By Pat Maurer
It will soon be the third anniversary of the day that Mid Michigan Community College Retention Advisor Theresa Borawski, with God’s help, changed her whole life. This amazing lady set out to achieve what seemed to be an impossible goal, and then set another and another until she reached the final one almost a year ago, just before her 50th birthday.
Three years ago, morbidly obese, Theresa weighed in at 428 pounds. She suffered with constant pain from Rheumatoid Arthritis, and suffered breathing problems with asthma, both conditions complicated by her weight. She was almost completely unable to stand or walk, and then only by using a walker, and finally using a wheelchair and a motorized chair to get around. “I was on massive doses of pain killer for the arthritis,” she said, “and in constant pain both physically and emotionally. My doctor told me that there wasn’t much more he could do. I was sure I was going to have to sell my home at Lake of the Pines and move into an assisted living facility. I didn’t think I would live to be 50.”
Growing up, she said family gatherings were always centered around food. She said she was always overweight, weighing over 190 as a teenager, but in her 40s, the loss of a job she held for 15 years, and loved, moving to this area, losing another job to funding cuts, being unemployed for 18 months, and then the tragedy of losing two loved ones caused a severe depression and she turned to her only comfort – food. She gained 150 pounds. “I was single, 200 miles from home, and lost both my grandfather and my best friend,” she said.
On the anniversary date of that decision to change her life, just two years later, Theresa had made her final goal. Her weight, which she has maintained over the past year, was between 150 and 160 pounds. She went from a size 28 to a size 10 or 12, dropping 14 jean sizes in just 24 months. “I am so afraid I will gain it all back,” she said. “I still don’t eat cookies or sugary snacks. I’m afraid I wouldn’t be able to stop.”
Now Theresa has lost 276 pounds, and kept the weight off without any fad diet plan or weight-loss surgery. She did it by changing her outlook on life and her accomplishment has made her famous around the world. That motorized chair she once had to use just to get around has a place in her office decorated with a sign proclaiming, “Theresa doesn’t live here anymore!”
She remembers vividly the day she made the decision. On March 1, 2011, her sister Kelly, who also was battling a weight problem, called Theresa to say she had scheduled weight-loss surgery. “I was angry,” she said. “I didn’t want her to do it – partly because of the hazards of the surgery and partly because I selfishly wanted her to be able to take care of me. After I hung up the phone, around 5:45 p.m. that night, I called her a name and said to myself, ‘I’ll show her’.”
“I asked God for help,” she said. “When I made up my mind that my life had to change, something just clicked. “I threw away my soda and then the sugar. I went on a 1000 to 1,200 calorie a day diet and stopped all of the sweets.” Theresa attends St. Agnes Catholic Church in Marion.
Since that day she never looked back. “I credit everything to God,” she said, “and my own stubbornness. It’s a combination of God-power and willpower. God will help you move mountains, but you have to pick up the shovel. It’s good now; I’m blessed beyond measure.”
By May, 2011 when she saw her sister again, Kelly had lost 25 pounds. Theresa had lost 47. “We love each other, but we have always been competitive,” she said with a smile. She dropped 100 pounds by Labor Day and another 50 plus by Christmas. “I didn’t tell anyone after I decided to do this,” she said. “I didn’t want to make it harder for me to succeed.”
But with will power and “God’s help,” she did succeed and people began to notice the change. The weight continued to come off and Theresa said she was shopping at thrift stores every month just to find clothes that fit. “That first year was relatively easy for me,” she said. “People don’t believe me, but it’s true.” She said, “The hardest thing for me to give up was soda.” She said she drank two 2Liter bottles of pop every evening and at least two Mountain Dews during the day. “I am a sugar addict,” she said. “I knew I had to give it up.”
In her blog on the Internet, Theresa talks about making those huge changes. “When you are faced with doing something and you don’t think you can, it can help to pretend that you can – then do it! On the other hand…pretending is not always a good thing…like when we pretend we’re not disappointed when someone lets us down, or rejects us…. or that we’re not hurt when someone makes a joke at our expense. That kind of “pretending” can be very harmful. I know; I have had a lifetime of it. I spent a lot of years, “pretending” that things didn’t bother me, instead of dealing with them. That is partly why I gained so much weight. Instead of facing the hurts in life, I tried to bury them with food. Some of you may be able to relate…we can bury our hurts with all sorts of things…alcohol or drugs, shopping, other addictions…or even under personality traits…like sarcasm, negativity, jealousy. Sometimes the ‘pretending’ results in anxiety, sickness, or depression.”
