I never knew Jaz at 350lbs.
The Jaz who was unmotivated and would get tired walking across the street.
Who was tired of not being able to fit on theme park rides, tired of being uncomfortable, and just all around tired of being "the big girl".
From 350 pounds to 216 and counting, this is Jasmine's journey.
The Jaz I met one morning in August of 2017, two days before she was meant to get bariatric surgery, had a fierce look of determination in her eyes.
As we sat and talked, I realized that this was a young lady on mission who was not only past contemplating change, but completely aware of and ready to embark on the arduous journey to reclaiming her health.
She met with her bariatric surgeon who broke the news that she must get down to 300 pounds (a weight loss of 50 pounds) before he could operate. She walked out of his office scared and unsure of where to start, so she did what many people do when wanting to lose weight and went cold turkey on the foods she knew were bad for her.
"The first 7 days were the hardest of my life," Jaz reminisced as she described having to continue with daily life while sticking to her commitment. At the time, she worked nights as a security guard in a behavioral health clinic and found resisting her normal snack options and the peer pressure or treats her coworkers would bring to be quite difficult.
Addicts in general, whether that is to heroine, alcohol, food, etc., must cope with issues of cravings and biochemical changes made in the brain as a result of long-standing abuse to their vice of choice.
There is often this misconception that when it comes to being overweight and/or food addiction, that that person is weak-willed, gluttonous, or lazy.
However, that is a very dated way of thinking, as it is not exclusively an emotional issue at all. In fact, it is more so a biochemical problem - like drug addiction - where hormones, taste buds, and brain chemistry are hijacked by the food industry's bombardment of junk found all over in grocery stores, social media, television and radio advertisements, and vending machines, even in hospitals!
a cruel irony
Perhaps the ultimate cruel irony of food addiction is that you are addicted to a basic human need (eating) and there is not always enough education when it comes to what and how we should be eating.
Obviously, we all grew up knowing that drugs in general and alcohol in excess, are things to be avoided, but there is a tremendous amount of misinformation regarding what we should and shouldn't be eating, especially if you come from a low income family.
After all, it wasn't too long ago, 2011 to be exact, that Congress was passing a bill stating tomato sauce on pizza equated to eating a vegetable.
Dr. Mark Hyman writes in his article Beating Food Addiction, "Although personal empowerment and responsibility are important, they are usually not a strong-enough defense against the steady stream of hyperprocessed, highly palatable, intensely addictive foods that the food industry churns out to claim the biggest market share."
Furthermore, there is growing research to support the correlation between hard drugs and food. This is proven by the similarity between the way they light up pleasure centers in the brains of the addicted individuals.
Now, I'm not saying all overweight people are food addicts by any means, that would be a pretty slanderous accusation to make in the context of this article; however, according to Dr. Hyman, "If you're overweight, there is a good chance you are addicted to certain foods and don't know it."
Shoot, overweight or not, have you ever tried to cold-turkey yourself off your favorite treats or foods? I will be the first to admit it is not easy and that resisting what we desire often causes it to persist even more. I will now flat out confess I should probably join Chocoholics (and) Gum Chewers Anonymous.
Not the Easy Road
If you are one of those folks who are skeptical about bariatric surgery, and think that people should just be able to lose weight the natural way, consider skimming The Complete Guide to Bariatric Surgery.
You may be surprised to learn it's not the easy way out.
"The surgery helped me not to put a lot of food in my stomach, but it didn't help me mentally, because mentally I still wanted to eat," Jaz shares. "I feel like a baby, I'm learning how to eat all over again. Nothing was easy, it changed my whole lifestyle. If you don't have that support system it feels like it's you against the world."
Her entire family is big and wasn't exactly supportive of her getting the surgery, but she was tired of not being able to do anything and wanted change and to enjoy her twenties.
"What a lot of people don't understand is that bariatric surgery is not a way out, I hear that a lot. It's more like sending an alcoholic to treatment, you give them that boost and take them out of their environment so they can work harder on being clean and sober. And with a bariatric patient, you are giving them that extra boost by making their stomach smaller, but you still have to learn the mental part."
Now, down 134 lbs., she is happier than she has felt in a long time and excited to experience the Alaskan summer. One of her goals is to hike Flattop.
Jaz's 7 Weight Loss Tips
A year with Jaz...
Basketball was a game I loved the day I picked up a ball, and have been very fortunate that it has exposed me to many places, people, experiences, and opportunities.
However, the going was not easy, not by any measure of the word. As a Certified Strength & Conditioning Coach and Certified Personal Trainer, I look back at the days of my young ignorance and think about all the things I could have done differently to be more successful.
Of course, hindsight is always 20/20, but this is a big reason I love what I do now! Here's a bit about my story, and five lessons learned. My advice? Learn them and start actively working on them now, they make a tremendous impact not only as an athlete, but in your life.
The Imperfectly Perfect Journey
High school: Kodiak, Alaska
I was a long, lanky, average athlete, with no formal training to improve my athleticism, zero knowledge or experience with lifting weights, didn't have cable TV and YouTube wasn't a thing yet, so I didn't watch much basketball.
