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I Did It! Weight-Loss Success Stories


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After one year, Kurtz was 100 pounds lighter and could fit into one pant leg of his former jeans. His health insurance rates also went down three times as he got healthier.

(CNN) – Having to ask for a seat belt extender on a flight was one of Benji Kurtz’s biggest life humiliations.

He also couldn’t shop at popular clothing stores — the clothing wasn’t large enough. When he found clothing that fit, he often didn’t have a choice in styles or colors, able only to purchase pants available in size 50.

At his heaviest, in 2005, Kurtz weighed 278 pounds. Only 5 feet 5 inches tall, he was considered severely obese.

For several years he cycled around low-carb diets to temporarily lose 30 to 40 pounds, only to gain it back. None of the many other diets he tried worked, either. Then, by chance, the solution found him.

Over Memorial Day weekend 2013, Kurtz and his wife watched “Forks Over Knives,” a documentary on the science behind plant-based eating. At that point, he weighed 258 pounds.

The scientific evidence presented on why humans should eat a plant-based diet just made sense to Kurtz. It was like a light bulb went on, he explains.


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He read numerous books and watched online lectures to learn more as he began eating from the four food groups recommended by the Physicians’ Committee for Responsible Medicine: Fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes (with nuts and seeds). Gradually, he cut out sugar, salt and oils.

“As I saw the scientific evidence of how we have evolved as herbivores and not omnivores, and as I saw how well my body was reacting to feeding it a low-fat, whole-food, plant-based diet, it became progressively easier from there,” said Kurtz, a 37-year-old entrepreneur in Atlanta.

The quick results were encouraging.

It wasn’t just his weight that started to drop. His cholesterol went from over 200 to 167. His blood pressure lowered. His health insurance rates also went down three times as he got healthier.

At the same time, other things were on the rise, including his energy levels and his ability to taste food.

“Once you start eating this way, your palate totally changes,” Kurtz said. “You are tasting food the way food was supposed to taste in the first place. Like a film has been lifted off your taste buds.”

He also discovered that he could eat as much as he wanted of the right foods and not gain weight. His new way of eating felt more like abundance than deprivation.

Breakfast foods included oatmeal and fruit smoothies with almond milk. For lunch or dinner, his favorite foods became steamed vegetables with a faux Parmesan seasoning, red lentil chili, baked potatoes, vegan mac and cheese and split pea soup. If he got hungry in between meals, unsalted and unroasted nuts, fruit or chia pudding made with almond milk were his snacks.

After one year and one day on his new diet, Kurtz had successfully lost 100 pounds. He now weighs 138, his pant size is 31 — 19 sizes smaller than his heaviest — and he wears a size small in shirts.

Kurtz’s story isn’t uncommon, says Dr. John McDougall, a California physician who has been studying the effect of nutrition on disease for over 30 years and who answered diet questions from Kurtz during his transformation. After moving people away from a rich, high-fat American diet full of meat and dairy, McDougall says he’s seen patients lose weight, be cured of constipation and lower their cholesterol levels.

One of the biggest keys to these results, he says, is understanding that humans have always been primarily starch eaters; starches aren’t bad. Pasta, beans, rice, corn and potatoes are foods that satisfy the body and can be alternatives to meat and dairy.

“People think they are going to starve to death if they don’t eat a hamburger,” McDougall said.

McDougall went on to say that the marketing of meat and dairy has become so effective that we often associate calcium with dairy and protein with meat, when, according to him, it’s quite easy to get those nutrients from a natural, vegetarian diet.

Kurtz credits his ease in transitioning into this plant-based diet to living close to a grocery store where he could purchase healthy foods and working from home, which made it easier to cook. He also found a quiet indoor pool with a friendly staff where he swims around 20 laps six to seven days a week.

“I don’t crave foods I no longer eat. I’m not going to bed hungry. Everything about life is better.”

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Small steps to lose 100 pounds

At the annual AIDS Walk Los Angeles in October 2013, Nicole Durham, right weighed 90 pounds less than she had at the previous year’s event.


(CNN) – Like so many people, Nicole Durham was tired of being overweight. No one bullied her, and she didn’t have a health scare. She was just sick of looking and feeling bad.

When the Colorado woman finally decided it was time to lose weight, she knew she had a long way to go. She needed more than a diet to lose 100 pounds — she needed to change her whole life.

So she approached it like a marathon instead of a sprint.

Durham weighed roughly 175 pounds throughout high school, but carried it well on her 5-foot-5-inch body. A decent portion of it was muscle from her sports training.

“Nicole was overweight, but it didn’t ever seem to bother her,” her mother, Denise Durham, said. “She had a lot of friends, was on the tennis team and always seemed happy.”

But by late 2010, the then 25-year-old was at her heaviest ever, weighing 258 pounds. She was displeased with her weight, but still wasn’t motivated enough to do anything about it.

