Tammy Ducharme got used to being "fat."
The Glenlawn Collegiate graduate once weighed 369 pounds and had battled the scale all her life.
But it took a startling question from a cyber-friend -- a fellow Winnipegger she had only talked with online -- to change everything.
"Do you like being bigger?" he asked Ducharme during an email chat.
"I'm like, 'Yeah... I know how to deal with it. I know how to handle it,'" recalls Ducharme, 30.
"That wasn't the question. Do you like it?" he pressed, emphasizing the word "like."
As she sat on her bed, staring at his email on her laptop screen in the St. Vital home she shares with her parents, the normally quiet Ducharme became agitated.
"'Do I like it?' I sat there and I paused and I waited. I'm like, 'Do I like being bigger?
"'No. I don't. I hate it. I hate myself. I don't like it at all.
"'I'm strong. I'm the strongest person I know and I can change it if I want.' He's like, 'So why don't you?' I'm like, 'I will. I'll prove to you I can do it.'"
Ducharme decided she would take action. In the weeks ahead, she cut her portion sizes, limited her sugar intake, gave up potato chips and went to the gym.
At first, she was getting fit to prove to her web pal that she could.
But it was in July, during a solo drive to Minnesota, that Ducharme's mind swirled with thoughts of who she was and why she had tolerated the excess body weight that had made her insecure and unhappy. She decided she would get healthy for no one else but herself.
Fast-forward to today -- seven months after that life-altering email exchange -- and Ducharme is 100 pounds lighter. At 5-foot-9 and approximately 244 pounds, she's excited about the weight loss still to come.
She says everything about her is changing.
"Nobody would know I had bad self-confidence... Nobody ever knew, because I portrayed independence and strength, but deep down I was very self-conscious. I wouldn't look at mirrors. I hated mirrors," says Ducharme, during an interview in a café at the Fort Garry Hotel.
She admits her hatred of mirrors stemmed in part from the fact she was teased in school, particularly by one boy who would make mooing sounds at her.
Our table happens to be surrounded with mirrors, but Ducharme says she doesn't mind. She actually likes it.
"I love it because I don't know who's on the other side yet. I don't know who I am, because I'm used to old me and I don't know where I'm going to go," says the soft-spoken, kind young woman who has ash-brown hair and wears little if any makeup the day she speaks with the Free Press.
How did she get to where she is today?
Ducharme, who works as an account co-ordinator at a plumbing and heating company, lost the first 50 pounds or so on her own, with the help of a girlfriend from work. The pair still exercises together and even cooks healthy meals during their lunch hour. "We stock the fridge. We take turns buying stuff and we've got stuff in the cupboards. We've got skillets and rice cookers," says Ducharme.
Her newfound food staples of Greek yogurt, salads and grilled chicken are vastly different from the potatoes, perogies and Cheez Whiz she ate growing up.
"My whole family is big into snacking before bed," she says, noting that her parents always told her and her siblings to never go to bed hungry and to finish everything on her plate.
"Then you keep going. As an adult, you keep snacking and you keep doing that."
After she lost the first half of her weight, she knew she needed help. She enlisted a couple of trainers to help her. One was too extreme, giving her a bodybuilder's routine and diet that she would follow until she would just about "collapse."
Another trainer never got in touch with her again after their initial consultation.
Desperate for guidance, she Googled personal trainers in her area last July and sent nine or 10 of them emails. Jordan Cieciwa was the first to get back to her and agreed to train her on her budget, provided she didn't mind doing group circuit sessions three mornings a week.
"I got a good vibe from him, just from his tone in the email. A lot of people are in it for the money but I could tell that he was in it to help," says Ducharme.
Within a few days, she was attending her new trainer's 6 a.m. circuit classes at Anytime Fitness in Lindenwoods.
She discovered she was surprisingly strong, especially in the legs, where she carried a lot of her weight.
Today, Ducharme loves strength training.
Cieciwa has her doing varied circuit workouts--short, quick bursts of explosive activity-- that change daily. One of the toughest involves the Jacob's Ladder, a cardio climbing machine on which users enlist their arms and legs to climb the moving ladder.
Cieciwa, who has trained professional athletes, including kickboxers, is impressed with Ducharme's determination.
Ducharme says she's learned to ignore the junk food her parents keep around the house, and Cieciwa recently pushed her to run a mile for the first time.
She didn't think she could do it, but ended up completing the feat in under 13 minutes.
"I called her athletic and she looked a me like I was crazy," says Cieciwa. "But that's what she was."
Ducharme says she sometimes has her "down" days. But she's certain she will never return to her previous weight. She has lots of reasons to keep her motivated, she explains.
For one, she doesn't want to mimic her father, whom she loves dearly. (He has Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and depends on medications to keep him going.)
She wants to be able to run around with her young cousins when they ask her to play.
And she wants her body and physical-energy level to reflect the type of person she is on the inside.
"'You were fat. You weren't happy,'" says Ducharme, explaining a conversion she often has with herself. "I was that person. And I'm done. I want to be the new me and I don't want to go back. I'm never going back to that."
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and getting fit
Tammy Ducharme has lost 100 pounds and counting. Here are a few of her health tips:
-- Decide to get healthy for you, not for anyone else.
-- Keep an activity, food and weight-loss log.
-- Find a workout and nutrition partner.
-- Use your workplace to get healthy. (Ducharme and a work friend cook healthy lunches at work. They also browse Groupon to find fun, discounted exercise classes that they attend together).
-- Don't worry so much about calories. Just eat smaller portions of healthier food.
-- Reduce fast-acting carbohydrates from your diet.
-- Enlist the help of a qualified personal trainer that you trust. (Be up-front about your budget constraints and work schedule).
-- Spend three days doing weekly circuit training. (This takes up less time than conventional workouts, can yield greater results than conventional workouts and combines cardio and strength training).
-- If you feel you've cheated on your regimen, remind yourself that eating a little too much or skipping one workout is not the end of the world. Just get back on track the next day.