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Fierce and Fit at 50: One Woman’s Quest for Weight Loss and a Healthy Life

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Ann Cardinal in Puerto Rico January 2012It all started with a revelation in the Puerto Rican rainforest this past January. I was hiking with a group of writers from Vermont College of Fine Arts, threading through the lush green trails that crisscrossed the east side of El Yunque. With walking sticks in hand, we made our way as the bright, morning Caribbean sun filtered through the palms in lacy patterns, and birdsong trilled overhead. Sounds idyllic, doesn’t it? Well, I wouldn’t know. I was too busy huffing and puffing, staring at the few feet of stone-strewn ground ahead, praying that the guide would call for a rest break soon.

At a certain point as I trailed behind the group, I stopped to catch my breath, hands on my chubby knees, and looked up to see my friend and colleague who suffers from MS two miles ahead, waiting for my sorry ass. Ashamed, I hauled my 215-pound body along the trail, focusing only on the next step, one step at a time, trying not to cry from exhaustion and humiliation.

I’m not sure how I finished the hike, it’s all a blur, but I did, and that night, as I lay in bed with twin ice packs on my arthritic knees, tears pouring down my face from the pain, I realized I was too young to feel so damn old. Not to mention that the week before we had left Vermont for the island, I had been diagnosed as pre-diabetic. I snored so loudly that my husband sometimes had to retreat to the couch and I couldn’t share a hotel room with anyone on the trip. And, worst of all, sometimes I woke up choking and gasping for air from sleep apnea. The situation was starting to scare me. Really scare me, like zombies and spiders scare me. But it was then, that night in that eco-lodge twin bed that I decided: Next year, when I returned with the next group of students, just weeks before my 50th birthday, I was going to meet that milestone with 65 fewer pounds on my body.

Ann Cardinal in Vermont August 2012 Halfway thereToday, eight months later, I’m closer to keeping that commitment than I ever imagined I could be, and I’m more than halfway to my goal. So why start blogging about weight loss now? Well, I’ve made promises like this before. I can’t even tell you how many times. How could I be certain that in that moment in Naguabo, Puerto Rico, I’d actually hit bottom with my eating and weight gain? That something really had shifted? And if I embarked and then failed, as I had so many times before, how could I do so in front of so many people? But from the day I got back to Vermont—January 10, 2012—the process of transformation began.

What was different this time? I’m still not sure. I already knew a lot about nutrition, exercise, and what I should be doing, as so many of us do, but just could never actually lose the weight. For some reason it all came together after that dark night. The journey has not proven easy, the true education and re-training of my mind and behavior have been all-consuming. For the last eight months it’s been all I could do to live, work, and pull my overweight carcass out of the rut I had put myself in.

I’ve found so many tools and support systems along the way, so many sources of life-changing energy and information, that I want to share them, talk about them, and hear about what’s worked for other people. I will cover these things in entries to come, but before writing this I had to ask myself: Why do I feel we need yet another weight loss blog? You see, I’ve been approaching my weight loss and health quest in the same way I approach all aspects of my life. I read every book I can get my hands on, I talk about it with people who have similar goals, and I look for stories that inspire me and help keep me on that wagon. However, in my search I’ve found a dearth of inspirational information for those of us already in the process of change. There are thousands, tens of thousands, of resources for people who are beginning their weight loss quest—it is a multi-billion dollar industry—but not so much for those of us who find ourselves at a point in between. I’m beginning to wonder if that’s because most of us quietly fall off between the point of departure and our weight destination goal.

The way I look at it, this halfway point is actually the most dangerous.

Those of you who have ever been on that wild ride called weight loss understand the slippery slope we teeter on each and every day. You know and have learned so much, have found tricks that work just for you. You’ve come so far, feel so good, and more and more people are noticing the change in you. But all it takes is a bad day when you find solace in meaningless carbohydrates and rather than satiate, they make you want more. Or you’ve spent five days at a conference eating bad hotel food and come back facing that package of Oreos and think, what’s the difference? I’ve blown it already. Or you don’t get to the gym for several days in a row and it is so much easier to watch reruns of CSI: Miami when you get home from work than it is to face that elliptical. And didn’t that last strength training session really hurt your back? Perhaps you should rest it for just one more day…

…this is when you need to read something inspirational, someone’s story who understands what it takes to stay the course, regardless of how far you’ve already come.

I understand. I am there, and I am trying to stay there.

I’m 37 pounds down, 28 more to go, with five months remaining until my 50th birthday. Yes, I’m proud of how far I’ve come, but I’m more focused on where I have yet to go. People chastise me for that, but I think it’s survival. I fear complacency, loss of control, and the appeal of kettlecorn. And becoming active at 49 years old is freakin’ hard. I don’t know about you, but I’m tired when I come home from work. My joints ache after boot camp. And good lord, how can I put on those fitted yoga pants after the margaritas and chips I had last night? But I am committed to getting there, and telling my story in this blog will inspire me, and, if I’m lucky, maybe inspire someone else.

So, if you’re on this same journey, let’s walk side-by-side for awhile. I’d welcome the company, because where I’m going is less about fitting into size 6 jeans, and more about living a longer, fuller life.

Disclaimer: What credentials do I have to be blogging about health and weight loss? Nada! Bupkis! I don’t know shit! But I find that I’m inspired by people’s stories and I’m hoping that, perhaps, I can inspire others with mine. All I can do is share my experiences, not give any answers. Hell, I’m barely in control of my own life and body; I’m certainly not going to tell you what you should do with yours. So, if you’re trying to lose weight and get healthy, for God’s sake, see your doctor! Make her your best friend! I’m sure she will not only be overjoyed at your desire to get healthy, but will help you do it in the safest way for you and your body.