“So many times I would tell myself, ‘Today you’re going to start making changes,’ but I never did. Today always turned into tomorrow,” she said.

In the fall of 2012, the accumulation of the little things — seeing photos from when she weighed less, being afraid to hike with friends because of the physical strain, her hatred of shopping because clothes didn’t fit — finally became too much.

She was tired of the mental toll that being overweight took on her and fed up with feeling bad about her body.

“One day, I made sure today was today and started right then and there.”

She wasn’t the heaviest she’d ever been, but she knew that at 235 pounds, she had a lot of work to do. She started out with small changes, realizing that for her, quick and drastic would be a recipe for failure. She also knew she had to stay positive, or else this would never work.

“The exercise was the toughest part, as most people can attest to,” Durham said. “I started slow. I walked a ton and danced my butt off, literally, with ‘Just Dance’ on my Nintendo Wii.”

It was Christmas of 2012, only a few months into her weight loss, that people began to notice a change.

“When I saw her, I could tell something was a different, but I couldn’t pinpoint what it was,” her mom said. “We thought it was a new haircut, but Nicole’s grandmother noticed right away that her face was thinner.”

In January, Durham got serious. Although junk food had never been a vice of hers, portion control was a problem — or rather nonexistent, she said.

She cut out desserts, buying sugar-free Popsicles or Jell-O to satisfy cravings. “White foods,” such as pasta and bread, were changed to whole grains. She also cut back on alcohol when going out with friends.

“Beer and I basically took a break in our relationship.”

Helping along the process was her work’s annual weight loss contest. At the end of the 10-week challenge, she ended up winning by losing 21 pounds — almost 10% of her total body weight. With her $90 in winnings, she purchased a bicycle.

Slowly, walking began to mix with jogging. Then it became jogging with a little walking. By summer, it became running, and her video games were shelved and replaced with strength training and biking.

Durham used a food app to help track her diet, ensuring a proper balance of carbohydrates, protein and fat. Her goal was to eat five to seven servings of fruits and vegetables each day. She also stopped drinking beverages that contained calories.

“I stuck to a simple mantra of eating less and better, and working out more,” she wrote in her CNN iReport.

She hit her goal weight of 143 in November of 2013, one year after she started.

“I work hard, eat pretty conscientiously during the week and have fun on the weekends, now that I’m working on maintaining,” Durham said.

Because her weight loss was a lifestyle change as opposed to a diet, she had to find a way to make it work long term. She knew realistically that she’d be indulging in things like pizza or beer on occasion, and wasn’t going to starve herself to maintain her weight.

“I definitely don’t feel like I’m missing out, because I work out to stay active and to balance it all.”

She lost a little more weight after reaching her goal as she worked on finding a good balance of reintroducing calories without eating poorly.

Today she weighs 135 pounds, give or take a few. She doesn’t feel bad shopping or looking at old photos of herself, and she’s not afraid to do anything outdoors. Her mother is proud and says that her daughter’s success and positive attitude have inspired the family to become more active and eat better.

Durham bicycles, hikes, runs and lifts weights. Outdoor activities are no longer stressful and daunting, but rather enjoyable and liberating.

It may have taken her years to get here, but for Durham, slow and steady won the race.

™ & © 2014 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

Couple shed 280 pounds

In 2011, Robert and Jessica Foster weighed 327 pounds and 287 pounds, respectively.


(CNN) – By the time he hit 327 pounds, Robert Foster had been playing “the fat guy” for decades. His size was the thing that made him stand out.

Publicly, he embraced his lifestyle as a “BBQ-lovin’, beef-eatin’, no-veggie-buyin'” male who wore T-shirts flaunting his hefty size. There was a particularly perverse one, he says looking back on it, which read “I beat anorexia.”

Privately, he was resentful that he wasn’t thinner. He felt angry when he couldn’t bear to take his four little girls to the park because he was too exhausted from unloading groceries. He resented being told he was too big for the seat-belt latch on amusement park rides.

His wife, Jessica, was also obese, at 287 pounds. Unlike Rob, she felt invisible. Customers at the bank where she worked stared past her as they made their transactions. In late 2011, a close family member made a comment at the dinner table that stuck with her:

“She used to be something to look at. Not anymore.”

In late March 2012, the Colorado couple had an emotional conversation. Jess was coming up on her 30th birthday and was sick of the way she looked and felt. They had had talks like this before, where they talked about needing to change, but something was different that night.

“I adore my kids and I love my husband very much, but there was that point I hated myself so much. I wasn’t giving them the full me because I was disgusted,” Jess said. “You have to look in the mirror and say, ‘Am I going to allow this to continue or am I going to stand up and make those changes?’ A light turned on upstairs.”

