my life, when so many other things never worked on my own.  I know that if this wellness plan wasn’t a mandatory requirement, I would not have done any of it in the first place.  In return, I know I am saving the medical plan at least $6,500 in employer-paid prescription savings.  This number is probably even higher because I no longer have to have annual esophageal scopes anymore.  My medical conditions have all disappeared along with my entire wardrobe, except for my socks.  Imagine throwing away every stitch of clothing in your house, except for your shoes and your socks!  That’s what I’ve done this year!  Can you believe it!?

I never ever could have done any of this without my wellness coach, Dan, my Plan Man.  He is diligent, caring, professional, an expert nutrition and fitness coach, and believed more in me than I did in myself in the beginning. After a while I began to believe in myself and I took from him the candle for myself.  That is the mark of a great coach and teacher, to imbue the student with a great enthusiasm that keeps burning brightly.  He gave me progressive exercises geared perfectly towards my abilities at the time, with just enough challenge to keep me both mentally interested and physically improving day by day. From asking a 235 pound me to just walk a little around the block on day one to teaching a much slimmer me how to do supersets with lunges, deadlifts, squats, bench presses, etc. There just are no words to sufficiently thank Dan.

Happy Danniversary, Dan!

Thank you for being my coach!

Summary of joys, big and small:

  • Lost 77 pounds, said goodbye to Obesity on the BMI chart!!!!!  I hated being labeled “obese!”
  • Lowered by Blood Pressure to 110/70 (unmedicated) from 126/82 (on medication)!
  • Resized my rings down 2 sizes!
  • Lost 10 inches in my waist and hips, and 6 ½inches around the chest.
  • Threw out all my old clothes! Kept only my shoes and my socks. I went from a size 24 to a size 8, sometimes a 6!  I walk by the plus sizes and feel giddy every time!  I am so thankful I don’t have to shop in the plus sizes anymore!  I can even shop in the junior sizes now.
  • Can push the car seat up to proper position and wear a seat belt easily.  I used to have to leave room for my stomach and it was so uncomfortable to wear a seat belt that I used to just not wear it!
  • Fit comfortably in any theater seat or airplane seat and not impinge on the person’s space next to me.  I never get tired of having room on both sides of my seat.
  • I love the simple pleasure of sitting in a chair and crossing my legs. I could never cross my legs 77 pounds ago.
  • I love going on vacation, and hiking my day away, all day, with renewed energy and a sense of fulfillment with my husband by my side enjoying every step together.
  • Threw out my ugly three year old daily-worn black $350 orthopedic “nun” shoes that I used to wear for plantar fasciitis, and can now wear cute heels!  I own four pair of athletic shoes, which are not dusty in the back of the closet, but well-worn!  And pink platform heels!
  • No more hip pain!!! This made me feel so old before my time!  Regular yoga has changed my life in so many ways!!!!!  Everyone needs to do yoga!
  • Learned how, what, and how much to eat – organic, healthy whole foodsto nourish and heal my body from the inside out, so I’m never hungry or deprived!  Honor your body and your food!
  • Track everything that goes in my mouth using the Livestrong MyPlate iPhone app and website!
  • Look forward to weighing myself and have kindly accepted the ebbs and flows as I move steadily towards my ultimate goal.
  • Plan my exercise for the week in my fitness journal, and write in my journal every day.
  • Sleep better, but sleep less than I used to.  I aim for 7 to 8 hours of restful sleep a night.  Still working on this.
  • Less Stressed – go ahead, try to upset me, it won’t work.  Well, maybe it will just a little.
  • Established a healthy mind, body, spirit connection!!  Living in my body in the moment.
  • Dropped 95% of my medications –and hope to be off of ALL medications in the next two months!  Only one pill left on lowest dose for acid reflex, but used to take Blood Pressure, three Acid Reflux meds, and two inhalers every day!
  • Saved my health plan over $6,500 per year in prescriptions and medical procedures
  • Watched my doctor erase ailment after ailment from my active list of problems.  She is so happy with me!
  • Can lift more weight than many men, and most women.
  • Saved myself enough money in unneeded prescriptions to pay for my monthly gym membership.  Who wouldn’t rather pay for a gym then medication?
  • Brought my 25 year marriage alive and to a wonderful place for truly enjoying an empty nest.
  • Became an active, vibrant, and positive life-loving person, alive with health and energy!
  • It’s just the first year! What awaits me in the coming years?  I can’t wait to find out!

Inspired?  Would you like to make this your story?  Get in contact with an ACI Wellness Coach today and find out how you can become the next wellness coaching success story and take your life back.  Call (800) 932-0034 or email askthepros@acispecialtybenefits.com and make that life-changing choice today!

About ACI Specialty Benefits

ACI Specialty Benefits ranks in the nation’s Top-Ten providers of Employee Assistance Programs (EAP), corporate wellness programs, student assistance, corporate concierge, and work/life services to corporations worldwide. ACI partners with clients to Perk Up employee engagement and performance with benefit programs that improve morale, productivity and the bottom-line. With a 95% customer retention rate and over 7 million lives covered. ACI remains a privately-owned specialty benefits corporation, headquartered in San Diego. For more information, visit www.acispecialtybenefits.com or call 800.932.0034.
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