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Knee injury short-circuited her best intentions

Exercise is crucial to keeping pounds off. An Echo Park woman knew this -- but still was derailed.

June 02, 2008|Shari Roan | Times Staff Writer

During her mid-30s, Lee Vodra found a way to lose the 50 pounds she had gained since graduating from college. She ate carefully, kept a food journal, weighed herself daily and exercised vigorously, kickboxing and working on a schooner.

But four years ago, she was in a car accident that badly damaged her knees. Suddenly, the main tool she had used to keep her weight stable -- and the strategy experts now say is key to weight maintenance -- was gone.

She gained 30 pounds in a matter of months and eventually rose to her highest-ever weight of 170. "In the last few years, I've had a hard time even walking," says the Web developer, 46, who lives in Echo Park. "My failure was not maintaining my activity level after having a disability."

Her situation became more difficult after her health insurance ceased paying for physical therapy for her knees -- making it harder to get back the strength she needed to exercise. Even cutting back on food made little difference, she said, because she was already limiting her calories.

Vodra grieved over the loss of her once-athletic size 4 body. Although her wedding in 2006 was a joyous occasion, she cringed at her out-of-town guests seeing her 50 pounds larger.

"I don't know which was more shocking, seeing me in a wedding dress or seeing me heavier," Vodra says.

Even the most determined dieter sometimes can't withstand life's slings and arrows. An injury like Vodra's -- or a job loss, illness, divorce, increased workload or a death in the family -- are big transitional events that can, and often do, derail a once-successful diet-and-exercise routine. It can be gone in an instant, Vodra says, leaving feelings of failure, doubt and regret in its wake.

"There are many situations when life's balance gets perturbed," she says. "You don't always have control over what's going on in your life, and sometimes your weight cannot be the most important thing."

She says she has grappled with a range of emotions and is centered now on celebrating "baby steps" on her way back to good health. Vodra has found a support system that she hopes will help her achieve a healthy weight.

She accesses the website SparkPeople to help her track her food intake -- carefully tallying calories is a step considered vital for weight loss and, even more, for weight-loss maintenance. The biggest turning point in her recovery, however, came about a month ago when she found a ballet instructor in Echo Park who has been helping her strengthen her ankles and knees.

One day last week, she walked four miles -- the longest sustained exercise she has achieved in four years. "This is a very exciting time for me," she says. "I can start building fitness back into my life. It's taken such a long time to just get here."

Her watchword is patience. Vodra knows she can't return to her previous, almost professional level of fitness because she no longer has the time, and she can't risk another injury.

"It's likely I'll never see size 4," she says. "But it's also not healthy to obsess over that which we cannot control."


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