First Posted: 1/10/2009
Among the reminders of her former life that Eileen Crouse has kept are a gigantic pair of jeans and a photograph of an extremely large woman standing beside her husband.
And those dont even tell the whole story about the extremes her lifelong weight-control problem had reached.
At my worst, I weighed 320 pounds, Crouse said, pointing to the photo of herself that an observer had to examine closely just to ensure it actually resembled the much-lighter woman now standing before him. My weight was 30 pounds more than in that picture.
There were times I would get up in the morning and could not walk, the Cana, Va., resident added of the day-to-day ordeal she once faced both physically and mentally.
Back then I was depressed. I was feeling pretty hopeless.
Crouse, 48, who at that time resided in California where her husband was serving in the U.S. Coast Guard, had tried all kinds of fad diets in an effort to lose weight, but without success. Feeling really desperate at one point, she explored the possibility of stomach-bypass surgery, but a doctor told her that she first would need to lose 25 pounds.
He needed to know I was committed, she explained. But I couldnt do it.
Crouses 300-pound bulk additionally was causing problems for her knee joints, also prompting her to seek knee-replacement surgery. But that required losing 50 pounds which she also was not equipped to do.
Of an even greater concern was what the future held for the woman who was only in her 40s and suffering from high blood pressure among other physiological problems.
My health wouldve continued to fail, Crouse said of what her life might have been like had its present course continued. I would have ended up in a wheelchair, and I would be lucky to have lived to 60.
And the quality of life just would not have been there.
Entire Person Lost
Some people seek to lose weight through a magic pill or some other easy means.
However, a mixture of perseverance, the Weight Watchers program and an exercise regimen that has included water aerobics and bicycling supplied the formula that literally transformed Eileen Crouse into a new person.
As of Wednesday, Crouse tipped the scales at a well-defined 181 some 140 pounds less than what she had ballooned to at her peak.
Ive lost an average-sized woman, Crouse said in putting her weight loss into perspective. She still wants to lose even more, and anyone who doubts she wont accomplish this doesnt know Eileen Crouse.
I guess what inspires me about her is that she sets one goal at a time and she accomplishes it, and then she sets the next one, said Cathy Cloukey, aquatics supervisor at Reeves Community Center, where Crouse has been a member since February 2008.
She has been so focused, Cloukey added of Crouse. If she says she is going to do something, she does it.
Crouse, a native of Rhode Island, traces her weight issues back to childhood. She remembers that when she was 3-years-old her mother bought her an orange dress. She called it my pumpkin dress, because I was so round, she recalled. This has been a lifelong problem.
The main difficulty involved eating too much of things that were too bad.
Everything was always to excess, Crouse continued. I always chose the wrong kind of foods, such as ones with high carbohydrate or sugar content.
Thats the problem I had my whole life I let food control me instead of controlling the food.
Another issue is that unlike battling an addiction to tobacco or alcohol, you cant completely eliminate food.
Crouse says an overweight condition can be worse for women, because they tend to be guided more by their emotions than men. We eat more to try to make us feel better, and it never works, Crouse added with a smile.
One of the keys to her turnaround was the realization that the physical condition she found herself in was no ones fault but hers. And though her family has provided much support, she also understood that it was strictly her responsibility to quit making excuses and change.
Move Sparked Turnaround
Crouses recent metamorphosis started in 2007. She explained that her family had moved to Cana from California after her husband James retired from the Coast Guard, a job that landed them at different locations over the years.
Pointing out that her husband was originally from Sparta, they sought to relocate to a home near there and wound up in Cana.
During the cross-country move, Crouse managed to lose 30 pounds, which inspired her to shed more. But in the back of her mind was the constant knowledge that she had started diets many times before, only to not be able to stick with them.
But somehow, this attempt was going to be different, Crouse told herself. I said no matter what it takes, Im going to do it this time.
The local woman recalls one key date, the last Wednesday in August 2007, when she began attending Weight Watchers meetings at Reeves Community Center. Weight Watchers basically operates under a point system in which participants can pick and choose the kinds of food they eat as long as they dont exceed a certain point total. Support is provided during the meetings.
You can literally eat anything you want you just have to account for it, said Crouse, calling the healthy eating system a balancing act.
Its a budget for the body its a bargaining system, too, she continued. If I really want a piece of cake, I have to arrange my points for the day so I wont go over.
When considering splurging with a particular food, a person must ask, Do I really want it is it worth spending the points on it? she said.
