Losing weight and getting in shape is hard work. And keeping it off may be even harder! It’s incredibly inspirational to meet someone who also struggled with that but then succeeded. What finally worked for them?
In my “How they did it” series, I interview people who overcame challenges and found a healthy lifestyle, especially those who did it over age 40. It’s never too late to become your best self!
Meet Karen Redling, 54. She is a transplanted New Yorker, now living in Cary, North Carolina, with Halifax, “Hali,” her newly-adopted rescue kitten. Karen works as a nurse in a doctor’s office, after 30+ years of hospital nursing, almost all of it in Labor and Delivery.
During this journey, Karen realized how much she loves all aspects of fitness and health. Today, she is studying to be certified as a health coach and is preparing for her exam. She also recently received her group fitness instructor certification.
I met Karen on social media, initially through My Fitness Pal, where we connected over a shared interest in healthy eating and fitness. She has an amazing transformation story to share! So far she’s lost 105 pounds, even while dealing with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, a hormonal disorder that can make losing weight especially difficult.
Let’s find out how she did it.
What was your life like before your transition, compared to now?
As different as it can get. I’ve been overweight/obese almost all of my adult life, but it ballooned up the few years before I started. I started this journey at 248 lbs. With being 5 feet, 2 inches, that put my BMI at 45.4, which is in the morbidly obese, class III category. The inability of being unable to touch my toes because my belly was in the way, or breathing heavy as I walked from the parking lot into work was bothering me.
Before, I would be completely sedentary when not at work, mostly parked on the couch in front of the television. Now, while I still enjoy what’s probably too much television time, I’m at the gym or exercising on my own six to seven days a week and trying to be more active during the day. And I enjoy it! That still amazes me.
How did you lose the weight, and how long did it take?
I was about to rejoin a commercial weight loss program I used once in my 20s then I learned about the My Fitness Pal (MFP) website from an online friend. It’s a great site for counting calories and losing weight and has many resources and a lot of information. I made an account on December 29, 2012 but didn’t start this journey until January 2, 2013 – my family celebrated my nephew’s January 2nd birthday on New Year’s Day that year and the pizza and cake weren’t conducive to what I was about to do. ☺
I started slowly by logging my food in MFP, even without making any changes. It’s good to see just how your numbers and portions are and where you can and should make changes. Then I dusted off my food scale and started weighing my food and reading labels. Learning what a “normal” serving is was eye opening. I upped my water intake, and finally stopped drinking soda. Before I started this journey I was drinking five to six 20 oz bottles of non-diet soda a day and had cut it down to two, but then I completely stopped. I had also previously cut down the sugar in my coffee to a normal two teaspoons from four or five, so I stopped that entirely as well.
Before this I rarely cooked since I don’t like it and when you live alone it seems like a lot of trouble. I mostly bought take-out or ate processed, microwaveable boxed meals. I gradually weaned myself off those and started cooking more. Still don’t love it, but I get it done.
My first exercise was walking. I’m lucky to live near some lakes and enjoy walking around those. I got a Fitbit and tried to hit my 10,000 steps each day. A Wellness Center/gym opened two miles away from me a few months after I started, and I joined.
Today is day 2207 of logging on MFP. It’s still a work in progress as my goals have changed along the way. I’m headed towards a final goal weight of 138 and am about five pounds away. That would still keep my BMI in the overweight category but I’ve shifted my focus to working on gaining muscle. Where my initial body fat percentage was probably over 50%, it was 23.9% last month.
What is your day-to-day routine like? What types of exercise do you do?
Until I took this Monday-Friday office job last year, I was working three 12-hour night shifts a week. Working nights has shown to be detrimental to your mental and physical health, and a few months into my new job, I could really notice that I felt better overall.
During the week, I go to the gym before work. I know I wouldn’t go after, and while this took some getting used to, I love going early and wouldn’t miss it. I do Boot Camp, HIIT, TRX (with and without kettle bells) and have just started regularly going to a Power Yoga class (more Yoga was one of my New Year’s resolutions). I see a personal trainer once a week and do weights only with her. One morning a week I run on the treadmill, or outdoors, weather permitting. I call myself a casual runner and do a few 5Ks, one 4 and one 5 mile race a year. I still walk outside when I can, I find it is good mental therapy as well, walking on Sundays lets me focus on what’s coming up in the week ahead and how to handle any obstacles that I may encounter. I try to let go of the past week and reset for the new one.
