How One Couple Worked Together to Lose 267 Pounds*

By , SparkPeople Blogger
A couple facing diabetes and other health issues joined together to start a weight loss journey that took them from sedentary and lifeless to vigorous and healthy. They now have many Valentine's Day celebrations ahead of them as a couple thanks to careful food tracking and daily walking!

Names: Steve and Debbie Cartwright
Usernames: Sac-6582 and Debarizona
Amount of weight lost: Steve lost 180 pounds and Debbie lost 87 pounds
Hometown: Peoria, AZ                 
Occupations: Steve is in ministry and Debbie is a facility director for a camp/retreat
Ages: Steve is 54 and Debbie is 52
What was life like before your weight loss? Steve's health gradually worsened over time and he was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes. He continued to add medications until he was not only on insulin but other oral medications for diabetes, blood pressure and high cholesterol. So at 345 pounds, he got serious about his condition.

At the same time, Debbie was tired all the time, also had high blood pressure and was in the beginning stages of diabetes. She was able to exercise a little but ate so poorly that the exercise wasn't making much of a difference.

What was your "light bulb moment" that made you get serious about losing the weight? Faith was at the root of Steve's "ah ha" moment. As a minister, he was confronted with the fact that he was not taking care of himself as he should. It came down to a passage that says we are to love our neighbor as "we love ourselves" and he realized he did not love himself. "In fact I hated everything about me," he says. "So I was challenged through the Bible and others to start loving myself."

For Debbie, it was a combination of Steve getting progressively worse from his diabetes, their health insurance changing and costing far more for prescriptions, and the realization that she was going to be costing their budget almost as much as Steve if she didn't change her habits and help Steve change his. She had another light bulb moment when she actually started logging her calories. The realization of how many calories she had been eating knocked her out of her denial about what was really going on.

Tell us a bit about your weight-loss journey: For Steve at 345 pounds, it wasn't easy! With his doctor's guidance he started by just reducing portions and walking 10 minutes a day. "The first day I walked about a quarter of a mile and the next morning I was in so much pain," he recalls. "I was ready to throw in the towel. It was about five months after I had started this journey that I found and everything changed. I stopped tracking my calories and exercise on paper and started using the SparkPeople app and online tracking. The first couple of months under doctor's care I went from reducing my portions to a very strict calorie count." "During that time I did have some forbidden foods that I would avoid," he continues. "This would change after I got past my first 50 pound weight-loss milestone. After that, nothing was off limits but I had to record everything I ate and I had SparkPeople to help me keep track of my calories so I would stay within my limits."

Debbie's journey was a little easier. Her weight started to come off very quickly at first. Eating a reasonable amount of calories and exercising every day was a winning combination for her. As the weight came off, her momentum increased to do a little bit more every week.  She enjoyed a steady weight loss for about eight months, losing about 75 pounds during that time.

Did you encounter any obstacles during your journey and, if so, how did you deal with them? Steve was an emotional eater and found it hard not to binge or reach his calorie max quickly each day. He learned to not beat himself up when he did overdo it. Debbie and her support was another huge help as they worked together on a journey to a healthier lifestyle. She did most of the cooking and, although their new lifestyle took more time to do all the food preparing, it has paid off for both of them.
Debbie had an extremely stressful summer cooking for youth camps a few years ago. Very long days on her feet led to little energy to exercise and little discipline over her diet. Following that tough summer, she entered an even tougher battle with breast cancer surgery and radiation. These continued to limit her exercise but didn't keep her from eating properly.

She stayed steady for about a year before kick-starting her weight loss again and staying vigilant about what she was eating. Debbie also started to turn parts of her walks into jogs and this transition really made a difference. Just getting her heart rate consistently to a higher level and adding some increased strength training helped get her momentum back.  She was able to lose those ten pounds she had been holding onto since her illness and was able to lose about ten more on top of that.  She is still about thirteen pounds from her goal weight but determined to get there!

What tools, routines and habits did you find most helpful to help you stay motivated?  Steve found the more he was able to exercise the more he felt like doing and that led to weight loss which also began to really motivate him.  He started looking for ways to be active, like parking further away from the store so he would have to walk and taking stairs rather than elevators or escalators.

Another motivator involves his clothes. Losing weight can become very expensive when it comes to clothing. So Steve and Debbie would go to their local Goodwill store. Steve would buy several items to get him through and a couple items he aimed to get into. After both became too large Steve would return them to Goodwill and get some more.  Steve keeps a pair of size 54 pants and a 3 XL shirt hanging on the bedroom wall. Each morning he sees what he used to wear to remind him not to go back.

