This week I share the amazing story of my Oregon ultra running online friend Betsy Hartley. Betsy and I share things frequently over Facebook and her story is one that will change your life if you are facing similar challenges. Read on and you will understand the nothing comes easy, but if you believe you can be well again it can be done. I do not think I have used someone’s story as a “Hero’s Journey”.  This is usually reserved for stories of lore.  But read on….Betsy’s story is worthy.

Betsy is a Runner. Auntie. Small business owner. Blogger. Full time Director of Marketing for Oregon State university. Single. She lives in Adair Village, Oregon.

She co-founded Novo Veritas  Health and Wellness coaching. Helping other’s with 100+ pounds to lose in their process of finding health.  Her business partner Spencer Newel, is in recovery and runs Ultra’s.  Spencer and Betsy: “We get to BE THE PEOPLE we needed when we were neck deep in all this change.”

Betsy had Type 2 diabetes taking multiple medications and daily insulin injections. We are happy to say she no longer takes medications. Here was the daily med menu: 72 units of Insulin, Byetta, Metformin, Lisinopril, Lovastatin, other meds for asthma, allergies and mild depression/anxiety as needed.

WHAT WAS YOUR CHILDHOOD LIKE? WHEN DID YOU START GAINING WEIGHT AND HOW DID IT IMPACT YOUR CHILDHOOD?

I was a fat baby. Overweight my entire life. Got a whole lot worse in college when I was learning to fend for myself with fast food and a college budget. I was always active growing up, playing softball and volleyball – but I was always ‘chunky’. By the time I was 25 or so, I was ballooning up and would be in the 400 pound range in my early 30’s.

I was on Weight Watchers for the first time by the time I was 12. And spent decades on and off programs that were clinical starvation, mono-food (grapefruit, cabbage soup, hard-boiled eggs…), packaged programs, doctor supervised, you name it; I tried it. All meant to be the magic bullet that would make me thin.

WHAT WAS YOUR FOOD PHILOSOPHY?

Eat ALL the things that I couldn’t eat, wasn’t allowed to eat, growing up. When I was making money and living on my own I would eat non-stop ‘treats’, fast food. I would easily eat fast food 2-3 times a day. And adored sweets. Ice cream.

If it had been forbidden at some point, it was now being consumed in mass quantities.

Then I would step on the scale, my clothes wouldn’t fit or go to the doctor and get scolded. And I would panic diet to try to gain control.

Repeat X 100….

I didn’t realize that in the early 20’s I was already set(ting) the stage for being pre- diabetic. Might well have been pre-diabetic. Avoided docs because they always told me to lose weight; so we’ll never really know when the pre-diabetic portion of life started….

TELL US ABOUT YOU EATING HABITS PRIOR TO YOUR LIFE CHANGE AND HOW IT AFFECTED YOUR EMOTIONS, JOBS, GOALS, OR ANYTHING ELSE?

I would have told you then… I was happy. Convincingly so. I was morbidly obese and unhealthy; but generally happy. I have family who loves me. A job that’s rewarding and interesting and fun. Friends that have stood by my side. Have to acknowledge that. I didn’t hate everything about my ‘former’ life.

I had my share of embarrassing moments with chairs collapsing, seat belts not fitting, people making rude/mean/hurtful comments and trying to find clothes that fit. (I was 5X, 30/32, 48DDD at my largest). But that was never enough to ‘force me to change’ my ways for very long.

I wanted nothing more than to find someone to marry and have children with. I am still single, never had kids. And I’m pretty sure my weight was the biggest reason in that equation. I mean how you can possibly be attractive to someone when you don’t even like yourself?

Because I lost weight and reversed T2 at the same work place, I’m very aware that there are people who treat me differently now that I’m at a healthy weight. Only in a few cases is it overt; for the most part it’s simply subtle stuff. I sit in meetings and think ‘I had that idea 200 pounds ago and everyone thought it was dumb. Now they’re buying it….’ Listening, respect, invitations to events. Subtle – but I can tell that at my heaviest I was likely being treated differently. Because at my healthiest now — I sure am.

Emotions? A novel’s worth. Battling a Binge Eating Disorder (BED) tied into, complicating this whole thing. Working on my mental and emotional health is front and center to the work I’m doing to live a healthy, sustainable, active life.

Betsy at her sister’s wedding circa 20o5. Weight 400 pounds

WHAT WAS A TYPICAL EATING DAY BEFORE LIFE CHANGE?

