Billie Mackey, 52, wasn’t a big fan of exercise. She despised the mere thought of it. “Exercise just wasn’t a word in my vocabulary,” she says. “I mean, I hated it.” For Billie, being overweight was a way of life. Ever since she was a young girl, she didn’t know what it was like to feel healthy. What she knew was high blood pressure, asthma, sleep apnea, sugary sweets, starchy carbs, and limitations.
“I couldn’t do the things I loved to do, like go on amusement park rides, travel on airplanes, or even go out to eat for fear I wouldn’t fit in the booths,” she says. At 5-foot-3 and 340 pounds, she broke out in a sweat just going up a flight of stairs. “I had three dogs who desperately wanted to be walked but never got exercised,” she says. “My routine consisted of getting up, going to work, eating, heading home, eating some more and then going to bed day after day after day.”
One Moment in Time
You wouldn’t know that the Billie “then” and the Billie “now” are the same person— Billie has lost more than 150 pounds. Last year, she was nominated by her Boston Scientific coworkers and selected by the American Heart Association as the recipient of the “2010 Lifestyle Change Award.” Billie is quick to thank her coworkers for nominating her, encouraging her, and believing in her throughout her weight loss journey. “I feel honored to work with such wonderful people,” she says. And when the American Heart Association announced her name in front of her friends and family as the winner of the Lifestyle Change Award, she says she was flooded with emotions—surprise, pride, excitement, gratitude, and happiness. “You know how you wait for that one special moment in your life that you’ll never forget?” she asks. “For me, that was the day.”
Not Just ‘Another Statistic’
Billie reached an all-time low in 2005 when she was hit with a triple-whammy: She and her husband divorced, and her mom and stepdad were both hospitalized with life-threatening conditions—both relating to cardiovascular issues. That spring, her mom—a small woman with sky-high cholesterol—had a heart bypass, and that summer, her stepdad passed away. She coped with the stress by eating. “By February, I had ballooned up to 340 pounds,” she says.
Seeing her parents suffer made her think about her own mortality. And she didn’t like what she saw. “I have worked for Boston Scientific for 31 years, and I have always taken my work seriously, but I didn’t grasp the concept of how important it really is to be ‘heart healthy’ until then,” she says. “I remember thinking to myself, ‘At this rate, I’m going to be dead before I’m even 55.’ And I didn’t want to be just another statistic. I wanted to live!”
She was inspired by a coworker who had lost a lot of weight on her own—without gastric bypass or fad diets—and seeing the transformation made her realize that she, too, could take control of her own heart health.
She started her weight loss journey by walking her dogs one block at a time, huffing and puffing the whole way but determined not to give up. She gave herself pep talks in order to stay motivated, thinking about how proud her mom, her son Christopher, and her friends and coworkers would be if she shed the excess weight.
Now she walks 8 miles a day, does strength training, goes horseback riding at Bunker Hills, and wants to sign up for dance lessons.
“These are all things I would have never done if I hadn’t lost the weight,” she says. “I would still be a couch potato, and I probably would have developed diabetes and heart disease.”
She also slowly but surely chipped away at her biggest vices: breads, sugars, and fast food. “It wasn’t easy,” she admits. “After struggling with my weight my whole life, I had to fight food battles on a regular basis.”
She traded in her Big Macs and donuts for whole grains, salads, steamed vegetables, organic fruit, and chicken or small cuts of meat. It wasn’t a diet, she says, but a lifestyle change. “I never ever say I’m on a diet,” she says. “For some reason, that can sabotage all the work and effort I’ve put into this change. I am not on a diet, it’s all about being a healthier person.”
She realized that she was an emotional eater and if she wanted to keep her weight in check, she couldn’t let her emotions get the best of her. Once she started dropping the weight, she couldn’t believe how much her life changed.
“I thought I was happy and I could get around, but once I actually started losing weight and eating less I realized how different life could be, how good I could feel, how freeing it was not to be carrying around the excess weight.” Something as simple as crossing her legs at her desk became a major milestone. “I felt like a queen that day,” she says. “I was so excited about that.”
When she lost 50 pounds, she treated herself to a pedicure. When she lost 100, she bought a new Coach purse. When she lost 150, she invested in a full body massage. The best reward, though, is feeling more confident and involved in life.
“I’m not afraid to get out there and LIVE,” she comments. “I feel like I got my life back.”
Billie’s Weight Loss Tips:
• Don’t say you’re on a diet. Think of it as a permanent lifestyle change.
• Find an activity you enjoy so that it doesn’t feel like work.
• For every weight loss goal you reach, reward yourself.
• Surround yourself with people who feed your energy.
• Change your attitude and take control of your life. Believe that you deserve to be healthy and happy.
Nominate yourself or a friend for the 2011 Lifestyle Change Award, presented locally by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, at www.twincitiesheartwalk.org.