For Debbie, SparkPeople was essential. Morning exercise was also a must because she knew she wouldn't have been as consistent if she put it off until later because of working long and often odd hours. Consistency was an important key to her success. Having fun with exercise also helped, especially in the beginning. Her favorite exercise when she was still quite overweight was to simply use a step and go up and down, up and down, to her favorite music. She also enjoyed dancing and since it was fun, Debbie was motivated to continue.

Debbie also found that the habit of non-judgment was very helpful. She didn't have to be perfect or expect herself to be. She refused to swear off any foods. As long as she counted it in her tracking and stayed within her day allotment, she allowed herself some treats like chocolate or other favorite things.

Did you ever slip up or hit a plateau? If so, how did you overcome it? Plateaus happen but when Steve would hit one he would remind himself that as long as he was doing the work it was paying off inside whether or not it was showing on the scale or in how his clothes fit. He also learned to not put all his stock in what the scale said. How he felt, looked (to himself in the mirror and as others would notice the change) and how his clothes fit were ways he would evaluate his success. Debbie changed up her diet a little but mostly changed the exercise she was doing and increased the intensity.

What advice would you give to someone just beginning a weight loss program? Steve found these three keys to help him win at weight loss:
  1. Be patient: You didn't get in the shape you're in overnight and you're not going to lose it overnight. "It took me about two years to reach my goal weight," he says.
  2. Cut yourself some slack: Don't be so hard on yourself when you mess up. Pick yourself up and go at it again. But this time do it with an awareness of what caused your mess up. (Learn from your mistakes.)
  3. Never have a forbidden food: When you tell yourself you can't have some food it will be the food you obsess about.

    Debbie echoes the key of giving yourself time. "Stop looking for quick fixes because that will never be permanent," she says. "Changing your lifestyle is permanent and it works, so be patient with yourself and celebrate small victories and take every opportunity to move more."
Did you experience any other benefits in addition to losing weight? When Steve started his journey he created a skinny man's bucket list. He wanted to hike into and out of the Grand Canyon, speed walk a half marathon, be able to run, ride the roller coaster (that he had been told to get off of because of his size), buy clothes that weren't two dollars more for the big sizes. Happily, Steve has accomplished all of these items and more! He has also reached his goal of 160 pounds from his starting point of 345 pounds AND has maintained that weight loss for two years! At his last physical in November of 2013, Steve's blood work was all normal and he is no longer Type 2 Diabetic and is off all medications. Although he is still learning to live, this journey has impacted his whole life, every part of it--from work, to family to emotional, spiritual and physical wellbeing.

Debbie not only reaps the benefits of a healthy and active husband, she also got off blood pressure and diabetes medication and feels energetic and great in addition to beating cancer!

How has your life changed since losing weight and improving your health?
Steve is happier and has more energy and is looking forward to all life has to offer. He marvels at how good it has felt to go from being a spectator in life to being a participant. Debbie is FAR more active and doing things she never would have thought she would be doing. She finds herself hiking for enjoyment or walking three miles to go to the store and back just because she wants to. Her taste has changed for food, as well, and she really enjoys healthy food and willingly avoids overdoing it on rich desserts or fatty foods. Steve sums up where they are now this way, "Having Debbie on the same journey wow… what can I say, together we have a lot to look forward to."
Way to go Steve and Debbie! The SparkPeople community is proud of your success! How about you? Can you partner with someone to begin making lifelong changes? I'm sure Steve and Debbie would be happy to SparkCheer you on!

*Weight loss results will vary from person to person. No individual result should be seen as a typical result of following the SparkPeople program.

Have you lost weight and kept it off using We'd love to share your story. Email us: sparkpeoplesuccess (at) gmail (dot) com