The next week, she began taking Zumba classes. In just a few weeks, she had lost 14 pounds — enough to motivate her to take on new physical challenges. She moved on to bikes and treadmills and made sure to sweat for an hour at least three times a week. After that, there was no turning back, she said.

Rob was a little slower to change — the thought of going for a run was “unappealing to the point of agony” — but he started playing tennis and stopped taking seconds at dinner.

In the summer of 2012, they added other physical activities that didn’t feel like working out, like hiking and recreational swimming with their kids and friends. They got hooked on the physical highs and wanted to do more.

Rob joined Jess in training for a 5-kilometer race that December. He walked as much as he ran, and Jess finished way ahead of him. But something in him changed.

“The race environment and the high fives and the feeling of accomplishment became addicting to me,” he said. “After that day, I swore I would work to run a 5k without slowing to a walk.”

In Rob’s words, “it got crazy from there.”

The more he ran, the more he felt he needed to run. When he put on his sneakers and took off, “I felt like my whole life was skyrocketing upward,” he said.

A few months after that first 5k, he ran his second, this time without walking. Then he did his first 10-mile run. And in May 2014, he ran his first marathon. By then he was 160 pounds lighter.

Throughout the process, the couple used a calorie-counting app to keep track of everything they ate. They knew they wanted to break their family’s cycle of unhealthy relationships with food while their children were still young.”It got to the point where we realized it didn’t matter what we fed them,” Rob said. “If we weren’t eating the same way or if we were overeating, they were going to follow our example.”The Fosters began shopping only the periphery of grocery stores, never entering the aisles unless it was for cereal. They added more fruits, vegetables and lean white meats and fish. They also began cooking everything they ate from scratch, including breads, dressings and sauces.

“Our whole philosophy towards food was adding good things,” Rob said. “What we found was, the more and more good things we added, the less we craved the garbage.”

After months of a diet rich in whole grains, green vegetables and lean meats, they recently made the decision to go vegan for health, environmental and ethical reasons.

Rob and Jess now each weigh 167 pounds, down a collective 280 pounds. Jessica has lost 120 pounds from the start of their journey; Rob has lost 160. They feel healthier, happier and ready to tackle the world.

Rob, a former bank branch manager, has gone back to college to pursue a bachelor’s degree in integrative physiology with the goal of entering medical school. This May, he completed his first year of college.

He’s not “the fat guy” anymore, and he’s fine with that.

Jess feels pretty great, too. Now a size 10, down from size 24, she’s still getting used to people paying attention to her. She re-entered the workforce in July 2013 after five years as a stay-at-home mom and was surprised at the difference in how people treated her.

“A lot of people became very friendly and were really looking at me in my face, instead of this blank stare. … And obviously, the opposite sex was more playful, always complimentary. I never had that. Never, ever, ever,” she said.

“I love myself. I like what I’m seeing in the mirror. I know there’s some work to still be done, but I’m such a different person than I was before.”

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He lost 153 pounds, won his first triathlon

Kerry Hoffman lost 153 pounds by exercising 5 days a week and counting calories.

(CNN) – The presents had been opened; the wrapping paper was stuffed in the trash bin. Watching his 2-year-old daughter Cadence playing with her brand new Christmas toys, Kerry Hoffman was suddenly struck by a thought:

“I need to be here to walk her down the aisle.”

Startled by the idea, he turned and caught his reflection in the window, noticing his substantial arms, belly and neck. It was a sight he had grown accustomed to as the years passed, but on this particular day, a new resolve animated him.

“I can control this,” he thought. “And I’ve never really tried before.”

At that moment, he made a promise to himself that he would lose the extra pounds — he didn’t know how just yet, but he would do it all the same. At 6 feet 1 inch tall, he weighed 343 pounds.

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It wasn’t always this way.

“I graduated (high school) at 250 pounds, but not necessarily fat. I was from a very small town, and football was king. I started lifting weights at about 13,” Hoffman said. The problem was, “I never did any cardio. I could care less about running. … I ate whatever I wanted.”

That was the status quo until after he graduated college and got married. Then tragedy struck.

“I lost my father to liver disease when he was 55,” Hoffman said. “I think I was subconsciously using food as a coping mechanism because I loved to cook, and I loved to eat, and I still do. … Hindsight is 20-20.”

The day after his “aha” moment — December 28, 2011 — Hoffman joined a new gym near his house. He also scheduled an appointment with the doctor for New Year’s Day 2012.

The doctor performed a routine checkup, noting that Hoffman was already on medication for both high blood pressure and high cholesterol. But Hoffman wanted one more question answered. Near the end of the physical, he requested that the doctor test his blood sugar. It was 277, almost 200% above normal.

It was official: He had diabetes.

“I told the doctor, and this is a direct quote, ‘I’m going to lose over 100 pounds, and I’m going to cure myself of diabetes.'”

