Daily Progress, Jacksonville, TX

April 10, 2013

HEALTH: Woman’s weight-loss journey serves as positive influence for others

Progress staff reports
Jacksonville Daily Progress

WHITEHOUSE — It wasn't until Wendy Velin's weight got the best of her – to a point where “I could not actually, physically walk” – that she made a lifestyle change that mean losing weight and having tighter control of her health.

Now the 49-year-old hopes to support others facing weight challenges by being a life coach.

As a life coach, people “come to me once a week and we weigh in, we work out, we talk about their needs, their diet, their desires, what went wrong during the week,” she said. “It's about having someone to talk to.”

Her friend Chela served as Velin's life coach, and for several years, had encouraged her to get on a weight-loss regimen.

“She distributed Herbalife and had a nutrition club, and she tried for four years to get me to try the product, which I believed would taste (terrible) so I wasn't going to do it,” Velin recalled, laughing.

But after struggling daily to climb a five-step stairway from the parking lot at her job to the office level,  she found she “could not walk up those five steps without being in absolute agony by the time I got to the top because of my knees, my legs, my lower back.

“I had spinal injections and all these things” to help alleviate the pain, but to no avail, “and one day I called Chela and told her I was coming – there were two steps to (her) building, and there were two posts  I had to use to pull myself up into the building.

“But that's what it takes – it takes you to hit your rock bottom, to realize they've had enough,” and you decide change is needed, Velin said.

She hasn't always been heavy.

As a young adult, she was relatively physically fit – part of that was from the regimen she kept as a member of the U.S. Marine Corp, which she served for two and a half years. “I was the first female recruited out of Tyler, that was in 1983,” she said, proudly.

Stationed in El Toro, Calif., Velin served as a postal clerk who helped package and processed mail for the Marines stationed in Okinawa, consuming a high-caloric diet to keep up with her active military lifestyle, she said.

However, when she got out of the military, she was also going through a divorce from her first husband, “most likely depressed and didn't know it, because I sat on the sofa and ate. And ate and ate and ate,” she recalled.

Back in Texas, Velin returned to school and worked in Dallas, but didn't get out of the eating slump; because she was gaining weight, she wasn't dating, which turned into a vicious spiral that was fueled by low self-esteem.

Then she joined the Peace Corps in 1997 as a volunteer.

She was based in Ecuador for two and a half years in Puyo – “which is on the escarpment side and rainforest side of the Amazon” – and met and fell in love with Jimmy, who became her husband.

Because of “all the walking I had to do” and the very different type of diet she kept, the weight dropped off in Ecuador. However, back in the U.S., the unhealthy diet and lifestyle habits played havoc with their weight.

Which brings us to her point of no return, when Velin realized that her body was suffering from the excess weight she carried.

Committed to making a lifestyle change, she dropped approximately 100 pounds with a careful conservative plan that took her from 320 pounds to 220 pounds.

During the first three months, she lost five pounds a week, then a pound or two each week afterward.

“And you know what? A pound or two is a good weight loss. If you change your lifestyle and you knock out 500 calories out of your diet per day, in seven days, that's 3,500 calories. That equals one pound of weight loss. If you lose one pound a week, in 52 weeks you'll have lost 52 pounds,” she said.

And it's these kind of small, doable victories she wants the folks she coaches to understand.

“I definitely do not start people to start a program to lose weight and start exercise program at the same time … I generally say, for 30 days, do this.

Once you lose a few pounds and you start feeling better, let's get walking 15 minutes a couple times a week, because it's a lifestyle change,” she pointed out.

“What eventually will happen is that your endorphins will kick in, your metabolism kicks in, you'll feel better and you'll want to do more and you'll have more energy. Because you're slowly changing how you think about food, how you think about yourself and think about your exercise.

Eight a.m. every Saturday, beginning April 20, she will lead an exercise group at Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church in Jacksonville, where members will learn to incorporate smart, heal-thy ideas as they create a healthier lifestyle for themselves.

This endeavor has much potential, she said, because people will draw encouragement from each other, and not feel as if they are alone in their weight-loss journey.

“It takes a village and a group to work together to make the end results. Some people have ability to lose weight on own, but most of us do not,” Velin said. “We have to have the encouragement.”