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Son’s leukemia diagnosis triggered Mom’s weight gain. With walking, she lost 32 pounds

When Amy Dolloff’s son was hospitalized, there were days when she lived on M&M's. Now, she’s making healthier choices and she’s lost 32 pounds.
Walking helped Amy Dolloff cope with the stress of caring for her children and inspired her to make healthy diet changes.
Walking helped Amy Dolloff cope with the stress of caring for her children and inspired her to make healthy diet changes.Courtesy Amy Dolloff

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Amy Dolloff, 53, said she was a skinny kid. “Growing up, I was called daddy long legs,” she said. She’s a mom of four, and it was when her youngest son faced life-threatening health issues that she began to gain weight.

Her son was born two months early, with Down syndrome, and he spent five months in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). The hospital was two hours from where the family lived, so Dolloff stayed there with her son most of the time. “My water broke, and suddenly I was gone for five months,” she said.

When her son came home, Dolloff said she served as his doctor, nurse and respiratory therapist: “It was like we had a NICU in the house.” Eight months later, he was diagnosed with leukemia and hospitalized again. “We almost lost him,” Dolloff said. “That’s when I started putting on the weight.” There were days when breakfast, lunch and dinner were peanut butter M&M's from the hospital store.

Years passed, and her son often needed surgeries. Her husband was working a lot, and with three other children to care for, she was under a lot of stress. “When my son went into the hospital, my weight was in the 150s. The last time I got on the scale, I was 188. I know I went higher. My clothes were telling me, the mirror was telling me, and the way I felt was telling me — I didn’t want to do anything. I was grouchy and tired all the time,” she said.

Amy Dolloff and her son.
Amy Dolloff and her son. Courtesy Amy Dolloff

“In the last few years, with the stress of life and being down on myself, I haven’t been feeling great. And finally, I realized I wouldn’t be around much longer if I didn’t do something. And I didn’t want my kids thinking all I did was sit on the couch and not do anything fun with them. My daughter is 15, so in a few years, she’ll be graduating, and all she’s known is me being tired, unhappy, overweight and grouchy,” she said. 

I didn’t think it would work for me.

said Amy Dolloff

Dolloff had seen segments on TODAY about walking and exercise, but she didn’t do anything except watch. “I didn’t think it would work for me. I joined the Start TODAY Facebook group, but I didn’t do anything,” she said

Finally, earlier this year, she found the motivation to get healthier. Since then, she’s lost 32 pounds. “My clothes are fitting better. I’ve had to go down to medium shirts from large. My belt is at the last hole, which is four holes down from where I started,” she said. She uses MyFitnessPal to track her exercise, food and water and she’s seen her scores there improve. Here are some of the changes she’s made:

Amy Dolloff lost 10 pounds in 6 weeks by adding walking to her routine.
Amy Dolloff lost 10 pounds in 6 weeks by adding walking to her routine.Courtesy Amy Dolloff

She carved out a few minutes for walking and built on them

In early spring 2022, Dolloff was sitting in her car catching up on TODAY segments on her phone while her son was in a therapy program. Something just clicked. “I guess at that time, I was ready for the information. I finally said, ‘I have to do something. Let me see what I can do.’” 

She started walking the driveway where her son had therapy. “It’s probably 100 yards, and I would just walk that back and forth. In 10 minutes, I would be tired and out of breath.” She slowly increased her walking time.

She found another opportunity for walking when she was taking her daughter to physical therapy. “I was thinking I could just sit there for an hour, and that’s where the whole mindset change came in. I realized I have this opportunity. I have nothing else I can do in that time.” For the next appointment, she brought her earbuds, wore her tennis shoes instead of sandals, and walked in a circle around the edge of the room.

By August, she was walking up to 30 to 45 minutes during her son’s therapy sessions. And she’s added in walks in her neighborhood for at least 20 minutes, five times a week. “In the evenings, I feel like I need to go walk. Instead of sitting on the porch swing watching the neighbors walk by, I’m going out and walking.” If she doesn’t manage to get her walk in, she’ll walk laps inside her house.

She’d like to add in weekend walks, but those days are hectic, and she finds she gets her steps in when she’s cleaning or tackling household chores. She would also like to incorporate some strength training. “That’s what I’m struggling with right now. The walking is pretty much a habit. But I know that as you get older, strength training is more and more important. I don’t want to lose that muscle mass,” she said.

Amy Dolloff and her family.
Amy Dolloff and her family. Courtesy Amy Dolloff

She’s adding in healthier food choices

Dolloff made a mindset shift at the grocery store: “Over the last year, I’ve learned there are some foods if I have a taste of, I can’t stop. So, I don’t bring them home anymore. We got a lot of stuff weeded out. Food is too expensive to throw out, so if I already bought it, we ate it, but I’m not bringing it back into the house,” she said. 

She buys prepackaged Milano cookies, so she’ll eat two instead of 10. She acknowledges that 8 p.m. is her witching hour. “I’ll be sitting on the couch, and it pops into my head that the Milanos are there in the cupboard. It’s not my stomach, it’s my brain. I know I’ve had enough protein, and I’m not feeling hungry, so sometimes I’ll make a hot tea. But sometimes I’ll go ahead and have the Milanos,” she said.

She’s also learning how to listen to her body and how she feels. “Now, when I make fruit smoothies, I add protein, avocado and flax seed. That stabilizes the sugar, so I’m not getting headaches or feeling blah, and I’m feeling full for longer,” she said.

She frames changes in a positive way

She likes how Stephanie Mansour recommends adding in things rather than taking away things. “I hadn’t thought of it that way before. It’s all in the way it’s presented,” Dolloff said. “I added in the walking first, and in late March or early April, I started adding in more peppers, blueberries, spinach and avocados. And I’ve learned to add protein.”

She plans ahead for better alternatives

When Dolloff and her family were on vacation in Myrtle Beach, she had to come up with some healthy-eating strategies. For example, when they went to a Thai restaurant, she searched online for healthy options. Three or four Thai dishes came up repeatedly, so she ordered one, with a side of vegetables in place of rice.

And one day, her kids wanted McDonald’s, which they don’t eat very often. Dolloff couldn’t find any healthy options on the McDonald’s menu, so she went next door and got chili at Wendy’s. “That was something I consciously said I was going to do because I knew I wanted to treat myself at the beach,” she said.

She also has a plan for an upcoming family cookout: “I’m going to have everything, but instead of a mountain, I’m going to have a little bit of everything.”

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