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In the Equation!

How I transformed my body and reignited my life

By Lori Schaefer, written May 2012, just after I reached my weight loss goal

I am a very different person today than I was just over a year ago. My life is full and happy. I smile more. Laugh more. Play more. Give more. And do more. I also weigh more than 200 pounds less and wear 11 dress sizes smaller. Yes, dresses. I’m actually wearing clothes that show off my style and a little leg – something I haven’t done since high school!

What inspired this transformation? I made a choice. A choice that would forever change the course of my life: I chose to put myself back into the equation of my life.

A history of imbalance
In the years leading up to that moment of decision, my life was busy but empty. I struggled to find hope. I had left “me” behind long ago. My start-up marketing firm called Marketing that Matters was several years in the making and I was working like a madwoman to serve clients literally day and night. I sat in an office chair 12-18 hours a day, seven days a week, starting work well before my colleagues and finishing long after most went to sleep.

My aggressive can-do attitude didn’t stop at my job. If a friend needed support, I was there. Worthy volunteer projects? No problem, I’d take them on. I was driven and quick to solve every problem and meet everyone’s needs…but mine. Some even called me Superwoman. But here’s what they didn’t know: While I felt satisfied by my ability to crank out the work and help so many people, I was slowly dying inside. As I tried to please everyone else, I was continually failing in one critical area: Me. I was not in the equation.

Already depleted from my work and lack of sleep, I was living a sedentary lifestyle on a diet of processed and fast food. My emotional and stress levels were out of control. My relationships suffered. I was crabby and stressed. And, I ate to fill myself. As someone who had struggled with obesity her entire life and with a family history of stroke, heart disease and diabetes, this was not a good path. It was slowly killing me.

In the five years I spent building my business, I grew to my heaviest weight on record: 381 pounds. Yes, a whopping 381 – bigger than an NFL Defensive Lineman! I simply wasn’t making time for myself—not even for my most basic needs. I wasn’t on my “to do” list – much less at the top of it. And, as a result, I had turned from a positive person into someone whose glass was half empty.

Perhaps worst of all, I lost hope for a different life. Everything seemed difficult. Worried that I would suffer a heart attack before age 50, my friend Jimbo would urge me, “Just walk to the end of your block, Lor. And the next day try to walk around the block.” But I always had an excuse. It felt too hard. I was too tired. The pressure was great, and the excuses came easy.

Recognizing the need for change
In 2010, after suffering a serious business setback due a betrayal of trust with a colleague and friend, I hit bottom. I couldn’t remember any goal beyond my dream to build a business, so Marketing that Matters became my sole focus. But as each work day passed, I feared for its success and, secretly, for my life. I didn’t know how to change the equation, and I certainly didn’t know what kind of future was possible.

Then I got a phone call that set in motion a series of events that would change my life forever. And of course, it came through work.

My client Dennis Rysdahl at the Bluefin Bay Family of Resorts had met O’Neal Hampton from NBC’s reality TV show The Biggest Loser and called to ask if I was aware of the program. Of course I was! Dennis explained that O’Neal co-owned a company that was coming to one of his resorts, Surfside on Lake Superior, to host weight-loss boot camps throughout the year. The camps needed some brand and marketing muscle, so Dennis arranged a meeting with O’Neal and his business partner in the Twin Cities.

I will never forget the day I first met O’Neal Hampton. We spent hours sharing our personal stories, and when it came time for O’Neal to share his, we locked eyes and he assured me we could indeed do this together. “We’ve got this,” he said, and he didn’t take his eyes or his focus off me until my eyes welled up with tears. O’Neal made me believe again. He gave me hope…for the first time in a very long time. It was in that moment that I knew my life was about to change forever. I was ready.

As I walked to my car after that meeting, I cried. I cried because I had found a nugget of hope in O’Neal’s belief in me. I cried because I knew deep in my heart that I would be successful and that meant the course of my life was about to change. And I cried because I was scared…no, terrified.

Not only did I leave the meeting with a new marketing client, but I had also committed to attending the boot camp, taking what would become my first steps toward a different life. With O’Neal as my inspiration and mentor, life would never be the same. I was going to put myself back into the equation and drop the weight that was sheltering me from the life I wanted.

Pushing the limits
How many of us really know what we are physically and mentally capable of? Marathon runners, strength and endurance athletes, sure. Those who fight and survive a terminal illness, certainly. Soldiers, fire fighters, police officers, of course. But not Lori Schaefer!