You have to be able to burn more calories than you take in on a daily basis, Crouse said. She pointed out that a person must burn 3,900 calories more in a week than what he or she takes in to lose 1 pound.
Crouse added, I had tried Weight Watchers before, which always ended with the same result: failure.
A lot of it is mindset, she said.
Crouse explained that her numerous failures actually motivated her to finally succeed, remembering the pain she had experienced as a result, which she didnt want to encounter again. I had to keep reminding myself that I had failed so many times I had to draw on my experience to know what failure means.
The more I did it, the more I became committed to it, she said.
A crossroads presented itself with the 2007 holiday period, which Crouse was hoping to get through without gaining any weight. Then in February 2008, she became a member of RCC, opening the door to an array of workout facilities especially an indoor pool, where Crouse now serves as a volunteer.
Losing weight represents only part of the fitness equation, experts say, with conditioning the body through some form of physical activity also vital. The two go together, Crouse said.
Whether a person relies on exercise machines, weights, running or some other outlet, the key is picking an activity one can live with, she said. Youve got to find something you enjoy doing, or youre not going to stick with it.
Drawn To The Pool
In Eileen Crouses case, water aerobics proved to be the drawing card for her in terms of physical activity. Its exercise in the water, she explained.
Up to that point, Crouse had avoided any kind of regular exercise program. I hated to do things because I just hated to sweat that really bothered me.
She prefers the pool workouts, which are fun and because the water adds extra resistance during the physical activity that one doesnt get on land. You can actually burn more calories in the water, Crouse said. It (water aerobics) really does help to build up endurance.
The extra buoyancy offered by the pool also helped in her early stages, because it reduces stress on problem joints.
Her love of the pool prompted Crouse to take a water-aerobics instructor course, which led to receiving certification in October and her present role. I kind of volunteer, filling in for the water-aerobics instructors when they need someone to fill in for them.
Regardless of the exercise method, a person should engage in his or her chosen workout at least three times per week, Crouse said. Three times a week is basically maintenance.
Another thing Crouse has taken up as part of her physical improvement is bicycle riding. I bought a mountain bike, she recalled. I got on a bike for the first time in about 20 years.
Her first day out, she rode five miles on the Emily B. Taylor Greenway here, and has gradually built up from there. Crouse hopes to be able to cycle the entire New River Trail in Virginia, which stretches some 60 miles from Galax to Pulaski.
Thats my goal for this summer, she said, to be able to do that trail.
Now Eileen Crouse is light years ahead of where she was in 2007. I do have tons of energy, she said. Now I love life I enjoy everything. Crouse added that she possesses a sense of excitement about living that she hasnt experienced since she was a teenager.
Her doctor has begun phasing out her blood-pressure medication, she reports, and her knee problems seem a distant memory.
Once the weight started coming off, the knees started getting better, Crouse said. I hope I have postponed that surgery by many years.
Her self-esteem also has improved. Its much better. I still sometimes struggle with that feeling of its not enough Im not there. I tend to be a little hard on myself sometimes.
Various struggles have been plentiful along the way, Crouse admits.
For one thing, a person can tend to become complacent, and possibly discouraged, when they dont believe they are making progress as rapidly as they should.
I had to remind myself that the only thing I can do anything about is today, Crouse said, citing the day-to-day battle thats sometimes involved. If she regresses and exceeds her calorie limit, she tries to analyze what happened and make sure it doesnt become a pattern.
Advice To Others
This time of year, New Years resolutions send crowds of people to gyms in a quest to get in shape.
Catrina Alexander, city parks and recreation director, said that has been the case at the community center. We are getting folks who have never been in a gym before which is really cool, Alexander said.
Yet the majority of them unlike Crouse will give up for one reason or another, judging by past results.
Youve got to keep telling yourself youre worth it, is her advice to those who might begin questioning their workout decision at some point. We miss so much in life by being overweight and being out of shape.
Its never too late, she added.
And staying patient can be as tough as any workout or calorie counting at times, Crouse agreed. You just dont go from being really unhealthy to being really healthy overnight. She says the key is being able to see progress as time passes.
Since a personal struggle is at the heart of the matter, Crouse believes people can find their own brand of motivation to keep going. In her case, she remembers weighing 320 pounds and wanting desperately to change.
I was determined to do it, she said. I have to remind myself that Im not the person that I used to be.
I am bound and determined never to be the person in that picture ever again.
Contact Tom Joyce at [email protected], or at 719-1924.