Jen Arruda sat beside her newborn son watching him struggle to breathe. She visited him in the neonatal intensive care unit every day, all day. Born six weeks premature, Zakary had taken only a handful of normal breaths before his underdeveloped lungs had collapsed. He had stopped breathing once earlier that day, twice the night before. Arruda obsessed over one thought--I did this to him.
"I weighed 260 pounds when I was pregnant with Zak," she explains. "I was sick, miserable and depressed. Once I hit about six months, every time I so much as got up and walked, I'd go into labor."
Arruda blamed her weight. The 34-year-old had suffered from thyroid issues since childhood, taking medication since the age of nine. This made gaining weight a cinch, but shedding pounds a challenge. With each of her previous two pregnancies, pounds had piled on that never came off. By the time she carried Zakary, she was heavier than she'd ever been, and only got heavier as her pregnancy progressed.
Ready to Change
"I realized how valuable and precious life is when I was sitting there with Zak--how I could have lost him," she says. "I'd been such a sad, sad person the last 11 years, and I shouldn't have been with three beautiful children. I realized I was wasting time--not being a happy mom, not being able to play with my children. I was just so ready to change."
Arruda vowed that if Zakary came home healthy, she'd change her life. She consulted her doctor and an endocrinologist who advised her that because her metabolism was so sluggish, she would need to double what other people do to lose weight.
Arruda was undaunted. Once Zak was home, she joined a women-only gym where she walked on a treadmill for two hours every morning and one hour at night. She read books on how to eat healthy and based her diet on lean protein, veggies and whole grains. As she started losing weight, a friend advised her to run.
"I thought there was no way I'd ever be able to run," says Arruda, but she wanted to at least try. Her first run lasted 10 seconds. She built up to a minute, running for one, walking for five, repeating this for her entire workout. Arruda remembers being so sore that she went to the doctor, concerned with the swelling in her shins. But the pounds kept coming off, and her muscles got stronger. The pain began to fade.
Two months later, Arruda jogged her first 5k. The next year, she completed a half marathon, two years after that, she ran Boston. After a 130-pound weight loss, Arruda pursued her personal training certification, landing a job at the gym where she started. Today, four years later, she runs six days a week, eight to 10 miles per day, and hits the gym three times a week for strength training.
Arruda recognizes her results are extraordinary. "I was crazy," she admits, referring to the earlier fervor with which she approached her weight loss goals. "But I had a lot of guilt, and I was desperate to change."
The key to Arruda's success was her acceptance that eating healthy and exercising were a lifelong commitment, not a short-term fix, according to Rebecca Scritchfield, a sports dietician in Washington D.C., and member of the Sports Nutrition faculty at both American University and George Washington University. Arruda also puts herself first, which is unusual for women, particularly mothers.