Half Her Size
One Billings woman cut flour and sugar to trim the fat
Today when Jan Iverson picks up her one-time favorite pair of black dress pants, she can fit both feet through one leg. It’s a picture that’s worth a lifetime of words and underscores a weight loss journey 40 years in the making.
“I have literally lost thousands of pounds from being up and down and up and down,” Jan says. “I had been on at least a hundred diets and tried everything from starvation to weight watchers. In my early 50s, I had gastric bypass surgery and even that became a failure for me. My inability to control my weight was a terrible burden and I felt that my ‘failures’ on the scale affected all aspects of my life.”
In her 60s, she started to feel the physical pain of carrying around an extra 150 pounds. It wracked her joints when she tried to get out of a chair. It surged through her body when walking from one room to another.
“Those were bad times,” Jan says. “One day my daughter just said to me, ‘This isn’t right!’”
In 2013, when she walked in to see her primary care physician, Dr. Frank Michels, the scale read 306 pounds. She was suffering from the effects of a degenerative back condition, polymyalgia, the effects of osteoporosis and rheumatoid arthritis.
“I would ask my husband if he felt that kind of pain and he told me, no,” Jan says. “I would hurt all over.”
After being prescribed steroids to calm the inflammation, the pain started to vanish. Knowing she couldn’t be on the drug long-term, Jan was determined to find a way to leave her old lifestyle and the weight behind.
“I would eat so much sugar. I really loved sugar and bread — homemade cookies. I made lots of cookies for the grandkids and me,” Jan says. And, having grown up on an Eastern Montana farm, “I had big carb meals, spaghetti, hot dishes, old-fashioned farm meals that weren’t good for you, especially if you weren’t exercising.”
At 68, Jan radically changed the way she looked at food. She said goodbye to sugar. She ditched anything made with white flour. She read each and every label before she opened the can or box.
“I didn’t realize that sugar was an inflammatory,” Jan says. “There’s no nutritional value whatsoever in sugar.” She adds, “When I first started this I thought, ‘I am going to cut out sugar but I am going to eat as much fruit as I want and I am not even going to watch my calories. I am just going to go without sugar and white flour.’ I lost eight pounds in a month, just by cutting that out.”
She loaded up on veggies with several trips a week to Costco. “The employees watched as I was losing weight and they would say ‘Good job!’ Isn’t that funny?” Jan says. And Dr. Michels sat back and witnessed this incredible shrinking woman.
“Watching patients strive to lose weight and find some methods to achieve their goals is especially rewarding,” he says.
And while not everyone needs to completely get sugar and flour out of their diet, Michels says, science proves the benefits: “Our metabolic engine is geared to slowly break down complex carbs, so throwing gasoline into a diesel engine creates fuel that burns too hot, resulting in elevated glucose and energy stored in fat. It is not as simple as no sugar and no white flour, but that is a great place to start.”
Today, this 5-foot-6-inch former Billings city councilwoman weighs 156 pounds. She’s lost 150 pounds and has never felt better.
“I have no pain today. I have no pain,” she says as she shakes her head. “My arthritis is gone.”
While the road to good health hasn’t been easy, Jan calls it an intellectual journey, one where she learned the secret to losing weight and, more importantly, keeping it off.
“One thing I can tell you, in a whole year, I haven’t put one thing in my mouth that wasn’t nutritional,” she says. “It’s not worth it to me. It’s not worth the calories or the consequences.” Without sugar and flour, she adds, “You aren’t dealing with empty calories, high-energy boosts. Your body just functions so much better.”
For her, maintaining her weight boils down to simple math.
“I try to do at least 100 grams of protein a day and try to keep my sugar at less than 25 grams a day,” she says. “If I eat less than 1,500 calories a day, I can maintain. It is almost like I am exchanging money but for me, I am asking how much protein am I getting? How much sugar is it costing me, how many calories is it costing me?”
If she’s hungry between meals, she’ll grab a protein shake or Greek yogurt dressed up with fresh berries or sliced almonds. She absolutely loves making giant chef salads for lunch each day — packed with power greens, cucumbers, bell peppers, grape tomatoes, imitation crab meat and topped with a yogurt-based dressing. Some days, she’ll take upwards of an hour to eat the salad, savoring each bite.
“If you bite into a grape tomato, it’s so sweet,” Jan says. “I taste the sweetness in foods that I probably didn’t before because I was numb to anything unless it was pure sugar.”
When it comes to fitness, she’s a regular at her local health club. “I do water aerobics for an hour every day at Granite Fitness. I really find that I have to keep moving.” She adds, “Never before had I enjoyed exercise. In fact, after years of being a spectator, in May of 2015, I became a first-time participant in the Montana Women’s Run. It was truly a milestone for me.”
Looking back, Jan has no regrets that it took her so long to find the secret to good health. She is, however, on a mission to help others who want to leave the shackles of obesity behind.
“I’ve been blessed with the good health that I thought could never be recovered. All the ailments I had five years ago have disappeared from my medical charts. It’s a miracle!” she says. She thanks God she’s been given renewed energy to, at 72 years old, enjoy her grandchildren and great-grandchildren “with the energy and mobility of a 40-year-old without medication and pain-free!”
While she earned this new lifestyle in her 70s, she knows she still has plenty of years to make up for lost time.
“I know that throughout my life, my ‘light’ has been hidden under the emotional and physical weight I carried,” Jan says. “Now, it is important that I let it shine.”
JAN’S 8 LESSONS TO WEIGHT LOSS
What made her successful on her weight loss journey
*I learned your body doesn’t crave sugar, your body craves nutrition. Giving your body premium fuel will allow it to function at maximum potential!
*I learned that before I started this healthy lifestyle, I was probably malnourished. I ate a tremendous amount of sugar and very few vegetables.
*I learned that by abstaining from sugar and white flour, I have been able to maintain my weight.
*I learned that exercise is essential in achieving and maintaining good health. Just as great nutrition will fuel your body, exercise will keep it operating efficiently. I once read that 15 minutes of daily exercise is the single most important thing you can do for your overall health.
*I learned that weight loss truly is “mathematics”. When you eat more calories than you burn, you will gain weight! And if you eat fewer calories than you burn, you will lose weight.
*I have learned to be honest with myself. No matter what, I force myself to weigh every day. Also, when I feel that I am losing control, to record everything I eat in a day is a wonderful discipline and seems to help me gain control.
*I learned that it is not all about diet and exercise, it’s about quality of life. If only I had realized years ago, that abstaining from sugar was the key to maintaining my weight loss, I may not have regained the weight time after time.
*I have learned that it is NEVER too late. I am still in awe of the miracle of my body’s recovery.