For some, moving to Whidbey Island can be refreshing, rejuvenating and a nice change of pace. Deb Helfrich credits her move to South Whidbey with saving her life and helping her to lose 100 pounds.
With the new year in full swing, Helfrich’s story of transformation shows that real change is possible, with or without an “official” resolution.
While holistic healing isn’t for everyone, Helfrich found inspiration and support in the many opportunities and alternatives on the South End.
Before April 2018, Helfrich was living in a series of temporary rentals to avoid the moldy conditions of her former apartment in Bellevue. She was also over 300 pounds and struggling with a heightened sensitivity to fragrances and pollution from the surrounding city.
“I was a nomad. I went through all my nest eggs. I couldn’t work for several years,” she said.
Previously, working in different cities as a software consultant felt similar to going into combat for Helfrich. She realized the stresses of daily life had been causing her to overeat. Potato chips were her weakness.
“That was the solution for me to deal with life in America,” Helfrich said. “For some people it’s cigarettes, for others it’s hitting Happy Hour.”
But with her move from the mainland, she discovered a wealth of support in the community of South Whidbey. Holistic healing practitioners and leaders of spiritual dances became her friends and helped her begin her journey of self-improvement.
“My neighbors healed me,” Helfrich said.
“It was environmental security of belonging to a community,” she added.
She started out attending presentations by the Whidbey Island Holistic Health Association at the library and other lectures she discovered on Drewslist. Massages and sound baths, a technique of relaxation, also helped.
One year after moving, in April 2019, Helfrich began documenting a significant change in weight. In the following 33 weeks, she lost an estimated 100 pounds. To address her issues with chronic pain and fatigue, she began working with people practicing Hanna Somatics and the movement of the body to help forge connections between her mind and body.
Kimmer Morris, a Hanna Somatics educator, reported Helfrich’s progress as being “like night and day.”
“She began to sense and move her body in ways that she had never sensed and moved before,” Morris said.
Her practice, though not a part of Westernized health care, helped Helfrich regain mindful awareness of her own body and responding muscles.
“It wasn’t just the work I did. She was on a quest; she was determined to get better,” Morris said.
In addition, Helfrich also began dancing at Prayerbody Sundays, a weekly gathering dedicated to improvisational and spiritual dancing. The dancing involved close touch with her neighbors, which Helfrich, recovering from a traumatic childhood of mostly no contact, welcomed. It was also a place where she found no judgment, competition or expectation.
She still dances three times per week, not just at Prayerbody but with her friends and neighbors at private gatherings. Yoga and t’ai chi have also become part of her regiment of movement and well-being.
Fasting also helped Helfrich to lose weight.
Erin Simms, a registered dietician and nutritionist with WhidbeyHealth, said fasting reduces total calorie intake and potentially has some physiological benefits for gut health.
“The big thing is that you give yourself an extended period of time between your first and last meal of the day,” Simms said.
While she acknowledges it’s not for everyone, fasting 12 to 14 hours is an ideal period of time. These can include hours spent sleeping. Consuming the majority of a daily amount of calories between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. can also reduce weight, as can mindful eating.
Simms said holistic approaches to health care may also have their benefits.
“I think stress management is really important,” she said, “and if acupuncture, massage, yoga, those play into how you take care of yourself, they do have rewards on your overall health.”
Other unconventional methods, such as the use of tuning forks and the theory of bioelectrical impedance, helped contribute to other areas of Helfrich’s overall feeling of well-being.
Her weight loss has given her a new lease on life and a buoyant energy she didn’t have before. She said the last few people who have guessed her age have been 20 to 25 years off the mark.
This month she will start offering classes on reverse aging, evaporating weight, vibrational massage and more.
She also refers to herself as a “stand-up philosopher” and has a philosophical book in the works.
Her next step on her weight loss journey is to look for a companion to move in with and inspire. Her goal for this year is to drop another 50-70 pounds.
“If I can say something to people, environment is really important,” Helfrich said.