The Weight is Over – Week 31: Beyond the Birthday Goal to Phase 2

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It was late November when I decided to do something drastic about getting fit and healthy. Someone’s post of a supremely unflattering Facebook photo brought me to my senses and forced me to take action.

Doni hates this photo with all her heart, but it inspired her to get fit and healthy.

Although Doni hates this photo with all her heart, it inspired her to get fit and healthy.

Not only did I hate the way I looked, but I hated the way I felt (lethargic, depressed, ashamed, self-conscious).

Plus, I was staring down the birthday barrel of turning 60 in July. I didn’t want to be fat and 60. I did want to be a fit, healthy, sexy 60. I had no clue how to get there. Even so, for me, it was now or never.

Those of you who’ve followed my last 31 weeks could recite the rest of the story by now. I was inspired by a friend on Facebook, who was working out with this guy named Matthew Lister. So I joined Align Private Training and started working out with Matthew Lister, too.

Matthew Lister of Align Private Training.

Matthew Lister of Align Private Training.

He put me on a bite-for-bite eating plan, and introduced me to a foreign world of serious work-outs, Monday through Thursday. It was the most difficult physical thing I’ve ever done – other than labor, except labor didn’t last 31 weeks.

There were times, especially in the beginning, when I doubted whether I could keep going, let alone reach my goal.

doni working out with the ball

There were grueling workouts where I truly felt as I were going to throw up, pass out or both. The joke at Align is that whoever throws up during a workout gets a free T-shirt. But so far nobody’s earned that “special” T-shirt, because Matthew has a gift for knowing his clients’ limitations, and although he may push us to the edge, he never pushes us to the breaking point.

doni lunge with window may 31 2016

Along the way, I had a couple of huge breakthrough successes, such as going from pre-diabetic to not pre-diabetic … all because I was eating right and losing weight. When I started at Align I looked like this:

OMG. Doni hates this photo more than Brussels sprouts.

OMG. Doni hates this “before” photo more than Brussels sprouts.

The key to my success was having Matthew as my trainer. Matthew believed in me more than I believed in myself. Much of my life I’ve put myself in dead last place, and Matthew insisted that I put myself and my health at the top of the priority list. Go ahead and scroll up to that “before” photo. Now look at this photo taken two months ago. The difference still amazes me.

Two months ago, and Doni's lost more weight and inches since then.

This photo was taken in May, and Doni’s lost more weight and inches since then.

My July 11 birthday goal date loomed large, and I felt nervous, because I really hadn’t thought or planned much beyond the abyss of that birthdate. I worried and wondered whether I’d just keep on the same low-carb, low-calorie food plan forever, eventually plateau, and then what?

Now what.

A week before my birthday Matthew and I had a talk. He drew a little sketch that showed how most people assume  hope dieting will work: a steep downhill straight line to victory and permanent weight loss. Never fat, never again.

Of course, that’s stinkin’ thinkin’, because dieting never works that way. If it did, overweight people would diet once, and that would be the end of that.

Then he sketched how most dieting actually goes: lose some weight, flat-line plateau; lose a little weight, flat-line plateau; lose a tiny bit of weight, flat-line plateau. Eventually, the weight loss diminishes as the plateaus increase. People get discouraged and slowly start slipping back to their old habits. But by then, they’ve so restricted their calorie intake that they  gain back all their weight – and then some – the moment they eat a grilled cheese sandwich with a side of sweet potato fries.

Matthew said we’re going to avoid all that.  During Phase 1 I’d reached my July birthday goal of losing weight and getting more fit and healthy. And although I’ve lost 30 pounds and many inches, I’m still not finished. But the thing is, no matter how much weight I lose, or how many more inches I lose, I’ll never be “finished”.

This is a lifelong commitment, and I’m excited about it. doni with red earrings cropped

He said in Phase 2 we’ll kick up my metabolism, build muscle, and, believe it or not, gradually increase my carbs and calories, while still losing weight. I’m not sure exactly how we’re going to do that. But I trust him. I’ll interview him for an upcoming column so he can explain in more detail.

The day of our pre-birthday talk, Matthew proclaimed that I was on my way, that there was no going back to my old ways and old body. I had a good cry over that; only the second time I’ve cried at Align in all these months. The first time was during my intake interview with Matthew, when I cried tears of shame, sadness and hopelessness.

