An illness is a setback that can have long-lasting effects on your fitness. Meet Lizzie, a young wife and mother who plans to use a high-protein diet to deal with the weight gain that took place after her bout with skin cancer. This is the first installment of her before-and-after weight loss story.
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It can be hard to get your health and fitness back on track after an illness.
And if you’re dealing with that while grieving the loss of a loved one, the process can be even more challenging.
This is the situation currently being faced by Lizzie, our Customer Service Manager here at Fresh N’ Lean. Lizzie is 34 years old; she’s an avid surfer who loves riding waves off the coast of Huntington Beach, the seaside town that’s become her home since she relocated from her native Delaware. She’s a wife, and a mom to an 8-year old girl.
Poised and unflappable, Lizzie is our very own force of nature. She goes above and beyond to provide excellent client service to those who purchase our meal plans, and she handles every task with cheerfulness and grace.
Lizzie was diagnosed with skin cancer a couple of years ago. Thankfully, she made a complete recovery. At around the same time, her beloved grandfather passed away. The stress of these combined events brought weight gain. It also had a negative effect on her mental state and overall quality of life.
Now Lizzie is ready to turn things around and take her life back. She plans to use Fresh N’ Lean’s high-protein meal plan as part of her health strategy, and she’s taking us along for the ride on her before-and-after weight loss adventure. Along the way, she’ll be sharing the highs and the lows, as well as photos that chart her progress.
This article is the first of an ongoing series of interviews that will track Lizzie’s journey. As the series unfolds, you’ll get a firsthand perspective of what it’s like to use a high-protein diet for weight loss and improved wellness.
Diagnosis and treatment
Hi, Lizzie. So, you came out on top after a run-in with skin cancer – nice job! How did that whole experience affect your life?
Hey, how’s it going? Thanks — it kind of threw me for a loop for a while there to be honest. I went in not even knowing anything was wrong. I had a buddy of mine post something on Instagram about the importance of getting things checked out. I’ve always been a water person; I started swimming when I was maybe five or six. Because of that, I’ve spent a lot of time in the sun, and I figured it probably wasn’t bad to start getting things checked out. I honestly didn’t think they’d find anything. I was 32 at the time and always thought skin cancer was something that happened to people who’ve spent more time here on Earth than me.
They took a biopsy of something on my back, just to the right of my left shoulder blade, and sent it in to the lab for testing. I think it didn’t really sink in until after the surgery was over that it was actually a kind of big deal. That was the biggest trip for me.
What kind of treatment did you have to go through?
So, when they find anything on the melanoma scale, they’re going to get a little deeper into things, and look at more than just what’s on the surface. Whether pre-cancer, getting there, or full-blown melanoma, it’s always better to get it taken care of sooner than later because melanoma goes down into your skin kind of like a dandelion root through soil, and gets into the bloodstream.
Mine never got bad like that; they caught it way before it got to that point. The treatment for me was a small surgery. I thought it was just going to cover maybe an inch or two, would take 10 minutes and boom, you’re done. After laying on the table for an hour and a half, I remember them telling me they needed to make sure they “clear the margins”, and they’d start suturing up soon. Since they can’t really see where all the abnormalities are, they opt for a larger removal area to make sure they’ve gotten all of the bad stuff out, and you’re only left with the good cells. Of course, this is a good thing.
My incision ended up being about five inches long, and they went to a depth of maybe half an inch. (I only saw the “sample” briefly. Heads up, if they ask if you want to see it, just say no! Ha – it’s too weird to see a piece of what was just part of you in a jar. It’s gross. Don’t do it.)
Basically, they went all the way through to the subcutaneous fat (the layer underneath your dermis). After seven internal stitches and five sutures, they glued then taped me back together. It took place in a “high movement” zone — weird to think that one spot on your body would be more so than another. But in any case, the location made them extra careful, because they wanted to make sure that I didn’t split the stitch.
From there, I went to work for about an hour and a half, then went home and slept for about 20 hours. I’d really underestimated the toll it would take. This was where the mind stuff started in. Suddenly now, all the normal things you’re used to doing scare the crap out of you because you’re afraid to tear something.
I now go back every six to 12 months to get checked out. They found another spot last time, but that one ended up being about half the size as the first. You don’t really know how much they’ll need to remove until they’re there. The last time wasn’t bad at all — far less scary.
What kind of symptoms were you left with after treatment was completed?
Well, there was definitely a huge mental game that started happening once I got home and my husband helped me change my bandage for the first time. Since it was on my back, I couldn’t see it or really do anything to take care of it, which was really weird.
There were some weird nerve things that happened while the nerve endings grew back. The biggest thing that I’d now discovered was that I was afraid to be out in the sun. That was completely new and unfamiliar for me. The doctor said that anything showing up now was probably from a bad burn I had when I was a kid, or something 20-plus years ago. I knew I was wearing sun block now — I use Sun Bum SPF 70, and I have for years. But I still couldn’t get the worry out of my head.