The doctor was skeptical, telling him that many people decide to lose weight on New Year’s, and that very few succeed. Hoffman decided to try anyway.

The first day of his new exercise regimen began with a shrill alarm at 5:30 a.m. He had made a commitment not to take time away from his family, so early morning workouts were the logical choice.

When he arrived at the gym, it was completely empty. Immediately, he was struck by the astounding variety of exercise equipment that was available, and his complete lack of experience with any of it.

“I didn’t know what speed to try, what incline. I just tried the treadmill because it seemed simplest. I was terribly out of shape, didn’t know what a good calorie burn was, how long to go — I didn’t know anything. I was a newbie.”

Even so, he kept it up, five days a week. His wife, Emily Hoffman, was surprised at his commitment.

“He was so determined,” she said, “and any small positive change in his body kept him moving forward.”

The most difficult obstacle for Hoffman was changing his diet.

“Once you’re addicted to food, you’re always addicted to food,” he said. “If somebody put a fresh plate of brownies in front of me, it would be just as hard to say no as it was at the beginning. (But) you can never outwork a poor diet.”

Hoffman began keeping track of his caloric intake with a smart phone app, limiting himself to 2,000 calories a day. He also tried to find healthy versions of his favorite foods: cheese made with skim milk, pizza made with wheat dough and even black bean brownies.

Over the course of the year, Hoffman made swift progress. As the holiday season rolled around again, he made another trip to the doctor. When the results came in for his blood pressure and sugar level tests, both he and he doctor were stunned.

“The doctor called all the nurses and doctors and pediatricians out of their rooms and said ‘This guy actually did it,'” Hoffman remembered proudly. “Everyone clapped.”

But that was not the end. Today, Hoffman weighs 190 pounds.

In order to maintain his healthy lifestyle, he continues to wear a calorie tracker every day. He also keeps two pictures beside his bed, one from before his weight loss and one after, reminding himself every morning and every night, “Never again.”

Hoffman also continues to look for new ways to improve his personal fitness, describing himself as “a fitness dork.” Earlier this year, he participated in his first triathlon. After training “like crazy,” he snagged first place.

From 343 pounds to a lean 190. From not knowing how to use a treadmill to winning a triathlon. From “newbie” to “fitness dork.” In a short time, Hoffman made a drastic change.

After that, he just kept going.

™ & © 2014 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

From diet to doctor

Felix Gussone started his weight loss journey after getting food poisoning in Paris. Over the next two years, Gussone says he lost 99 pounds by exercising every day and eating half of what he used to eat. He later added around 22 pounds of muscle at the gym.

By Felix Gussone

Editor’s note: Felix Gussone is an intern with the CNN Medical Unit. He recently graduated from medical school in Munich, Germany.

(CNN) – Doctors frequently tell patients that they have to lose weight. But the majority of them don’t know how it feels to be overweight or what it really takes to lose weight.

I do. Between my 17th and 19th birthday, I went from overweight teenager to lean adult by losing 99 pounds.

I was a happy teenager from a loving family. Food never served as a substitute for happiness in my life, and I had no reason for comfort eating. My mother didn’t like fast food and always cooked healthy meals.

Knowing that, it seems absurd that I weighed 294 pounds at 16.

The reason for my weight gain was simple: I loved food (I still do!), I ate way too much, and I hated exercise.

Well, that’s not totally true. My friends and I were passionate soccer players — sometimes I would even start sweating when my Xbox game got too exciting.

“If I don’t eat greasy fast-food, stay away from sweet soft drinks and avoid candies, I won’t get fat,” I used to think. So while my brother was having two potatoes, I ate four. He would have enjoyed a glass of milk in the morning if I hadn’t already emptied the whole liter. He loved bread with some bacon; I preferred a lot of bacon with some bread.

If you eat more calories than your body needs you will gain weight. It’s as simple as that. We are constantly told to focus on what we’re eating, and yet we forget to think about how much we are eating.

Of course, I got bullied for being overweight. When you’re fat, you’re a target. I struggled with the teasing in the beginning but got used to it very quickly. That was dangerous — getting used to people picking on your size means you’re accustomed to being that size so there is no need for change.

I would still be extremely obese right now if it wasn’t for a school trip to Paris in 2005.

I like French food and had a lot of it. But on the trip I got food poisoning and lost 7 pounds. Those 7 pounds were the spark that started the fire.

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I realized that sometimes you have to RSVP yes when life sends you an invitation for change.

At first I thought: “Cool, I lost 7 pounds. I will try not to regain that weight.”

Then I remembered there was something called exercise, and that experts said it could help you lose weight.

So I started using my mother’s elliptical machine. I worked out for 15 to 20 minutes every single day. I also tried to eat half of what I had eaten before. Instead of four potatoes I ate two; instead of drinking a whole bottle of milk, I would only drink half of it.