The one saving grace, is I was fortunate to come from a community (and state) that LOVES basketball and an outstanding high school coach who had played in college and professionally.
Not knowing how I was going to get recruited to college, I picked my best game, made a bunch of copies, packaged them up and mailed them off to coaches with personal letters.
Out of desperation, I also got on board with a recruiting service who helped get my name out to coaches. I thought I was D1 caliber, hilarious.
I fundraised to travel with my summer team, the Alaska Stars, and stayed with a family in Anchorage for the summer so I could practice with them. Now playing with some of the best talent in the state, I realized I was still a decent player, but had a ton to improve on.
I also still knew nothing about what it would really take to play at the next level, and would soon learn the hard way...
College: The University of Alaska Anchorage
I was fortunate to get picked up by my home state college, the University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA), who at the time was (and still is) a Division II powerhouse.
I soon learned that the jump from high school to college was substantial. Every practice felt like trying to scramble up that super steep wall on America Ninja Warrior.
For two years the top of that wall was unattainable, and some days it felt like my coaches were at the top pointing and laughing, telling me to just give up already.
I slowly began to believe that maybe that was the best option, that the weight and dread I felt with the mere thought of going to practice was stronger than my love for the game and desire to represent my hometown.
It was a merciless, daily battle. No one cared if you were sick, unless it was highly contagious.
No one cared if you were hurt, I specifically remember our coaches telling us we were not to go to the training room unless something was torn or broken.
And no one cared why you didn't do something the way it was asked of you, if it wasn't done right, you were getting yelled at.
I was put in my place real quick, ultimately spending that first year as a redshirt, meaning I was able to practice with the team, but not play in games and still have four years of eligibility.
It was not pretty, as oftentimes things worth fighting for aren't, and a lesson in what collegiate athleticism and expectation looked like and would cost to attain.
The Fuel That Sparked The Rise
At the end of my (second) freshman year, the assistant coach who had made my life hell for the last two years blatantly looked me in the eye and said "Alysa, you stay where you are right now and you're not going to play more than 5 minutes next year."
I was crushed.
I had worked every day as hard as I could in practice, spent extra time, usually at 6am or 10pm (the only time the gym was free), and did everything that was asked of me without complaint and silent anguish, oftentimes surfacing alone in tears of frustration.
As I drove to my dorm after hearing the most blunt, honest, and what felt unfair words I'd heard in my life, I became increasingly angry.
I took 3 days off. Enough time to pack up my stuff to head home for the summer and let that brutal statement really sink in.
Then it was time to get to work.
I ordered a weighted basketball and started googling drills to improve my athleticism and skills.
For that entire summer I was obsessed with improving, and more importantly, still angry. It was my fuel.
Everyday I didn't want to wake up to go play with a bunch of guys at 6am, I remembered what my coach had said, and got out of bed.
Everyday I felt too sore to get in another workout, I remembered how crappy it felt to sit at the end of the bench, and went to the gym.
Everyday I wanted to go to a party with my boyfriend and friends, I remembered getting last in sprints, and went to bed so I could wake up early for a track workout instead.
I'm not exaggerating, I was as all in as a player in a high stakes game of poker. It was so important to me I was willing to sacrifice things other people were not, and if it didn't work out this time, it wasn't meant to be. #NoSocialLife
The Pressure that led to the Fall
The next year was completely different. Suddenly I found myself starting, scoring more points in my first game than I had the entire last season combined.
I had finally made it to the top of that seemingly impossible Ninja wall.
Yet, this wasn't even close to the start of a happy ending as I would soon learn there is a price with success and it's adversity's distant cousin, pressure.
My junior year I didn't know how to handle the pressure, I was at risk of losing my starting spot to a junior college transfer and literally made myself sick with stress, missing our first road trip because I was stuck in the Emergency Room with painful abdominal cramping. I was ashamed and shocked that my body had quit on me.
I never reclaimed my starting spot that entire year, but we went on to Elite 8 in the NCAA Tournament, a trade off I would make every time! #TeamFirst, baby.
Adversity strikes again
Another high led to another low, and soon after our NCAA Tournament run we found out that our coach had been up to some shady things and was forcibly resigning.
The immediate disappointment shook all of us, so much so that many of the better players didn't return and we had NO recruiting class going into my senior year.
The stress was starting to come back, but this time I was thankfully more prepared.
Our new coach, who remains as the current coach for the UAA women's team, had to go to intramural games to find us a couple more players so we could even practice 5 on 5.
Expectations were drastically different than the year prior to preform, as we were so young and undermanned that if either the Point Guard or myself had a bad game, we would not win, and that's not to sound cocky at all, it was the unfortunate truth.
Thus, with every game came a family reunion of pressure and adversity, because winning was and will always be more important - regardless of who you are or if you actually think this - than individual success or accolades.
Against all odds, we somehow managed to have a winning season (17-10), which was a record I felt more proud of than any year previous because it required excellence on every level from many people. A true team effort, and perhaps another story for another time!
Professional Career: Germany And Australia
Finally, after years of dreaming, setting goals, and working relentlessly towards them, I was fortunate enough to finally live my ultimate dream of playing professional basketball.