This second set of tears were tears of unbridled joy, pride, elation, and a little shock, because nobody is more surprised than I am at how much I’ve changed in the last 31 weeks.

I’m changed forever. I can’t wait to see what the next 31 weeks will bring.

Doni Chamberlain
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. Chamberlain is an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, California.
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34 Responses

  1. Avatar EasternCounty says:

    A joyous, uplifting column, Doni.  A birthday present for all of us.

  2. Randall R. Smith Randall R. Smith says:

    The shell which contains us reflects to the world much of what we are, but not everything.  Otherwise, the Egyptian and Inca method of keeping things would be more popular.  As new and liberated as you have become and will stay, never forget there is something very compelling about you which was always present and continues into the long future.

  3. A. Jacoby A. Jacoby says:

    Okay, you officially get the “brave points” today! Those  beginning and on the way pictures took some chutzpah to post. GOOD ON YOU! Gives us all hope.

    I told Matthew yesterday that he’d better take care of himself and plan to be around for at least another twenty years because I’m going to need him to be my coach for at least another 20 years. If he can get me to 100 and keep me out of a wheel chair, then he can retire!! Long term, indeed. How does “the rest of my life” sound? Oh, yeah . . . then there’s the weight/metabolism thing too.

    • Yeah … I nearly didn’t post those two awful photos. I’d rather ignore them, but on the other hand, I need them as a reminder and a cautionary tale.

      I hear you about needing Matthew to stick around for a long time to help us, but have you noticed the shift at Align where we clients are becoming connected to each other – almost a transference — as each other’s motivators and cheerleaders? I don’t know if  that was by design, but it’s pretty cool, and removes some of the pressure from Matthew.

      YOU are on your way to a wheelchair-less future, my dear Adrienne. I’m so proud of you! And the rest of your life sounds about right. xodoni

  4. What a tremendous gift you have given yourself – health and happiness. Your enthusiasm and your encouragement have been gifts to us.

    I read recently that we should take a cue from video games and instead of aging, we should look at it as “reaching new levels.” You are going to ROCK Level 60! And beyond.  Many thanks for sharing your journey.

  5. Avatar Richard DuPertuis says:

    You  already do rock the 60’s, Doni. Congratulations on a job well done.

  6. Avatar Ginny says:

    You were given an idea, and you ran with it.  What you have gained is remarkable and brought you to a new life.  It isn’t the age, but the idea.  Blessings………..

  7. Avatar Darcie says:

    Thanks for sharing your journey with us.   I so needed to hear these words of wisdom today!

  8. Avatar Matt Grigsby says:

    I am 100% serious when I say that you inspire me to try to do EVERYTHING better.  Your focus and dedication aren’t just applicable to fitness and health, they are also noble goals to strive for in every part of my life.  Work, relationships, art, organization, attitude…all of it.

    Maybe I need to make your name a verb.  “I was going to have mac and cheese for dinner but I Doni’d an amazing meal tonight!” or “I Doni’d the hell out of that project!”

    • Wow. Matthew, if you – accomplished, artistic, suave, witty, creative, handsome – could be inspired by me, then that’s pretty cool. I’m honored.

      And Doni as a verb? You made me laugh out loud at that one, but it’s very funny. (Few people make me laugh like you do, Matt. Thanks for that today. 🙂  xodoni



  9. Avatar Michelle Nicolls says:

    You’re an inspiration!!

  10. Avatar Cindy says:

    Great job Doni! I lost 30lbs also. I didn’t realize I was heavy until I scrolled through my cell phone lol. Learning how to eat better is the hardest part. Now I prepare my meals for the week. Thanks to the free online group Ideal Shape I learned so much. Some great recipes we love come from Jamie Eason with I did it on my own. Sonehow I tried weights in the third phase. has videos on each exercise. They have weekly videos that vary. Fun times learning!

    My phase 1 was cardio for 1 hour 6 days a week with core strengthening. Each phase I plateaued after 10lbs. I attempted a two week challenge with scheduled meals they tell you. So I learned about cleansing with foods, failed, and did what I wanted.

    Phase 2. Began ordering meal shakes, protein shakes, ideal boost for appetite control, and pre-workout with fat loss blend. Added BCAA’s too. Still learning to eat better by practicing meals.

