The first time anyone asked me about taking part in the Daily Herald's Fittest Loser was last fall, and it was great timing.
I had just been to a memorial service for a woman who'd died after a long illness. She wasn't all that much older than me, which obviously got me thinking about my own health and mortality.
Melynda Findlay, 44, Arlington HeightsHeight: 5 feet, 5 inches
Starting weight: 249
Body fat: 49 percent
Body age: 57
So, yes! Of course I want to work out with a trainer for 12 weeks, learn to eat better and write about it. I just knew I'd be a great example. Sure, I was a little overweight, but I was pretty healthy. I'd quit smoking more than a year earlier! I was really active! I ate healthfully!
OK. That's not all entirely true.
I am nearly 100 pounds overweight. I have a desk job, and my idea of "active" has always been going for a stroll to the printer at work or around the block at home every so often. My diet consists of a lot of things with "cheese" or something cheese-like in the name: Grilled cheese sandwiches, cheese pizza, cheese and crackers, Cheetos ... you get the idea. Fruits and veggies? I buy them, and I eat them most of the time.
Despite my terrible diet and general lack of exercise, my blood glucose and cholesterol levels are (miraculously) pretty good. But there are a lot of hereditary bullets to be dodged in my family, including heart disease, cancer and the biggest big bad of them all among my relatives -- diabetes.
But the reality of what I'd signed on for set in not long after I'd agreed to do it. I wanted to be healthier; I wanted to avoid those familial bullets, have more energy and look better. But accomplishing that means changing a lot of things, such as how I eat, how much I move and even what time I start my day. Wrestling with big change is sometimes, shall we say, not my strong suit. Neither is avoiding grilled cheese sandwiches.
Worst of all, though, my weight would be in print -- not just for Daily Herald readers to see, but also for my bosses and co-workers to see. Mortifying! Would these people I like and respect see me in our paper and think, "How did she let herself get that fat?" They'd be disappointed in me, and disappointing people is the one thing I handle even more badly than huge, overwhelming change. Also, did I mention no grilled cheese sandwiches?
I cried a lot. I was even pretty sure I didn't want to do it. I wanted to quit before I even started.
But then I reminded myself I'd quit smoking, which was a lot of hard work. If I didn't also make some healthy changes and get fit, all that effort would be for nothing. And I won't lie. There's also a part of me that desperately wants to look cute in one of those iconic Diane Von Furstenberg wrap dresses.
It's like when I quit smoking back in the summer of 2011. Of course I did it to be more healthy. But my more immediate motivation -- the one that kept me from breaking down and buying "just one pack"? Saving money and not getting wrinkles.
In this case, I'm sure that some days knowing that I'm lessening my chance of developing diabetes will get me out of bed to go meet my trainer. Other times, thinking of that DVF dress will help me drive past my favorite pizza place without stopping.
I'm not sure what motivates me at any given moment in this journey is that important. What's important is I'm motivated enough to actually do it.
• Melynda Findlay is a member of the night copy desk at the Daily Herald, where she's worked for 14 years. She lives in Arlington Heights and really loves grilled cheese sandwiches.
• Keep up with the contest
Check out our Fittest Loser page at http://www.dailyherald.com/entlife/health/fittest for the latest stories, plus videos of all the contestants and an interactive map tracking the community teams.