Lyz Culpepper, Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, shares her story in the Inside Scoop.
By Lyz Culpepper, Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics

I am a senior executive assistant in the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics. Joining the Medical School in July 2007, I work for the Chair, Dr. Theresa Koehler, and also assist the Director of the MMG Graduate Program, Dr. Ambro van Hoof, with the daily workings of the MMG Graduate Program.

I have never been athletic and growing up; I didn’t play sports. In my adult life, my exercising consisted of hanging out at the beach and the pool, and when I would say I’m hanging out at the pool all day, I was doing just that…hanging out – I certainly wasn’t actually swimming! I have a love for camping and hiking, but this in reality, translates to taking leisurely strolls in the shade. And tubing the river is fantastic! Talk about putting out little to no effort! So while I told myself that I was “active,” I wasn’t truly active.

In addition to leading a pretty inactive lifestyle, I also love to eat! Food tastes good! Food is fun! Isn’t the menu one of the most important aspects of any social event?? Food is a big deal and has played a big part of my social life.

As a result of years of limited physical activity and a desire to eat my way through every package of double stuffed Oreos on the shelf, I slowly let myself become a person I didn’t recognize. I was frumpy – my arms were big, my face was round and my pants were so tight that they felt miserable. I was not happy about my reflection in the mirror, and I would promise myself that I was going to go on a diet, but that diet would last until I decided to splurge on those two Oreos, that turned into two rows, or my “to heck with it, it’s the weekend” mentality would take over. While I thought I wanted to lose weight and stop hating the mirror, the want wasn’t deep enough.

In July 2013, I was a size 16, squeezing into a 14. I realize that’s not morbidly obese, but I was definitely overweight. I was uncomfortable. I was embarrassed. I didn’t want to look frumpy. I didn’t want to hate shopping. I didn’t want to only buy shoes because shopping for clothes was just too depressing, but that is where I had been for too long, and I didn’t think I could change. However, last year became a turning point when Dr. Koehler started me on my fitness journey. Dr. Koehler is not only a great boss, but she is also enthusiastic about health and exercise, and her enthusiasm is contagious. She told me about My Fitness Pal, which is a free app that can be downloaded to your iPhone or Android. My Fitness Pal (MFP) tracks your caloric intake and sets a goal so that you can begin to monitor and reevaluate your caloric intake. I downloaded the app and was shocked when I began entering my calories! I was consuming enough to feed a small country. I decided to try to adjust my diet so that I would not exceed my calorie goal, yet not starve to death. Miraculously, I saw that this was doable. I could actually do this; I could say no to things that I didn’t need. Enlightening! And then I realized that if I exercised, MFP would give me calories back so I could eat more. Woo hoo! Where’s the closest elliptical?? I’m on it! And that was the beginning….

It’s time now to insert a warning…there’s a dirty secret to this diet and exercise business that no one wants to tell you – it requires HARD WORK and COMMITMENT. Don’t fool yourself. Hard work and commitment aren’t suggestions, they are a requirement. It’s hard to say no to dessert. It’s hard to drag yourself to the gym. It’s hard to work hard enough so that you are gross and sweaty when you are finished. It takes commitment to stay on the elliptical/treadmill/stair master when all you can think about is getting off. What I learned is that sticking it out brings the oh so sweet feeling of success, and what’s better than knowing you were successful in spite of your desire to quit? The bottom line is your heartfelt desire to succeed has to holler louder than that little voice in your head that tells you to give up.

Once I started MFP, I stuck to my calorie goal. Once I started exercising, I kept at it and started challenging myself. The more I challenged myself, the more weight I lost. The more challenges I met, the more excited I became. It became less about losing weight (though that was super important) and more about meeting the next self-imposed challenge. I learned that my hatred of exercise was what I “told” myself and that actually once I started feeling successful in my attempts to do things I hated, the less I hated them. I don’t really hate running. I don’t really hate sweating. Who knew???

Now, here’s what I really want to say…to anyone who needs motivation to begin/continue on this admittedly difficult journey…look in the mirror! Be your own motivation! Do you know how FREEING it is to know that you can do things you never thought you could do?? With the encouragement of my very fit sister-in-law and my husband, I’ve now run several 5K and 10Ks, I am running a 15K trail run in a few weeks, and I have registered for 2 half-marathons later this year. Who knew I could do this??? I’m going to be 50 in January and never set foot on a treadmill until last October. Who am I to run, albeit slowly, a trail run or a half marathon??? And here’s another kicker…in April I went rock wall climbing with my daughter. I have never ever done something like that before. I never thought I wanted to. I never thought I could. It never occurred to me that I could climb up that wall and ring that bell, but I DID! I set out to lose weight, but that ended up being a secondary win. Since July 2013 I’ve lost 36 lbs. and am now a size 4, and while that’s a fantastic feeling, I’m more excited about the athletic endeavors that I’m experiencing.

It isn’t about weight loss. It’s about being a better you! It’s about proving to yourself that you can do the difficult. You can meet the challenges you set for yourself. You are your own motivation. Losing weight is HAAAARD. No doubt about it, but you can do it if you are willing to work hard and commit. Running is hard, but you can do it if you are willing to work hard and commit. It’s the same with swimming, dancing, unicycling…whatever. You can do ANYTHING if you are willing to work hard and commit.

It’s about freedom. Freedom from the burden of thinking “I can’t.” Freedom from watching from the sidelines. Freedom from the anxiety of shopping.

To those of you who want to give up because it’s hard…DON’T! Just want it more. Want it so badly that you are willing to sweat, to say “no” to foods you want to say yes to, and to say “yes” to exercise that you want to say no to. YOU CAN DO IT!

I would have never thought that I could be an inspiration for someone else. I’m just an almost-50 year old secretary who has discovered that I CAN DO THINGS! I can do the difficult. I just want you to know that you can accomplish things you had no idea were possible. It’s more than a weight loss journey – it’s a rebirth.

The Inside Scoop is an occasional feature of Scoop that allows faculty, staff, and students to share work and leadership experiences with the Medical School community.

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