Sheri Soldau

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My First Place journey really began 32 years ago when at age 8, it was determined that I was a “chubby” child. Upon that realization, my mother put me on various and sundry food plans. None of these were terribly successful in helping with my weight, but they did firmly establish the idea that some foods are good and some are bad, and helped to create the “fat person” mentality that I still struggle with today. Unfortunately, none of my food plans also included an increased activity level. I was told to be careful about what I ate, but was not expected to exercise on a regular basis. Since I was very uncoordinated and hated to play sports, but loved to read, not being expected to be active was fine with me.

By the time I was in my late teens, my mother and I joined another weight loss plan and I was able to successfully lose the “baby fat.” As a freshman in college, I had to take a PE class entitled “Fit for Life.” In this class we had to determine an exercise regimen and keep a daily exercise journal. In subsequent PE classes, I was able to choose fun types of exercise, such as Jazzercise and Modern Dance. This began my enjoyment of physical activity and movement. As the behavior management part of my eating wore off, I began to control my weight with more and more strenuous exercise programs. In my twenties, I would eat whatever I wanted, as long as I made sure that I had time for vigorous daily workouts of at least one hour. When my eating was really out of control, I would engage in strenuous aerobic exercise for as much as ninety minutes a day!

This particular lifestyle was perfectly suited for a single woman in her twenties, but once I got married and started having children, I no longer had the time (or the energy) to work out for ninety minutes a day. Teaching full time, caring for identical twin sons and keeping up a household left me no time to care for my body—or my own emotional, mental or spiritual well-being. In the absence of self-care, the struggle with my weight quickly resurfaced. Then, when my marriage fell apart and I found myself a single mother with two young sons, I needed to work full time and go back to school to earn an advanced degree and better my income. Forget about eating right or exercising for even nine minutes a day! Forget about anything but sheer survival!

I could have been content with my new, fat self, except for my vanity. After all, I was only 40 pounds overweight, and at 5’9” tall, that didn’t put me in the “obese” category. But I had always hated being the “fat kid” and now I was becoming a “fat adult,” and I hated that too. Rather than admit the truth about my out of control eating, I decided there must be something medically wrong with me. I weighed almost 200 pounds, even though I had begun to exercise daily again–now that my sons were older and I had completed my Master’s Degree studies–and I wasn’t really eating that much! Certainly this steady weight gain was not my fault! My doctor confirmed my suspicions by diagnosing me as having an irritated thyroid that would make losing weight difficult for me. The diagnosis gave me some satisfaction, but no real relief. Medical diagnosis or not, I was gaining weight and feeling worse and worse about myself. And, as is always the case, my eating was not the only out-of-control part of my life. My emotional life was a roller coaster ride and my relationship with Jesus Christ was not what I knew it should be either. I had been praying for a better Bible study and a way to spend more time with the Lord.

Well, in August of 2003, my prayers were answered. My mother decided to start a Bible study/weight loss program entitled “First Place” at our church. I was skeptical at first, but then decided that I really had nothing to lose and decided to join her, more to support my mom than because I thought it would help my situation. Our first meeting was dismal. All the other members of our fledgling First Place group were my mother’s age, with much more weight to lose than I. But instead of becoming discouraged, their situation gave me increased motivation to shed the excess pounds before, like them, I found myself in my 60’s, with 80 plus pounds to lose. I began First Place, with the goal to lose 30 pounds, and I started faithfully following the nine commitments of First Place.  Being a high school mathematics teacher by profession, I loved the logical, sensible approach of the Live It plan and the idea of balance in all areas of my life. By December of 2003, I had lost 30 pounds and went on to lose another 10 by early spring, making a total of 40 pounds. Not only do I have more energy and vitality, I have been able to maintain my weight, in spite of my “irritable” thyroid and my busy life, for over two years.

I can honestly say that the First Place program has totally transformed my life. I have learned better eating habits, ways to exercise without killing myself, and have more balance in my life. I am a much calmer person and have much more inner peace. I did join the program out of vanity, because I wanted to lose weight, but the other benefits have been so much more rewarding. I am truly becoming a new creature in Christ and am no longer ruled by my appetite or unbalanced emotions.