As a Your Weight Matters Convention scholarship recipient, I was extremely excited to attend the Convention in Orlando, FL and receive the opportunity to learn more about healthy weight, mindful choices and fun exercise. The reason I applied for a scholarship to the Convention was because I am a teacher in a rural area school district. I work with English language learners and most of these students are learning a new language and a new culture. As a teacher, my income is limited as well as my ability to be off of work during the school year. I filled out the application and told the committee about why I felt that I was a good candidate for the Convention.

Jennifer’s Story
One Saturday in October of 2012 I drove to a bariatric surgery seminar to find out more information about what I could do to get healthier. After the seminar, the doctor took me back to an exam room and weighed me. That day I weighed 379 pounds. I really had no idea that my weight had gotten that high. I knew it was over 300, but I didn’t have any idea that it was so close to 400. That day a switch flipped in my mind. I knew I had to make some changes.

Within the week, the doctor’s office called and said that my insurance would pay for the majority of a gastric bypass, and when did I want to schedule the surgery. I literally started laughing and said to the nurse that I wasn’t going to have weight loss surgery because I hadn’t exhausted all efforts yet. I had been on Weight Watchers, at least 5 different times, I’d tried the Fat Flush, The South Beach Diet, my own calorie restrictive diet of 600 calories a day in high school, and many, many other regimens. After I hung up the phone my office mate asked me, “Jennifer, what are you waiting for?” As I sat there in silence, I didn’t have a clue what I was waiting for and maybe, just maybe, this was the answer I had been searching for since my teenage years.

I began gaining weight at 9 years old. It took me a lot of therapy, prayers and soul-searching but I eventually remembered what happened to me as a child and why I began using food as a coping mechanism for my feelings. Food was easily available and in south Louisiana, everything tastes good! So, for 33 years, when things got hard, or if I felt sad, depressed, nervous or anxious I would just eat a little snack or have more at a meal to quell those feelings and move on with my happy life. Throughout my high school years, I spent time thinking about losing weight but didn’t make a severe change until my junior year. I decided that I was going to have a date for the prom and the only way that would happen was to lose weight.

So, in 1987, I restricted myself to 600 calories a day, exercised at least an hour a night and began my own journey to weight-loss. At that time I weighed 230 pounds. Each week I would go to my mother’s office and weigh-in on the doctor scale to track my progress. After one year I had lost 80 pounds and I was higher than a kite. I was such a happy person already, now my insides matched my outsides. But, I didn’t get a date to the prom.

College came and went, the diet went out the window and then I graduated and entered the work force as a bilingual teacher in Houston, TX.  In 1999 I decided to enter another weight-loss program, with a doctor and a nutritionist and I was back at 230 pounds. After many years, multiple weight-loss programs, exercise routines and even deciding I would just be “fat and happy” forever, I made that trip to the bariatric surgery seminar in October 2012. That day would forever change my life.

I had gastric bypass on November 2, 2012 and have not looked back. I had my husband take my picture in the hallway of the hospital because I knew I would never look like that again. After 18 months, I had lost 200 pounds and was at what I thought was my goal weight. The body knew better and continued to lose 30 more pounds and I am still right around 150 pounds, 40 months later.

Jennifer’s Journey with the OAC
I learned about the OAC from Shelly, at The World According to Eggface. She is also a gastric bypass patient and continues to have success fighting the disease of obesity. She made a wonderful pitch about joining the OAC on her blog and I joined that day. I believe it was summer 2013. I learned of the Your Weight Matters Convention through the OAC’s emails and I applied for the scholarship in the Scholarship Program’s inaugural year.

Once the scholarship applications were reviewed, I was notified that I hadn’t received one. I replied to Kristy Kuna, OAC’s Vice President of Programs and Operations, and thanked her for the opportunity and told her that I knew that God had something special planned for me and it would be okay that I hadn’t received the scholarship. After a few days, she emailed me back and said that the selection committee at GWU had chosen 13 recipients and that my application was number 14. One of the 13 recipients wouldn’t be able to attend the Convention, and she asked if I was still interested in the scholarship. At that moment, my life changed again.

Jennifer, Lori & Katherine

Jennifer’s Experience as a Scholarship Recipient at the Your Weight Matters National Convention
I began mentally preparing myself for all of the learning opportunities I would have in Orlando. I was excited. The time came for my flight and I took off alone, and snapped a picture of the seatbelt fitting me (with lots of extra left over) for the first time in over 20 years. It was an extraordinary day! Once I arrived at the Convention I introduced myself to everyone I could and took the opportunity to make as many connections as I could. I was able to go through the everyday advocacy training, meet Eggface and Bariatric Foodie (two of the bloggers I follow), and listen to many wonderful speakers about nutrition, wellness and exercise choices that I knew were just for me! I took notes at every session, soaking up as much information as I could and attended every breakout and exercise opportunity there was.

On the first day in Orlando, I went to read a book by the pool and there I met Gita, a lady who worked in the health field who was interested in learning more about healthy weight for her patients and clients. At our first session I met Tiffany, who was a gastric bypass patient, and we attended every session together. At the first afternoon session I met Debbie, another gastric bypass patient, who had had a duodenal switch over 10 years prior. Gita, Tiffany, Debbie and I have kept in touch to this day and continue to cheer each other’s healthy progress.

Debbie, Tiffany, Jennifer & Gita

Being able to attend the Your Weight Matters Convention in 2014 made an impact on my life. Not only did I learn wonderful ideas about healthy habits and exercise but I also learned that my journey was only beginning. I collected information, trinkets and samples from every vendor at the health expo and I brought all of that information back and shared it with my local support group. I was also able to be the speaker of the night at support group in December 2014 and I shared what I had learned at the Convention about NEAT exercise throughout the day, yoga breathing to relieve stress and “FAT,” falsely acquired thoughts. My support group was very supportive of my sharing and they appreciated all of the samples and information I shared with them.

If I could say one thing about why my YWM scholarship had an impact of my life, it is that it gave me the knowledge, confidence and strength to open up and share with other people who are afraid and unable to figure out how to defeat the disease of obesity. I continue to share my story, my tips and my experiences with anyone who will listen.

–  Jennifer Shoalmire