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Eat Like It Matters

At right, Marilyn McKenna stands in one leg of a pair of pants she wore (left) before her weight loss. - Provided courtesy of Marilyn McKenna
At right, Marilyn McKenna stands in one leg of a pair of pants she wore (left) before her weight loss.
— image credit: Provided courtesy of Marilyn McKenna

About 10 years ago, Marilyn McKenna was the largest woman in the room — and she felt invisible.

The wife of former Washington state Attorney General Rob McKenna often found herself at her husband’s side in social circles.

“I was there to be supportive. I was there to be Rob’s wife,” she recalled recently at a Bellevue coffee shop. “I was doing a lot of things others expected, because I thought it made me a good person.”

The mother of four took on that supportive role for most of her adult life — as the wife of a politician who would unsuccessfully run for governor in 2012, she mastered everyone else’s schedule and put their needs before her own.

But she wasn’t happy, and her frustrations manifested in her eating habits.

Always alone, she said, she would retreat to the kitchen and eat, for example, a slice of bread slathered with butter after slice of bread slathered with butter.

After a lifetime of being overweight — “I was a fat kid before there were fat kids,” she said. “Food was my air.” — in 2007, at 265 pounds, she hit rock bottom.

“I felt like my weight was a declaration that I couldn’t control myself,” she said. “It’s a really horrible way to go through life.”

Fed up with “yo-yo dieting,” she made a decision to disregard fad diet plans and instead focused on what was right for her.

“We all rely on the huge diet industry to tell us how to lose weight,” she said. “How could they presume to know what works in your life?”

Since 2007, she’s lost 120 pounds and has kept it off. She writes about her journey in her new book, “Eat Like It Matters: How I Lost 120 Pounds and Found My Inner Badass (And How You Can Too!).” It was published in mid-August.

Still too embarrassed with asking for help, she began her journey in secret, with only her immediate family for support.

“I was so ashamed that I needed help,” she said. “I hurt for the thought now.”

But she knew, if she kept on the same path, it would kill her.

She decided to undergo lap-band surgery. The lap band device reduces the stomach’s capacity and restricts the amount of food one can eat in a sitting, according to the LAP-BAND System website.

In order to pay for the $18,000 procedure, though, the McKenna’s refinanced their Bellevue home.

“It was a huge financial sacrifice for our family,” she said. “That also drove my desire for it to be successful.”

The total weight loss happened in various stages. In the first year she lost about 85 pounds.

She hadn’t really changed her eating habits or seriously exercised — but she felt great. So great, she decided to keep going just to see how much better and stronger she could feel.

She began exercising, slowly at first. She’d walk. Then she started jogging down hills. Finally, she was able to run the entire route.

“I found that inner badass out running,” she said. “I do my best thinking when I’m exercising.”

In 2010 she ran her first half marathon; the next year, she completed her first full marathon.

McKenna, now 52 and adamant about sharing her journey publicly, happily answers personal questions fielded by social media followers.

Her frequent posts are a stark difference from the silent, background character she used to play.

In the final stage of her weight loss journey, she cleaned up her diet, which included completely banning sugar and unhealthy food from the house. She said she lives a “veggie-centric” lifestyle now — every meal is planned around the vegetables.

She says she still has some of the same tendencies, but with her new approach to health, she’s able to overcome old habits.

Instead of eating an entire row of Oreos, now it’s an entire bowl of fruit.

“Nobody ever got fat eating a huge bowl of strawberries,” she said.


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