MICHELE ELBERTSON, a 28-year-old Tabernacle, N.J., native is making a lot of waves as she continues on her personal quest to inspire and generate awareness about how she lost a jaw-dropping 260 pounds.
In the past three years, this wonder woman has run over 38 half-marathons, seven full marathons, one 50-mile ultramarathon and two triathlons. "I hope to motivate others who have given up on life and a quest for better heath," Elbertson said.
Although she has taken a moment with me, to revel in triumphant glory, the journey has not been without thorns. "If you had told me four years ago that I'd be doing this today, I would have said you are crazy," she said. "Four years ago, at my heaviest, I was 427 pounds and I could barely walk across the room."
According to Elbertson, she was born obese. "I was at the 100-percent percentile for height and weight since birth, so genetics was clearly not on my side, though I played a huge role in making it worse," she said. Admittedly, genetics may have played a significant role, but her eating habits only exacerbated conditions. Growing up, she subsisted on a steady diet of fast food.
During college she continued to hit the drive-through hard, and, though she can laugh about it today, she jokingly says, "Most kids gain the freshmen 15, but I gained the college 200."
During a routine office visit, she received a serious wake-up call from her doctor, who told her that she would be dead in three or four years if she did not make some serious changes.
What follows is a nitty-gritty Q&A with Elbertson about her amazing transformation:
Q: What was your favorite breakfast, and what is it now?
A: My favorite used to be McDonald's Sausage Egg McMuffin, every day on my way to work. Now, my favorite is yogurt with almonds or I have eggs on rye but never, never fast food in well over two years.
Q: What's the biggest headache in managing your new lifestyle?
A: The social pressure is the toughest. Socially, you have a group of friends you hang out with and go out to eat or drink. Over the years I've actually lost some friends, and some of my old friends had a hard time accepting my new lifestyle. On the other hand, I have gained new friends in the running and workout community . . . people have opened their doors to me . . . so I've gained much, too. The other issue is the stigma attached to weight-loss surgery.
Q: It's really sad that some people feel the need to judge you, instead of supporting your success. Even with weight-loss surgery, it is tremendously hard to shed that kind of weight. Which procedure did you choose and why?
A: I had yo-yo dieted all of my life and taken every pill. So many times I had been desperate, but I knew I needed to do something. After researching procedures, I decided on the gastric lap band, because it was safer and reversible. Ironically, my doctor didn't think I was a good candidate for the procedure and he didn't want to do it. It took me a total of nine months to get the final approvals. I was determined to prove him wrong.
Q: Well, you certainly achieved that, and then some. But, your results are not typical. The median weight loss for that procedure is between 30 and 70 pounds, and even a 100-pound loss is uncommon. How were you able to beat the odds?
A: The first year I dropped 100 pounds, but I was still over 300 pounds and, therefore, considered obese. But, I still wanted to celebrate my loss, and a friend recommended Disney World. I went to Disney and participated in a 5K run that I barely finished. I was slow and it hurt all over; I vowed never to run again. I was proud of myself, but I thought those people were nuts. The next day, I went out to cheer on the people running the half-marathon and something clicked! They were having fun, they had the biggest smiles on their faces, they had something that I wanted. I wanted to feel like that.
Q: That's amazing. So, what do you do for maintenance? Do you exercise daily and count calories?
A: Yes, 4 1/2 years later and I still count my calories. Today, I eat a minimum of 1,700 calories, but I eat an additional 1,000 if I run a marathon. In the beginning, my joints hurt so bad I couldn't do the treadmill. I would go to the gym for 15 to 20 minutes to do the elliptical or bike. Now, on most days, I run 6 miles, take a Zumba class and do the "Insanity" [workout] video. That's a total of 2 hours and 45 minutes.
Q: That's admirable. So, you were formerly an elementary schoolteacher, but now, I understand, you recently have taken on a new career as a personal trainer and group fitness instructor. How has the transition been?
A: I do miss my kids. . . . I'm not sure what the future holds. But, right now, I love working in the clubs, teaching group fitness, and personal training.
Q: What advice do you have for others?