In January 2014, Real Woman selected three women and provided them with the tools to make a change for good: a 1-year membership to the New Jersey Athletic Club, complete with help from a nutritionist and weekly sessions with a personal trainer. A year later, they have all come a long way and are healthier, happier women.
After her husband’s 5-year long battle with a handful of chronic illnesses, Elaine Lipton lost him and what had been her life for so long was suddenly ripped out from under her. She no longer had to be the caregiver, but had forgotten how to care for herself. Her prayers were answered when she discovered Real Woman’s Change for Good. “I thought, ‘Change for good—that’s what I need. I need to change not just physically, but emotionally in my attachment to food,’” she says. When she was chosen for the challenge, she saw a glimmer of hope and decided that 2014 would be her year for change.
Lipton needed a new focus, something to pull her out from the hold of depression. “In the beginning I was in a really hard place. I used to come home from work and just sit on the couch and look out the front window. That was my way of doing nothing, of being depressed,” she explains. “But going to the gym and working hard to do a little more each time helped to ease the grief and the depression. I can’t say enough about how this has helped me get through that part of my life.”
Starting a consistent exercise routine and eating a healthy diet not only helped her through the grieving process, but also did wonders for her health. Lipton, who lost 70 pounds last year, says that she achieved large numbers through small goals. “I have learned to not try to do everything at once. I just keep building. I started walking; then I started walking faster; then I started walking longer and I am still building up strength,” say explains. “My goal is to always do more than I did the last week. I just tell myself that the pounds and inches will come off if I just keep doing a little more and pay attention to how I am drinking, eating, and exercising.”
At first, Change for Good was just a plan to start exercising and eating healthier, but Lipton says that the challenge has affected her entire life. “Change for Good has made me think about things—and not just when it comes to food choices. I am conscious of who I spend time with, if I watch too much TV, if I sit too much. I am looking at what I do and why I do certain things and now I am able to say, ‘I don’t have to do what I used to do anymore.’”
Lipton’s lifestyle change did not come without challenges. She was set back a few times with injuries, and found that she had to hold herself back from exercising, even when she knew she had to rest. “When I had to recover and couldn’t make any more progress, I found that I really missed my workouts,” she says. But she soon learned that she had to respect her body’s limits and avoid worsening her injuries so she could get back on the elliptical as soon as possible.
Sticking to her new, healthy eating habits outside of the walls of her home was also a challenge. “In one sense, I became a hermit,” she says. “I limited where I went and who I was with because certain people make you feel like you have to eat.” But she has since overcome that, and instead controls her portions and explains to her friends why she chooses salad over spaghetti. She is sometimes so convincing that her friends will opt for a colorful plate of greens, too.
One year later
Lipton plans to continue to work toward her ultimate goal: running a Susan G. Komen 5K and achieving a healthy weight status. “I am going to get to a healthy weight. I have gone from morbidly obsess to obese to overweight,” she says. She has learned to appreciate how important her health is, and wants to avoid suffering with illnesses like her husband’s, or the breast cancer that she fought off once already. “I want to reach that healthy status because being overweight is a risk factor for breast cancer and I want to get rid of that factor,” explains Lipton. “In my reality world, I know that the cancer will probably come back—it could be 20 years from now or it could be 5 years from now—but if I get myself in the best shape that I can, the doctors and myself will be able to handle it better.”
“Right now I’m in a good place,” she says. “But I’m not done yet.”
Not all journeys have to end
“In January when we finished Change for Good I thought, ‘Well, I could have all this bad food again, not go to the gym, and go back to my old ways,’” says Lipton. “Then I got rid of all of my old clothes. I had bags and bags and I told myself, ‘No, you’re not going back.’ That was a big step for me because now I have nothing to fall back on. When I iron my clothes, they’re not as big. Sometimes I think, ‘Is that mine?’
Change for Good may be over, but Lipton isn’t finished yet. In fact, she says that her journey will never be complete. “My journey will never really be complete because even once I reach a point where I feel that I am the best that I can and should be, I will have to work to maintain that.”
Lipton hopes to share what she has learned with others. “I am so grateful and now I feel that it’s my mission to help people who are struggling, whether its with being a caregiver or a widow or a widower, or just someone who has been obese or has issues with their body,” she says.
Elaine’s advice for you
“I hope that my story will help others get to where they want to be, to being a real woman,” says Lipton. “I would tell anyone that’s going through a difficult time—if you can’t go to the gym, then go for walks or do something more each day to give yourself a little mental break. It’s so easy to just sit inside, but you’ve got to just get out and do something for yourself, however small.”
When Eileen Azzara saw the advertisement for Real Woman’s Change for Good, she was about 6 months pregnant with her fourth child. “Now, I’m not a cute pregnant person,” she says, laughing. “I definitely get big with each pregnancy even though I workout. So I thought, ‘If I don’t lose this weight right away, I’m going to be huge. If anyone needs a change for good over the next year, it’s me.’” As she approached the date of her scheduled C-section, she knew that it would take a little extra effort to recover from this pregnancy. “I’ve always been big on exercising, but there were more hurdles to get over this time and I figured that the accountability of the Change for Good program was a big plus. I feel very lucky that they chose me.”
