Debbie Rondeau, after losing nearly 250 pounds.

Debbie Rondeau, after losing nearly 250 pounds.

Losing Lots … but gaining much more

Indulge explores three methods of weight loss – diet, surgery and exercise – and shares the drastic impact those means

had on the lives of some ‘big losers’

There’s a fitness centre just around the corner from where 57-year-old Debbie Rondeau lives.

The Surrey woman has driven past it nearly every day for the past 23 years.

Until recent months, she never thought to step foot inside it.

In fact, two years ago, Rondeau was physically incapable of any exercise. She couldn’t stand for more than just a few minutes. If she went to a restaurant, her husband, Andy, had to go in ahead of her to make sure there were more than just booths, which she couldn’t fit into. When flying down to their vacation home in California, she had to share part of Andy’s seat next to her, and ask for a seatbelt extension so the belt could fit around her.

Rondeau stepped on a scale in March 2009 and weighed 430 pounds.

“That was a surprise, even to me,” Rondeau says, reflecting on that eye-opening weigh-in.

RONDEAU WAS born in Saskatchewan, a five-pound, seven-ounce bundle of joy her mother described as “a long, scrawny thing.”

Growing up in Prince Albert, Rondeau was a voracious reader, as well as an athletic tomboy. She recalls being the only girl to play on an all-boy’s soccer team when she was in Grade 2 before she and her family moved to B.C. a few years later.

In her early 20s, she married her husband and the couple moved to the Vancouver area to start a family.

After the birth of her second child, Rondeau started to put on weight – eventually reaching more than 400 pounds.

“I like to say I dieted myself to that weight,” she explains. “I was constantly dieting, and I would lose. But then I would regain it, plus a little bit. It took a while, but I eventually got really, really large.”

After years of failed weight-loss programs and fad diets, Rondeau’s mother pointed out an advertisement she had seen for a Surrey-based program called SureSlim.

Rondeau paid a visit to the clinic, where she had blood tests done, which were then analyzed by a doctor. She was then given a specific list of foods she could and could not have, based on her metabolism, as well as the portion amounts and time of day she was supposed to eat the specific foods.

She says the results were immediate.

“The first week I think, I dropped 12 pounds or more,” she says, noting she had seen similar quick results with other diet programs that she had never been able to stick to.

“I guess in the back of your mind, there’s always that thought of, ‘I wonder how long I’m going to last this time…’”

After losing 250 pounds in 22 months, Rondeau can safely say she has found a program that she’s able to stick to.

“The one thing that stands out most for me, which makes me think why I’ve been so successful, is I don’t have cravings,” she explains. “I always was successful when I tried to lose weight, but I’d hit a point where I would have cravings and I would go off and I would never go back on again, it seemed.”

Rondeau attributes the lack of cravings to her balanced insulin levels – a result of sticking to the proper foods determined from her blood work. She also says that she never feels deprived of goodies or other unhealthy foods.

And about nine months ago, she joined that gym around the block from her house and has been working with a personal trainer several times a week.

CRANBROOK RESIDENT Marg Richardson’s weight struggles started out similar to Rondeau’s – after quitting smoking and having three kids in her early 20s, Richardson gained a large amount of weight, at her heaviest weighing 344 pounds.

She tried several different programs and diets, but always ended up gaining back whatever weight she’d managed to lose.

After hearing about weight-loss surgeries – including gastric bypass, which Richardson felt was “too severe” – she began researching a procedure called Slimband. A laparoscopic and fully reversible surgery, Slimband involves the placement of a silicone band around the upper portion of the stomach.

“The more I dug into it, the more it seemed like something I could try,” Richardson says of the day-surgery. “I just knew I needed to do something, and it seemed right.”

In December 2007, Richardson drove to Calgary and boarded a plane to Toronto, where the Slimband clinic is located. With no major downtime after the 30-minute procedure, she was back home in B.C. within just a few days.

Richardson says the surgery did cause some swelling in her stomach, and as a result she was on a liquid diet for a few weeks after the band was put in place. Because the band constricts the amount of food that is able to be digested at a time, she also says there was a difficult adjustment period, when she had to learn to eat small amounts, very slowly.

“I did find it hard,” she admits. “I had to reduce to smaller meals, and slow down eating. If you eat too much or too fast, the food just comes back up.”

In the three years since having the Slimband procedure, Richardson has lost 185 pounds. Like Rondeau, she is now able to exercise and her overall health – both physical and mental – has improved drastically.

And while the surgery she underwent helped force her to change her eating habits, resulting in her significant weight loss, she says it certainly wasn’t a “miracle cure” and still required a lot of work on her part.

“If you’re looking for a tool to help but still know that you have to do the work, then I think it’s excellent,” she says of the Slimband. “But you have to be ready, and it’s still not easy.”

WHILE STEPHEN Casson was nowhere near the point of morbid obesity when he decided to make a lifestyle change three years ago, the Langley resident still knew he had some work to do.

“I was pushing about 250 pounds, and I wasn’t in great shape,” the 49-year-old explains. “I used to do a lot of exercise, but I had sort of let myself go, and had gained a bunch of weight.”

With the encouragement of a friend, Casson signed up for Survivor Bootcamp in 2007, an intense multi-discipline fitness program he attended at 6 a.m. five days a week.

At the outset, Casson admits, the program – which includes cardio, yoga, weights and balance training – was very challenging.

“Before the bootcamp gets started each day, we’d run three laps around the track,” Casson explains. “When I first started, I’ll be honest with you, I couldn’t run one lap, let alone three laps.”

But it wasn’t long before Casson’s fitness levels improved, and, as a result, his overall health also started to change for the better.

“You physically start to feel better, and at the same time that you’re making improvements, you start thinking, ‘Ok, now I’m going to drink a little less,’” he says. “And then you start to see more improvements and you say, ‘Now I’ve got to start eating better.’”

Casson estimates he lost about 30 pounds since taking part in Survivor Bootcamp, but he has also gained a significant amount of muscle mass over the past three years.

And the improvements haven’t been just physical.

“I have a lot less stress now,” he says. “Things that used to bother me, just little things, they roll off now. It’s a great avenue to get rid of stress.”

FOR RONDEAU, being able to work out regularly at her local fitness club is just one of many things she has rediscovered since losing more than half her body weight. She’s quick to admit that her life has changed drastically in less than two years – not just in her appearance, but her self-confidence has also skyrocketed.

While she thought her life was really good when she was obese, she says she didn’t realize how good it could be once she committed to making a change.

“Almost every day I think ‘Oh my goodness – I couldn’t do this a year ago,’” she smiles. “I’m kind of learning how to live all over again.”

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