    Phase 3. Learned about Ate my body weight in protein. Prepared meals for lunches. Ate consistently turkey, fish, and chicken. Instead of doing the cardio machines I play racketball now. I know i’m supposed to do weights and then cardio, but I tend to do what I want. It’s a journey to learn a person lifestyle change.

    Hope I can help someone like the internet helped me.


    • Cindy, I’ve been watching stalking your progress on FB, and will be contacting you for a spot in The Weight is Over. In the meantime, good for you! You’re doing great!

  11. Avatar Denise O says:

    You are beautiful at any weight, first let me say. However, the fact that you turned around the lethargy, shame, depression, self-consciousness is downright impressive. Each of those negative states are just plain counterintuitive to our Highest Good.

    Your open and exposed experience is so amazing and a lesson to all of us to share and not be afraid. Grateful for your leadership.


    • You are right that those previous negative states are so destructive to us. Something I hadn’t mentioned yet, because I can’t quite get my head around it, is that I’ve noticed a real shift in my mental state. It’s like a combination of joy and combination on steroids. I was in a very dark place before I faced myself and started this journey, and I truly feel in a lighter place, in every way. I don’t think we were meant to hate and abuse ourselves, and when we do, it impacts the mind, body and spirit.

      And although I’m delighted to serve as a leader, inspiration or cautionary tale, that wasn’t my original intention when I started this in December. Selfishly, I committed to sharing my journey because I knew, in part, it would hold me accountable.

      Thank you for the kind words, Denise.

  12. Avatar Viki Twyman says:

    Great job Doni. you look absolutely fabulous.  It is such a turning point when we realize that we are NOT on a diet, but on a quest to be healthy.

    • YES, you’re absolutely right about that turning point. I’ve been on countless diets, but I’ve NEVER committed to a lifelong vow of health and fitness. I do wish I’d started sooner, but I’m doing it now, and that’s what matters. To quote Diane Hill, it’s NEVER too late.

      (And good job to you! You look fantastic!)

  13. Avatar Barbara Stone says:

    What a change! Were your ears burning this morning? We were talking about you at Align this morning, talking about how your body type gains muscle so easily…lucky you!

    Matthew is awesome, so positive and not afraid of a challenge.  I’ve been going to him for a month now (that means NO ALCOHOL for a month) and I feel really good.

    Private training is definitely the way to go!

  14. I’ve given Matthew total free rein to discuss my progress with others at Align. And yes, he’s told me that I have a body type that gains muscle, and I’m looking forward to really seeing some definition.

    Congrats to you for having a month of Matthew workouts, and abstaining from alcohol. Impressive!

  15. Avatar Bonnie says:

    Good for you Doni! I have struggled all my life with weight and body image, always exercised, but still love some not so healthy foods that seem more important in the moment. With age, is just keeps getting harder. Losing 15 pounds seems near impossible. I am so happy for you. I won’t give up. I really want to not be disappointed when I see my photo on FB or worse, my image in a window as I walk by. I have to double take sometimes I can’t believe it’s me.

    • Bonnie, first, please don’t beat up on yourself. Be kind to yourself.

      Just chip away at it and keep making good, healthy choices. You’ll get there. I have faith in you.

  16. Avatar EasternCounty says:

    Several comments over the course of your journey spoke of being on various diets.  Years ago, my sister and her cohorts at work decided to lose weight by any means they wanted, and all chose some sort of diet.  They were to report their progress after one month.  The universal comment from the participants was, “I can’t wait to get off this diet.”  That is completely counter to good nutrition and exercise for weight loss and good health.  And, of course, all returned to their former eating habits and gained back what they had lost — and more.

  17. Avatar Canda Williams says:

    Doni, you’re absolutely stunning!  You radiate health and happiness, and it makes me so happy to see you like this.  Phase 2 sounds exciting, and I pray you’ll come up to Montana so I can see you in real life.  You’re truly an inspiration.  What a gift to all of us to have your continuing journey documented.  You’re a gorgeous 60 year old, my friend, and I miss you. xoxo

  18. Avatar Anonymouse says:

    Secret crush for twenty years and counting… You have inspired and raised my spirits countless times. Thank You!