A Better Body at 36 Than at 20

As we age, it gets harder to keep weight off and stop once-perky parts from heading south. But sinking into the couch with a big bowl of gelato isn't the solution. Elizabeth Mwanga is one of five women we featured in the July/August 2012 issue who reshaped her body and life—at 36, she traded diabetes for zucchini fries. Now she can help you do the same

by Shelley Levitt
beautiful woman image
Mwanga today (above); Mwanga at a wedding two weeks before she collapsed. Her weight: 205 pounds.
Photograph: by Melanie Acevedo

MY BODY IN MY TWENTIES As I neared 30, I inched toward 200 pounds, eventually, by 31, filling out a size-22 dress. I dressed quickly every morning to avoid catching a glimpse of my body in the mirror.

THE TURNING POINT I started to have terrible stomachaches, but I was afraid to go to the doctor because I didn’t want to find out there was something seriously wrong. The pain waxed and waned for about six months until one day in 2007, when I was 31, I had such severe cramps that I passed out. My mother found me unconscious on my couch and rushed me to the hospital. It turned out I had diabetic ketoacidosis, a life-threatening medical condition. My glucose levels were 10 times higher than normal,and my pancreas had stopped functioning. I was in the ICU for four days. When I finally got home, I vowed I would do whatever it took to get healthy.

THE MAKEOVER The hospital nutritionist gave me a diet plan that was full of processed foods and sugar-free sweets. I may have been obese, but I did know something about nutrition, so I thought I could do better. I retrained my palate, cutting out refined carbs and sugar and teaching myself how to cook wholesome, diabetic-friendly meals. To replace my old fattening favorites, I developed what I call trick-me food, like pizza frittatas and baked zucchini fries.

I started going to the gym four times a week for half an hour, alternating 10-minute sessions on the treadmill with crunches on the mat. Then I’d try to walk the two and a half miles home. I was losing weight for my health, but as people started telling me how great I looked, I became more motivated. I stepped up my gym sessions to six times a week, staying longer and working harder.

THE MILESTONE In 19 months, I lost 100 pounds. I remember going to Macy’s and for the first time in years buying pants that didn’t have an elastic waistband. What I was seeing on the outside was finally mirroring the person who’d always been on the inside.

MY BODY TODAY I love my body. My stomach is flat, and my long-lost friend, my collarbone, is back. At 105 pounds, I’ve kept my womanly curves, but I’m firm. Best of all, I’m healthy. I still check my blood sugar three times a day, but I haven’t needed insulin since 2009.

Next: A Better Body at 66 Than at 20

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First published in the July/August 2012 issue

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