Too Fat for 50: Losing the Weight Before I Lose My Mind

By on August 1, 2014

By J. “Kat” Loren−

Standing before my bathroom mirror the image staring back at me reveals the truth that I’m fat, I’m over 50, and I’m afraid that after a recent knee surgery, that I’m now too fragile to lose the 30 pounds that have snuck up gradually in recent years. My denial lies in ruins. I decide to shatter it completely and submit to several blood panels to gauge the quality of my health.

My body mass index places me right at the edge of the line between overweight and obese. My cholesterol is off the charts. My blood pressure is higher than its ever been. I look for any hormonal and nutritional markers that may undermine my ability to lose weight and may need special supplements. I’m really, pretty healthy but there are indications of impending issues. There is no medical or metabolic reason why I shouldn’t be successful at losing weight.

I have no excuse not to develop an obsession with getting healthy, losing the weight and ensuring a greater quality of life in the golden years to come. If I lose weight, I will get healthier and perhaps prevent future aging concerns of cancer and dementia. I decide to go for it – while there is still time to prevent the diseases and discomforts of aging.

After age 50, we all see the impact of normal aging reflected in our face and within our bodies. The stress of life, chronic work-related travel and poor dietary choices lead to metabolic issues such as high cholesterol and diabetes. Many of us need to change the rhythm of life to halt unhealthy aging and nurture the only home we really own – our bodies.

But where does one start?

Finding a Weight Loss Program

For every five-pound weight loss, I feel like I’ll take 50 pounds of stress off my knees and hips, damaged in a skiing accident last year. For every 10 pounds weight loss, I’ll drop unhealthy metabolic markers and regain my health, forestall the aging process, prevent arthritis and cancer from sneaking in, and develop the energy to increase movement and keep a health cycle going. Clearly, losing weight is my first propriety on the way to developing a healthy obsession – an obsession with sustaining health.

Weight loss is my initial intent. Lifestyle change is my ultimate goal. I’m giving myself six months to implement a total life makeover starting this summer.

There are many ways to lose weight but few proven to be sustainable. I don’t want a sterile, medical program. Nor am I ready for the intensity of a colonic-raw-food-experience that reportedly gives excellent results but need to be intentionally built upon in the long run. A boot-camp-experience like The Biggest Loser is too physically intense (and emotionally abusive) for my age and stage of knee injury recovery. After age 50, we need to nurture our bodies into health – not batter them into submission.

I want an inspirational process that I can sustain after I return home. Nurturing implies sustaining an intentional lifestyle and finding the motivation within oneself. Finding a program that is more nurturing than self-flagellating and is affordable enough to justify the financial investment took a little searching on the Internet but I found one!

Welcome to the Wellspring Program

beach_buttonThe Wellspring Weight Loss and Fitness Program website features smiling teens hiking off the weight on the cliffs of Torrey Pines with other obese friends and heavy women in bathing suits laughing and smiling on the beach. Clearly, taking off the weight is more fun if there is a social aspect and you are romping in San Diego during the summer.

Wellspring offers a one-week to four-week summer program located in La Jolla, California on the UCSD campus with the best collegiate equipment available in the gyms and pools. As a lifelong swimmer, I am excited to be so close to both pool and ocean. I’m in! A two-week immersion program to jump-start my weight loss seems like the best place to start my lifestyle transformation.

The cost is comparable to spending time at a high-end resort for two weeks. Your food is included. Your personal trainer is helping you with structured workouts and group workouts are planned throughout the day. A cognitive behavioral therapist is assigned to you and your group and helps you find ways to motivate yourself and understand individual challenges and things that may undermine commitment to weight loss. Seems perfect for anyone with 30 to 130 pounds to lose.

Wellspring Weight Loss Camps for teens have been so successful over the years that a family camp was added to encourage kids and parents into a way of life that includes low fat eating and increasing exercise. A women’s program was later added.

According to Judith Wood, Executive Director of the Wellspring Camps told me one such success story. “During my first year as a director I had a father walk straight past his son who had lost well over 20 pounds over the course of the summer. When the boy first arrived at camp, he wouldn’t make eye contact with anyone, embarrassed about his acne and weight, and a bit shy. Mom came in the middle of summer during family time and saw some changes in her son. Then dad came at the end and walked in looking for the kid with his head down, slumped shoulders, sitting at a table somewhere. This erect, bright-eyed, clear skinned kid walks up to him and says Hi! And dad literally walked straight past him because he didn’t recognize him.”

Weight loss leads to many changes both emotional and physical. Yet some changes need to happen prior to engaging in a weight loss program and afterwards – to sustain a healthy life.

I have a little conversation with Robert Weinhold, Chief Operating Officer of RiverMend Health LLC, the company that acquired the Wellspring Camps in February 2014, about the changes Wellspring Programs hope to instill in participants.