(I wrote this out as part of a previous blog several years ago. I am totally horrified to say that this is pretty damn close. Not every single day – but you can pretty much be sure I was eating 3 meals, 3-4 additional ‘smaller’ meals masquerading as ‘snacks’.)

  • Breakfast: McDonalds Sausage biscuit, hash browns, large diet coke
  • Snack: Doritos, large diet Dr. Pepper
  • Lunch: Qdoba nachos loaded, large diet coke
  • Snack: Candy or more chips, large diet Dr. Pepper
  • Pre-dinner snack: 2 McDonald’s cheeseburgers, large fries, large diet coke.
  • Dinner: Chicken enchilada casserole, rice and beans, chips and salsa
  • Snack: Ben and Jerry’s Phish Food ice cream

WHAT WAS THE TURNING POINT?

I so, so, so wish I could tell you exactly. Even with 7 years to think about this all – I still think it was more a perfect storm. My mom died of MRSA and was overweight. She died in the healthcare system that gave her the deadly infection while they were trying to help with her something related to her weight… In my mom’s case not all of this was avoidable. But I spent house in the ICU thinking ‘I don’t want to land here and I have the power to change things…I don’t have to die like this…’

I hurt my back when my mom was dying. Was shopping, tripped, fell. Bulged two discs. First doc after the MRI told me ‘Well your weight on your belly is what pulled your back apart. And being morbidly obese, with T2 we don’t have a lot of good options to help you. You need to lose weight.’ (And I can’t move — so how am I supposed to do that??!)

It was a switch that flipped on one morning. July 2011. I woke up and just knew that while I’d failed at every other single diet out there; that I wanted to live instead of just surviving T2 until it killed me. All the signs were pointing to the fact that this was IN MY HANDS… I’d made this mess. I had the power to clean it up. And for some reason, that morning, I was simply ready for the fight.

HOW DID YOU START LOSING THE WEIGHT?

I started eating less. Cut out fast food. Walked more.

That was it for months. That’s what started the whole thing.

I did Weight Watchers – but was always watching for added sugars and watching my carb load. WW doesn’t care what you eat; I had to care about it while managing my T2. They just want you restricting calories even if you eat Twinkies for your allotment. I couldn’t do that, but wanted the structure and the accountability of the program. So I combined calorie restriction with SOME of the diabetic diet principles. I lost 100 pounds on WW.

My way of eating has morphed many times over the last 7 years as I worked to lose weight, get fit, learn to run….

It’s basically watching calories and keeping added sugars OUT and carbs healthy/ restricted. That simple. That hard. 🙂

NEW DAILY NUTRITION? 

My Basal Metabollic Rate (BMR) is around 1,500 cals per day. I aim for roughly 90 grams, or less, of carbs per day. Skew toward leaner proteins and healthy fats.

Lean(er) meats, dairy, healthy fats, veggies, low glycemic (low sugar) fruits. Stay away from processed foods to the extent I can; or read the labels carefully for added sugars.

Breakfast: 2 eggs, 1/2 an avocado, scrambled in some non-starchy veggies. Real butter for the scramble. Black coffee.

Lunch: (Largest meal of the day) BIG salad. Mixed greens, all kinds of chopped veggies, olives, meat, cheese. Milk or cream based dressing or olive oil with some balsamic vinegar. Nuts. Tofu. I make what I call ‘kitchen sink’ bowls of goodness that change depending on the season or what I’m feeling like eating.

Dinner: (Smallest meal of the day). Sometimes 2 scrambled eggs with some veggies or smaller version of a ‘kitchen sink’. (If I have a long run planned the next day, this would be the meal where I would throw in a small serving of a starchy veggie — like 1/4 of a sweet potato.)

Snacks: Full fat greek yogurt, string cheese, small apple, mixed nuts, celery with no- sugar added nut butters, hummus.

2011- 320 pounds and getting healthier!

WHAT IS YOUR NEW FOOD OUTLOOK?

Food is fuel for the life I want to live. I buy the high quality foods I can afford, I don’t do fast food, I stay away from processed foods and pack a whole lot of my own food and snacks when traveling to make sure I have the best choices available. I try really hard to NOT leave my food choices up to chance.

