Cindy Durbin has lost 280 pounds, changing her life and health for the better

Monday, February 6, 2012
Cindy Durbin warms up on a step as her personal trainer, Robert Harper watches. (Fred Lynch)

Cindy Durbin says her weight has been an issue since childhood. She grew up on a farm where each meal included meat, potatoes and bread, and she was expected to clean her plate every time. Durbin ate every bite, then hid more food in her bedroom because she got hungry later -- and she didn't want her parents to know how much she was really eating.

Durbin says she was always very active -- the farm chores kept her moving -- but by junior high, she weighed in at 250 pounds. She was quiet and withdrawn, with low self-esteem.

As an adult, Durbin walked regularly to stay active, and she tried many weight loss programs, including Weight Watchers, Nutrisystem and Jenny Craig. Still, nothing worked for her, and her weight continued to climb. When she reached 480 pounds, Durbin cried as she stood on the scale, knowing she had to lose the weight, but unsure where to start.

It was when her cardiologist walked into the exam room, slammed the door behind him and said, "You need to do something," that things began to change for the better. The doctor told Durbin that if she didn't lose weight, she would not live to see another year.

The day after Easter that year, Durbin had gastric bypass surgery.

"I was a critical patient. I knew there was a possibility that I would not come off that table. I had written my last will and testament to my family," says Durbin. She worked in health care and knew the risks of such a serious surgery. She knew several patients who did not make it, even young people -- and she was 48 years old and 480 pounds when she went under the knife.

Fortunately for Durbin, she survived the surgery without incident. She lost more than 100 pounds in the first 11 weeks, then another 67 pounds. But when she hit 313 pounds, her weight wouldn't budge.

"I thought, what am I doing wrong that I'm not losing weight?" recalls Durbin, now 56. "I realized I had to look at what I was eating."

Says Durbin, gastric bypass makes the stomach the size of an egg -- but if you don't pay attention to your diet, you'll eat more, stretch the stomach out and regain the weight you've lost. The problem was the same with the other weight loss programs she'd tried: Each one provided guidelines, but it was too easy to cheat and bypass the system. And Durbin loved sugar.

After Durbin moved from Pennsylvania to Cape Girardeau, she found a flyer for the Healthy Weigh program at Saint Francis Medical Center. With her new realization that there was more to weight loss than surgery, she attended the program orientation. Forty weeks later, Durbin has lost 113 pounds and weighs in at only 200 -- less than half her original size. She has 25 pounds to lose before reaching her goal weight of 175. And if her doctor says it's OK, she wants to lose an additional 15, taking her down to 160.

What made this time different from the others is the structure, says Durbin. The Healthy Weigh staff holds every patient accountable for attending weekly meetings and weigh-ins and calling the dietitian midweek to check in. Patients eat prepackaged meals, shakes and soup mixes in order to control their food intake, then gradually reintroduce store-bought foods -- but with a new structure for eating them.

Since Durbin's family is still in Pennsylvania, she relied on the Healthy Weigh team for moral support. Just as important, says Durbin: They taught her a lifestyle to carry on the rest of life.

"I know now that if I eat a piece of pizza, I'll have to do more physical activity. But I also know that I can eat one slice of pizza, versus the whole pie or a pie and a half, like I did before," she says.

The Healthy Weigh is available to patients as long as they need it, and Durbin plans to stick with it after reaching her goal weight so that she can maintain her weight loss.

Though Durbin hasn't reached her goal weight, she already feels healthier, inside and out. Her cholesterol is in excellent shape, she's off all her medications and her self-esteem is "very, very high," she says. Living away from her family and reaching such a big goal have taught her to be a stronger person, she adds.

"I saw myself looking like a normal person, and my body taking on a shape like I'd never had before. I saw my clothes start to fit better and I could go to a normal store and buy clothes, when before I couldn't," says Durbin. She's at the gym by 7 a.m. on Saturdays and 10 a.m. on Sundays; does dance workouts at home; and even does Zumba, a high-impact group fitness class.

"As long as you move your body, it doesn't matter. You just have to keep moving," she says. "I have more bounce in my step. I can walk the halls quicker. I can do an hour on the elliptical or an hour on the treadmill with no problem."

Durbin now lives with confidence that she will live a longer, healthier life, not succumbing to heart disease like her parents did at 38 and 71.

"It needs to come from within yourself. You are the only one who can make the decision to lose weight," says Durbin. "Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom before you see that you need to do something for yourself, and only you can do it. No one else can do it for you."

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