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The Catalyst

Year of Mindfulness: Part 2

A Year of Mindfulness

BeforeAfterHappily Ever After

Part II - Buckle Up

Exactly one week from the day Susan and I spoke about a year-long commitment, I was over at the Harper Wellness Center with Janis Newton, director of the center and Katie Blaylock, my trainer, having my body-fat composition tested for the Healthy Charleston Challenge.

When Katie shared the results, I feared I had no bones or muscles at all.

Things were moving. Fast.  The first night of the Challenge arrived before I’d even had my farewell M&Ms or Los Arcos nachos.

First duty: all participants weigh in. As I stood there looking at the 109 pound intern, I prayed that the scale would fall at least one pound shy of the number that would strike fear in the heart of all good women. I wasted a perfectly good prayer. Literally, I weighed more than my father. The man played college football.

I looked for the team I was assigned to and saw that I would be part of the Culinary Institute team.

Culinary. As in eating? Oh, come on!

It reminded me of having been assigned to work the “Hungry Hippo” booth at the school Halloween carnival last year. Not one shift, but two.

Then I decided the name Culinary Institute was actually quite sophisticated, French, even. To know me is to know I am a huge (watch it) Francophile. In fact, from here on out, I shall pronounce it Que-linary Institute.

There are six members on our team, complete strangers who will become some of the most important people in my life over the next 10 weeks, as well four people who were on this team last time who will be serving as our mentors. Equally important.

The guy who won the entire challenge last time, Mark, is one of our mentors. He’s got more than a few interesting tattoos and appeared to be one no-nonsense fellow. As a frequent yes-nonsense person, I have an innate need to make him laugh. As I sized up the four mentors, I decided 1.5 look fairly compassionate and the other 2.5 are going to drive us mercilessly.

The meeting was starting. Since nobody mentioned getting matching T-shirts, I kept my mouth shut.

Earnest faces followed Janis as she took the stage. For having a diminutive stature, her persona is quite the opposite. She controlled the room as if the base commander had just taken the podium.

Janis is no one to be trifled with. The Challenge is her baby and she knows her stuff. You probably aren’t leaving until you know her stuff, too.

Janis made her first announcement: “Over the next 10 weeks, no one will be talking while I’m talking.” I chose to comply.

Right out of the gate she assured us that during the duration, not a lot will be negotiable, and she accepts no excuses. By the way, everything is considered an excuse.  Eeek.

Janis proceeded to describe 10 weeks of physical torture, drill-sergeant trainers, and near famine-like conditions.

Ok, while she never used any of those words, Uncle Arthur translated it that way, and both of us were seriously freaking. “Sweet mercy, we can’t do this. Run for the exit,” he said.

What Janis really shared was that this will be a sacred journey and the end results will redefine our entire lives. I liked the sound of that.

She also said that the program has a 70 percent success rate which is nearly unheard for programs of this type.

 “Oh Honey, you know you’ll be part of the 30 percent,” said Uncle Arthur.

Ok, that’s it… I banish you Uncle Arthur!!

Janis introduced the team of trainers and dieticians. How these dedicated professionals managed 100- watt smiles and Red Bull-like perkiness while facing the proposition of motivating a room filled with people like me who clearly had not stuck to a New Year’s resolution for many New Years was a complete mystery.

Cory Robinson, a Tai-Bo instructor and former Challenge participant who lost 170 pounds at age 22, urged us to figure out our “why.” He said our why would get us through the tough times. He told us to fully engage in the program and embrace what we learned here.  He weighed 350 pounds when he started two years ago. The crowd was seriously in awe of him.

He told us that it’s mandatory to eat breakfast. He said even if it’s a donut, a person has to eat something.

Wait. What? Why had I never heard that before???  I could have been an award-winning breakfast eater!

Speaker after speaker made awesome points. Serial dieters tend to believe they know more than the “skinny” experts telling them what to do. It’s just not true. That fact was never clearer than when Reese Witherspoon took the stage. Reese is actually Judith Herrin, the head dietician for the Challenge and not only is she knowledgeable and kind, she’s hilarious.

She’s going to make quinoa and kale fun, I just know it.

So, I look around my Que-linary Institute team to see if there’s going to be that one person who bugs me enough to make me do even better than I would on my own. That technique usually works pretty well in terms of motivating me. You know that person. The one who has a certain type of energy that just gets further under your skin with every word they say. You know exactly what I mean.

Sadly, my team was absolutely lovely and supportive – not a single jerk among them.


During the meeting, I scanned the other participants trying to pin-point a couple of candidates.  Human nature rarely fails… I will find them and I will defeat them!!  Not really. I’m just hoping to defeat Uncle Arthur and Sister Mary Louise! Sometimes our biggest enemies are the face in the mirror and the voices in our head.

Before we were to spend the remaining portion of the meeting getting to know our teammates, mentors, and trainers, Janis told us to remember to “walk by faith, not by sight.” She promised we would “create new habits to support our goals,” and that we will experience “accountability, camaraderie, and professional support” to help us be successful.

These are pros. I think I can do this.

When I looked at a list with the ages of our team members, I said to Katie, is this the elder-care team? Did Bishop Gadsden sponsor us? Will we be pushing each other around in wheelchairs?

She said, “No, you can all meet at noon.”


As the team chatted and came up with a game plan, it was clear the trainer can make or break the experience. Our trainer, Katie, is the Cameron Diaz of the challenge - girl next door meets Charlie’s Angel, or maybe Chuck Norris.  She’s tough and decisive yet nurturing enough to make sure her team is going to be a TEAM. Jillian Michaels watch out. No, seriously, watch out Jillian. Katie is going places.

I am looking forward to my sacred journey, to supporting my teammates, and not letting them down. They are an awfully nice group of people. Jo is determined and sweet. Rick is smart and pragmatic and on his second Challenge, this time armed (legged?) with knee braces.

We have a married couple, Lisa and Bob, funny and sarcastic like Peg and Al Bundy. And Bubba! Bubba is the quintessential team sweetheart – funny and caring. Like Rick, he’s also on his second challenge. He lost 77 pounds his first go-round, the most actual weight lost in the challenge.

People coming back for more? That says a whole lot.

What I now realize is this is the team that is going to laugh a lot and have a lot of fun together. We work out together Mondays, Tuesday, and Thursdays at lunch and then the entire Challenge group works out together on Sunday. The other days you get to do your own thing.

I really didn’t need anything more on my plate, so I’m so grateful I can manage this process at work, during my lunch hour. Normally I don’t take a lunch hour, but when Janis shared that people who sit at their desk for four or more hours a day have a 67 percent chance of developing a chronic disease, I decided to sit a little less and move a lot more.

While this will not be a day to day account of my transformative affair, I will check in periodically. I look forward to meeting members of the all the teams and sharing with you their stories: their whys, hopes, challenges, dreams, or if I accidentally trip the blond who gets to go back to bed after her workout or threaten Katie with an article about “trainer-abuse.” 

Already I owe a debt of thanks to Cindy, my “in-office mentor”, who successfully completed the challenge herself and who convinces me every day I can do this. She reminded me to set goals.

While, like most of America, I’d like to lose 50 pounds in one month, return to quesadillas and diet root beer, and occasionally walk to keep it off, that will never happen. Realistically, it would be fantastic to lose 20 pounds in ten weeks.

As Cinderella says, “If you keep on believing, the dream that you wish will come true.”

To read Part I of A YEAR OF MINDFULNESS, visit

February 7, 2014

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