I essentially traded food and exercise for insulin. And I’m mindful that I’m metabolically ‘different’ than other folks. And while one cookie might not hurt them — it might be my undoing. I’m worried about ME and what’s best for me. I’ve had help from doctors and dieticians, but listening to my body is by far the best learning about which foods work for me.

There are no good or bad foods. Just foods I’ve learned can’t do the job I want them to do for me. I have to watch fruits carefully — my body will react to white rice, banana or a snickers bar in the exact same way. I kind of broke my metabolic regulator, or at least re-wired it, and have had to learn some of these lessons the hard way. The funny thing is that when I talk to others who have reversed pre- or T2; they have their very own list of foods that send their blood sugar numbers sky rocketing. You can’t rely on what anyone else thinks might work, or what works for them; you have to figure it out on your own.

On that note…

I lied. There are no good or bad foods except for sugar. Sugar is bad. Period. I’m addicted to the stuff, it jacks my blood numbers all over the place and it triggers all kinds of bad things — including simply just wanting to eat more. I’ve done the research, I’ve tested it in my own life. And sugar is something I just can’t allow in my diet in any meaningful way. I work daily, HARD on the daily, to keep that shit out of my diet.

I have binge eating disorder. I run endurance events. I have to stay on TOP of my game when it comes to NOT USING FOOD for rewards and not using exercise for punishment or food management. “I ran long – I can eat a pizza. I ate a pizza, so I need to go run long…” Combining these two ‘characters’ into my life has created some steep and scary learning curves recently. Making sure I run for the joy of running — not to keep food in balance is a non-stop ‘gut check’.

HOW HAS YOUR FAMILY LIFE CHANGED?

My life is different on many fronts. Family is just one of them. I had the biggest changes with my friends. I had to work to surround myself with people who approached lifestyle changes with a positive mind frame, had healthy relationship with food and activity so I had some role models in my life. I surrounded myself with people who were doing what I wanted to do. My family was supportive of me making all of these changes. I am not married and don’t have children so there is a level of this change that was less complicated than the changes some of my running/T2 friends with families have to contend with.

TELL US YOUR OPINION OF HOW MEDICINE VIEWS DIABETES AND HOW YOU THINK WE NEED TO DO BETTER?

Boy. This is a tough one.

The disclaimer? My T2 was lifestyle induced disease. I did this to myself. And had done some damage, but had not hit an apex/decline like some… So I had an OPTION to try to fix myself. I know that is not the case for everyone with T2.

And I’ll be grossly vague and say ‘most’ people want an easy answer, the magic bullet, the quick fix to their problem. They do NOT want to do the hard work needed to fix T2.

People come to me all the time and ask me how I reversed T2. I start telling them ‘Eat less, move more, get sugar the HELL out of your diet…’ Eyes glaze over. They want to know if I had surgery. No. They want to know if there are meds that can ‘do the work’. No. They want to know if maybe just living with the disease controlled is really not all that bad… No.

Docs seem to know this and know that the ‘quick fix’ is meds and that’s what patient are most likely to comply with, it’s the easiest way to start to clean up the problem? I don’t know what they’re thinking. And I don’t know that younger docs are being taught to manage the care/treatment of lifestyle diseases in a holistic, family fashion. I just don’t know where the system is broken… I just know that it is.

But changing your lifestyle is HELLA hard work. And most people — statistically and anecdotally — don’t want to do the work.

So in my view of this world — patients and docs are both to blame on some levels.

The docs give drugs, talk vaguely, in a professional responsible sort of way, about eating less and moving more…

The insurance companies make the common drugs cheap and send you helpful info flyers about ‘good foods’ (THEY’RE SUCH BS!) and insurance doesn’t want to help pay for running shoes or gym memberships or subsidize healthy foods.

And the ‘system’ doesn’t work to help people get healthy. it doesn’t tackle the problems at the core.

I changed my lifestyle. The shit I was doing to gain 400 pounds could NOT co-exist with what was needed to be active, healthy. Fact. No matter how much I wanted that to be the case. I didn’t know how to start, where to start. And there was no one to help me. So I naively, bravely just started stumbling along on my own.

I had to drag my care provider along with me. After about 6 months of declining scale numbers, improving blood glucose and better overall health her comment was ‘oh, you’re serious this time.’ AND she’s not unique. I hear versions of this story from others who have lost weight/ reversed T2 and changed their lifestyle. They had to lead the way and the medical providers eventually jumped in and helped.

