A resolution to live: Ellyn Houston’s 200-pound weight-loss journey with diet, exercise — and resolve.
By Natalie Simms
For Roman Ellyn Houston, her goal to lose weight was more than a New Year’s resolution, it was a life-or-death situation. Weighing in at 350 pounds, Houston knew she needed a healthier lifestyle if she was going to be around to raise her son.
“In 2001, when my son was two and half years old, I weighed 350 pounds. I made the decision that I wanted to be active in his life as a participant over being an observer,” says Houston, who at age 52 is now local fitness instructor and certified Cancer Exercise Specialist at Harbin Clinic’s Vitality Wellness Center.
“Every day, I would take Ibuprofen for chronic joint pain and Prilosec for chronic heartburn. My blood pressure was borderline high. I lived a sedentary lifestyle. It was painful to even change my son’s diaper. I wanted things to be different. I dreamed of gastric bypass but insurance wouldn’t cover it. So it was just a fantasy.”
Houston says she knew she was going to have to do something different than just the low-fat diets she had tried in the past.
“I watched an episode of a talk show with two physicians, Richard and Rachael Heller, authors of a series of books with the common title, “The Carbohydrate Addict’s Diet.” As the interview progressed, they were describing me and my eating habits. I ordered their book off of Amazon before the end of their interview.
“While waiting for the book, I researched what the Hellers referred to as “insulin resistance” and realized I had it. It is a pre-diabetic condition of too much insulin being released into the body due to blood sugar surges resulting from your diet. The body stores excess insulin as body fat. Living out West, I had paid physicians and nutritionists for help in past years. No one checked me for this condition. Instead, I was always put on a low-fat, high-carb diet shake regime. Within three days, I would be miserable. I was miserable because the shakes spiked my blood sugar. I needed protein and complex carbs. Not sugary, low-fat shakes.”
Houston began studying the book and joined a group of other “carbohydrate addicts” for an online support group. She began following the plan for the next two years, checking in daily with the online group for support.
“The eating plan I follow isn’t a diet. I dislike the title of the book. It is an educated nutritional eating lifestyle which is why it works. I eat to keep my blood sugar balanced based on my awareness of nutrition and my body’s preferences. The book opened the door to my understanding of nutrition and my understanding of my body,” she says.
“As I followed their eating instructions, I kept a food log. As my body began to set an established pattern of weight loss, based on their plan, I was able to tweak the plan to personalize it for me. I kept a food journal of food, drinks, meds and supplements. If it went in my mouth, I wrote it down. Contrary to what is often advised, I weighed daily. I would introduce tweaks to the plan the same as introducing new foods to an infant. One at a time to see how my body responded. If I gained, I took the tweak out.”
Within three days of following Heller’s plan, Houston says she was heartburn and joint pain free. She believes all she needed was an awareness and understanding of how to nutritionally feed her pre-diabetic diet.
“The scale revealed the first changes and then my clothes,” she says. “About 100 pounds into my journey, I started to regain. I still had 100 pounds to lose. I knew my body was telling me it was time to add in exercise.”
Houston’s son was taking Tae Kwon Do at the time and she liked that the activity had goals, so she began taking classes.
“In two months, my gain came off and the remaining weight came off over the next 10 months and I reached my goal. It took me a total of two years to lose 200 pounds,” she says.
After beginning Tae Kwon Do, Houston enjoyed keeping her body in motion.
“I knew I had to keep moving. As people in the fitness industry met me and heard my story, I kept getting job references to other gyms. I was first hired at Rome Health Spa as a group fitness instructor teaching Tae Kwon Do kick pad drills. I was then certified in Silver Sneakers and hired by Advanced Rehab in Summerville,” she says.
“Finally, I met my mentor Millie Lockley. She took me under her wing and guided my career for about a year. Over eight years ago, I was hired to teach at Harbin Clinic Vitality Fitness. Here, I have been blessed with opportunity after opportunity to grow my training and experience. I currently teach over 20 classes a week. A body in motion tends to stay in motion.”
Houston says the weight-loss maintenance takes just as much effort and attention as losing the weight.
“Once your body has that feel for healthy eating, you tend to naturally crave healthy eating. Sure, there are cheats. But my body has been reprogrammed to crave healthier foods,” she says.
“What keeps me motivated to keep moving are the people I teach every day. I see the changes as their fitness and wellness improves. I have the best career in the world. There is nothing more rewarding.”
To those looking to begin a healthier lifestyle in the new year, Houston says the biggest mistake would be to set a deadline.
“I think the gravest set up for failure in a weight loss journey is a deadline … wanting to lose 10 pounds by such and such an event. I refused to do that on my journey. Instead, I took events and earmarked them with this question, ‘Where do I want to be this time next year?’ Each month had an earmark and as those earmarks rolled around, there was always a huge milestone to smile about,” she says.
Harbin Clinic’s Director of Wellness Sarah King agrees.
“A healthy lifestyle involves having the right mindset, a healthy balanced diet and regular exercise. We don’t have to join the gym or become vegetarians, achieving a healthy lifestyle is simple and it’s entirely our own responsibility. Our body is like a complex machine. Without the right care, it will breakdown, without the right knowledge, it can’t reach its full potential,” she says.
“Exercise and diet are critical. The benefits of physical activity are endless. Commit to 30 minutes of exercise at least five days a week. It has been proven that increased cardiovascular activity in smaller increments of 5 to 10 minutes adding up to a total of 30 minutes a day is just as effective as one 30-minute block. Maintaining a balanced diet with plentiful fruits and vegetables is a manageable feat with the some planning and a commitment to making the right choices.”
According to King, the key to keeping one’s New Year’s resolutions involves picking a realistic goal, taking small steps toward that goal and learning to take slip ups in stride. Some key tips include:
- Pick one thing that you want to change or set one goal that you want to accomplish at a time.
- Start small – start with three days of exercise a week and work up to five days a week; focus on losing 10 pounds first; pay off one credit card at a time.
- Take small steps, or make small changes every day to incorporate that change into your life.
- Be sure to congratulate yourself for making these small changes.
- Learn to take setbacks in stride and recommit to your goal.
“No matter what your resolution is, you shouldn’t have to talk yourself into it. Make sure it is something you really want; otherwise it’ll be that much harder to stick to. Be specific in your goals, a resolution to save more is much harder to stick to than a resolution to set aside one-hundred dollars each paycheck,” she says.
“Change is never easy, so prepare yourself mentally for a shift in habits. The hour a day you’ll spend in the gym is going to come from somewhere, so your routine is going to change. Finally, only reveal your resolution to the people who are most likely to support you. Seek out an accountability partner. Someone you trust to provide encouragement and keep you accountable.
“A healthy lifestyle has a tremendous impact on our overall quality of life as well as our longevity. Investing in a healthy lifestyle offers a tremendous return on investment.”
Harbin Clinic Vitality Fitness Center at 504 Redmond Road is open to the community with monthly memberships available. For more information, call 706-290-2334.