An 81-year-old woman tells us how she lost over 100 pounds

She was a heavy smoker, alcoholic, and obese woman who had reached her first breaking point in 40 years. After DeEtte Sauer’s boyfriend drinks himself to death, she awakens to her alcoholism. Determined to stop drinking, I joined Alcoholics Anonymous and stuck with it. She continued to quit smoking, which she found very difficult, but she persevered. She had no discipline with food, and her doctors in Texas at the time seemed to accept only that people got fat as the years went by. No one told her to lose weight except her husband.

After she gave up her addiction to smoking and alcohol, her addiction to food replaced her. She weighed over 250 pounds before she reached another breaking point. She was on vacation in 1986 when she discovered she was over 250 pounds, and was too fat to ride a boat. This did it. Her husband was very upset about her weight, but she didn’t want to lose it for him. She went back to school and studied addiction. She began to understand why she was asking herself the question about her life: “Is that all there is to it?” She had not examined her life before that. I was determined to change everything. She got serious about her food and how she lived.

I started walking. That helped. With drastic diet changes, I lost over 100 pounds in about nine months. She joined a fitness center and worked there too, but it got a little boring. Someone mentioned that there was a Masters class swim team. She popped up, and couldn’t make it halfway across the pool. The coach offered to teach her. Thanks to constant training and intention on her part, she is getting better and better. She came second in her first swim meet. She now swims every day, at least 3,000 yards and competes regularly. DeEtte is a repeat gold medalist in her competitions Senior National Games for years now.

The compulsive trait

DeEtte has what some might call a compulsive personality, as do many people who struggle with addiction. She was compulsively successful at a high-powered job. She was definitely compulsive in the past drinking, smoking and eating. But with time and clear intent, she turned that trait, the intense and repetitive urge to do certain things, into her sport. At the age of 81, she is thriving, and is currently training for her next upcoming swimming competition at the Senior National Games.

No matter what state it was in middle age, it has radically transformed it into a totally healthy lifestyle for old age. She has a strong sense of community with her fellow athletes, and teaches swimming at the fitness center. She is active in her church and in socializing with friends. She is exceptionally careful about what she eats, and cooks from scratch every single day. In many ways, she is a model of taking oneself from unhealthy to being exceptionally fit and happy with the results.

What about the average person?

There is no doubt that DeEtte is exceptional. She went from drug addiction and overeating to the extremes of self-discipline, learning, study, awareness, and dedication to a sport she learned to love. Not everyone is wired this way. But every unhealthy person can certainly develop some new, even modest, habits to get better.

DeEtte advises that it’s a good idea to focus on something you enjoyed as a child and move toward that. For example, if you love to ride your bike, get a bike, stationary bike and start with that. If you don’t have an exercise program, walking is a great way to start, as DeEtte did. Buy a good pair of walking shoes and do a little bit at a time.


  1. Be true to yourself. If you say you don’t want to exercise, that’s an excuse. It doesn’t have to be a difficult thing. Walking is not unless you are disabled. After that, you adapt and do what you can with what you have.
  2. DeEtte’s message of examining your life and seeing what’s missing is worth pursuing. She can inspire you to really look like and how to spend your time and change what you don’t find satisfying.
  3. If you’ve ever wanted to be fitter than you are now, and find someone like DeEtte Sauer, 81, inspiring, find your own path to an activity you can enjoy and get started today. This old saying is true (paraphrased): “The longest journey begins with a single step.”