After reaching an all time high at 300 lbs and an all time low self-esteem, Maureen Orrico’s cardiologist told her that he wouldn’t be surprised if she walked out of the office and had a heart attack. She was only 28 years old and a new mom. That was hardly the spark she needed to get her life in gear. It only served to darken her days and make her feel hopeless. The doctor advised her to lose 20 lbs to qualify for gastric bypass surgery, but she feared she was already too sick to even survive the surgery. Today, Maureen is a happy smiley person with visibly brighter eyes. She is full of energy, hope, and vitality. She is a beacon of health and is no longer ashamed of herself or her story. I feel so fortunate to be sharing her story now.
Shortly after that cardiologist visit, Maureen found herself on the floor, physically unable to get up without an embarrassing routine of getting over on all fours and using the wall to pry herself up. Sitting in the hall outside her daughter’s dance studio, another mom recognized her sadness and asked if she was ok. She was brave enough to tell the truth. She was not ok. The other mom told her about a personal trainer that could probably help her. Maureen politely took the business card and shoved it in her purse with no intention of dialing the number. A few weeks later, she had an alarming experience. Her toddler had just begun walking, and started to run toward the road. She realized there was no way she could get up fast enough to stop her, so she yelled for her three year old to go after her. Fortunately, she did, and both girls were ok. She wondered what kind of mother has to rely on her three year old to save her baby sister’s life. That was it. Enough already. Time for a change.
Maureen knew she needed to change if she was to be the kind of mother she wanted to be. But she had already tried everything and had no hope that any trainer or any weight loss program was going to help. She always found the loopholes in popular diets and even though she lost weight initially, she would do so by eating the day’s worth of points in one sitting on jello and ice cream… She was not nourishing her body or her mind, and so she never made any lasting progress. The cycle of yo-yo dieting had left her hanging by a string, with no way to bounce back up. She was choking down 9 pills a day to manage a list of chronic conditions caused by obesity. She had been to the ER three times in a year for chest pain and shortness of breath. She couldn’t make it down the block without feeling like she was suffocating. Marina and Lillyanna relied on her and they deserved better. She had to find a way. Realizing she had nothing to lose but pounds, she pulled out the wrinkled business card and called John Pierre (JP).
She expected a militant boot camp instructor and instead she found the most compassionate mentor and gentle guide. He passed no judgement. He applied no shame. He simply listened. And listened. And listened. At the end of their initial marathon meeting, he simply told her what to eat. He made it so simple she wasn’t overwhelmed. His main instruction was to start. Right now. Not tomorrow, not after finishing the junk in the house, not after planning all the meals for the week. In fact, he explained, she had already begun. And so she left that first meeting and went directly to the grocery store. She stocked her cart with oatmeal, fruit, vegetables, (fresh and frozen) and pre-cooked rice. He knew she wouldn’t have time to make all of her rice or to chop all of her veggies right away, so he gave her options to make it work. She eased into it and made her health a number one priority.
Maureen continued to meet with JP regularly. She did everything he told her to do – she ate a completely plant based diet. Eventually it was unprocessed and free of all sugar, oil, and salt. But it wasn’t just about the food. Within 2 days she had noticeably more energy. She started to become more and more active. She walked more because she started breathing better. She went from having a bowel movement once every 4-5 days to at least once a day. She felt better immediately and capitalized on the new found energy! Her joints started feeling better, she stopped having chest pain, and she was able to walk farther and farther.
After about a year of super simple changes – moving more, eating as many fruits and vegetables and she wanted, eating whole grains and other whole plant foods, and avoiding processed foods, she had lost 100 lbs. She was off all medications. She was running 5K races every month, and she even completed the Green Bay Half Marathon! Now that’s a mom that can keep up with a toddler!
When asked about how difficult it was to follow JP’s program, Maureen explained that without a doubt the most difficult thing he asked of her was to do at least one thing for herself every day. She forced herself to do it, every day, and she eventually learned that the only way to take care of anyone else was to take care of herself. She started doing standing push-ups at the playground, and had resistance bands or light dumbbells scattered all over the house so she could sneak in little exercises while going about her daily routine. She now not only makes sure to get to the gym for a workout a few days a week, she has become a yoga instructor herself.
So many people struggle to prepare one meal for themselves and something different for their family. Especially for food addicts it can be really challenging to have non-compliant food in the house and it can also be difficult to bring the whole family along for the ride at the same time. This alone is enough to make even motivated people give up or fail to start. JP made it clear that Maureen was in such a state that she needed to do whatever it was going to take to save her life. So she focused on her own goals and prepared two different meals for a long time. Eventually, her daughters started trying new foods and really liking them. Her husband John did the same and started eating more of her food. A new problem emerged – she was running out of the food she had prepared for herself! She started having qualms about continuing to feed her family the foods that had caused her to gain so much weight and led to her health problems. One day she challenged John to eat alongside her for 5 days. He accepted the challenge and quit counting at the end of the 5 days! Today the whole family is plant based and going strong!
Simply by being warm, welcoming, and open to interactions, Maureen has become a compassionate mentor for others. She never preaches to other people. She doesn’t pass judgement. She doesn’t take offense if someone she speaks with chooses a different path. She is a gentle guide for anyone who is willing to listen. She reminds people: “Be realistic. Be patient. And above all, be gentle with yourself. No matter where you start, it’s a step in the right direction.”
Congratulations Maureen. Thank you for sharing your story. You are a warrior, a trail-blazer, and you are shining a bright light at the end of the tunnel for so many to come behind you.
If you’re interested in taking the steps Maureen has taken to reclaim control of her life for herself and for her family, check out my free plant-based food preparation guide: The Last Recipe You’ll Ever Need.