My journey after college took me overseas to Germany, where I played one year for a club called TSV Viernheim and then returned the following year to play for another club, the GiroLive Panthers of Osnabrück.
After nine months abroad my second year, I immediately flew 16 hours from Germany to Australia and played out the last four months of my career for the Logan Thunder in Brisbane.
Five Key Lessons Learned
This is one of thousands of student athlete experiences in one sport, and it is my only wish by sharing my story that it helps young student athletes overcome their own Ninja Warrior walls in sports and in life.
I will tell you right now, those experiences were hard at the time, but have had immense impact on how I handle things in my now, daily "adulting" life.
There are five major take aways from this story:
Choose your circle wisely
Who you surround yourself with has a tremendous influence on who you will become and is reflective of who you are.
These will be the people who are either going to the gym with you to get up extra shots or the ones egging you on to come to a party with them. They'll be the ones who are skipping class or getting an extra hour of study hall with you.
Bottom line: do they make you better or do they bring you down?
Seek the Truth
It takes a person of high character to actively seek out information (particularly about themselves) that they may not want to hear, but need to hear.
This is where your circle comes in to play. Surround yourself with people who care about you so much they are willing to tell you something you need to hear in order to help you, and are willing to say it even if it makes you mad or upset.
Remember, it's never easy to hear those types of things. After all, the saying "the truth hurts" exists for a reason, but it will ultimately make you better.
No matter how much or how little success you are having at this moment, do not stop working. You have to believe in your ability to reach your goals and that hard work will pay off, it always does.
Now, there is a massive difference between believing in yourself and being entitled to an outcome because you think you've worked hard for it. This goes back to having solid people you trust to be honest with you.
Here's the kicker though, you must be receptive to what they say and at all costs avoid shooting the messenger!
You are enlisting the help of someone to give you a different perception than your own, which is absolutely critical for your growth as a player and person.
Have Selective Hearing
The one voice you need to be listening to, even if you are not religious, is the voice of faith. Faith, or believing in yourself, is the voice that will tell the critiques and fans to be silent, because they don't know your process.
They don't know the sweat, blood, and tears that you put in; they don't know what you are working towards; and really, they don't know you.
Trust the process
If you haven't noticed already, the four lessons before this are all interwoven in some way.
Ultimately, these all constitute your process, and when you are confident that you are doing things the right way, which is in accordance with your values and vision, then you must trust that with persistent action and work, you will get to where you want to go.
There will undoubtedly be times you are tested on this, and your tests may come at times when you aren't ready for them, that's why it is so important to have good people in your circle you can lean on and to help you through.
They are there not only to tell you what you need to hear, but to be positive with you when you are having a hard time doing that for yourself.
Sheila Olson of fitsheila.com
You may not be control the circumstances in your life, but you can control how well you take care of yourself.
Fitness is one of many self-care habits and plays a crucial role in many different populations including self-healing for people in substance recovery, people needing to lower their risk for sedentary diseases like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, etc., people with ADHD or other attention difficulties, and much more.
An important key to successfully integrate fitness into your life, is to make other self-care practices habitual as well. Here are some self-care strategies that will keep you motivated to stick with your fitness routine.
Get enough rest and sleep
Overall, we know working out is good for your body. However, it uses a mechanism that stresses your body. For instance, exercises such as resistance training cause muscle tears, which then rebuild into bigger, stronger muscles.
Exercising also puts stress on the nervous system. Adequate rest allows the body to recover and rebuild. It is also helps prevent injuries and improves performance!
There are two main ways that you can ensure you are well rested:
Get Proper Nutrition
What you eat fuels your body during exercise and replenishes it after the workouts by aiding in muscle recovery and development.
While there are various nutrition plans that you can adapt depending on your fitness goals, a good nutrition plan should provide your body with sufficient macronutrients and micronutrients.
Don't Overdo it
Overtraining is a common phenomenon, especially among athletes and weightlifters. It results from putting more stress on your body than it can recover from.
It can result from training the same muscle group over and over again without giving it time to rest or subjecting the body to frequent high intensity training, too much volume, or both.
Some common signs that you may be overtraining include:
Adequately Warm Up & Cool Down
A warm-up gradually raises your heart rate, body temperature and blood flow to the muscles. It also prepares you psychologically for your workout session. On the other hand, your cool down helps the heart rate and body temperature to steadily return to normal.
Both the warm up and cool down are essential for preventing injuries. Warm ups should mimic the workout itself, putting you through movements similar to the ones you'll face later on or the same just at lower intensities.
Cool down sessions are also light in intensity, an easy two minute walk or jog followed by stretching usually does the trick.
Water plays the role of regulating your body temperature, lubricating your joints and transporting nutrients, energy and toxins during exercise.
This is why you should drink water before, during and after exercise. The American Council on Exercise recommends you have up to 20 ounces of water 3+ hours before exercise, 15 to 18 ounces every 20 to 30 minute during exercise, and 8 ounces within the first 30 minutes after exercise.
Be a grape, not a raisin!