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Transformation Tuesday: Michele Elbertson

Do you ever see one of those before and after photos of someone’s transformation and your jaw drops to the floor?  This is what happened when I first saw Michele’s photo.  I honestly couldn’t believe it was the same person!  She has such a positive attitude and just keeps on trying new things along her journey to get healthy.  Enjoy her wonderful story…  

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At the young age of 23 in October 2009; I weighed a whopping 427 pounds and wore a size 32 clothing. Growing up, I had always been heavy; it was who I was, I knew no different. I weighed approximately 180 pounds in the 5th grade; a TYPICAL 5th grader weighs around 100 pounds. I was wearing women’s clothing; which prevented me from wearing what was “in”; further isolating me from peers. I was extremely inactive and would do anything to get out of school gym activities; especially the timed 1-mile run. I remember having anxiety attacks the night before the run; crying to my mother as I lay in bed and begged her not to send me to school. As the years progressed, I began getting doctors notes due to exercise-induced asthma that I had developed. I PHYSICALLY could not do the activities I was expected to do at my age. My parents tried to help me; but the more they pushed for me to eat healthy and exercise, the more I pushed back. There was nothing anyone could do.

The weight steadily climbed throughout middle school and high school. I entered college bordering on 300 pounds. I was determined to “start fresh” in college. This was my first time away from home and I wanted to make the best out of it. I was away from the bullies of middle school/high school and wanted to make a new impression. Even though I had a new positive attitude, my weight was sky rocketing and I was being teased and made fun of for my looks. During this time, I was eating fast food at every meal, and junk food in between.   I also realized that I had no feeling of being “full”. I remember sitting down and being able to eat a ½ pizza, an order of wings, breadsticks, and a 2 liter bottle of soda….by myself. My weight went from 300 pounds upon entering college all the way up to 427 upon graduation.

After college, I moved back home to save some money. I was content with myself and hadn’t realized how far I let myself go. I got my first job immediately upon moving home; I was teaching in a 4th grade classroom. Up until this point, I had become “used to” being teased by my peers, however, when I stood in front of a class of students who were teasing me, I had to draw the line! I overheard my student’s talking about their “fat teacher”; and realized that teacher was ME! Something had to be done! That was my Ah-ha moment!

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In 2009, I began researching weight loss surgeries. I had decided upon the Lap Band; it was less invasive and it could be removed if needed in the future. The fact that it could be removed was important for me; I needed to have a “fall back” option at this point in my thought process. I still wasn’t 100% certain that this would work. I was told that lap band typically doesn’t drop as much weight as a more intensive/invasive surgery, TYPICALLY a 50-75 pound weight loss, but it was the surgery I had decided upon.

Here’s a little background info on the lap band. It’s a band that is wrapped around the upper portion of the stomach. It has an attached tube that is connected to an internal port. The band is “filled” through the port with saline to make the band tighter. The tighter the band is, the less food is able to pass through, resulting in increased weight loss. Sometimes if the band is too tight and I eat too much; it results in vomiting. This is very unpleasant and unpredictable. Vomiting is also very dangerous for a lap band patient; it could result in a slip, which leads to another surgery.

Fortunately as the months/years went by with getting to know my band, I was able to determine what my band was able to tolerate and what would make me vomit. Breads, anything “doughy”, certain stringy vegetables, pastas….these things are not tolerated well with the band and result in vomiting episodes. These vomiting episodes can last for 3-4 HOURS and are extremely unpleasant. There are foods, however, that easily slides down and can be easy to cheat with! I have to be VERY careful when eating these foods since they go down so easily. For me, these foods are chocolate, ice cream, and cookies. All of these foods are high in fat and calories, but for some reason, slide down easily! This is where self-control is crucial for me! The lap band is different for each person; each person has their own “stuck” foods and “slider” foods. No two lap band patients are the same.

The surgery was NOT an easy fix. I went into surgery the same weight as I was when I came out. The surgery went beautifully. My doctor was pleased with the results. Little did I know that my life from there on out would change for good!

Recovery from surgery was text-book. I followed the post-lap band surgery diet strictly. I spent a week on liquids; 2oz of clear liquids (watered down apple juice/grape juice, and chicken broth) every 3 hours. I then switched to mushy foods; potatoes, baby food, applesauce, etc. After that stage, I switched to more solid foods and re-introduced myself to “regular people” food; tuna fish, chicken salad minus mayo, etc. Mentally, this diet was extremely difficult. Physically I wasn’t hungry, and some days it was a force to eat the “meals” every 3 hours! I remember two days post-surgery lying in my bed smelling the pot roast, veggies, and potatoes my mom was cooking in the kitchen. This is a meal I never really liked, but at this point, I WANTED IT! I sat in my bed crying over not being able to eat it; and I began to regret the surgery!

I was able to push through this difficult stage and moved forward! The first few months, the weight began to “drop” off. I had lost about 30 pounds in the first three months before I hit my first plateau. At this point, I had just been eating healthy, but I knew in order to pass over the plateau, I needed to add exercise into my routine. Exercise had always been difficult for me; but I was now 30 pounds lighter, so it was time! I started walking and doing light cardio on the elliptical at the gym, enough to kick start weight loss again.

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About a year into my weight loss journey, I had lost almost 100 pounds. I had already passed the “typical” lap band weight loss; but I was determined to keep going.