What do you typically eat?
While I still don’t like to cook, I do it, but keep it simple. On Sundays I meal prep my work lunches, I eat breakfast and lunch at work. Breakfast is hard boiled eggs and a product called Elli Quark which looks and tastes like Greek Yogurt but is actually cheese. For work lunch, I’ve slow-cooked chicken and am currently eating it in a spinach wrap with sour cream. I add some vegetables and also have a Chobani flip which gives me my chocolate fix. I try to add some protein later in the afternoon and nibble on baby carrots on the drive home. My dinners change, but mostly a protein like chicken, or a burger, both turkey and beef. I also have another Elli Quark with some fresh fruit. Nighttime snacking with ice cream was a big downfall for me and since I still can’t totally break the snacking habit, I do this.
I tend to stick with the same meals for months at a time, mostly out of not liking to cook and the ease of meal preps. I find it also takes away some of the stress of figuring out what to eat.
Having PCOS can make losing weight especially challenging. What specific dietary and fitness strategies worked for you as a woman with PCOS?
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome is a hormonal disorder with a lot of symptoms affecting approximately 1 in 10 women. It makes gaining weight very easy and losing it very hard. Insulin resistance is a common problem and certain carbohydrates can exacerbate this.
I’ve hit quite a few weight loss plateaus, and while MFP has so much information and you can do well on it without help, I chose to see the dietitian at my gym for some guidance and help with the numbers. Having Britt as an extra tool in my arsenal has been invaluable to me. She’s made me see that other changes needed to be made, like not having artificial sweeteners, as they can affect the PCOS symptoms and that I needed to drop my intake of sugar, especially processed sugars even more. We’ve tweaked my calories and macros a few times and it’s slowly working. She has me be sure to hit my protein macro first.
I don’t know that my fitness strategies are done specifically with PCOS in mind, but more so as a “mature” woman. Preserving muscle strength and building bone density are important and lifting weights and doing weight bearing exercises are ways to achieve this.
What tips would you give to someone wanting to become healthier/more fit?
- Determine if you are actually ready. First, I think if you’re not ready, it’s not going to happen. Sounds a bit harsh, but I made many half-hearted attempts over the years and they failed quickly. For whatever reason, I was ready this time and it worked.
- Education. I lost 51 pounds in my 20s through a national weight loss program, but there wasn’t enough education of how it all worked and how to maintain it and the weight came back on, plus a whole lot more. I’ve read so much on the pages of MFP and I truly believe that this is why it’s working this time. I understand what I’m doing, not just doing it.
- Baby steps. Don’t try to be perfect all the time. Start slow. I can’t recommend MFP enough. If you can, log your food, even for a few weeks. It’s not meant for everyone, but it’ll be an eye opener, if nothing else. Make a change, stick with it and when it’s comfortable, add another change. And then another.
- Don’t let the scale dictate how you feel about yourself. That’s one of my biggest mistakes and one I’m still working on. Take pictures and measurements instead.
- Don’t rush the process. Don’t think of it as a diet. It’s meant to be a permanent change, or you’ll be right back where you started.
- Think of your calories as money. You want a good deal for what you’re going to spend. If I’m going to eat chocolate, I make sure it’s good quality. I find I’m not willing to spend my calories on lesser quality foods. This helps immensely with the endless workplace group lunches/parties.
- Move. You don’t have to join a gym or work out six days a week, but you do need to move, not just to burn calories, but for better cardiorespiratory fitness. Find something you like to do and add it to your day. Walking is easy and requires nothing more than some good shoes. Boot Camp is one of my favorites. I love the variety and love seeing what this body can now do. Every class amazes me.
It’s hard work but it’s worth it. It really is.
What is the most important lesson this journey taught you?
That I’m capable of doing great things and that I’m worth it. I didn’t want to make the effort in the past, so I never really did. But once things started progressing and I could do more and more, my self-confidence grew and I learned to like myself. I never used to be able to look in the mirror without cringing, now I get annoyed if someone is in my way during a class. ☺
You are truly an inspiration, Karen! Thank you so much for sharing your journey and your awesome tips with us.
Visit Karen’s blog at www.karenshealthjourney.com and connect on Facebook, Instagram and My Fitness Pal (username kar328).Let's stay in touch! Subscribe to receive my weekly newsletter of helpful articles, recipes and inspiration.