I was told I was pre-diabetic ‘Take these pills, you don’t have to do anything different.’ LITERALLY the words I was told by the first Doc that told me my A1C was out of whack. Handed Metformin and sent me out the door. I had no idea what T2 really was or what I was ignoring/toying with. I could be ‘sick’ with something that was ‘pre’, take a pill and still eat ice cream? SWEET!

Fast forward to a doc appointment with my Ob/Gyn for an annual. She is looking at lab reports and says ‘why is your Diabetes so out of control?’ I said ‘I’m not diabetic, I’m pre-diabetic and on Metformin.’ She said ‘NO YOU ARE FULL BLOWN AND ACTUALLY VERY SICK….’

I left her office with an appointment with an endocrinologist. Two days later was told my A1C was just short of needing hospitalization (11.1 if I remember correctly with fastings that were 392), I was lucky I hadn’t had a stroke. Handled some needles, syringes and medicine and told to ‘eat better’…. I was in my mid-30’s.

What docs are doing now isn’t working. They’re perhaps meeting patients where they’re at, but they’re not helping them find ways, connections, resources, reasons to do the hard work needed to help themselves…

I had to get wildly proactive and do my own research and my own advocacy. I had to push for information, find help. Not everyone can.

‘Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.’ — Hippocrates

WHAT IS THE MOST DIFFICULT CHALLENGE TO SUSTAINING LIFESTYLE CHANGE?

This may seem out of left field… But the processed food industry.

Added sugar, slick marketing, cheap bulk foods, super convenient fast foods. It’s easy to eat poorly.

It’s kind of hard to eat healthy. A little more expensive and sometimes time consuming. And a little boring at times. 🙂 (I’ll sit here and eat celery and humus while you enjoy that pumpkin-spice-mocha-latte-frappachino and marionberry scone…)

I think I have enough strength and experience now to navigate the health care industry to get what I need and ask questions until I get the help I need.

I feel that I am aware of my chances for this disease re-emerging and I’m staying alert to the markers that would give me early warning. I’m not pretending that this is gone and staying gone. That could be a deadly mistake. It keeps me focused on taking this lifestyle seriously…

WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST RACE AND WHY DID YOU DO IT?

First race — I walked a 10K just to get the T-shirt and be with my friend Hannah who was helping me learn to be active. 🙂  I was literally about 2 steps ahead of the policeman working to close the route. Hannah turned around — all 5’1″ of her and yelled ‘LEAVE US ALONE!’  What an AWESOME memory to have someone so fiercely on your side. 🙂   Got to the finish line and Hannah had to go get the car, drive through the closed off finisher’s area (totally empty at that point) and get me in the car.  I was EXHAUSTED. 3;06 for walking a 10K.

First 10k- 3 hours and smiling

WHAT HAVE BEEN YOUR PROUDEST RUNNING ACCOMPLISHMENTS?

I remember vividly the first time I ran a full mile without stopping. (14 mins or so…)   I sobbed.  And texted everyone I knew.  And ran a mile a day for weeks just to relive how it felt!!!  I was SO FREAKING PROUD!!!!  I am deeply proud my 100 mile finish in the fall of 2017 at Mountain Lakes (emphasized and bolded by me….wow). It was years and layers and hours of work that led up to that race.  And I have the belt buckle to prove it.

RUNNING AND LIFE GOALS GOING FORWARD?

Life? Eat to keep my running strong and my body healthy. Keep diabetes at bay. Find a really good guy to date and go on running adventures with. 🙂

Running? Re-build some running fundamentals and build my base strength. Continuing to work on some specific skills that will help with ultras/trail running and core strength. I plan a 100 miler for the Fall of 2018. BIG goals for me? I want to run a qualifier for Hardrock in the next few years. So building up my skills and courage.

Livin’ the Dream on the trails on the Northwest

OTHER THOUGHTS?

Thank you for helping others battle this disease. For not shying away from the tough conversations or bowing down to modern ‘science’… For listening and observing and finding ways to help with what’s NEEDED.

A FEW OF BETSY’S BLOGS WORTH THE READ

Binge Eating Disorder (BED)  https://allbetsareoff392.wordpress.com

Being diagnosed with T2 https://allbetsareoff392.wordpress.com/2014/11/19/you-have-diabetes/

The beginning of my exercise journey https://allbetsareoff392.wordpress.com/2014/11/30/i-am-too-fat-to-exercise/