“We tell people coming to Wellspring has had the fundamental philosophy that weight loss is very simple – reduce your fat intake, take 10000 steps a day and monitor what goes in your body. The program has done well in giving basic tenants that participants can sustain at home.”

If it’s that simple, why can’t I lose weight at home?

According to Weinhold, “When people say, I can’t do this , your brain believes that. But here is what we want you to do – disengage the brain and engage the body first. From a metabolic point, your brain is challenged to process some things until you get into the movement. Rationalization and denial about what will work and won’t work causes many people to make things more complicated.  A contraindication to health is making things more complicated early in the process.”

Clearly, I tend to make things more complicated at home, make plans that I don’t follow through on, allow personal fears, work and family demands to sabotage my best dieting intentions. Lots of things intrude and undermine my resolve to get fit and lose weight.

“Many of those extra thoughts can come in and pollute and self-sabotage. Your body and brain have huge resistance to changing that at home. Take out the intrusion of routine daily living and step into a full immersion program for your thoughts and motivation become crystalized. Just moving along and making healthier, educated food choices makes the behaviors ingrained while being immersed in the program. Other things can be added back in after you go home, but not until you have the basics ingrained,” Weinhold states.

“The immersion program works because you don’t go home at night and return into many of the thoughts and behaviors that undermine weight loss. The program offers a focused and intensive way to engage with people who are on the same journey and form a bond, a commitment to encourage one another.

“You don’t have a staff member saying you have to make another lap around the track. It is just what everyone else is doing. It seems simple but most importantly it is a non-shaming way of encouraging people to move more.

“When you are doing the behaviors of eating less and moving more consistently enough during your time in the Wellspring Camp, it will change your thinking and behaviors later down the road. Our focus on cognitive-behavioral therapy promotes making the behavioral changes that lead to weight loss and fitness and new ways of thinking. You become self-motivated and direct your level of involvement while in the Camp program, and you can take that with you.”

I’m sold on the program. I make the arrangements to attend the opening two weeks of their summer Women’s Program and fly off to begin implementing my new health and life makeover.

women exercisingStep into the Rhythm of a Skinny Life

The Wellspring Women’s Weight Loss and Fitness program a simple program. Walk 10,000 steps per day. Eat about 1200 calories and no more than 20 grams of fat. Ease into the morning with a 6 am beach walk with a little water aerobics later on, add a weight training class or session with a personal trainer, and later in the day some zumba and step aerobics will keep the calorie burn going. Participants meet with a behavior coach to help identify self-sabotage and create awareness of how thoughts impact eating behaviors. Wellspring participants walk to meals. Walk to nutrition and culinary classes. Walk, walk, walk.

Walking forms the core of the Wellspring “secret” to successful weight loss. It’s something even the morbidly obese can do and has the immediate effect of strengthening, toning and causing the body to start burning fat. Who knew that 10,000 steps per day us the equivalent of 4.5 miles? Add that to walking up and down UCSD’s slightly hilly campus and you soon realize how little you walk in your everyday life.

The beauty of a simple program is that it wakes you up from the slumber of denial and shakes you out of your resistance to change. The longer you stay, the less you eat, the more you move, the less you weigh.

According to Judith Woods, “Some people put up barriers for themselves because they haven’t seen success in the past. People don’t come to us as their first option. The majority has tried other programs. They’ve tried Weight Watchers, personal trainers in a gym, and many diets. It’s not worked for them for some reason and so that is why they are coming to an immersion program like ours.

“We have guaranteed results. You would have to work hard her to not lose some weight because of the structure of the program. You could do the bare minimum and see results.”

Two Weeks in the Wellspring Women’s Program 

We’re staying in the apartments on campus at UC San Diego, a cohort of five women from various walks of life, diverse in many ways, bonded by our common goals of weight loss and fitness. This is definitely not a spa. We are not here to be catered to. We are here to step out of our comfort zones and not cater to the thoughts and behaviors that contribute to obesity.

We wake up early and shuffle sleepily down to the van that drives us to La Jolla Shores for an early morning beach walk – a beautiful way to start the day. I use the time to walk alone, breathe deeply, and meditate on God’s beauty – the beauty that will be revealed more as I shed the weight. I set my mind to embrace the challenges of the day while watching the young surfers in the waves, the older couples walking the shoreline.

Then it’s back to campus for breakfast comprised of egg white scrambled, or oatmeal, a full salad, fruit and yoghurt bar. No limitations on what you can eat here. All you need to do is “SMJ” what you eat. (SMJ means “self-monitoring journal”.)

The women get to know one another and form a bond over meals. We complain about the food like kids away at camp. We get homesick for family members – like kids at camp. We laugh and mope and support one another as we let it all hang out (literally) in ways that we don’t at home. It’s a safe place here to talk frankly and feel supported by one another and by each and every staff member.

