Doreen Gee has enjoyed walking her entire life. Even into her 50s, she took almost daily jaunts in her hometown of Victoria, British Columbia. But everything changed as she approached 60. Severe osteoarthritis in both knees affected her quality of life, her relationship to her body and, especially, her weight.
By her 62nd birthday three years ago, she found herself 60 pounds overweight and in near-constant excruciating pain. The only way forward was dual knee replacements. Gee realized she needed to make a change.
The simple solution was that the closer she could get to her ideal weight before surgery, the better the potential outcome of her knee replacements would be. The easy answer was changing her diet — if only it were easy. She admits she was “not into dieting,” but the time had come to take it seriously. She first learned about My Fitness Pal by way of the Arthritis Society, a Canadian nonprofit organization devoted to patient education.
When she started tracking her calories and exercise, she couldn’t even walk a block due to severe pain in her knees. Within weeks of sticking to a restricted-calorie diet, she shed some of the weight and felt better physically — and more motivated psychologically — almost immediately. Steadily, she began losing 1-2 pounds per week.
Her real revelation, however, came when she began the practice of recording her food intake every day, which she describes as a learning experience. “I thought I was eating healthful foods, and I was, in part,” she says. “But in recording my intake, I woke up to how many calories I was consuming, especially in healthful foods like nuts and cheese, but in quantities too large for my optimal daily intake of 1,200 calories.”
For the remainder of 2014, she diligently followed the program and became instinctively aware of what foods were best for her body and for weight loss. “Recording my meals helped me stay accountable,” she says. “It works like clockwork. If you stick to the program, the weight comes off. It’s that simple.”
When she consulted with her surgeon ahead of her first knee replacement, their conversation helped her begin to realize just how much weight is tied to overall health — more specifically, how obesity is linked to poor health. She got the message. By the time she had her first knee replacement surgery in July 2015, she had shed 30 pounds. Daily exercise and physiotherapy were crucial to her successful recovery, and she found them more manageable after losing weight. After her recovery, she was able to begin exercising more immediately, which further bolstered her spirits. She began with brief walks down the block and increased her time and distance daily. Within a few weeks, as her knee healed, she was walking for pleasure daily.
But then came the challenge of the second surgery in January 2016. Her recovery was more intense, which made her rehabilitation process more arduous. So did her day job: As a freelance writer, Gee spends most of her work hours sedentary. That didn’t help her bounce back physically (though plunging back into her work helped her mentally). By last October, she had gained back the weight she had lost and was virtually unable to exercise again.
Recommitting to the same weight-loss plan required more work, but Gee took the plunge: It’s the only process that had ever worked for her, she says. She quickly realized the discomfort in one of her new knees eased when she lost weight, and she was tired of her weight draining her of energy. So she began again.
Today, she has since lost 20 pounds, is down a pants size and is able to walk to her local rec center for Zumba classes regularly. She thinks of her new knees as “deserving less weight on them — the miracle for me is to be able to walk again.”
What she likes best about integrating My Fitness Pal into her life is that it focuses on balance, not deprivation. She has been able to decrease her intake of sugary, nutrient-poor foods while increasing protein and fiber and rebuilding her physical stamina.