It wasn’t just the high blood pressure or her doctor’s statement that she was teetering on the brink of diabetes. Nor was it the size-18 clothes. For Pamela El, marketing vice-president for State Farm Insurance, who crisscrosses the United States promoting a health-care initiative called the 50 Million Pound Challenge, the wake-up call came when she watched herself on a documentary about the program. “I saw the irony of going around the country telling people to get healthy when I was obese myself. I realized I had to become healthy if I was going to preach to others,” says the 51-year-old.
And so El, then carrying 217 pounds on her five-foot-two frame, joined the club she’d been touting for a year traveling alongside diet expert Ian Smith, MD, the brains behind the 50 Million Pound Challenge, which is free because of State Farm’s sponsorship. Smith, who had never commented on El’s weight, could see she was ready to make a change.
With the help of the 50 Million Pound Challenge, El managed to stave off the boredom that often sets in when people restrict their eating and begin exercising regularly. El started with the 30-day eating plan, which is based on Smith’s best-selling book, The 4-Day Diet. This plan breaks your diet into phases that last four days. “Once you do the first two four-day modules, you mix the remaining five to suit your schedule and your needs. It was the four-day approach that made it doable for me. I did not get tired of or bored with my food,” El says.
And then, El recounts, “I stopped just talking about the site’s tools, and started using them.” She input her weight and the computer tracked it in a graph. “There’s nothing like looking at your weight go down. It also shows if you go up. It keeps you honest,” she says. El joined three weight-loss teams on the site, including one made up of her family, and also began working out.
Fast-forward a year and a half. The State Farm executive went from 217 to 147 pounds, and is aiming to lose an additional 10 to 15 pounds. She is no longer pre-diabetic and does not have high blood pressure. “I feel so much better,” she says. Now a size 8, El enjoys shopping for the first time in decades: “I can go to any store and any department of any store and I can get fun stuff. I can buy jeans that young women can wear. “
El attributes her success partly to solving a long-standing problem: how to eat healthfully when she’s on the road. Here are some tricks the exec, who travels almost every week, has come up with: “I take my food with me—carrots, grapes and apples. You can buy water and yogurt in the airport. It prevents you from going for the donuts and bagels. When I reach my destination, I get a rental car. Before I go to the hotel, I stop at a grocery store, pick up yogurt, soy milk, other foods. I ask the front desk to clear out the mini bar so I won’t have to look at M&M’s and there will be space for my stuff. My husband Bill says I used to talk about how great the hotel restaurant is and now I talk about how great the hotel gym is.”
For exercise, El works out six days a week, doing some cardio each day and adding in a few strength-training sessions. She exercises between one and one and a half hours each day. “I break it up throughout the day so I don’t get so bored,” she says. She also relies on a workout partner. “We keep each other going when we don’t want to do it,” El says.
Seeing the results has been her biggest motivation. “I got into my zone of watching the pounds go away each week,” she notes. But El recognizes that getting started is daunting. It helps, she says, to find someone else to lose weight with, either online or in the real world. The payoffs are incalculable. “I always carried the weight well, but it’s so much nicer if you don’t have to carry it,” the executive says.
For more inspiration, read The Trick That Will Keep You Exercising.