My body responded well: Within two years I had lost 99 pounds.

(If I had known I would eventually be writing a weight loss story for CNN, I would have gone for 100).

I realized that if you and your body are hungry for change, weight loss can be fun, instead of a burden.

Luckily, I’ve never encountered the dreaded yo-yo effect. I have maintained my slimmer figure for seven years now. I never stopped exercising. After you’ve come so far, you don’t want to take a risk and regain the weight because of laziness. I purposefully gained 22 pounds working out in the gym because I wanted to build muscle. Now my 6-foot 4-inch frame weighs 187 pounds. My body mass index is 22.

There are countless books on how to lose weight. All the authors seem to have priceless pieces of advice they’ve skillfully converted into cash. But in the end, I believe losing weight is a simple trade:

You feed your body the right amount of food and exercise. In return, your body burns fat. Even your wallet gets a little lighter because you have to buy new clothes.

After seven years of medical education, I have learned a lot about the health dangers of being overweight. I’m glad I took life’s invitation to change as a teen. As a doctor who has been where they are, I hope to help others who are struggling with their weight do the same.

™ & © 2014 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.


Woman overcomes eating disorder

Courtesy Brittany Miles

(CNN) – In 2011, Brittany Miles considered food to be her enemy.

Having been tormented by schoolmates for being overweight since she was 7, she decided to fight back the only way she knew how.

At the beginning of her senior year of high school, at a size 18, Miles began compulsively dieting and exercising. By the time she started college the following year, she was down to a size 4 and was obsessed with losing weight.

“Our society and my peers told me that I wasn’t loveable when I was fat. That when I was fat, I couldn’t be anything else,” said Miles, now a senior and a biology major at Georgia Tech in Atlanta. “So, I was determined to be the farthest thing from fat possible.”

She began what she called a war against calories, and it quickly spiraled out of control. She limited herself to 400 to 600 calories and did 90 minutes of intense cardio daily. Yet at her lightest, Miles never dropped below a size 4.

“Just because my bone structure stopped me from being the size 00 everyone pictures, doesn’t mean that I wasn’t in an incredibly unsafe and unhealthy place,” she said.

Although she was 15 pounds underweight, no one caught onto her habits because they were too busy praising her for her weight loss.

“We constantly push people to lose weight, but sometimes that’s not right for everyone,” Miles said.

In the United States, some 20 million women and another 10 million men suffer from a clinical eating disorder, such as anorexia or bulimia, according to the National Eating Disorder Association. Many people also struggle with some form of body dissatisfaction or unhealthy eating behaviors that can lead to the development of clinical disorders. Studies suggest half a million teens are suffering from eating disorders, and that their concerns about weight begin as young as 6.

Miles says she didn’t treat her body like she loved it when she began to lose weight.

“I deprived it, punished it and tortured it,” Miles said. “I was convinced that a smaller dress size was the key to happiness.”

Breaking the cycle

The day after Miles moved into her college dorm, she said hello to a girl down the hall who was moving in with the help of her family.

Her hall mate’s sister noticed that Miles was unnaturally thin. A recovering bulimic who was studying to be an eating disorder psychiatrist, the sister had a feeling about Miles and asked the hall mate to keep an eye on her.

After only a few months, the hall mate realized that Miles wasn’t in a good place, mentally or physically. Her restrictive diet and obsessive exercise was obvious, so she confronted Miles on the issue, finally allowing her to get it all out.

“The thing about eating disorders is that you realize you have one. You don’t need someone to tell you that you’re sick,” Miles said. “What I needed was someone to understand and to help me understand that weight gain was OK.”

The process was slow and difficult. She spent the first six months convincing herself that things such as pizza and chocolate were OK — that eating them wouldn’t be the end of the world. Over time, she began to exercise less, eat more and reshape her attitudes toward food and her body.

“During recovery, you realize that you have to make a choice,” Miles said. “You can choose to try and fit some predetermined mold, or you can focus on being the happiest and healthiest, both mentally and physically, version of yourself.”

While Miles said starting her recovery was the hardest thing she’s done, she also knows it was necessary to get her life back.

She found support in an online community, a judgment-free zone where she could voice her fears. Miles says that the people she communicated with weren’t experts but real people who had been where she was and could share their own experiences.

She’s gained 60 pounds since she began recovery and has maintained her weight for 15 months now. Currently wearing between a size 10 and 14, she says the most important part is that she’s happy and her body seems to “like to be this weight.”

“At the end of the day, weight doesn’t even really matter in an eating disorder because it’s a mental disease,” Miles said. “Yes, there’s a physical manifestation of this mental illness, but it’s not a problem that stems from your physical health.”

A complex illness

Many people with eating disorders don’t look like they have one, said Claire Mysko of the National Eating Disorder Association. It’s important to remember that there’s no universal picture of how anorexia or bulimia manifests itself physically, she says, and that a person can be struggling mentally without looking “sick.”

