Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.
-Helen Keller

From "Body for Life for Women" by Pamela Peeke, M.D.:

We met on a fine autumn day in 2001. Then 48, Margaret, a talented editor who sat anxiously in my waiting room, was in full-throttle perimenopause. I led her to my office, offered her a seat in the Victorian armchair across from my desk, and asked why she'd come.

I had a pretty good idea.

She looked at me and tried to smile. Instead, her eyes welled with tears.

"I'm 5 feet 5 inches and 236 pounds. I wear a size 22. I'm disgusted with my body-and scared that I'm going to die."

Back then, studies had just begun to implicate excess inner abdominal fat-what I call Toxic Fat-as a risk factor in heart disease and diabetes, among other illnesses. Margaret was aware of these studies, and she had reason to worry. The workup I gave her that day said it all.

Fully 45 percent of her body was fat. Her fasting blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure were all above normal. Her mother had both heart disease and diabetes, and Margaret was following in her footsteps. She wanted to be there for her three children. She was having nightmares about losing it all.

I told her that to save her life, she would have to change it. Then, together, we customized a new method of living that would work for her-a new way to eat, move her body, and manage the stress that was undermining her physical and emotional well-being.

Several months into her program, she left me a voice mail. Her husband, Richard, was ill. She'd be back as soon as the crisis was resolved. I sighed-I was concerned that she'd abandon all the positive changes she'd made. Who could blame her?

But 5 months later, there she was. In my waiting room. I'd walked right past her. You see, she'd really changed. The sad, defeated Margaret I'd met months before had been transformed into a smiling, serene-looking, very fit woman.

Margaret told me that Richard had developed a life-threatening intestinal blockage and had had to spend weeks in the intensive care unit of a major medical center 60 miles from her home. She'd spent 4 months by his bedside.

I thought: this woman had the perfect excuse to let herself go-a sick husband, a boatload of stress. She could have stopped working out, started eating badly again.

"Absolutely awesome," I said, giving her a hug. "How'd you do it?"

Smiling, Margaret said, "When my husband got sick, I wanted to crawl in bed and pull the covers over my head. I knew I had to stay strong-for him, for my family-but I didn't know how I was going to pull it off.

"One day as I was stressing out, this image of myself popped into my head. I was a woman warrior. I had the sword, the breastplate, the whole deal, and I was fighting for my husband's life."

Sounds very Xena, right? But that image gave her focus. Purpose. Every time she walked, lifted weights, chose to fuel her body with good, healthy food, she was staying strong. For him, for her children.

But somewhere along the line, Margaret started getting stronger not just for them but for herself.

"I felt powerful," Margaret said. "My muscles were stronger. My mind was clearer. By the time my husband had recovered, I felt like I'd been reborn."

Right then, I got it. This woman had cracked the code. She'd stayed with her program because she'd decided, consciously or not, to fight for her own life as fiercely as she fought for her husband's.

And that, girlfriends, is the core of Body-for-Life for Women.

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