Hillary’s weight-loss journey: From a “wallflower” to a “sunflower”

May 13, 2021 | by Edward-Elmhurst Health
Categories: Healthy Driven Heroes

Hillary Miller, of Naperville, was always overweight, even as a child. Here, she tells you in her own words how she found support from a team and set off on a weight loss journey that would transform her life.

I was always overweight, even as a kid, except for a brief stint between my junior year in high school and when I became pregnant with my daughter at age 21. But at age 43, my weight had become excessive.

I weighed 309 pounds and I was mentally and physically miserable. I suffered from knee, ankle and back pain. My psoriasis, and resulting joint pain, was out of control once more, despite trying medication. Mentally, I was on autopilot. Work, sleep, repeat.

In April 2019, I made an appointment with Dr. Neha Shah, a weight loss specialist with Endeavor Health® Weight Management at Edward-Elmhurst Health. I learned that my health insurance covered bariatric surgery, which was the route I was considering.

The day I made the appointment was the day I had to buy size 24 pants for an upcoming two-week business trip to Australia. My appointment was to take place right after I returned from the trip.


Hillary Miller, pictured above, before her weight loss journey began.

On the day of my appointment, I walked into Dr. Shah’s office with a plan. I was going to have surgery, work through whatever that entailed and come out the other side happy. Denial is not just a river in Egypt, people. Nothing is ever that simple.

First, Dr. Shah blew me away with her energy and her approach to treating the whole person. Her belief is that weight issues are not just about the medicine, but the nutrition and the mind as well. No single part works without the other. The whole person is at stake.

Within a few minutes of asking me about my childhood and learning that my mom passed away when I was 13, she immediately referred me to Dylan Panuska, PsyD, clinical psychologist with Linden Oaks Behavioral Health, to treat the underlying trauma that may be contributing.

Dr. Shah spent an hour with me that day. She respected my plan, but was also honest with me that I had to be under a doctor-supervised plan for six months before surgery could be scheduled. She gave me guidelines for diet, had me schedule an appointment with Lauren Gustafson, MS, RD, LDN, a dietitian, and I was to follow up with her in a month.

On my first follow-up, I had already lost 10 lbs. My plan changed. I no longer wanted surgery because I knew that I could do this on my own, with the support of Dr. Shah, Dr. Panuska and Lauren.

Every step of the way, each of them adjusted to where I was with exercise, stress, work-life balance. They developed strategies to support me exactly where I was in my weight loss journey. Never have I felt so supported by anyone in the medical profession than I have by the three of them.

Dr. Shah has celebrated every one of my successes with me along the way. She has been such a positive force in my journey. I look forward to sharing pictures and stories of what I’ve accomplished with her every month. She brings a personal touch to the care she provides that I never experienced before. It’s not just a doctor-patient relationship, you feel like she is part of your team, cheering you on.

Losing weight is only part of the story. Dr. Shah was right that fixing what lies behind my eyes and between my ears was going to be important to break the patterns and heal the trauma of what caused my class IV obesity.

Dr. Panuska has been an undeniably critical piece of my weight loss transformation. Without changing my thought processes, changing the tone of my internal voice, accepting that I am not perfect (nor is it possible to be), and learning to be proud of my accomplishments, I would not have the strength of mind to continue on this journey for as long as I have.

Lauren helped me develop an eating plan that fits my life and what is realistic for me, instead of me fitting my life into a diet.

I did not plateau at any point, as was expected. Even during quarantine, I fought hard to get out and walk, ride my bike and do everything I possibly could do to stay active. My greatest physical transformation of the past two years happened during quarantine!

Since April 2019, I have lost 135-140 pounds, depending on the day and which scale you ask. I no longer have ankle, knee and other joint pain. My psoriasis and related joint pain is non-existent. I went from a size 24 pants to a size 6-8, from a shirt size 3X to a medium (8-10). I am smaller than I was when I graduated from high school.

I work with a personal trainer, Ashley, multiple times a week, who is a critical part of my success as well. We work together to reach my goal of not being “doughy.” Last fall, I rode 1,200 miles on my bike from July to November, more than I ever have. For 20 years, I was too embarrassed to get on a bike. Not anymore!

I can’t stress enough how important a support system is to making something like this successful. You need the drill sergeants, cheerleaders, teammates, coaches and mentors to make this successful long term.

There are many things that I have done over the last two years to prioritize my needs and make time to replenish my soul. I’ve set boundaries around my time for exercise with family and work — do NOT disturb.

I started this journey thinking I wanted surgery. I had tried diets before and they just didn’t work. I had tried exercise before and it just didn’t work. But the truth was that I didn’t work. I didn’t work at the diets, I didn’t work at the exercise. And even if I had, there was a component that many of us try to ignore. I didn’t work at discovering, acknowledging, accepting and resolving what got me to 309 pounds in the first place.

Dealing with all the “stuff”, our baggage, our dirty laundry, or whatever you want to call it, takes so much energy. But all that stuff is what got me to 309 pounds. Unraveling it and healing it is the only thing that will keep the weight off long term. Working through that step-by-step is giving me the tools I need to gain confidence, to forgive myself, to heal. Bit by bit. Pound by pound. Inch by inch.

My relationships — with food, with exercise, with family, with coworkers, with friends, with strangers, with myself — have all changed. I have learned to put myself first, set healthy boundaries, and love my life instead of hide from it. I no longer feel like a wallflower. I can best describe this new feeling as that of a sunflower. Head held high, seeking the sun.

Endeavor Health® Weight Management at Edward-Elmhurst Health offers both surgical and non-surgical options to help you achieve permanent weight loss and the healthy, active life you were meant to live. To learn more about your options, call 331-221-6100.

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