When the boot camp finally arrived on Nov. 28, 2010, I was quick to find out just exactly what I was made of. The experience was indeed one of the most challenging, yet rewarding and influential experiences of my life. Every day I had to force myself out of bed—aches, pains, and emotions in tow – knowing that I would push my body, mind and spirit further than I had ever imagined possible.

The program was much like that of NBC’s Biggest Loser (only two weeks instead of months). We worked out six to seven hours per day, every day – challenging cardio circuits, strenuous pool cardio, intense  workouts in the gym, long hikes on area trails and, yes, lots of mountain climbs – all while being encouraged and pushed by our skilled trainers past what we thought were our limits. I had to dig deep. It was tough, perhaps the toughest thing I will ever do. But each time I accomplished something I had previously thought I could not do, I felt more alive and on fire than ever in my life!

But it wasn’t just the workouts. At boot camp, I had the opportunity to focus on myself every day for two full weeks. For some of us – certainly for me – it was the first time we had put ourselves first. We learned how to eat to support our bodies. We learned how we react to the tough stuff: to pain, to stress, to self-doubt and to heartache. But we also learned how to push through the pain and come out on the other side a stronger person. Ultimately, the experience gave us the tools and support we needed to succeed at home, where the hard work would continue.

At the end of the two-week camp, some of my new friends were understandably nervous to leave. But I left with hope and the confidence that if I did exactly what I was told to every day in the plan laid out for me, I would reach my goal weight and achieve my dreams.

A path forward
For me, the first and most important step toward changing my life was to decide what future I wanted to create for myself and then resolve to achieve it. I would tackle my dream one day at a time, day after day after day. There was no stopping.

Establishing a plan at the beginning of my journey was key. I defined what it meant to put myself back into the equation by establishing a checklist of non-negotiables. Working the customized nutritional and fitness program laid out for me by Leif Anderson of Leif Anderson Fitness became my top priority. I would also need to get enough sleep, limit my work hours, and ask for help when I needed it. Faced with tough decisions without obvious answers, I referred to this checklist of priorities, stuck by it, and sought counsel from my support team.

Of course I had to make sacrifices along the way. As I neared my goal weight, for example, I had to eat less food and workout more. I remember a particular time when one of these plans coincided with my company’s Christmas party, where I wanted nothing more than to toast my amazing new colleagues with a glass of my favorite wine. But, with my eye on the prize, I toasted my team with water while they enjoyed the Pinot Noir. And the truth is, I had fun anyway. Inside, it felt good to choose me and make my goals the priority over indulging in the moment. I had rarely made that kind of choice in the past.

A brand new book
I’m proud to say that the plan worked brilliantly. I did it! We did it! My goal was to create a life where I exist at the center of the equation, and I’ve been successful because I made every decision over the past year and a half with that in mind. I committed myself 100% to my goal. I followed a customized nutritional and exercise strategy. And day by day, week by week, I worked the plan.

It was not always a straight line. There were some real rough patches, and in those tough moments I sought support from mentor O’Neal Hampton and my support system, and kept myself accountable. I made no excuses. I persevered. And I celebrated successes along the way with friends and family.

Now as I continue to put myself first and focus on my overall health and happiness, everything is better. I am surrounded by friends and family who support me. I laugh and play and have fun every day. I attract positive new people and new opportunities. Marketing That Matters is thriving as a result of my team, not just me. And, unlike the days and weeks leading up to that fateful meeting with O’Neal, I smile constantly. Oh, and yes, I climb mountains.

Eighteen months after starting the journey, I weigh 211 pounds less, have 80+% less body fat (from 63% to 14.5% body fat), and have lost more than 80 inches and 11 dress sizes. The hard results are impressive. But the unbelievable gift in all of this is how I have changed on the inside. Look at me! I am a brand new book. I have climbed the mountain, literally and figuratively, and I can see all the new possibilities for the new me.

Today, I am a fit and active girl who holds herself at the center of the equation of her own life. That means being true to both myself first and to others. My glass is definitely half full. I seize opportunities fearlessly. I’m fun and fun loving. And I not only have hope…now I give hope. I inspire. I live in the moment and love every minute of it. My heart is overflowing. I am living a healthy, happy and WHOLE life. And I simply can’t wait to see what’s next!

What next?
Upon completing this leg of the journey, one of my goals is to share my story to inspire you to claim the life you’re meant to live.

I hope my journey serves as an example for how you too can put yourself back into the equation of your life. Only you can take those critical first steps toward change. But I am here to tell you, “we’ve totally got this!”

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