Denise Roden: Loss So Often Leads to Gain

Denise RodenThe first line of Denise Roden’s scrapbook reads, “This is a book about me, for me.” You wouldn’t know it until you glance through those pages, but at one point in her life Roden weighed 265 lbs. It’s possible she weighed more but she can’t say for sure because she never stood on a scale until the morning of her life-changing bariatric surgery. Something else you wouldn’t know by looking at the confident blonde is that starting her own business at the age of 48 has been transformative – even more so than the surgery.

“I feel like I’m somebody now. I worked so many years in an unfulfilling job because I was following theDenise Roden money. Looking back I see how lost I was all of those years. Sometimes when you are overweight you lose your voice. Starting this business has given me my voice and self-esteem back. I did this. I left a well-paying job, but I finally took control. This is for me and no one else.”

Roden grew up in Alabama, north of Birmingham, in a typical Southern family. Raised on fried food and Hamburger Helper, weight was always an issue as she and her siblings rarely exercised and were not encouraged to spend a great deal of time outdoors. By high school, Roden weighed 200 lbs. She tried aerobics and played some sports, but the slow slide into obesity had begun, interrupted by spurts of yo-yo dieting.

Following in her grandmother’s footsteps, Roden enrolled in college to become an elementary school teacher, but her heart wasn’t in it so she dropped out after two years. Ideally she would have done something with computers, but it was 1983 in Alabama and there weren’t many options for that type of career, especially for a young woman.  She continued working odd jobs, toying with the idea of going back to school. She never did, though; instead marrying a soldier at the age of 23. The pair moved first to Virginia and then to Korea where he was stationed.

Weight gain continued to be a problem. “I tried everything. Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, that crazy grapefruit diet. You name it, I did it. But nothing worked because I was looking for a quick fix rather than being mindful about what I was putting into my mouth and actually changing my lifestyle,” she recalls.

After Korea, the couple moved to Massachusetts, but the marriage was on the rocks. Roden took a secretarial position and taught herself how to use the Wang computer (remember those?). “I did a lot of payroll and accounting, and generally picked up the skills of whatever needed to be done. I was like a skills sponge,” she laughs.

Following his tour in Massachusetts, Roden’s husband was accepted into nursing school with the Army’s support and they moved to North Alabama where the marriage continued to flounder. “My parents had been married for over 40 years.  I didn’t think divorce was an actual option and deep inside me, I really thought I could make it work. However, I just gained more weight.”

“I feel like I’m somebody now. I worked so many years in an unfulfilling job because I was following the money. Looking back I see how lost I was all of those years. Sometimes when you are overweight you lose your voice. Starting this business has given me my voice and self-esteem back. I did this. I left a well-paying job, but I finally took control. This is for me and no one else.”

After returning to school to get an associate degree in general studies, Roden held various office managerial positions and built her finance expertise. After several moves, the couple settled in suburban Washington DC, where Roden worked as Director of Finance and Administration at the non-profit Jewish Women International. She stayed for 14 years.

Denise RodenFour years after the move to DC and several counseling sessions later, the couple finally separated. When her husband got orders to go back to Korea, Roden declined to follow, choosing instead to do a BA in business administration while working full time. Around the same time, she began looking into bariatric surgery as a solution to her weight problem. She was suffering from a barrage of related health problems such as high blood pressure, sleep apnea and hypertension, and the surgery – a stomach or intestinal operation that helps obese patients lose weight – felt like the last option.

After a year of reflection, Roden decided to go for it. As she was still covered by spousal military benefits, the surgery, and accompanying tummy tuck and breast implants to adjust for excess skin were all covered. “I just had to buy the bra,” Roden laughs. “It was such a gift.”

Roden dropped 100 lbs relatively quickly and was transformed. She attended bariatric support group meetings and after getting certified by the Bariatric Support Center International (BSCI), became a support group leader, a task she enjoyed but found frustrating when noticing who was attending the sessions.

“It was the patients required by their insurance firms to be there as part of pre-op or the success stories. The people who really needed to be there, the ones experiencing what I call ‘the creep’ – the slow but steady weight regain – were not coming. I had always felt there was a number on the scale that, if crossed, would be a slow descent from which I’d never recover. So I vigorously fought off the weight regain by focusing on my own wellness and happiness.”

This proved to be challenging considering what she was experiencing at the office.

“I learned a lot in the 14 years at JWI but I also grew up during that time. I was 34 when I started working there. For many years, the salary and work motivated me, but when I hit my mid-40s, I was no longer happy. I didn’t feel valued and wanted something more fulfilling. I’d start crying on Sunday nights when thinking about work the next day.”

