It's hard to believe how much things have changed since I started the Fittest Loser journey three months ago.
Back then, I weighed 249 pounds. Exercising meant walking to the printer at work. Not the one across the newsroom -- the one that is maybe 10 or 12 feet from my desk.
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I couldn't do a single pushup or sit-up, and my top treadmill speed -- on the rare chance I actually got on one -- was somewhere around a 20-minute mile.
I felt pretty good about nutrition on days I managed to not drink a 20-ounce pop or buy Fritos from the vending machine. (Extra points on days I successfully avoided both). And vegetables? What are these … veg-a-tuh-bulls? Oh, right. The mushy things in the back of my refrigerator.
I was a sedentary 44-year-old ex-smoker whose diet was mostly grilled cheese sandwiches and frozen pizza.
Looking back actually makes me cringe a little and wonder what the heck I was thinking. (Except the ex-smoker part. That was a good choice.)
But that's all changed. In the past 12 weeks, I've lost 45 pounds and four clothing sizes. A 20-minute mile -- 3 mph -- is now my warm-up speed on the treadmill. Some of the employees at the Mount Prospect Park District's Central Community Center actually know me by name, because I've become a regular. I can do 20 pushups. (No more spaghetti arms!) I've learned not just to eat those vegetables, but to actually love them. (Seriously, ask me about spinach sometime. I even eat it in my breakfast smoothie.)
My trainer, Push Fitness owner Joshua Steckler, is clearly some sort of a miracle worker, because my transformation is nothing short of miraculous.
I'll admit it: These weren't the results I expected. I doubted whether I'd be able -- or even willing -- to make these huge changes in diet and activity. (I'm old! I'm busy! I'm set in my ways! My knees hurt!)
But here I am. Because Josh believed I could accomplish all of this even when I didn't. Because I had an incredible amount of support from nearly everyone I knew, including family, friends, bosses, co-workers and, of course, my boyfriend, Brian. Because I got to work out next to the awesome contestants, who are six of the hardest working and most inspiring people I've ever met, and because I had the opportunity to learn from all of Push Fitness' incredible trainers.
All I really wanted when this started was to lose some weight and not embarrass my employer.
What I got was an incredible, life-changing gift. I've learned to eat well and exercise in a way that actually is sustainable, which means not only do I look and feel better, but I am also much more likely to dodge the hereditary bullets in my family, like diabetes and heart disease, than I was 12 weeks ago.
Was it hard? Oh, it certainly was. But as I've said so many times during this experience, it also was most definitely worth 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 thinks being 45 pounds lighter is way better than grilled cheese ever was.