Now Theresa is not only trim and fit, she has been featured in publications, on the internet and on national TV shows including the “Joy Fit Club” with Kathy Lee Gifford and HodaKotb on the “Today Show” and on the PBS show “Uncommon Sense” with Julie Doan. Her accomplishment has been lauded in “Everyday Health,” the “Huffington Post,” “Woman’s World Magazine,” and then the story was picked up by the “Associated Press” and featured across the nation. She was on “9 & 10 News” locally and featured in both the Review and the Morning Sun last year.
Her accomplishment has gone “viral” on the web too. She has been featured on Natesway.com, Everyday Health, Shape Fit, AOL and more.
Her trip to New York last March to be featured on the Today Show was a unique experience for her. “I had never been anywhere like that and the whole trip was amazing – shopping, sightseeing, riding the subway, seeing the Statue of Liberty and having the freedom to do all the things I never dreamed I could do.” She points to a picture taken of her with Kathy Lee and Hoda, prominently displayed on her office wall.
Since then she has continued to be in the national spotlight. Her story was featured on page 59 in the February 17 issue of the National Enquirer. “I didn’t even know about it,” she said. “Someone called and told me about it.” She has also been contacted and asked to tell her story in “Arthritis Monitor Magazine” just last Tuesday. She said she will be doing a Pod Cast on Thursday for a fitness website.
Talking about how famous she has become because of her achievement, she said, “It’s amazing how many people want to talk to me now. I can’t believe how my life has changed. Right now I have 8,000 unread emails. When I weighed 425 pounds,” she continued, “I was the ‘invisible’ person in the room. I got to the point where I didn’t go anywhere or do anything. Being obese was my way of keeping people away.”
That part of her life is over now. “The hardest part is all of the people who reach out to you because they are facing the same situation.” She tries to help all of the others who are battling their weight. “Now I’m learning to live with the responsibility and privilege of sharing my story. I want to help people who are fighting their own addiction. I want to help everybody, but I know they have to help themselves too.”
She continued, “Life is more complicated now.” No wonder. Besides working with struggling students at MMCC, she has a Facebook page, manages a website about her experiences and writes a regular blog. She also is a motivational speaker and is taking college classes. “And I am busy selling my ‘fat’ clothes on EBay,” she laughs.
“The hardest part of all this hasn’t been the physical part,” she said, “It’s the emotional impact of getting to know myself as a normal sized person. I still sometimes think I am the biggest person in the room.”
On her website Theresa says, “Oh, How My Life Has Changed! Today I am 276 pounds lighter, 14 jean sizes smaller, and no longer need a wheelchair, walker, or cane to get around. My medication requirements have been reduced dramatically, and I no longer live in constant, physical and emotional pain. I am a walking, talking miracle, and have been given a second chance at life with nothing more than a lot of God power and will power! I am a brand new person, have so much energy, and am now a participant in life, rather than just watching it pass me by. I am blessed beyond measure and can’t wait to see what the future holds for me!”
Every day she finds something new that makes her life a joy. “Just sitting on the dock at home and kicking my feet in the water; being able to cross my legs; riding my bike. And there are more little discoveries every single day to make me happy.”
These days, limiting herself to 1600 calories to maintain her weight, she drinks two gallons of sugar free flavored water every day, eats three meals and snacks on fruit and protein bars between meals. Sugar is no longer a part of her life.
Even the Rheumatoid Arthritis, something she knows she will battle for the rest of her life, is better. “I was taking both medication and shots for the RA,” she said. Now that the weight is gone, it is under control and my medication has been drastically reduced.”
She is also exercising. After getting the RA under control last spring, she started walking, short distances at first and more and more as the summer went by.
“I bought my first bike last summer,” she said. “When the weather is nice I ride it every day.” She said she hadn’t ridden a bike since she was a youngster and had to learn how all over again. “That first day I was all over the place, but I still rode it around three miles. I just love it – it’s the first thing I do every day that I can.”
“The bike is in the garage for now,” she said. “I can’t wait to get it out again, but for now I am using weights for exercise.”
Theresa’s 50th birthday was “the best one of my life,” she said. “A friend treated me to a trip to Lake Michigan. I climbed sand dunes, rode my bike that day and even learned to do a cartwheel. That is the one thing I couldn’t do when I was a cheerleader in school. Now I can.”
See Theresa’s story on her Facebook group, “We Can Change Our lives,” read her blogs on “Theresa Doesn’t Live Here Anymore,” or visit her website at www.theresaborawski.net.