It is with great pleasure that I can share this interview of Tanya Rickard with you. How we met seems rather unremarkable. We’re in the same yoga class and we both prefer the right front corner of the room. For quite a while we did yoga right next to each other without much conversation. I’m so glad that we eventually had a chance to get to know each other better because this unremarkable meeting turned out to be with a very remarkable woman.
Five years ago Tanya weighed over 300 pounds and now she weighs a healthy 150 pounds. She has succeeded at transforming her life in ways that are truly inspiring. The changes she embraced are not only physical but also emotional and spiritual. She successfully crafted a brand new and very healthy self-image which directs her journey today!
Lea: Tanya, thanks so much for sharing your story. Could we start with hearing a summary of what happened?
Tanya: Sure. At thirty years old I was over 300 pounds which caused major back problems. I wasn’t able to play with my son and I could barely even tie my own shoes. At the same time my life as a Navy wife was very unhappy. While just moving my body around was a chore, I was still overloaded with responsibilities. Amazingly, at the time I didn’t really see my size. In fact, when I saw this particular picture of me, it was a shock. For the first time, I actually saw what had happened to me. I was really shocked. I knew I had to do something.
I tried every diet under the moon. For a while, I even worked for Jenny Craig! Thoughts of food and the need to restrict my eating were constantly on my mind. It turned out to be yet another stressor that I had to deal with. I didn’t know it at the time but I was an emotional eater. My relationship with food was unhealthy which I now see as a reflection of other relationships in my life. I didn’t have the coping skills to handle all this. I started drinking and smoking cigarettes regularly as a form of stress relief. Of course, this only made everything even worse. The people in my life at that time weren’t the ones who could model better choices for me.
Eventually due to the serious problems with my back, I decided to have a gastric bypass which helped me to eventually lose 160 pounds! Believe it or not, losing the weight was the easy part. I really started to understand that the changes I needed to make were more than just to my body. I started working on my thinking. Previously I thought that I couldn’t take care of myself and that I needed to stay in my unhappy marriage. But, I found the strength to divorce. I stopped drinking and smoking. I changed my circle of friends. Little by little I was finding the confidence I needed. More and more I was learning who I really was.
Here are some of the lessons I learned. The most important relationship in your life is with yourself! I am capable of taking care of myself and my son. I can accomplish even more than I could imagine. I decided that I wanted to be healthy and happy first and foremost. I switched my focus from my looks to being a healthy, happy me. I knew that if I were to be healthy and happy, I needed to choose a lifestyle supports that. I started learning about clean eating and whole foods. Weighing my food helped me better understand about portions. I set up a schedule to help me decide what and when to eat. I used daily affirmations. I exercised regularly. Again, I set up a specific exercise schedule for myself. I did all this, not like I used to do a diet. Instead, I did this as my new way to live. I did everything for me! I was my own manager. My relationship with food and my relationship with myself were both completely rearranged. My respect for myself helped me to make myself accountable for my choices. At the same time, I know that it was important to not overwhelm myself. As I succeeded in one small goal, then I took on another one. I didn’t let myself feel guilty. I knew what I was doing was similar to navigating a cruise liner to go a new direction. It wasn’t easy and it didn’t happen overnight. But it did happen!
It worked! I recently finished my first 5k in the top 10% of my age group! I’m now training for a 10k.
The bottom line is that I now know that the most important relationship in your life needs to be with yourself!
Me: Wow. That is so impressive. When you were first starting, how important was it to get support from family and friends? Did the usefulness of support change from when you first started versus now?
Tanya: I didn’t have much support at first. I was a military wife and there wasn’t much family support. So I learned that I had to hold myself accountable for me. As people noticed my progress, they’d say things to me and that encouragement is what kept me going. The people that saw me coming into the gym complimented me and their supportive comments meant a lot. But, again, it’s not necessarily outside support that I needed. I needed a mindset change. I did a lot of personal work. Another kind of support that I got was from friends who wanted my advice and my help. Knowing that they were watching kept me on track because I knew they needed me as an example. I hired a personal trainer who held me accountable in the beginning. But still, it was mostly my internal motivation that kept me going. I had to be ready and willing to change my life. I had to accept that this was a life change and not a diet.