I started to throw myself into taking care of my family, spending less and less time taking care of me. I’d also recently lost my grandfather, and to me he was the best person I’d ever known. I was already a little shaky after that, so with the surgery and newfound sun-phobia I felt 100% not myself, and I went into a depression. I tried here and there to work out, but as a swimmer, all the back exercises just scared me too much. I was gaining weight, and falling further from myself and my health.
How much weight did you gain after treatment? And how did the weight gain impact your overall quality of life?
I gained about 80 pounds. I switched from working in restaurants, running around all day and doing water sports (which burn a lot of calories) to no exercise and jobs that involved working at a desk. I felt sluggish, ugly and sad. I found myself in a place that was really unlike me.
Every time I tried to get myself motivated, I’d feel guilty about not spending time with my family, or not keeping things in the house clean or something like that.
I go to the water to get calm and gain perspective – it’s kind of like meditation for me. I wasn’t out on the water, I wasn’t getting my rejuvenation, and I was floundering.
Diet, cooking and portion management
Fresh N’ Lean offers five meal plans: Keto, Protein+, Standard Vegan, Low Carb Vegan and Paleo. You’ve chosen the Protein+ meal plan for your fitness journey. What made you choose a high-protein diet for weight loss?
I chose Protein+ because I thought it was important to show those who may be on the fitness journey with me the importance of a well-balanced diet while you’re working out. I’ve always been quick to gain muscle, which bulks you up at first but then helps with fat-burning. I wanted to make sure I was giving my body enough protein (for muscles), carbs (for long-term energy) and veggies (because my Mom told me to always eat them) while I’m getting back to myself.
Plus, a high-protein diet mimics how I tend to eat anyways, so I feel it’s the most sustainable long-term. Sustaining is my goal after all. I’m going to be shooting for 135 pounds, which is in the middle of my healthy weight range and what I was at my healthiest.
What has your diet looked like over the past couple of months, prior to starting with the new meal plan? What foods would you consume in a typical day?
Takeout when I was tired. Cooking for my family and then being too tired to eat so skipping meals. Beer. I love beer — really just Rolling Rock and Coors Light, so arguably not beer, but I like it. My husband says that beer and cheese are my weight-loss Kryptonite. So, like a superhero, I will conquer that and find a healthier way to enjoy things.
Gosh, I had everything – Chinese food, pizza, pasta, pierogi, copious amounts of chiles rellenos. Food that fed my emotions rather than fueling my body and spirit.
How much time do you typically spend cooking? Do you think the convenience of having meals delivered will give you more time to spend on other things?
I used to go to the grocery store every day. I love cooking, I really do. I come from a family of seven. Now I have a family of three, but I still cook huge amounts of food. After working in restaurants for 15 years, I’m not sure what an actual portion is anymore.
Meal delivery saves me time. While I’m still cooking for my family, I’m not cooking for myself. I’m not focusing on managing my portions. I can get over-analytical and obsessive about things like that. I think that’s true for a lot of people, and I don’t think it’s healthy.
So, meal delivery is saving me more than the actual time spent preparing the food; it’s also preventing me from spending time obsessing about portions while I’m lying awake in bed. It definitely will give me more time to do other things that help me take care of myself, such as fitting in a workout or reading a book about whales. I really like whales.
The role of exercise
You’re a surfer, which is very cool. Would you consider yourself to be active or not very active? How much exercise do you typically get?
I am! I just like being in the water. I consider myself active, which is why this whole thing was such a trip. I knew I was fit, but now here I am with a body that’s different than it used to be, talking to people who are still fit and just feeling out of place. It’s one thing when you’re out there surfing and you catch a wave, no problem. It’s another thing when you’re out there sitting on your board, and you realize you’re sinking! I’ve become more inactive due to my own self-doubt and now am super-stoked to be back on it. I am trying to work out once a day.
Do you plan to integrate exercise with your new meal plan journey?
Oh, for sure. You need to. I’m doing CrossFit maybe three to four times a week, and the other days I just hop on my exercise bike at home and watch an old episode of Baywatch or an old Jean Claude van Damme movie or something. It’s what I’d be doing anyways, so I may as well move while I do it. Mind you, if I’m working out longer, I don’t go too hard. It’s not a race, and at a heavier weight, it’s important to read the signs my body is giving. There’s a lot more stress on your joints with more weight, so my whole focus is sustainability. Also, drink water. An ounce per pound of your body weight every day. It’s important to stay hydrated.
Goals and expectations
What kind of physical improvements do you hope to see as a result of your new diet?
I want to be fit! I want to be able to have increased stamina. I want to fit into all my dresses and fancy business casual work outfits! I want to see my stomach go back to the size it should be so I can’t overeat as easily!
What kind of mental and emotional improvements do you hope to see?
I want to be happy when I look in the mirror and recognize my face. Not for nothing, but I’ve got some nice cheekbones in there. Haha! In all seriousness though, I just want to feel like myself again. I want to love myself enough to be able to say I’m worth it. That, in itself, is the most important thing. I think that’s what most of us want.
Join us over the next few months as we walk side-by-side with Lizzie on her path to better health.
Interested in eating the same organic, high-protein cuisine that Lizzie will be enjoying during her fitness journey? Subscribe to Fresh N’ Lean’s Protein+ meal plan to get these foods delivered to your door.