A way out finally presented itself when, about two years ago, Roden received an email from BSCI offering her the opportunity to purchase a license for their bariatric support curriculum. At this point, Roden was on meds for high blood pressure and anxiety so she felt she didn’t have much to lose. Her new “permanent fiancé” was encouraging Roden to make a change and was unequivocal in his recollection of those days, “He reminded me just last week, ‘Do you realize the first word out of your mouth every morning was shit! Do you know what it’s like to start your day next to someone who says that every morning?’ I guess it was tough on him too,” she says a little guiltily.

She considered the cost of the license, and determined that she could swing it with the income from her condo rental and some Army spouse benefits. She gave six months’ notice and filed for an LLC.

Today Roden operates the Bariatric Center for Success. She earned a health coaching certificate from Georgetown last year and offers several services targeted at weight-loss surgery patients. Her educational curriculums include “Success Habits™ of Weight Loss Surgery Patients” and “Back on Track™.”

“For me and the 200,000 Americans who undergo this surgery every year, it’s not the end of worrying about food. You think it is the solution – albeit a drastic one – to your problems, but unfortunately it’s not. You need to change your mindset too, otherwise it won’t work.”

Getting the business going hasn’t been easy. Although most insurance plans cover bariatric surgery they surprisingly do not cover educational support services prior to or after the fact, despite that about 50% of patients experience considerable weight regain between 3 and 5 years following surgery. They even pay for revisional surgery when patients relapse but don’t invest in the more cost-effective and less invasive approach of peer support on an ongoing basis. Roden is working to build up connections and partnering with local hospitals to get the support services covered by insurance.

“It’s taking some time but it’s so worth it. On Sunday nights now, I start thinking about the week ahead, what I am going to be doing. I get excited and that means more to me than anything. Especially because I am helping people defeat those sabotaging thoughts and behaviors that cause weight regain and be successful long-term.”

Tips from Denise Roden
  • It’s really difficult to do everything on your own. Working from home, I found it hard not to let personal demands eat into professional time. I joined a women’s co-working space (Hera Hub) to address both of these issues. I’ve met a lot of women who’ve given valuable support to my business, I’ve learned from others, and I’ve been more disciplined about my working hours.
  • Keep lines of communication open with those around you. They might not know how challenging what you’re trying to do is.
  • Also, be sure you have enough for start-up cost. For example: website, CMS, accounting package, etc. There are so many little things.
  • As the President of BSCI, Colleen Cook said, “Reach Further, Dream Bigger, Aspire Higher” That’s exactly what I aim to do!

DeAnne Wingate: The Successful Internet Advertiser Who Found Her Purpose

DeAnne WingateDeAnne Wingate hasn’t had a paycheck since 2010. Instead, she’s been living off the savings she put away from her days in internet advertising. It’s difficult and she knows the money won’t last forever, or even much longer, but at this moment she believes she is doing exactly what she was put on this earth to do.

Her career began in the late nineties, when much about the internet, and internet advertising in particular, was still new. Her early career was exciting, and it’s not without some fondness that Wingate looks back. “It was like the New Frontier; we were setting the rules as we went along. It was a great challenge, and great fun.” She worked first in Boston, then Chicago, and finally in New York City. “Having a corporate position in New York City was kind of the apex, the ultimate dream,” she says.

But at the same time, something didn’t feel quite right. “I knew that there was a bigger purpose for my life. I knew there was something beyond doing what I was doing. I felt heart palpitations every time I got on a plane, and I think my heart was telling me that this was not the path I was supposed to be on. This was not the way that I was supposed to be living my life.” (more…)

Ginger Miller: Once Homeless, Now Extending a Hand to Others

23041-banner-ginger-miller-forms-women-veterans-interactiveThere are 52,000 homeless women veterans in the U.S. on any given night. Ginger Miller was once one of these women. Only 18 years old when she joined the Navy and 22 when she received a medical discharge, it wasn’t a smooth transition back to civilian life for Miller or her Marine Corps veteran husband.

Miller met her husband, William, when the pair were stationed at Annapolis, Maryland. They married shortly after being transferred to Camp LeJeune, North Carolina, and decided that Miller would stay on to serve while William would get a federal job so he could accompany her wherever she was stationed. This decision was made easier by the fact that William, who had served in Liberia and Operation Desert Storm, was suffering from undiagnosed PTSD following the suicide of a friend and fellow soldier. (more…)

Lisa Crites: Helping Mastectomy Patients Feel Better and Heal Faster

Lisa Crites

In her 30s, shortly after getting married, Lisa Crites lost her mother in a car accident. She was devastated and sank into a severe depression. At the time, she wanted to reach out to other women who lost their mothers tragically but it was too difficult. A decade later, she felt the same helplessness when diagnosed with breast cancer, but on that occasion she decided to take control of the situation and user her experience to help others.