Success takes sacrifice
Azzara, now a stay at home mom of 4, was forced to find time away for her new commitment. “We had a weekly meeting with the trainer at New Jersey Sport’s Club, but then he wanted us there at the gym three or four times a week on top of that. And we had to check in with him to prove that we were coming,” she says. “I was like, ‘Listen, I have a brand new baby and three other kids. I’ll get my workouts in. I’ll go walking.’ But he told me that if I didn’t show my face, that meant I wasn’t doing it.”
But luckily, with the support of her husband, she was able to fit Change for Good into her busy schedule. “I was forced to work around it and I told my husband that when he got home at 6, I had to go to the gym to show my face. It was good because I wouldn’t’ have gone back. I would have just kept saying that I’d go for walks—but last winter, you just couldn’t go for walks. It was freezing! I wouldn’t have gone back to the gym—and when I don’t go to the gym, I just eat. If it wasn’t for the program, come springtime I would have been huge.” Her months of showing her face at the gym paid off a year later when she no was no longer carrying around her baby weight of about 40 pounds.
But Azzara wasn’t the only one that benefitted from Change for Good. “When I’m on track and eating healthy, my entire family benefits from it,” she says. “I’ve always been pretty conscious about what we eat, but I know my weak points. Sometimes I do fall off of the wagon, but now when I fall off, it’s affecting 5 other people.”
One year later
After a year of working hard to focus a little more on her own needs, while still caring for her big family, Azzara has developed a new mindset about food. “The nutritionist said something that really stuck with me. She said, ‘You’re not a garbage can. Think about what you’re putting into your body.’” She says that she intends to continue being conscious of what she’s eating.
Eileen’s advice for you
“Just stick with it. I think a lot of people dislike exercising, without even giving it a try,” says Azzara. “There were so many nights that I was just tired and cranky and just didn’t want to be there. But when I was done, I felt so much better.”
While exercise is important, Azzara has learned that what you eat is also an important factor in health and weight loss. “I think that if someone is exercising and not seeing any results, they’ve got to take an honest look at what they’re eating. A lot of people fail to do that. Keeping a food diary was really helpful for me.”
Felicia Bourjolly had already started her journey to a healthier life when Change for Good found her, but she lacked the education and guidance that she needed to consistently succeed. “I had lost the weight, but then I was gaining it back and I couldn’t understand why,” she explains. “The original weight loss was due to trial and error—I just happened to lose the weight, but I didn’t understand what was really happening with my body as far as how it reacts to food and exercise. I decided to join this program so that I could learn about how to take care of my body and be able to make wiser decisions.” Luckily, Real Woman’s Change for Good would teach Bourjolly exactly what she needed to know.
Success requires an open mind—and fun
For Bourjolly, the challenge was largely about learning and understanding health, food, and her body. “I started to proactively learn and try to understand what effects food and exercise have on my body as a middle-aged woman,” she explains. “I’ve learned that all carbs are not equal, that it’s important to eat balanced meals, control portion sizes, and be physically active—and not just one type of activity.”
But she says that the most important lesson she has learned is one of love. “Over the past year, I’ve learned to love working out because I found activities that are fun. I think that’s important for anyone on this journey,” she says. “Knowing that I’m going to be doing something that I enjoy motivates me to walk into the gym. I love Zumba and when I get behind those doors, I don’t care who’s watching me; I don’t care about anything. I just let it go and it’s my time.”
Change for Good has not only transformed Bourjolly’s health and outlook on nutrition and exercise, but has also dragged her family along for the ride. “Going through this program has encouraged my whole family to be healthier,” she says. “If I feel that something isn’t good for me, it’s not good for my husband either. I can’t tell him what not to put into his mouth, but I can choose not to bring it into the house.” She also says that her mom is making healthier choices and that her co-workers have been amazed by her results.
After 12 months of learning and loving her new, healthier life, Bourjolly lost 45 pounds. She has embraced exercising and a healthy diet as part of her life, and plans to keep making changes for good.
One year later
When Change for Good came to an end, Bourjolly hadn’t reached her original goal of losing 80 pounds, but she’s not letting that stop her. She knows that she did not reach her goal for a number of reasons, one being her frequent traveling throughout 2014 for her job. But she embraced that challenge and developed a healthy game plan for when she travels.
Despite not reaching her original goal, Bourjolly is thankful for all that Change for Good has taught her. “This was a learning process and all that I have learned over the past year has changed my life.” But she knows that it’s not enough to know the ropes, you have to use that knowledge. “I know now that everything that we do is a choice. We can choose what we eat and whether or not we workout. I love the choices that I’m making and I love the results that I’m getting,” she says.
While she has learned a lot over the past year, she only intends to continue learning and losing weight. “Even now that the program is over, I am still making better choices than I used to,” she says. She has committed to going to the gym 4 days a week, and intends to reach her goals of losing 80 total pounds and running a 5K.
Felicia’s advice for you
Bourjolly feels that the first step to making changes is to find your reason why. “My reason why was that I didn’t want to wake up one day and have a doctor tell me that I had to change my lifestyle. I wanted to do it for myself, on my own, because I don’t want to have to deal with any obesity-related illnesses,” she says.
For her, making small changes and taking one day at a time is key to adopting a healthier lifestyle. “Find something that works for you, something that you love. What works for someone else may not work for you,” Bourjolly says. “Just have fun and don’t make working out a chore.”