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How amazing. Thank you for sharing. Report
My husband and I have started this journey together with a combined 252 pounds to lose and are in our mid-50s. We have reached Week 1 and moving forever. One day we'll be a success story like Steve and Debbie. This is a GREAT success story and very inspirational. Good Job!!! Report
It is great to see a couple trying to support one another. This story is very encouraging and inspirational. Report
This is such a great success story!! Thank you for all the details too about things you did along the way. I never thought about just stepping up and down a stair for activity! BE WELL!! :) Report
All I can say is ...Blessings to you both! what a wonderful team you make. Report
Congratulations you both look amazing! x Report
Congrats! I'm so impressed. You make me want to set a goal of just being able to write an inspiring personal story myself. Thank you for sharing yours! Report
Loved your story. Thank you so much for sharing. You guys did so great. Report
Awesome blog. You should be so proud of your accomplishments. Report
Really encouraging. Thanks for the comments about not expecting perfection. You made me realize that I sometimes sabotage myself with this. Report
What a wonderful inspirational story!!! God Bless you both on your continued new lifestyle! : ) Report
Thank you both, you are such an inspiration! I have been struggling with my weight ALL OF MY LIFE!!!!
Your advice on not beating myself up for not being perfect was really helpful. Thanks again for the encouraging words :0)
What an inspiration. Good way to start the day reading this. Steady as it goes and one day at a time...this is the third day for me and I do find this site quite interesting and helpful.Thanks Report
All I can say is WOW !!!!!!!
Your story and your after photos are truly inspirational -- congratulations on your huge joint success! 8-) Report
Your story has become an inspiration to me to lose the weight and be free from diabetes. Congratulations and may God continue to bless the both of you with good health throughout your ministry. Report
Way to go you both look great say a prayer that I will do as well thanks Report
Great job! You look so healthy and happy! Report
So proud of both of you. I also understand as a pastor how one leads by example. Congratulations.
I have just started back to SP after over 2 years hiatus, which was due to health issues. I am now determined to lose even more than the 31 lb. I lost first time around after reading your testimony and determination Report
This is wonderful and very motivational. Way to go! Report
What a wonderful and inspirational journey!!! Thank you for motivating me in the right direction!!! Report
Steve and Debbie. Thank you for sharing your story!! My story has some similarities to yours. I am now diabetic (on pills), have high blood pressure, and about 80 lbs. overweight. I have walked for years, (less regularly now), and have done the elliptical at times, yet, it seems I consistently put on about 10 lbs. every year. I eat a lot of healthy foods, but also sweet and snack foods. It is so hard for me to "get started" and follow through for more than 1 week. I go up and down 2 to 7 pounds, but don't seem to get anywhere. Do you have any advice about how to keep focus, on portion size and not eating sweets and snacks, even when the cravings and busyness begins. I can't seem to get started and stay on track. Very frustrated with myself. You are both amazing!!!!! Please reply. Report
Fantastic! I do the tracking for both of us, I 'm thinking my hubby needs to track his own. Continued success to you both. Report
Wow.. Very inspiring! Great job. You both look fabulous! :D Thank you for sharing your story! :D Report
These 2 are a great inspiration to me! Thank you for sharing your weight loss journey! Report
Very inspirational. They seem to have a good attitude but they are also very real and don't try to project an image of perfection. Thanks to Steve for talking about the challenges of emotional eating. Congrats to you both. What a great team. Report
Congratulations and thank you both so much for your inspiration, and good wishes to everyone else out there too! Husband and I have also started. (Again). ahem. :) Report
Congrats on your journey. This came to me just when I need encouragement. Thank you and God Bless Report
Great article. Good job! You are an encouragement to all. I got on the treadmill after I read this!
You guys are inspiring and absolutely what I need to motivate myself to keep on trying. Thank you so much for sharing and congratulations on your success!! Report
Both of you are awesome and so inspiring to others, especially me. My husband and I have known Steve and Debbie since college. Without saying anything, they proved to me it can be done. Once I started, they have coached and encouraged me all through my own journey to being healthy and fit. They never bugged me about losing weight because they, and my husband, had. However, once I started it, they have advised, encouraged, and supported me. Thanks to both of you for being such a wonderful example. I hope I can "pay it forward" someday. Report
Oh my goodness what an inspiration both of you are!!! Congrats on all your successes and the ones you will have in the future Report
This article is an inspiration for those of us with spouses who want to lose weight together. Thank you. Report
Way to go!!! Report
You are both inspirations! Report
Your amazing gift to God...taking care of the temple He gave you...You both are amazing...Elsie Report
Congratulations!!! Loving yourselves has no doubt helped countless others to love and be loved. By sharing your experience on Spark People you inspire others to say, Look, they did it and we can do it too!" Thank you! Report
You both look so good and healthy. A nice journey as a couple, you have inspired me to talk with my husband to share with me. I admire you both! Report
Inspiring!! It takes work, and you have to want it! Congrats on achieving those goals! Report
What an inspiring story! Congratulations to both of you. Report
Thank you Steve and Debbie! Losing weight after 50 isn't as easy. Your hard work and determination, even with a long plateau and cancer, is VERY inspiring. You guys are ROCK STARS! Report
Thanks for sharing. I like the part where you said the good habits are working on your insides, even if you can't see immediate results on the outside... Report
Way to go you guys! Congrats! Report
Now I'm motivated! It all because of both of you!! Report
Both of you look just awesome! Good work! Report
I love your saying about quit looking for fast fixes because they are not permanent.
Congrats to both of you!!! Report
Simply amazing! Report
Amazing story. What a motivation. Report
What an awesome story of determation! You two look amazing! Report
Debbie and Steve are also two of the absolute nicest people! I've had the pleasure to meet them at some SparkPhoenix local events. Report
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