“Eating disorders are complex illnesses with complex roots,” she said. “There’s a strong cultural influence to be thin, and many people are vulnerable to that.”

Most people can’t overcome an eating disorder on their own and need professional help. On its website, the association offers several options to find help, such as phone support, live chats with counselors and referrals for treatment and support groups.

There’s a link between issues such as depression or anxiety and eating disorders, Mysko said. The media and popular culture often push the message that thinness is the solution to any and all problems, she said, and a person suffering from depression can be easily influenced by that.

Mysko oversees Proud2BeMe, a site working in conjunction with her eating association that was formed in 2011 in response to the increasing use of the Internet to promote eating disorders and unrealistic body images.

“There’s a proliferation of messages on social media and a steady stream of images that promote weight loss,” Mysko said. “But we’re also seeing an increase in online communities that have positive messages and offer support to those suffering from eating disorders.”

Another upside to social media is that users have the ability to curate their own feeds, choosing the people and groups that they want to appear in their news feed. For someone in recovery or struggling with an eating disorder, the ability to “turn off” the negative pictures and messages can be a big step in the right direction, Mysko said.

“There’s no straight line to recovery,” she said. However, the first step is reaching a place where they want help and seeking that support from friends, family or through a doctor or counselor.

Paying it forward

Miles now hosts a site on Tumblr that encourages people to embrace their bodies and reminds them that eating disorders don’t manifest themselves in a certain appearance. She said beginning her own blog was her way of supporting other people in her situation, especially those who recover to be plus-sized.

She no longer sees food as her nemesis and eats what makes her happy, not letting calories control the choices she makes. She’s proud that she’s experienced foods that she wouldn’t have dared to eat during her illness.

“People who don’t know me look at me now and see a ‘before’ photo. Little do they know that I’m an ‘after’ photo over 14 years in the making.”

Now 21 and loving her body, she’s no longer the insecure 7-year-old who was bullied at school.

“I believe that body positivity is for everyone. There is no weight limit or fitness test in order to be happy with yourself.”

™ & © 2014 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

Akilah Monifa lost 222 pounds

She says there was no one moment when she realized she needed to lose weight. Now 222 or so pounds lighter, she feels a new kind of confidence.

(CNN) – Akilah Monifa wasn’t a foodie until she lost 222 pounds.

The San Francisco-based communications director says she never used to taste her food. She ate mainly to feed an addiction.

“I ate a lot of junk, and I wasn’t mindful about what I ate,” Monifa said.

But unlike with drugs or alcohol, where an addict can stop the behavior that they are addicted to, she knew she couldn’t stop eating. So she decided instead to stop eating and drinking out of habit.

She started with small changes.

She gave up diet soda first. For her it was a real sacrifice.

“I would drink maybe six to eight Diet Cokes a day. I know people think it’s OK to drink since it doesn’t have calories, but I realized I never really had it on its own,” Monifa said. “I was usually rinsing down a big bag of chips with it.”

So she gave up chips.

After that she stopped eating the M&Ms, their bright colors always taunting her from the bowl at a woman’s desk outside her office door.


The tipping point
At her heaviest,Monifa weighed over 400 pounds. She says there was no one moment when she realized she needed to lose weight. The knowledge came in small waves.Her daughter complained she walked too slow.

She couldn’t join her friends on rides at the amusement park because she exceeded the weight limits.

When she flew she had to use a seatbelt extender and actually got bumped once from a flight. When she got off the plane the gate agent told her he would put it in her profile that she had to buy two seats.

Monifa, 57, doesn’t know exactly how she put on the weight. She just knows she gained about 10 to 15 pounds a year after the age of 15.

“I don’t know at what point I remember thinking, ‘Woops, I’m over 200 pounds now,'” Monifa said.

Subconsciously, she may have been avoiding situations where she’d have to confront it.

“I then started telling myself things like, ‘I’ll never weigh more than 200 pounds. Then it became I’ll never weigh more than 250, then 300, then 350. Then it became 400,” Monifa said.

Her mother, and then her partner, bought her clothes. She stopped weighing herself when she got to 389 pounds. She later realized she had even stopped looking in the mirror.

“There was a window on a department store, and I remember seeing someone out of the corner of my eye and thinking ‘Who is that big fat person behind me?’ It slowly dawned on me. That was me.”

The surgery

She decided she had to do something drastic. She looked into gastric bypass; a friend had lost 110 pounds with the surgery. With gastric bypass, doctors create a small pouch at the top of your stomach and bypass the rest to send food straight to the small intestine. The walnut-sized pouch can only hold about an ounce of food.

“Right when I was thinking about it, I got a call from a friend who said that woman had passed,” Monifa said. “I put the surgery off. I wasn’t losing my life over it.”