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About Ann Hagman Cardinal

  • Stella P

    Ann you have put to words what many of us share, thank you for your encouragement and inspiration-muchas felices!

  • Ann, I commend you for you commitment — to weight loss, to improved health, strength, and mobility, and to blogging about the process.

    I am healthy and strong, and I suffer from chronic pain. I’ve been been through a lot in my relatively short life (14 foot surgeries, disc herniations, a serious car accident, a shoulder injury), so it takes a tremendous amount of willpower and self-love to move my body.

    It’s vital to create and sustain healthy habits that keep me active and fit, despite so much challenge. Pilates, yoga, swimming, spinning and biking, breathing fresh air, eating nourishing food, avoiding sugar and gluten — these are all habits I’m cultivating.


  • Joyce Ray

    What an inspirational piece! I’m cheering for you, Ann, and will refer others to your blog. This writing task you have given yourself is so important.

  • I am in love with you. That is all. 🙂

    Oh, wait! I’m super excited to keep reading this blog.

    *applauds for you, wildly*

  • Ann Cardinal

    You guys all ROCK! I’m so pleased that these are things that people can relate to. And Tavia, I’m right there with you, clean eating, exercise, reduced softserve ice cream intake… 😉 My next entry is going to be about books that have inspired me. I’ve read so much over the last 8 months.

  • Ebaker2

    You go Annie. You look terrific and have the commitment and resilience to do this work. Keep your eye on the prize.

  • My weight peaked two and a half years ago at 230lbs and now it is down to 185lbs and I’ve just transitioned from being obese to merely being overweight, which is a big deal for me!

    Now I want to get at least another 20lbs off, maybe a little more.

    I was doing weight watchers with my wife but we both got stuck on plateaus so we’ve recently switched to a calorie controlled diet and eat between 750 and 1300 calories 6 days a week and allow ourselves 1600-1800 calories one day a week.

    This is much easier and more fun, so I’m hopeful of getting the rest of the fat off over the next six months.

  • June

    Great inspirational blog, Ann. I’m very proud of you & your commitment. Believe me it’s a continuous commitment. I haven’t had a creemie in more than a year (my downfall) – I would drive-thru McDonalds an average of once a day every day of the year!!! Looking forward to reading more of your blogs.

  • I’m so happy for you. How are you doing it? Curious as to the type of exercise you are doing. Good going.

  • Carol

    Thanks for doing this, Ann! I’ve really appreciated sharing this mutual journey the last few months, and (no surprise) I love your candor and curiosity. Here’s to an amazing 50th birthday party!

  • “I fear complacency, loss of control, and the appeal of kettlecorn.” What a great post, Ann! I love the honesty AND the humor.

    Weight loss is about so much more than numbers on a scale – and you’ve captured that beautifully. Can’t wait to read the next post.

  • mima tipper

    You are my hero today, Ann Cardinal! Go, go, go:)

  • Sheri

    Everything you said, I feel like you were in my head, reading my thoughts & feelings. Well said! I’m on the same journey myself after “falling off the wagon” a million times in the last 15+ years… Can’t wait to read more.. Thanks for sharing, especially when I personally feel I’m the only one that has been riding that roller-coaster, only to realize that geez, there are more of “us” out there than I thought. =)

  • Ann Cardinal

    Thank you, Sheri! There are more of “us,” and that’s why I started this blog! I needed to hear from YOU too! 🙂 Thanks everyone. I’m so happy it struck a chord.

  • Brian Hagman

    You really are an inspiration, as is obvious from the comments.
    I have a few thoughts for all to consider:

    > Lots of people start, but then get frustrated and ultimately fail to lose weight, become fit, etc. Why?

    > Unrealistic expectations and unsustainable programs.

    > We (society) and the purveyors of the processes and products for fitness look for the quickest fix (short attention span is a symptom of our issue).

    > So the fix is quite often relatively extreme (check almost any diet out there, or exercise program).

    > And how does extreme fit into a typical life? It does not (see: PX90).

    > So for most, radical change does not work.

    > My recommendations? First, reasonable eating habits. My personal belief is that portion control is more effective than elimination of one’s typical dietary staples. Although frankly, avoidance of those things that cause your problems is a necessity (some of this can be an inflammatory thing – check with me if you want more detail and my own experiences).

    > Second, a sustainable exercise program. Keep it simple; should always contain walking. And some sort of strength training. The use of resistance exercise not only creates useable muscle (which burns more calories), but can also provide high intensity cardiovascular conditioning (I personally center this around kettlebell training – again, check with me if you want more info and testimony).

    I am a long time participant and observer of the “exercise world” so I feel I’ve seen most of it, and most of it fail.

    Interested in your thoughts and comments.

    • SheilaLS

      Wonderful post, Brian! Keep the suggestions coming!

  • Ann Cardinal

    Brian, you’re pretty much totally on the money in my book. I’m going to cover all these issues in the weeks to come. LOVE all these ideas.

  • Kathryn

    Ann, I knew from the first time we met (through an email) that I had a connection with you. I’m at just at the beginning stage once again of the 40lb weight loss journey to better health. You described the feeling perfectly. I laughed as you described your trip to El Junque, I was there one year ago and thought the trail would never end. Keep blogging, you are an inspiration.

  • SheilaLS

    I had my epiphany at 51…..over 300 pounds, Type 2 Diabetes and I’m just tired of being tired! I also have my first granddaughter and I want to be around for her. I’m always looking for support and happened on you through Pinterest. I would love to follow you and be inspired by what you’ve already accomplished.