Joni's journey

My road from overweight and depressed to healthy and happy

click to enlarge Joni in the gym, January 2019. “The same person, but no longer covered up by 76 lbs. of fat.”
Joni in the gym, January 2019. “The same person, but no longer covered up by 76 lbs. of fat.”

As 2018 approached, my thoughts revolved around what turning 60 years old would look like in a few months. Every significant birthday, beginning at age 50, then 55 and on, I had vowed to make a change to improve myself in the year ahead. The years passed quickly. The pounds of weight added on easily, until I reached a breaking point and said, "No more!" Past resolutions had not been successful. I knew this year had to be different, because my health was suffering.

A series of events fell into place, initiating a journey I never dreamed would be a life-changer for me. I understand now the role I have in helping and inspiring others. So I am happy to share my story.

My name is Joni Colle. I am currently 62 years old. I have spent 38-plus years caring for patients with chronic lung disease as a Registered Nurse and Registered Respiratory Therapist. Common to this patient population is the phrase, "When you can't breathe, nothing else matters"™. One of my first red flags was shortness of breath. I could no longer keep up the pace with my co-workers walking down the hallways, and certainly not climbing the stairs at work. I couldn't walk and talk. Yet I coached patients to walk 30 minutes on a treadmill, when I wasn't exercising on a daily basis. I felt like a hypocrite and was not a good role model.

I attended a medical conference in March 2018 to achieve some continuing education credits needed for my professional licenses. I chose to attend a session presented by a cardiologist about his own weight-loss journey. As I listened to the signs and symptoms he faced, I thought to myself, this is exactly ME. Overweight, high cholesterol, fatigued, addicted to sugar, insulin-resistant and depressed. I was headed to becoming another cardiac statistic.

Joni Colle, August 2017. A respiratory therapist who suffered from shortness of breath.
Joni Colle, August 2017. A respiratory therapist who suffered from shortness of breath.

My dad had suffered from coronary artery disease and peripheral vascular disease, so I knew genetics were not on my side. Another opportunity led me to Dr. Craig Backs of Springfield, at the CureCenter Chronic Disease, where the InBody, a complete body bioelectrical impedance analysis, provided me with meaningful numbers beyond weight and BMI. My visceral fat reading was over 20, off the chart, which meant the fat surrounding my vital organs was at a critical point. At 4 feet 10 inches, I had ballooned to over 200 lbs. I was devastated and had hit rock bottom. Dr. Backs recommended CrossFit Instinct under the supervision of Coach Mike Suhadolnik for a lifestyle change.

For 90 consecutive days I worked out one-on-one in one-hour sessions with Coach Mike, who trained me to exercise safely, perform movements correctly and increase my strength and endurance. But I learned quickly you can never outwork a bad diet. So then I adhered to not eating processed foods, no refined sugar, no dairy, no grains, some starch, and limited fruits. I committed to meals only, no snacks, while drinking at least 128 ounces of water daily. A balanced ratio of macronutrients – 30% protein, 30% fat and 40% carbohydrates – was prescribed.

Intermittent fasting and time-restricted eating was liberating. I ate almost every vegetable grown on a bush, off a tree or out of the ground. Fruits replaced my processed sugar foods. Initially my protein came from fish, eggs and chicken, with minimal red meat. I am currently striving to follow a plant-based diet. Not being a picky eater contributed to my lifelong overeating predicament, but I flipped this quality to my advantage by truly appreciating the flavors in a variety of vegetables.

Once my sugar addiction was under control, my brain fog was eliminated. Exercise and proper nutrition aided my mental clarity. My workouts continued with CrossFit Longevity, classes for those 55 and older. My visceral fat level decreased to a normal range, meaning I was no longer insulin resistant. By July 2018 I had lost 40 lbs., then at the six-month mark, people around me had started to notice and remarked, "You are a new person!" I thought to myself, "No, I am the same person, but no longer covered up by 76 lbs. of fat."

My success was based on finding my "why" in motivation to be healthy, making a commitment and consistently following the plan. I continue to learn how to deal with fear, get out of my comfort zone and face adversity with confidence. This past year of COVID, sheltering in place, social distancing and wearing a mask, has provided the opportunity of utilizing newly learned behaviors. It has not been easy, but hard work always pays off.

I hope sharing a small glimpse of my journey will be helpful to those who need to take the first step. Mentors, coaches or other role models are beneficial for guidance, but there comes a time when you need to love yourself, take personal responsibility and learn how to live out your life, becoming who you were meant to be. After losing 80 lbs., it was great to receive so many compliments, and buy a smaller size in new clothing.  But the greater reward is being able to do what I want to do, when I want to do it. That is my definition of health, and that is my focus now.

Joni Colle finds her connection to community through the friendships she has made at CrossFit Instinct Longevity. Warmer weather and sunshine are enticing her to go walking barefoot in Washington Park to decrease inflammation and soak up some Vitamin D. She is sold on the benefits of barefoot walking (Earthing) for the human body.

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