Anyone who has ever attempted to lose weight—and keep it off—knows why it’s called a weight-loss “journey.” With its unforeseen twists and turns, deep valleys and mountain peaks, this is one journey that can last a lifetime. But the healthy rewards make it all worthwhile.
And the proverb holds true for this journey as it does for all… it begins with a single step. Here are five women who had the courage to take that first step and who are well on their way to healthy and happy lives.
Raised in a close-knit family, 28-year-old Spring Hill resident Neveen Elmargie grew up loving food. It was the focus of large family gatherings and an important part of the daily home life she shared with her parents, sister and two brothers.
“As a young girl, I became an emotional eater,” she says. “Both my parents worked long hours in a family business, and I spent a lot of time alone. If I became lonely, frustrated or had a bad day, I would find comfort in food… it became my friend.”
As Neveen’s dependence on food became stronger, her weight ballooned to 280 pounds, and as her weight increased… her self-image began to shrink.
“When I was at my peak weight, I was a size 24,” she says. “I hid my unhappiness behind an irritable attitude… that was part of my defense mechanism. I craved acceptance, and since I didn’t have the body I thought others wanted me to have, I became a habitual people pleaser just to get that acceptance.”
In her early 20s, Neveen knew she had to make a change.
“I took some time off from college, and I wanted to make good use of my time, so I joined a gym. I liked the emotional outlet that physical exercise gave me, and I slowly began to change my entire lifestyle, including the way I ate,” she says.
A vitally important part of this new lifestyle change included leaving behind regular gym workouts and joining CrossFit Spring Hill.
“I have lost 100 pounds since I made the decision to change my life. But to be honest, when it comes to CrossFit training, weight loss is secondary to all I have attained,” she says. “I have gained self-confidence, learned that persistence pays off and come to the conclusion that if I can make it through some of the CrossFit workouts… I can handle pretty much anything life throws my way.”
The strength Neveen gained at CrossFit was put to the test in March 2013, when she faced the greatest trial of her life. Her mother, Nahil, passed away after a battle with cancer.
“My mother was my best friend, and emotionally, I was torn apart,” Neveen says. “At that point, I had to make a decision. Would I spiral downward and turn to food to get me through the sorrow and depression I was feeling, or would I overcome my dependence on food. I looked inside and discovered a new-found strength I didn’t know existed.”
Neveen turned sorrow and loss into inspiration and motivation.
“Now, when I face any obstacle, even in a workout, I think of my mom and it pushes me upward and makes me stronger. I just love to make her proud,” she says, her voice choking with emotion.
And Nahil would be proud. Neveen now works full-time at BBVA Compass bank and attends Rasmussen College where she’s seeking a bachelor’s degree in human resources. Along with maintaining her weight loss and enjoying her healthy new lifestyle, she has learned many valuable lessons on her journey and wants to pass them on to others.
“The weight loss journey is more than merely physical. You can lose all the weight you want, but it won’t bring you happiness,” she says. “Happiness comes with accepting yourself just as you are, and I have finally learned to do just that. And many think that self-confidence and esteem come with weight loss, but it doesn’t. It comes with overcoming obstacles that you once thought were impossible… and then you find that the weight loss was just the bonus.”
For Inverness resident Kam Reagan, life was good. So good that she didn’t even notice how much weight she had gained until she decided one day to step on a scale.
Kam was shocked to find that she weighed 170 pounds… 45 pounds more than her average weight.
“When I was 29 years old, I noticed after my second pregnancy that it wasn’t as easy to lose the weight as with my first pregnancy,” she says. “Then my weight began to slowly creep up until I hit my mid-40s, and then it sort of took off. I had always been very active and could pretty much eat what I wanted and not gain weight, but it seemed as I aged that my metabolism slowed. That’s when I weighed myself and noticed that I weighed as much as I did when I was pregnant.”
Last year, at 51 years old, Kam began having health problems that she now knows were associated with her weight gain. Her cholesterol was high at 236, she was tired all the time, and her back and knees ached constantly. She decided to attend a Weight Watchers meeting with two friends.
“I remember the exact day,” she says. “It was November 19, 2013. I left that meeting amazed at the camaraderie among the members. I was impressed that they were all different ages and sizes yet they all encouraged one another… and they also encouraged me. They were so enthusiastic and supportive that I decided to join.”
Kam took immediately to the Weight Watchers program and steadily began to lose weight.
“I like the idea that with Weight Watchers I can eat regular food. I didn’t want to give up the foods I love, I just wanted to learn to eat correctly,” she says. “I learned how to make better choices in the amount of food I was eating and what foods would be my priority foods. I consider the ‘points system’ a game and I have to strategically decide what and how much of a particular food I will have for each meal. And I also like the idea that I can reward myself on special occasions.”
Kam reached her goal weight of 125 on July 22 of this year and is a Weight Watchers lifetime member. She wants to use her success to help others.
“Our health is a gift, and we need to cherish that gift. Being overweight affected the way I felt and my enjoyment of life,” she says “Now that I am where I want to be, I am thinking about becoming a Weight Watchers leader so I can help improve others’ lives also.”
Jan Dowling is an admitted chocoholic.
“I have always loved food, and I love sweet food, especially chocolate,” she says. “Oh, I also love vegetables and fruit, but I love sweets. When I was young it didn’t seem to matter much, but when I entered my early 40s, my metabolism changed and my weight just slowly started to creep up.”
Jan, who is now 57, saw her weight peak at 180 pounds.
