When you’re fat, you know it. I’ve never met a fat person who had successfully convinced themselves they were a size 2 (and been considered sane). I was well aware of my appearance. What I wasn’t aware of was my impending doom.

It was September 2013 when my doctor gave me the scare of my life. In no uncertain terms, he told me I was running, not walking, towards the arms of the Grim Reaper.

I was 34 years old and 230 pounds. As common as morbid obesity is in America these days, that may not sound like a lot, but it actually added about 75 unneeded/wanted pounds to my frame.

I had aches and pains all the time. I had high blood pressure. My triglycerides were “through the roof,” my doctor said. I was borderline diabetic. I had daily headaches and migraines often enough that they started to interfere with daily life and I had a sweet tooth that was wreaking all kinds of havoc.

Tiffany Vance, pre-Showdown, poses for a photo to be submitted with her application. Courtesy photo
Tiffany Vance, pre-Showdown, poses for a photo to be submitted with her application. Courtesy photo

If it was there and sweet – it was mine.

I drove home from that appointment in tears. Heart disease and diabetes already run in my family. High triglycerides are hereditary too – so that’s a bonus.

My doctor told me I had to take control of my health now or there wouldn’t be a “later.” I asked him about lap band surgery, gastric bypass, and something called a “sleeve” that apparently is not a piece of clothing.

I actually thought that undergoing major surgery would be an easy fix. I’d shed the weight in a matter of a few months and I’d never ever let myself gain so much as an ounce again. That’s perfectly rational, right?

He quickly shot down that request and told me I’d just have to do it the old-fashioned way – diet and exercise. Whatever little bubble of hope I had in that moment just popped. I realized I had no other options. It was literally a life-and-death decision.

Believe me when I tell you that was the day the stars aligned. The heavens shined down on me. My destiny was upon me … you get the idea.

Here’s Why

I got home, dried my eyes, plopped down on the couch to watch some TV, and thought about what my doctor had said. It was then that I saw a commercial advertising the 2014 H-E-B Slim Down Showdown.

“You mean to tell me I could win $10,000 just for losing weight?”

Well, not quite, but that was what caught my attention. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, but I was ready to do what it took to get in this competition.

I was on board – at least for the rest of that day. But over the next few days, I questioned whether or not I could even do this. Could I lose any weight? Could I stick to a healthier way of eating on a long-term basis? Could I peel myself off the couch and actually be active again?

So I took my sweet time filling out the application – about one month – and finally got around to making the video application (see below) and taking an awful photo of myself (see above).

YouTube video

Little did I know I was one of more than 4,000 applicants across the great state of Texas. Out of those, something like 90 people were called for in-person interviews, and out of those, only 15 people were chosen to be contestants (15 H-E-B employees were also selected).

Now, don’t get me wrong. I really wanted this. I really wanted to lose weight and get healthy and make my doctor proud. But could I do it? Figuring out the answer to that question was more difficult than submitting the application.

After I applied in October 2013, I had a lot of soul-searching to do while I waited to hear if I made the cut. To the outsider, it probably seems like it would have been an easy decision – but when you depend on food as much as I did, it’s anything but.

An addiction to food can be a powerful thing – more so than the most rational and intelligent of minds. It can battle against the strongest willpower and come out victorious. It can destroy a person by tearing down their self-esteem, their love for themselves, their handle on relationships with others and the list goes on.

Photo courtesy of Tiffany Vance (right).
Photo courtesy of Tiffany Vance (right).

Take a step back in time with me. I served in the military for eight years and was a proud soldier. I had come a long way from having little hope for the future as a poor high school student who couldn’t afford a college education. I got my training and degree through the military and was ready to embark on a bright future.

I felt great. I looked great. I was happy with myself. I was a healthy weight and was able to maintain about 155-160 pounds for several years.

All of that, and so much more, was stripped from me in a matter of minutes when I was raped by a trusted acquaintance. It changed the course of my life. Needless to say, it didn’t take long to pack on so much weight.

I began to have a love/hate relationship with the only source of comfort I could get my hands on – food.

The extra pounds worked as a shield from others – especially men. I thought if I was fat, they wouldn’t find me attractive and I might be safe from harm. If I were fat, I’d wear baggy clothes and hide my ever-growing figure from the world. If I were fat, no one would want me and I didn’t mind being alone.