“When my mother died, I never found a platform to help others but equally I didn’t have the strength to do it. When I was diagnosed with cancer, although I had no control over the cancer in my body, I did have control over how I could use what I was going through to make life better for other women. By developing the Shower Shirt I was not only helping others, I was helping myself.” (more…)

Mary Molina: From the Food Bank to the Shelves of Whole Foods

mary-molina-heart-barsAnyone who signs their emails zip-a-dee-do-dah has got to be a happy person. And perhaps Mary Molina was born an optimist, but in all likelihood a little perspective brought her to her current sunny state. About four years ago, Molina was a food stamp recipient and a regular at her local food bank. But with some support and a lot of hard work and determination, mixed in with a little luck, today she is the proud owner of an all-natural, locally-sourced granola bar company.

Molina and her husband, Ernie, ran a small cellular phone outlet for more than ten years in Somers, New York. It was a family business — she did the books, he ran the shop — and all was good and well until January 2011 when everything came crashing down around them. Forced to close their doors and liquidate all assets, the Molinas and their four kids, all under the age of seven, were in dire straits within two months. (more…)

Robin Siegel Lakin: Back to the Stage – Just What the Doctor Ordered!

Robin LakinWhen your heart’s not into something, it doesn’t matter how lucrative or practical a path it may be, you’ll never succeed if something else is tugging at you. Robin Siegel Lakin has twice tried to lean into a conventional career when all along she knew she belonged on stage.

As a young teen, the Brooklyn native spent her weekends trekking into New York City to study acting at the Strasberg Theatre. When she wasn’t in class she was auditioning. She landed parts for AT&T, Maxwell House, Hardees, and more. “I had a great agent early on and so I got steady work. I even did a couple of spots on soap operas. I loved it.”

It was a bit surprising, then, that at 18 she decided she should go to college and major in accounting. Guess how long that lasted?

“I stayed in college for one year. What can I say? I was very good at math and science, and so I thought it would be good to have a practical skill to fall back on. But I missed acting.” (more…)

Angelle Albright: Easing the Burden of Baldness

Angelle Albright
Angelle and her her sister Danielle sporting Chemo Beanies

Before she got sick and everything changed, Angelle Albright lived a charmed life. At least she thought she did.

“I guess you could say I was a little egocentric. I would never have wished cancer on myself, but looking back on the trajectory of my life I would not change a thing. Breast cancer saved me. Without it, I would never had the opportunity to help others as I am doing now. But after cancer, I became a different person. My eyes were opened to a new way to live.”

The youngest of six children, Albright was Chief Video Editor at a New Orleans television station, then an English and journalism teacher before she took time off to raise a family. She was just 38 and had three children under the age of 9 when she got her diagnosis. (more…)

Pamela Anyoti Peronaci: Letting the Sun Shine on the Farmers of Uganda

Pamela APamela Anyoti Peronaci was born and raised in Uganda during one of the most difficult periods in the country’s history.  Under the reign of the dictator Idi Amin, for years Anyoti Peronaci’s parents struggled to provide basic things for their children.  “I didn’t have shoes for ten years of my life,” says Anyoti Peronaci. “In order to work, you need peace.”

And there was no peace in Uganda. After Amin, the region was devastated again by a civil war caused by Joseph Kony’s rebel group that lasted almost 20 years. “There was a lot of misery and a lot of people disappearing.”

But Anyoti’s family managed somehow, and her father pulled enough money together to send the children to school. “In Uganda, nature is on our side, and so we got by with what the land could provide.” (more…)

Lakeisha Dunn: A New Business for a New Life

LakeishaDunn-outsideLakeisha Dunn spent ten years doing a job she strongly, strongly disliked. A job that left her miserable and depressed. But the pay was good and it offered job stability, and she didn’t think she was qualified to do much else. So she stayed.

Fresh out of high school in Baltimore, Maryland, Dunn enrolled in a program that trained nursing assistants but realized pretty quickly that it wasn’t for her. She worked a couple of different jobs as an administrative assistant, and while they were fine she wanted something new, something different. She thought that a job that allowed her to walk around some, maybe even go outside, would be ideal. And so she was thrilled when she landed a job as a correctional officer at a Baltimore City jail. (more…)

Yalonda Long: From Riches to Rags and Back Again

IMG_1091What a tale Yalonda Long tells.  Her story begins in small town, Kansas, where this daughter of a barber and a beautician mother was raised with her two brothers in a strict Jehovah’s Witness household.  As a teenager, there was no going to the movie theater unaccompanied, no boyfriends, and no parties.  Even higher education was forbidden, so when Yalonda graduated from high school, a week later she headed West to Colorado to start her life.