Me: What are the most important getting started tips that you have?
Tanya: Start with just walking every other day. Find a friend to walk with. To prevent from getting overwhelmed, don’t try to take on too much at first because you are more apt to quit if you set up expectations that are not reachable.
I didn’t think of it then but if there were a support group or at least like-minded people to talk with, that would have been helpful. I suggest getting an accountability partner.
Surround yourself with people with similar goals and life choices. The friends I had before were into going to restaurants a lot and that’s not something I wanted to do any more.
Don’t be hard on yourself. Don’t give up when you are sore or tired. Your body will adjust to the new amount of activity. Pat yourself on the back for small successes. I created chart and gave myself stars along the way. A visual helps. Reward yourself with non-food items like a manicure, pedicure, or new workout clothes.
Me: Would you do the surgery again if you knew then what you know now?
Tanya: I had to have the surgery because I had herniated disks. However, for someone that just had a weight issue without the back problems, I’d try to lose the weight without surgery.
There are a lot of emotional issues that come with losing weight so quickly. I lost 160 pounds in 8 months which sounds good but it’s hard to handle when your body changes so drastically.
It’s important to remember that surgery does not guarantee that you will maintain weight loss for a lifetime. It’s a myth that you can never gain the weight back because you will if you don’t make the lifestyle changes. Sadly, Carnie Wilson is an example of that.
And, there are lots of medical issues that can arise shortly after surgery and later in life. It’s something that can never be reversed. My body no longer assimilates vitamins and I have to take supplements for the rest of my life. I’ve also had adverse reactions to high sugar and high fat foods. That can be unexpected and believe me, when it happens, it will totally ruin your day. It’s called dumping syndrome and involves abdominal pain, sweat, fatigue, and diarrhea. And, food can get stuck which can cause vomiting.
So, if you can avoid surgery, please do.
Me: What motivated you at first versus what motivates you now?
Tanya: At first I was motivated by feelings of wanting to be accepted and to be normal sized. I didn’t want to feel self-conscious and to be thinking about my weight every single day. I wanted to live life to its fullest. Back then, my mental state was horrible.
Now I am motivated by wanting to be healthy. I eat good food to feel good in my body. Food is no longer an emotional crutch but a tool to support a good life. I eat right to meet my health and fitness goals. I am proud of my accomplishments! Now I don’t think about how I look; I do what I do because of how I want to feel.
Me: How does your current fitness level impact other areas of your life?
Tanya: Meeting small fitness goals on a weekly basis motivates me in other aspects of my life because I now know that I can reach goals that before I thought I couldn’t attain. For example, after losing 160 pounds, I went back to college and got an AA degree in business with a 3.8 GPA. It gave me the confidence to go for my dreams because I now had the knowledge that I could push myself to reach goals. With fitness you will see results on a weekly basis which is very motivating to me. Every great athlete that consistently trains improves. You may not think of yourself as an athlete but each individual has the capacity to constantly challenge their personal best.
Me: Is there anything else that you think is important for people to know?
Tanya: Be honest with yourself. Push yourself to the next level when you feel you are capable. If you hold yourself back by thinking you can’t achieve something then, you will never get the full reward of reaching a goal that you thought you could never meet. It’s funny because I thought I hated running. However, when I tried the couch to 5k program , it progressed so gradually that when I was running for an entire 30 minutes, I was in awe of my achievement! It gave me a new perspective and a zest for running. I never thought that was possible! I still don’t fully comprehend what I am capable of but now I’m open to find out! Every month and every year I feel myself getting stronger and happier and healthier. I’m going to my personal edge. I’m not afraid to push myself because it reaps great rewards. Believe or not, I’m now close to being certified as a personal trainer. I want to help people to feel the way I do now. I want to leave you with a quote I feel sums me up as I am now.
“I am in competition with no one. I run my own race. I have no desire to play the game of being better than anyone, in any shape, or form. I just aim to improve, to be better than I was before. That’s me and I’m free!”
Me: Just by doing this interview, you are already helping people. Thanks so much for shining a light for people who would also like to learn to be their best selves. I look forward to supporting you as you continue on your journey!