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Fit After 50

How they got healthy and stayed that way

Sandy Miller | Jun 30, 2014, 1:59 p.m.

Sue Pepper, a special education teacher who lives in Chandler, figures she’s gained and lost hundreds of pounds over the years. There wasn’t a fad diet she hadn’t tried. She would lose weight, get back into her clothes and then go right back to her old eating habits.

Breakfast was bagels and cream cheese and coffee with cream and sugar. There would be huge lunches with coworkers. Snacks were chocolate bars, chips and sometimes a dozen donuts in one sitting. When she’d get home from her former fabric sales job, she would eat while she was cooking dinner and then sit down and eat dinner.

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Before Sue Pepper started on her fitness journey, she had never realized how unhealthy her eating habits were.

“I always ended up leaving the dinner table full, but there was always room for dessert,” she says.

It didn’t take her long to regain the weight she’d lost. Her closet was filled with clothes in a number of sizes.

Regaining the weight was always a big blow to her self-esteem.

“I was a wreck,” she says. “I felt like a failure and a big disappointment.”

Today, at 54, Pepper is in the best shape of her life. She’s just one of many people who are determined to stay as healthy and physically active as they can be as they age.

Pepper’s wake-up call came just days before her 42nd birthday when she had a heart attack. Married and the mother of three small children, the heart attack came as a surprise. After all, her cholesterol and blood pressure were normal. She had no history of heart disease in her family. The only things she had going against her was an unhealthy diet and the 50 extra pounds she was carrying on her 5-foot 3-inch frame.

Pepper had battled with her weight since she was a teenager and became what she calls an “emotional eater.” From then on, she was on the gain-lose-gain rollercoaster.

The heart attack made her seriously reexamine her eating habits and her sedentary lifestyle. Back then, exercise for her was “chilling out in the park on weekends,” she says.

It was time for a change.

The Weight Loss Journey

Pepper knew from years of experience that a fad diet wasn’t the answer, so she decided to give Weight Watchers a try. She remembers her first meeting well.

“I just got on the scale and cried,” Pepper says. “I was at my highest weight ever.”

Pepper’s journey began by writing down everything she had been putting into her mouth.

“I was shocked with how unhealthy the food was,” she says.

Pepper says she also had “portion distortion.” When she began measuring everything, she realized she was eating much more than she thought she was.

When Pepper lost almost five pounds the first week alone, it inspired her husband, Allan, to join Weight Watchers, too. The food in their refrigerator and pantry is much different today than it was before Weight Watchers. The sugar-laden cereals and high-calorie snacks are gone and have been replaced by lean meats, whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, fat-free yogurt, almond milk, baked snacks, nuts, guacamole, salsa, hummus and plenty of water. There’s even room for ice cream, though it’s the nonfat kind. They even enjoy some chocolate and a glass of wine from time to time.

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