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For Rose Cowan, being a 'loser' is the best news around
Rose Cowan has appeared several times on national television to tell the story of her weight loss. Last December, in fact, Oprah flew her on an all-expense paid trip to Australia to recognize her work as a life coach.
During that trip – which was highlighted by sailing with actor Russell Crowe - she received yet another call. National Geographic had placed her among their top 10 competitors for an upcoming extreme medical show. However, producers told her the gig was falling through.
While such news may seem disheartening to others, it had the opposite reaction on Cowan. In fact, she welcomed it whole-heartedly.
“They were interested in my story - they loved my personality and really wanted me to do it - but in the end I wasn’t sick enough,” said a cheerful Cowan while on break at Dr. Gavin Dry’s plastic-surgery facility in Kirkland's Totem Lake neighborhood, where the Puyallup resident works as a medical assistant. “But that’s good because that means I’m too healthy.”
Up until January 2005, given the same opportunity by Nat Geo, producers may have reached a different decision. But the tradeoff isn’t worth it for Cowan.
And here’s the reason why: Today, Cowan isn’t staving off pre-diabetes or high blood pressure - she no longer tops the scale at 310 pounds.
As horrific as it was, Cowan attributes redirecting her life to the day her weight led to hospitalization.
As she lay there in the hospital, she recalls, she thought she saw the end of her life. “I felt I had a near death experience,” she told a talk-show host.
Having grown up with a family struggling with alcoholism, Cowan prided herself on believing she had escaped from addiction - that is, until she realized her closet eating was a symptom of food addiction.
At around 150 pounds, Cowan feels comfortable with her weight today. She also has her food addiction under control.
Since that day in the hospital when she met her own mortality, she promised to live for her children (now in college) - not for food.
After making a few significant changes to her daily routine, the pounds began to drop fast. She started walking. She no longer skipped breakfast and she stopped drinking soda. She also waited three hours for food to digest before going to bed.
She also found local support. Cowan recalls on her morning walks hearing “You go, girl” from people she didn’t even know.
A reward system also kept her motivated. After meeting her first 25-pound weight-loss goal she rewarded herself with an iPod; she now rewards herself with $300 designer jeans.
Soon, audio books playing in her iPod held her interest; they took her focus away from walking, which grew from short block walks into mile-long walks and then into half marathons.
Even now, Cowan reserves Sundays for what she calls her pilgrimage – the day when her husband drops her off in Orting and treks the 13 miles back to her home.
During her pilgrimage she meditates on God, thanking him for each step she takes. As her own self coach, she repeats motivational phrases that have proved successful in her new role as a motivational speaker.
But despite the massive weight loss, Cowan still experienced problems. She didn’t feel beautiful. She had what many other morbidly obese people have after losing a great deal of weight: excess skin.
Much like the times when Cowan threw out old clothes after dropping in size, she was ready to throw out her old skin. “It’s so easy to fill out the (skin); it’s also a reminder that one day you’ll be back to that weight. I couldn’t let that happen again.”
Cowan enlisted the help of Dry, to remove the lose skin.
“(She) had not achieved her final goal, because she still had to cover up and still felt fat because of that,” recalls the plastic surgeon.
By undergoing a full body lift, “I was able to be a normal person and (it) inspired me even more. (That’s when) I started running,” said Cowan.
Following her surgeries, Cowan went back to school and received a medical-assistant certificate and began working for Dry.
Knowing she wanted to help others, she also created a Web site devoted to helping people transform their lives (rosecowan.com). And the community has been very welcoming, mainly because unlike other life coaches, Cowan was once obese.
“We connect once a week, she’s a constant support,” said Tammy, 42, who lost 68 pounds. “I definitely could not be where I am without her.”
Mario De La Rosa is a student in the University of Washington Department of Communication News Laboratory.