Three year ago, she worked up the nerve to look into it again.

Her insurance covered a program at Stanford. It started on the right note with a lecture from the physician who would do her surgery.

“He said he did 2,000 surgeries and had no fatalities and he grew up in Huntsville, Alabama, which is where I once lived,” Monifa said. “I took that as a sign that it was going to be OK.”

In August 2012, she had surgery. She weighed 330 pounds.

The first two weeks weren’t bad. She didn’t mind the liquid, high-protein diet. She soon graduated to eating small quantities. But then she slipped into an old habit.

She was running late on the way to the gym. She stopped at a drive-thru. After one bite she threw up.

That’s when she gave up fast food for good.

By the time she went back to work in October she was down to 280 pounds. “None of the clothes I had fit, so I posted that on Facebook and people started giving me clothes in vast quantities. People were so incredibly supportive.”

They were also confused.

“It’s funny, when people hear that you have had gastric bypass, it’s almost like they think you’ve had liposuction and had the fat removed, but that’s not the case,” Monifa said. “A lot of what helps you lose weight afterward are all the changes you have to make.”

She eats five or six small meals a day and takes advantage of San Francisco’s reputation as an inventive mecca for foodies. She now enjoys fresh vegetables from the farmer’s market or a new take on a classic Asian dish. She’ll eat anything baked, broiled or grilled. She eats slowly to enjoy the taste and the smell and the quality. And if she does get a craving, she’ll eat a tiny amount of something rather than the entire container.

“I bought a quart of vanilla ice cream when I moved into my place a year ago, and it is still there,” Monifa said.

Group therapy helped. Setting exercise goals did, too. Her step counter reminds her to get at least 10,000 steps each day. And she didn’t just join one gym, she joined two. A 24-hour facility by her house in Oakland and a gym right down the street from work in San Francisco.

“Since that one is a lot of money, it motivates me to go every day,” Monifa said. “And it feels like a treat. It’s that fancy. I feel like a woman of luxury on the scene.”

Socializing now is about activity, rather than food. She takes walks with friends and plays basketball with her son. She plays tennis and swims.

When she does dine out she looks at the menu online and decides what healthy option to have ahead of time so she’s not tempted. She cuts her meal into a smaller portion and takes the leftovers home.

The true transformation

The 5-foot-11-inch woman is down to 179 pounds. Her goal used to be 190.

“I feel good, and I feel healthy,” Monifa said.

Her sleep apnea equipment and high blood pressure medicine are gone. Her lower back and joint pain disappeared.

And she takes the time to celebrate what she calls the NSVs: the little non-scale victories. Signing up for a charity walk, she relished when the staff insisted she take a medium T-shirt rather than her request for “the largest size you have.” She tucks in her shirt now, showing off her waist.

She has even started to date. And finally, after all these years, she looks in the mirror.

“I’ve never felt good about myself, about my looks. Now I feel like I could attract someone. My friend from college jokes that it is time I should be in a lesbian power couple, but really now I just want someone who can hold their own with me in this world.

“I finally see that I’m worth it.”

™ & © 2014 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.


Teacher dances off 100 pounds

February 2014: Tarver poses with faculty head shots she found from 2011 and 2012.

(CNN) – In fall 2012, Roni Tarver was in a bad mood.

The 5-foot-6-inch teacher weighed 235 pounds and suffered back pain almost constantly. She was popping 10 to 15 ibuprofen daily, which took a toll on her stomach. It didn’t help that she was on her feet most of the day and dealing with the stress and exhaustion of being a relatively new teacher.

Her husband never once said anything about her weight, which made her feel worse about not taking care of herself. She had quit smoking, but knew she needed to get active because climbing stairs still left her winded.

“I really married the most sweet, wonderful, compassionate man in the world. He never made me feel bad about it, so I think I felt more guilty,” said Tarver, 29, a high-school agriculture teacher who lives in the Fort Worth, Texas, area. She remembers thinking, “Why aren’t you taking the initiative? This man loves you for who you are.”

She had never had the body she wanted. By that November, she had enough. She was done being just the outgoing, funny girl. She was done being heavy.

“I found myself crying in bed one night over my weight, and my husband told me that he thought I was beautiful, but if I was so unhappy, I should do something about it,” Tarver wrote on CNN iReport. “This triggered something in me.”

The very next day, she said, she began monitoring her calories and walking or riding the stationary bicycle six days a week. After two months, she was brave enough to step foot inside a gym. That was January 3, 2013.

Soon after, she signed up for her first Zumba class.

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It was the beginning of her new life.

Tarver started sampling every available evening dance class. As the daughter of an aerobic dance instructor, the movements came easily. By the third week, she wanted to be there all the time, dancing to exhaustion under the club lights in the gym’s group fitness room. She supplemented classes with one to two nights working out on the elliptical machine and lifting weights.