Various classes are listed throughout the day. After breakfast, we have a circuit weight training class. It’s very active and very fun. My cohort of five other women cheers one another on as we lift a bar, or hop over a step, raise our dumbbells overhead and keep moving to the music. Later, we find ourselves hopping about in water aerobics in one of the campus’ beautiful outdoor pools.

typical_day_buttonMovement and mindfulness seem to be the cornerstone of this program. Within the first two days, I become aware of how much I eat at home, the amount of fat calories I consume and sugar I ingest on a daily basis. No wonder I gained so much weight this past year. The pedometer given to us, or the FitBit bracelet some wear, track each and every step and I become aware of how little I walk at home compared to how much more I need to exercise to burn calories.

Classes include a focus on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. As a writer and as a psychotherapist, I am intrigued that Wellspring offers this CBT. The focus on getting in touch with thoughts that drive us into the behaviors of overeating creates a greater awareness of what we do at home. Triggers are identified and alternate ways of thinking identified. It creates a greater awareness that leads to mindfulness of what we think and what we do. Soon, we discover new ways to think that will enable us to sustain the simplicity of Wellspring’s Program at home.

I become acutely aware of how little I move and exercise. Granted, I tore my ACL in my knee and had surgery that kept me off my feet for a while. Bu three months of physical therapy has enabled me to walk normally and regain mobility without pain. Then a bout of sciatica that felt more painful than the knee injury kept me down for a few weeks. I am a little fearful that the all the walking and exercise in the Wellspring Program might aggravate the sciatica and am leery of every twinge in my hip and in my knee.

The walking serves to strengthen my week leg muscles. The pool enables me to get my heart rate up without stressing my hip. The weight training and gym workouts are at my own pace and comfort level. All participants are struggling with some level of physical discomfort. A few women are very obese. One has had bariatric surgery. Another suffers knee and hip pain. One is hypoglycemic and sometimes faint. But we are all here because we know that exercise won’t kill us – obesity will.

At the end of week one, I’ve lost five pounds. The other women have lost anywhere from 2-10 pounds depending on their own metabolic processes.

Something more extraordinary happens at the end of week one. I feel the moment of mental breakthrough. I’m in circuit training. I’m doing sit ups, using the long, heavy bar like a rowing machine, feeling very strong. The staff member calls time up and I switch over to the next station – the stair step – something that gave me great trouble during my months in physical therapy. I step up and over it repeatedly. No pain in my knee or hip. I go faster. I leap higher. I’m moving like a mad 20 year old and it feels good. The mental breakthrough of knowing that my knee and hip issues are no longer an issue, that I am not doomed to a feeble and painful old age, that I can lose the weight and gain in fitness rather than succumb to inertia and a rocking chair with a mint julep in the afternoons, feels amazing.

Wellspring’s program works. My knee injury seems completely healed, the muscles in the leg recovered from residual atrophy. All the movement has served to keep me from sitting too long and aggravating the former hip issues. Most importantly, I am mindful about what I eat and do not crave the sugar and carbs and favorite foods and beverages I indulged in at home. I’m ready to go all in for the exercise classes.

By the end of my stay at Wellspring, I’ve lost 9 pounds in 13 days – more than I would have lost at home. My fitness gains enable me to more freely, walk hills, swim a mile as easily I used to, and that is empowering. I know that I can sustain this program at home. Others, however, know that they need to stay for a few weeks more. It takes about 6 weeks to change thoughts and ingrain new behaviors and see optimal weight loss. Teens that stay at camp for the full 8 weeks or summer see dramatic results. Women do, too.

I say goodbye to the many friends I’ve made at camp and am ready to launch into part two of my summer of fitness and weight loss – sustaining the Wellspring Program at home and on vacation, keeping the healthy obsession going.


For more information see Wellsprings Programs for teens, young adults, and women at Wellspring Weight Loss and Fitness Program.

Check out one woman’s story about losing weight at the Wellspring Teen Camp in the kindle book by Melanie Stone: My Journey from FAT: A Wellspring Story.

RiverMend, Inc. extended a complimentary experience at Wellspring for J “Kat” but the views expressed in this article and the weight loss are her own.


Stay Tuned for Part 2: Developing a Healthy Obsession. Sustaining the Wellspring Program at home and on vacation. Turning back the clock on aging and increasing in health and wellbeing.


Originally posted on Crazi Culture.

J. Kat Loren

About J. Kat Loren

J “Kat” Loren is a Pacific NW-based journalist and author of more than a dozen books. She currently focuses on writing health, fitness, and travel articles. Her blog “Crazi Culture” is a popular read among those who like eclectic topics and travelogues about odd places and adventures.

One Comment

  1. Melanie Stone

    August 18, 2015 at 11:42 am

    Dear Kat Loren,
    I just saw this wonderful article you wrote about the Wellspring program, and the link to my book at the end. Thank you so much for that :-)I really enjoyed reading about your experience there!
    With appreciation,
    Melanie Stone

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Too Fat for 50: Losing the Weight Before I Lose My Mind