“I had yo-yo dieted for years using different programs… and they worked, but I never changed my lifestyle, so the weight always came back on. I decided in July 2012 to go to Curves. Initially, I still struggled until I tried Curves Complete in January 2013, which includes the fitness regimen, a customized meal plan and personalized coaching,” says Jan. “That worked, and I met my goal weight over one year ago.”
Jan, a resident of Ocala, says the success she has attained in her weight-loss journey is due in part to maintaining contact with her counselor even after dropping to 155 pounds.
“I still go in every week, work out and see my counselor, Sue, who helped me lose weight. It helps because I am accountable. I don’t want to gain back the weight I worked so hard to lose.”
Jan has found that, for her, Curves is the perfect fit.
“I love the simplicity of Curves,” she says. “Five times a week I go in for a 30-minute workout, and the meal plans are excellent. They provide recipes, healthy food lists and even have lists of healthy meals at various restaurants for dining out. This is a lifestyle change that I can live with.”
As a young woman, Inverness resident Wendy Stephen’s weight averaged around 135 pounds. With each of five pregnancies it began to successively creep higher. Following the untimely death of her then-husband, Allen Roberts, in 2003, due to a car accident, her weight increased dramatically due to emotional eating.
“During the pregnancies, I thought it was OK to eat anything I wanted… and it wasn’t,” Wendy says. “I had really never been an emotional eater until 2003, but I found comfort in food.”
When Wendy, a phlebotomist, found out in 2013 that her blood glucose levels indicated she was prediabetic and checkups showed a steady rise in her blood pressure, she knew she had to do something fast. At this point, her weight had increased to 240 pounds.
“I had tried other diet programs, and I had tried on my own to lose weight. I would lose some, but then I would just gain it back. I once again started on my own but knew I needed more than just my own willpower,” she says. “I went to the Medical Weight Loss Center at Suncoast Obstetrics and Gynecology in Crystal River and started on their weight-loss program.”
Wendy’s weight-loss regimen includes appetite suppressants, vitamin B-12 injections, the use of dietary supplements that aid in the metabolism of body fat and she now eats healthier foods. Since her initial visit, Wendy has lost almost 100 pounds.
“I have so much energy now that I am thinner,” she says. “This is a lifestyle change for me. I carefully choose the foods that I eat, and I am determined to never go back to the weight I was before. I keep ‘before and after’ photos on my refrigerator and in my phone. When I am tempted to eat something I know isn’t right, I look at them and it gives me the strength I need.”
Wendy is looking forward to a bright and healthy future following her weight loss.
“I have started to walk and will soon join a local gym where I will work out a couple of times a week,” she says. “I have just turned 50, I am married to a wonderful man and I have all my children and grandchildren around me. I want to be around for all of them for a long, long time.”
Maria Spaulding vividly remembers the taunts of her classmates when she was a child and the stares of tactless adults as she grew older. She keeps a pair of size 22 pants hanging in the back of her closet as a daily reminder of that painful past.
“In school, kids called me the Goodyear Blimp and Chubby Checker,” she says “and I developed a very bad self-image. If you had asked me what I looked like, I would have said I looked like a burlap sack with a long rope tied around the middle. It was all very painful… but now I use those words and taunts to motivate me as I move forward.”
By the time she reached the eighth grade, Maria weighed 185 pounds. Her mother, Mary, knowing the ridicule her daughter had endured to this point in her life, decided to put her on a diet before she entered high school the next year.
“My mom worked as a waitress at a seafood restaurant, and she told her boss that she wanted to put me on a diet,” she says. “He knew what she was going through with me, so he gave her bags of frozen shrimp for my school lunch. My aunt worked in the school cafeteria and every day of my eighth grade year she gave me shrimp cocktail and ketchup for lunch… and nothing else. I went down to 150 pounds that year.”
Maria, an Ocala resident, was active in high school, playing field hockey and participating in the marching band, so her weight remained fairly stable. Once she left school, her struggle to maintain a healthy weight returned, and she found herself becoming a victim of emotional eating.
During her pregnancy with her daughter, Jennifer, in 1985, her weight peaked at 210 pounds. Her post-pregnancy weight fell to 185, but by 1996, she topped the scale at 208.
“I knew something had to be done,” she says. “I went to Jenny Craig, and I loved my counselor, April. She worked with me and was always there when I needed her. I took out a lifetime membership and began eating the Jenny Craig pre-planned meals. I followed the rules, ate the right food and exercised portion control. Within 10 months, I had reached my goal weight of 155 pounds.”
Following the deaths of her step-father and father within a 12-hour time period in 2000, Maria “fell off the wagon.” The emotional strain was too much, and her weight went back up to 198 pounds.
Unhappy with the fact she had regained almost all the weight she had worked so hard to lose, Maria regrouped and started her weight-loss journey again. Along with the Jenny Craig program, she adopted her own punishment and reward plan that she still follows today.
“Whenever I see unhealthy foods that I love, like Peanut M&Ms or fried chicken, foods that tempt me, I see this big red dollar sign, because I know it is going to cost me money. If I go ahead and eat it, I punish myself by putting five dollars in an envelope. Then, whenever I reach my new goal weight, I take out the envelope and use the money to reward myself with a new outfit,” she says.
Today Maria weighs 139 pounds and wears size 10 pants. She goes to Jenny Craig every two weeks, weighs in and buys her pre-planned meals. When she cooks her own food, she focuses on portion control.
“For most of my life, others made fun of me because I was overweight,” she says. “Now, every chance I get, I tell my success story to others who are struggling with their weight in the hope that it will encourage them and make a difference in their life.”