“My instructors were amazing, and made me feel like they loved having me there,” she said. “I was having a blast exercising for the first time in my life.”

One of her instructors, now a close friend, found her on Facebook and would message her if Tarver missed a class. She also offered to make her CDs with music she noticed Tarver liked in class.

After 10 months, Tarver’s teacher encouraged her to get certified to teach her own classes. Tarver has been teaching Zumba and other classes that combine fitness and dance for the past four months, in addition to the classes she takes.

“You really feel like you’re in a club, dancing with people, but you don’t have a hangover in the morning. At the end of it, you feel awesome, you’re exhausted, and you can go back and do it tomorrow if you want. It’s good for your soul, if you ask me.”

Tarver knew exercise wasn’t enough to really get healthy. She had to change her eating habits, too. She didn’t follow a particular diet, but stuck to a few principles.

The first few months, she rarely ate out, if at all, and cut out fast food in favor of salmon or grilled chicken with vegetables. At school, she ate a protein shake or bar for breakfast, a banana, apple, pear or some clementines for a snack, more fruit and a low-calorie frozen dinner for lunch. She used a calorie counter app on her phone to track her intake, sticking to about 1,500 to 1,700 calories per day based on how fast or slow she was losing weight.

She also cut out dairy, which was probably the hardest sacrifice.

“I could drink a whole gallon of whole milk in two days. I really, really liked cheese and milk a lot,” she said. “It was difficult at first because I was so conditioned to eating cheese, but I felt better.”

After a couple of months, she allowed herself one cheat meal a week — two bacon and egg taquitos from her favorite fast food chain every Tuesday. She still has that ritual, but is a little freer with her diet on the weekends.

When Tarver started her weight loss journey in November 2012, at 235 pounds, she wore size 22 pants and was about 42% body fat. Within 14 months, she was down to 135 pounds, a size 6 and 21% body fat. Her back pain is almost completely gone, she has her dream body and is “the happiest I have ever been.”

“I can’t believe how easy it was — how fast the weight came off when I was doing the right thing,” she said. “I’m thrilled out of my mind with my body.”

Her husband, Tom Tarver, says Roni has always been beautiful, but it’s clear to him how much better she feels.

“I’m very proud of her, and I would choose the way she feels now over however she looks,” he said. “She’s happier, and she is just a fun person to be around. It’s the kind of person you want to be married to.”

Tarver fluctuates between 130 and 135 pounds and considers herself to be in maintenance mode; she carries around some extra skin from the weight loss, but will happily accept the extra skin over the extra weight.

“If I could give one piece of advice to anyone struggling with their weight, it would be to find something active that you love doing, and don’t give up,” Tarver said. “Consistency is key to making any lifestyle changes. Find a support system and tell people what you are trying to do for yourself. When you say it out loud, you become accountable.”

™ & © 2014 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

NEW ORLEANS (WGNO) - When mother of four Claire McCrary purchased her first scale, she weighed over 230 pounds.

“My triglycerides were high, that was kind of a signal to me that I needed to do something to change,” says McCrary. And so, she began to run.

“When I first started I was running mailbox to mailbox or street light to street light, I just gradually built up my mileage over time. It was addictive, once the first ten pounds came off then I would think, how much further can I go, well let’s try for another ten, let me try for another ten.”

Now over 90 pounds lighter with a marathon under her belt, life has changed completely.


“I always thought that if I lost weight, I would be the same person just in a different body, but when you’re exercising, your entire outlook changes and you really do have more energy. You really do feel better,” exclaims McCrary.

“The first time that I put on a pair of pants that were a size 4 and they were too big and I had to ask the salesperson to go back and get a size 2, I kind of screamed in the dressing room, I let out a little shriek, I did because I’ve never even been that small even in high school.”

Claire’s story has been so impressive she was even noticed by Louisiana’s Health & Fitness Magazine Owner, Mary Piper. “This is just a story that will capture a lot of attention and inspire a lot of people who may be in that same situation because not only is it hard to lose a lot of weight but if you’re not overweight it’s hard to run a marathon so to do both, that’s a great success story right there. It takes a lot of dedication and self-motivation to be able to do that,” says Piper.

“Every meal, every snack is a conscious decision and if I find myself slipping a little bit, I’ll start writing everything down that I’m eating and keep a food diary. My big thing is just consistency and if you mess up tomorrow’s a new day. Moms really need to know that it’s OK to have mom time that they need to do it to be healthy for themselves. I tell my kids all the time, I’m a better mom because I’m healthy and I can take better care of you.”

Claire McCrary’s journey began a year and a half ago and she has maintained the same weight for 6 months. She lost weight without a gym membership, without a personal trainer and without any surgical help. She did, however, have the love and support of her husband and friends. Her story will be featured in the July issue of Louisiana’s Health & Fitness Magazine.