Losing 200 pounds is far from easy—but some would say that keeping it off is infinitely harder. With the help of SparkPeople, Kathy (KATHYJO56) has succeeded at both.
"My name is Kathy, and I'm a foodaholic," she begins in a recent SparkPeople blog post. For years, Kathy admits she used food as a crutch and a comfort. By July of 2006, she had reached her highest weight of 350 pounds, standing at five feet tall.
Kathy still recalls the looks and questions she got from people who didn’t understand how she could have let herself gain so much. How was it possible, they wondered, to let it get to that point?
"The answer is simple: I became addicted to junk food," she says. "I had things that I ate at certain times each day, like cheap peanut butter cookies, Reese's miniatures and ice cream by the gallon. I ate these things day in and day out, and told myself that I wasn't overeating. I was in a total state of denial."
In addition to her weight, Kathy faced the added challenge of being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS). Together, both conditions severely limited her mobility. She was confined to a wheelchair, and worried that she was becoming a burden on her family. Kathy could no longer take care of basic self-care tasks, like bathing and getting dressed, without help.
"Everywhere I went, I would look to see if I was the fattest person there—and, of course, I was," she says. "I [finally] realized I was not going to live to do and see all of the things that I'd always looked forward to."
When Kathy voiced her concerns to her son, he suggested that she try SparkPeople. He helped her set up her page and join a few teams. "From that day on, it's been the ride of my life," she says.
Making a Change With the Power of Community
Kathy quickly became a positive fixture at SparkPeople, both offering and receiving support and motivation. In addition to the weight-loss help she was seeking, she also found something else that she hadn't expected: some very real and special friendships. "I wouldn't trade my experience here for anything," she says.
Kathy also drew inspiration and support from SparkPeople's founder, Chris Downie, both by talking with him and reading his book. "Through his story, I learned there were many ways of losing yourself and then finding your way back," she says.
One of the first steps in Kathy's weight-loss journey was to join a senior community center with four pools and a fully equipped gym, where she started out with water therapy. "At first, I couldn't even get into the pool by myself, let alone walk the length of the pool holding onto the rail," she says.
As she grew stronger and the pounds began to drop, Kathy started learning exercises in the gym. On the days when she couldn't make it there, she did as many moves at home as possible. She loves walking with her walker, and her speed has earned her the nickname "Hot Wheels" among her friends.
For those just starting out, Kathy emphasizes that there is always someone out there who can help. "Talk honestly to a person you trust, such as your doctor, and go from there," she recommends. "If you don't like your doctor's answers, go to another one. Let them know that you are committed."
It was that commitment that took Kathy from a wheelchair-bound, sedentary life to a fulfilled, mobile one. In total, she has lost 200 pounds, and has no intentions of looking back.
Kathy's Meal Plan
Today, Kathy still eats the same way she did when she started her journey, under the theory that "everything is okay, but everything in moderation." Her meals vary from day to day, but her staples include lots of fruits and veggies, more lean proteins, fewer "bad" carbs and eight glasses of water per day.
"I didn't know the difference between a good carb and a bad carb when I started, but by asking lots of questions and reading articles on SparkPeople, I have learned," she says. "My SparkFriends have been instrumental in teaching me about the rights and wrongs, and have encouraged me every step of the way."
Kathy feels that she'll always be a "foodaholic," but she's learned to control her compulsions—primarily by staying out of the kitchen aside from mealtimes. She still finds her gaze lingering on junk food at the grocery store, but has trained herself to make higher-quality choices, even for splurges.
"I know my trigger foods and rarely touch them," she says. "I pick and choose my treats, and don't eat them every day. I try to save them for special occasions, and I've learned that a little goes a long way. If I'm going to have ice cream, I'll eat a small portion of real ice cream. If I'm going to eat candy, it will be a one-ounce square of a decadent dark chocolate."
When eating at restaurants, Kathy carefully studies the menus and nutrition information before ordering. At the grocery store, she's learned to read package labels and avoids processed foods as much as possible.
One surprise that came with Kathy's new nutrition plan was that food tasted much better when she drank water as her beverage: "I can taste the actual flavors of the food instead of the coating that sugary drinks coat the tongue with."
Enjoying a New Lease on Life
Today, Kathy only uses a walker occasionally to help with MS-related balance issues. In fact, she's in the process of donating her wheelchair to the Veterans Association of America. Her blood pressure and sugar levels are both within healthy ranges. Kathy continues to exercise daily, and no longer considers herself physically challenged.
One important side benefit of her healthy new lifestyle is that Kathy's MS hasn't caused as much physical deterioration as it likely would have if she hadn't lost the weight.
"There is so much to life, and I want to experience all that I can," Kathy says. "I am vibrant and happy now. Most importantly, my family no longer has to worry about me."