Someone asked me how I was going to celebrate losing 100 pounds. It obviously couldn’t be an edible celebration anymore- so I had to think outside of the box. I decided my goal was to do a 5k run in Walt Disney World. This meant I had to actually run and train! Something I had NEVER done or even imagined ever doing! I signed myself up for the Walt Disney World Princess 5k in February 2011.

I started my training that summer. I never followed a specific training plan; I just ran. I started off slowly. I mostly ran from one mailbox to another until I could keep going further. I was still 300ish pounds at this point, so running was tricky but I was ready and excited for this race!

Princess weekend came and I was ready for it; or so I thought! It was the LONGEST 3.1 miles of my life. I refused to stop for any character pictures. My finish time was somewhere around 48 minutes. (My current 5k time now is 28 minutes). When I finished, I was as red as a tomato and I hurt. I gladly accepted my plastic medallion that I proudly wore around my neck for the next week, however; I swore I would NEVER run again!

The next morning, I woke up in my hotel room to a lot of noise. I walked outside my room and saw thousands of runners racing by me in the half marathon. My immediate thought was “those people are crazy”. I had run 3.1 miles the day prior, and here they are running 13.1! The more I watched the runners; I noticed how much fun they were having. I must have stood for over an hour watching and cheering as the race continued before grabbing my plastic medallion and heading to the parks for the day. It was in the parks where I saw the half marathon medal; all of the sudden my plastic medallion was not good enough anymore and I wanted that ½ marathon medal! It was at that point where I decided to run a half marathon!

I knew I had to continue my weight loss journey and my training in order to achieve my new goal of running 13.1 miles. I stayed strong and I ran my first half marathon the following November. I did very well; and was quickly hooked to running!

I very quickly caught the running bug! In 2.5 years, I completed 38 half marathons, 6 full marathons, and one 50-mile ultra-marathon. The weight loss continued throughout this journey as well. There were many parts of my journey where I would plateau and need to switch up my workout/eating routines in order to get my body moving and losing weight again!

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I just celebrated my four year lap band anniversary this April 15, 2014. I went from 427 pounds down to 174 pounds. A size 32 to a size 6.   I am extremely proud of my progress, but I’m not done yet! Weight loss has slowed down immensely; and I am trying to base my progress on how my clothes fit. I am currently doing some heavy weight lifting, and I know I am gaining a lot of muscle. I just recently had a body fat percentage test done; and I currently have 14.4% body fat; which falls in the “excellent” category. As per the BMI charts, I am still considered “overweight”, but that does not take into account muscle and lifestyle! So there we have it, the lap band was supposed to ONLY have me lose 50-75 pounds….I beat the odds by losing 255 pounds, and still losing!

I am a totally different person than I was four years ago. I now workout 7 days a week; and LOVE it! A few years back, you wouldn’t find me in a gym. A few MONTHS back, you wouldn’t have found me in a group exercise class; and I am now a certified Bokwa group fitness instructor! I actually look forward to my workouts. Those days of me trying to get out of a mile run are over. I now barely sweat in the first mile or two of a run! My eating is still difficult with the lap band on certain days; but I never complain. Is it a pain?  Yes, but it was the band that gave me the tools I needed to be successful!   I count my calories daily and workout; it’s not a “diet”, it’s a lifestyle!

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Has running at Disney helped to transform your life?  If so, I want to hear your story!  Send me an email at sarah@runningatdisney.com to be featured on an upcoming Transformation Tuesday!

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9 Responses to Transformation Tuesday: Michele Elbertson

  1. Amazing!!! BUT coming from one transformation story person to another PLEASE dont put a whole lot of stock in BMI or numbers. You are HEALTHY!!!! Look at all you have accomplished. Relish it and be proud! No one can take that from you and YOU DID IT ALL ON YOUR OWN!!!!
    Congratulations Michele
    Stay the course, maintain and keep pushing forward which I find just as difficult.
    Enjoy Every Day.

  2. you are a true inspiration..great job.

  3. Incredible story Michele!! Has runDisney shared your story yet?! If not, they really need to – it is truly inspiring!!
    Lauren @ Lauren’s Glass Slipper recently posted..Weekly Recap X2 6/16/14 – 6/29/14My Profile

  4. Michele- you are AWESOME! What an inspiring story you are living out! Congratulations on your success and dedication to a healthy life!

  5. Caryn Piechowski

    Michele, you have always been a good and kind person inside and out! Thank you for being such an inspiration!

  6. […] Transformation Tuesday: Michele Elbertson | Running At Disney […]

  7. I agree with everyone; Michelle’s journey is amazing, and a tribute to her courage, determination and ‘heart’!

  8. Congratulations Michele! What a journey! I have never been a runner. I am 245 lb and used to be 175 lb. Ideally I would like to get down to 150-160.. You are an inspiration to me! I just really need motivation. In the past my bestfriend was my motivation: we cycled and danced alot! But, my husband who I thought was my new exercise buddy, but he is more into his head then wanting to be healthy with me. I know what is healthy and I buy fruits and veggies, I don’t eat junk food all the time (just here and there). I just haven’t been exercising (other then walking up stairs, and across campus at my University) which is better then nothing, but I don’t go to school every day and it isn’t enough. I am 49 now and really want to lose weight by this summer. I am so glad I read your story! I need inspiration and motivation!! Take care! Cathe

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