That frame of mind became truth to me. I questioned myself, blamed myself for what happened, and built a barrier to protect myself from…well, everything and everyone!

I didn’t share my story with anyone until I couldn’t take the depression any longer. I was so miserable, and I ate because I was miserable, but eating made me more miserable, and the cycle just never ended.

Seventy-five pounds and a slew of health issues later, my so-called “shield” was killing me. Despite the depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, I still wanted to live – just not like this.

And that is why I completed and submitted the application to the Slim Down Showdown.

I received the exceptionally good news in December. I believe it was an early Christmas present. When I got the call, I thought, “Okay, this is it. There’s no turning back now. You must do this.”

Tiffany Vance on day one of the 2014 H-E-B Slim Down Showdown. Courtesy photo.
Tiffany Vance on day one of the 2014 H-E-B Slim Down Showdown. Courtesy photo.

The Showdown began Jan. 5, 2014. Fifteen contestants from all over Texas congregated in San Antonio for a five-day “boot camp” and introduction to the challenge served “Death by PowerPoint.”

I worked out harder in those few days than I had in the last few years. And you know what? It actually felt really good. I survived exercising with a personal trainer from Gold’s Gym. I survived Aqua Zumba on a cold, dark morning. I survived my days on 1,600 calories instead of more than 2,000. And I lived to tell about it.

The HEB Slim Down Showdown isn’t just about diet and exercise, though. Oh no!

H-E-B started this program as a way of encouraging people to make healthy lifestyle changes by offering incentives in the form of a competition. One of the incentives just happens to be the grand prize of $10,000. Other incentives include gift certificates to H-E-B, gym gear, a one-year membership to Gold’s Gym, and so many others, it’s really overwhelming to be a part of it.

The Showdown also encourages the public to get involved by offering them the opportunity to follow the program right along with us.

The Showdown runs for 16 weeks and the finale will be held April 12 in downtown San Antonio alongside the H-E-B Healthy Living Expo at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center. From what I’m told, it has quite a turnout. Hearing stories of those who have gone through the challenge in years past has overwhelmed me. They talk of standing room only at the finale. These are friends, family and other supporters who show up and encourage the contestants to push through this and carry on what they’ve learned on a long-term basis.

That means no more mindless eating. That means making healthier choices and pushing myself to put on my shoes, stand up and take a step forward. Then another. And another.

Tiffany Vance stretches during the Alamo City Run Fest. Courtesy photo.
Tiffany Vance stretches during the Alamo City Run Fest. Courtesy photo.

During my time in the Showdown, I ran my first 5k at the 2014 Alamo City Run Fest in San Antonio. Other than running a couple miles at a time while in the military, a distance of 3.10 miles (5k) is the longest distance I’ve ever run.

I’ve burned off 26 pounds during the competition so far. I’ve shed several inches. I really should keep better count, but I know it’s a lot.

My blood pressure, cholesterol and triglycerides are now within normal limits. I have so much energy. I sleep much better than I have in years. I don’t have all of the aches and pains I used to have.

So what have I done to make all this happen?

Well, aside from begging for a spot in the Showdown, I’ve followed the advice of my registered dietician to control my caloric intake and focus on a ratio of 40 percent carbohydrates, 30 percent protein and 30 percent fat.

That all sounds very technical, I know, but basically I’m eating a balanced diet.

I think I’ve eaten more fruits and vegetables in the last few weeks than I had eaten in my entire life before the competition.

I keep my promise to myself to do some physical activity six days a week. I give myself a “rest day” to let my muscles heal, let my body acclimate to new activities. In my opinion, rest days – although boring – are just as important as days on which I exercise.

I firmly believe the reason this is working for me is because I’ve allowed myself to be flexible about it. I don’t get down on myself If I don’t lose weight fast enough or if I’m not where I think I should be. I’ve put myself through enough guilt for one lifetime.

Now it’s time to take ownership of my life and be proud of who I am. And I’m actually really happy in this moment in time and I look forward to what the future holds. I’m not afraid. I’m thrilled. And I have H-E-B and the Slim Down Showdown to thank for it.

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Tiffany Vance currently lives in Hondo, Texas and is one of 15 customer contestants competing for the 2014 H-E-B Slim Down Showdown award.