Kara Beck remembers the whispers behind her back. Boys saying “fat” under their breath as they walked by her. A friend calling her a “red cow” when she wasn’t around. The bullying about her weight started when she was 12, she remembers, but Beck had long understood that she was different.
“I was very careful. I was always so sensitive and tried to stay out of situations that would provoke bullying," Beck, 25, of Kansas City, Kansas, told TODAY. “There were more things said behind my back ... than to my face."
Starting in kindergarten, Beck was heavier than her peers. At the age of 8, she said doctors diagnosed her with pre-diabetes.
“It was obvious I was bigger and it made me look older,” she said.
While she had a vague idea she should eat fewer carbohydrates and more protein, she did not truly understand nutrition. As she grew older, she said the emotional scars from being bullied fueled her unhealthy eating habits.
“The bullying was just damaging my psyche, at this point, and creating this really unhealthy self-image and relationship to my body," Beck said. “That turned into my bad relationship with food.”
During high school, she shed 70 pounds, but started self-harming. Her parents helped her get treatments for depression and anxiety, including antidepressants. Then she regained the weight.
“Bingeing habits really started when I got into my later teenage years," Beck said. "Those bullying instances were fuel for that.”
She and her husband Nathan got married when she was 19. They decided to have children and she planned to lose weight before getting pregnant. But just when she started losing some weight in 2016, she learned she was expecting. At the time she was about 330 pounds. When she gave birth to her son Samuel in March 2017, she weighed 368 pounds.
“Before my pregnancy, mentally, I had gotten very good at avoiding my weight,” Beck said. “When I was pregnant I was visiting the doctor every month and then every week and I had to see it and address what was happening. That was when I thought ‘Oh my gosh I need help.’”
One of her doctors told her about gastric bypass surgery. She started following other young adults on Instagram who had the procedure and she was inspired to do it, too. In January 2018, she completed the surgery.
But losing weight and being healthy has taken work. She had to learn that her body no longer enjoyed heaping portions of fatty, sugary foods.
“Your body has changed and you have to adjust to that,” she said.
She says it wasn’t always easy. By tweaking her eating and exercise habits, Beck, who is 5 feet, 4 inches tall, went from 368 pounds to 163 pounds.
When Beck first tried exercising, she could only move for 15 minutes before she felt exhausted. Now, she goes to the gym six days a week for an hour.
While the physical aspect is important for being healthy, she believes she needs to face her anxiety and depression as well.
“I am working on the mental aspect and that will help me keep going further,” she said. “If you don’t deal with the mentality and the habits that got you there you won’t see results.”
After she lost 200 pounds, Beck decided to have skin removal surgery on her stomach.
“The skin was a double-edged sword," Beck said. "I saw it as a badge of honor but it also reminds me of who I used to be, which holds me back."
Beck feels confident about what she’s achieved and gives advice for anyone hoping to lose weight.
1. Take small steps
Picking one habit and working on it until it is a set behavior helped her.
“Start small and make a plan,” she said. “If you try to overhaul everything at once, it is overwhelming and people give up easily ... take one step at a time to make big things manageable.”
2. Find support
Seeing other young people like herself lose weight from gastric bypass surgery on Instagram made Beck realize she could do it. Having people who understand her also helps when things feel challenging.
“People who don’t have weight loss surgery, they don’t know what you are dealing with,” she said. “It is really nice to connect with these people.”
3. Be mindful
“You have to analyze your thought patterns and feelings,” Beck explained. “Am I actually hungry? You have to be able to ask yourself why you are doing the things you are doing in the first place.”