“I tried to learn as much about the world as I could from the public education I had because I knew I wasn’t going to college,” says Long.  “But because I spent much of my life as the outsider looking in, I learned to be a great observer and I notice everything. That would wind up serving me quite well.” (more…)

Lucinda Snyder: Finding Solace in Sewing

Luc044Lucinda Snyder imagined she’d lead the life of an academic. With two Master’s Degrees, a job at Rochester Institute of Technology, and plans for a PhD in political science, she was pretty well on the right track. But life had other plans for her, and while the road has been extremely painful at times, she feels certain that she is now exactly where she is supposed to be.

Snyder comes from a long line of doctors – four generations to be exact. She was good in school and grades came easily but medicine didn’t call to her. Some of her college professors suggested she would make a good professor herself, so she opted for that route.

But when Snyder’s contract at RIT was up, she felt like she was ready for a change. She was an avid knitter at a time when the knitting trend was heating up, and Snyder made the difficult decision to indulge her creative side and open a yarn shop. She knew it was a risk, but also figured that she could go back to the academic life later if necessary. The business endured for three years, but in 2006 Snyder decided that it no longer made financial sense to keep the store going, especially as she was getting married and planning to start a family.

On November 27, 2008, Thanksgiving Day, Snyder’s son Cooper was born. Unbeknownst to Snyder and her husband before his birth, Cooper had a IMG_0287congenital heart defect, sometimes referred to as a hole in the heart.

“In terms of heart defects, it’s really not a big deal,” Snyder explains. “It’s normally an easy repair. He had surgery when he was three weeks old. But we were in that one or two or three percent they talk about. He survived the surgery, but the following morning he went into cardiac arrest and died shortly thereafter.”

Snyder found herself desperate for a way to channel her grief after Cooper’s death. “Knitting didn’t do it anymore. I needed something that challenged my mind and gave me something to focus on. I started looking at fabric and was really drawn to color and design.” She thought she might try to make a quilt. But she didn’t know how to sew.

“I borrowed a friend’s sewing machine, took a class at JoAnn Fabrics and basically taught myself how to sew.” From there she started making and selling her creations, both quilts and other handmade items, usually on Etsy or at craft shows. She also wanted to have another baby. “The sewing kept me from obsessing on that topic as well,” she laughs. In 2010 her second child was born, and in 2011 she made the decision to turn what had been a hobby into a real business, or, as she puts it, “I decided to become legitimate.”

lucEnds-May2014-051And so her line of handmade fabric goods – called Lucends – made the leap from hobby to business.

“I wanted something that was exclusively mine. I got tired of going to craft shows and three booths down somebody would have the same fabric as me.” She started exploring ways to change that. “Now, the fabric that I use, nobody else has.” She works with a surface designer to achieve this. “Every season we brainstorm, look at trends, color palettes, see what’s on the fashion design radar. Once we nail it down we use a company called Spoonflower in NC. They digitally print fabric on demand, so I have my fabric printed as I need it. I’m not committing to thousands of yards of fabric not knowing what’s going to sell.” This spring she’ll debut her 4th fabric collection. She uses these fabrics to make a variety of handmade items, including handbags, scarves, pillows, and custom-made quilts.

Snyder probably could have found work at an established design firm, but that wasn’t for her.  “There are big fabric companies that take on designers and produce their fabrics and sell it mainstream, but that’s not really my mission. At this point, every single thing has been done by me. I create every piece that I sell, and that’s important.”

Snyder is surprised at how many people she met and connected with through her business. “Do I have a great product? Yes. But I also think it’s my story DSC_0148that a lot of people can connect to, and feel like they’re part of my journey.”

“I see this business as Cooper’s gift to me. And so it’s very important for me to stay connected to that. It continues to help heal me and gives me motivation to move forward. I think this is how it was supposed to play out for me.”

When asked what research she did before starting her business, Snyder laughs. “Absolutely none. I just jumped. I just did it. I was lucky because I didn’t need to make money to pay the bills, so I could just grow and experiment and see what worked and what didn’t work. I guess that was my research – I knew enough to know that I needed to build the brand, to have an identity, and the rest would fall into place.”

“I joke that 2015 is going to be the Year of my Empire. I have this vision of where I want to go and this empire I want to build for Lucends. This year is the first year that I’ve taken what I’ve learned and gotten my ego out of the way to say okay, these are the things that sell, and these are the things I’m going to make. It’s trial and error. And my gut. I rely on my gut a lot.”

lucEnds-May2014-074It seems to be working. Her sales have doubled every year, though they gotten high enough now that it’s very unlikely they’ll continue to double.

As far as advice for other women considering a career change, the 41-year-old Snyder says simply, “I think you just have to go for it. If it’s on your mind all the time, then that’s what you need to do. I think a lot of people are afraid to take the risk. It is risky. But if it’s something you love and are passionate about, do it. We can be so fearful of change. We think, what if I fail? Well, what if you do? You’re not going to die from it. So you fail, you get up and start something different, or you try again. There isn’t any reward for not trying.”