Throughout each of her pregnancies, Liz Fanco felt so sick. She experienced hyperemesis gravidarum, which causes severe vomiting, nausea, weight loss and an electrolyte imbalance in pregnancy. That meant she’d often lose weight. But after each baby was born, she’d regain what she lost. After eight children, Fanco weighed close to 300 pounds.
“I would gain any weight that I lost back after each of the kids were born,” Fanco, 41, who lives outside of Grand Rapids, Michigan, told TODAY. “I always wanted to lose weight. I’ve always tried to lose weight. I’ve always been motivated to lose weight. I’ve just never been successful at losing weight.”
Every day, Fanco would go to her local gym for 90 to 120 minutes and logged all the food she ate. But nothing worked. She visited her doctor to discuss why her efforts weren't paying off.
“I went and complained that I was having no success with weight loss. My doctor would say, ‘If you just change your diet and exercise more,’” she recalled. “And I was like ‘I literally can’t. There aren’t enough hours in the day for me to exercise more than I am and I can’t change my diet anymore.’”
At the same time, Fanco was running races for to raise money to help address the global water crisis with World Vision, a global Christian humanitarian organization. But training hurt.
“I wanted it to be easier. I wanted to be able to enjoy running. I didn’t want it to be painful with every step,” she said. “I wasn’t getting any faster. It wasn’t getting any easier — it was taking me four hours to do a half-marathon.”
She connected with a trainer Todd Buckingham at Mary Free Bed Sports Performance Lab in Wyoming, Michigan, hoping that she could improve her running ability. Buckingham had her run on an anti-gravity treadmill, a device that reduces the pressure on her body while running. The pressure can be lowered to a percentage of one’s weight to make rehabilitation easier.
“He took me down to running 15 seconds at a time,” Fanco said.“I was doing everything wrong. My foot placement was wrong. My gait was wrong. My arm movements in correlation to my foot movement was wrong. I was moving the same arm and the same leg at the same time, like cross country skiing.”
She also started working with a nutritionist who informed Fanco she actually wasn’t eating enough. Now, Fanco eats 250 calories about every two hours instead of three meals a day.
“That jumpstarted my metabolism,” she said. “Instead of (it) spiking then dropping and spiking and dropping all day long it was staying at a higher level to the point that I actually started feeling hungry again.”
To keep up with so many small meals, she eats fruit, drinks protein shakes and keeps cut up vegetables in the fridge for snacks. Her eating isn’t restrictive. She enjoys all types of foods, including meat that is raised on her family farm.
Since starting with Buckingham, Fanco achieved many of her goals. The first was to run a 5K in under 45 minutes, which she completed in 41 minutes in March.
“I seriously thought I was going to die,” she said, laughing. “(Buckingham) pretty much dragged me across the finish line.”
She has lost 115 pounds, but feels proud of how she has transformed her body and health. Her hips went from 41 inches to 26 inches. She lost 13 inches in her waist and 12.5 inches around her chest.
“It’s more important to me to have a healthy body that can continue to tackle things like this, which means not having a lot of excess fat around my organs, which puts me at higher risk for things like heart disease, liver disease, diabetes, things that run in my family,” she said. “That is much more important to me than any number on the scale.”
Her percentage of body fat has been steadily decreasing and she felt strong enough to run the New York City Marathon in November. She's pleased by how far she’s come since the beginning of the year.
“It really took having somebody else put me first for me to realize I need to put myself first,” Fanco said. “I was talking to my oldest daughter who is 23. … She said it’s been one of the best years of her life because for the first time she’s seen her mom learn to take care of herself.”
She shared advice for those hoping to make healthy changes.
1. ‘When you’re ready to make the change, make the change.’
Often when people think about losing weight, exercising or eating healthy foods, they pick a start date. Maybe it’s next Monday or Jan. 1 or the beginning of a new school year. Fanco encourages people to start immediately.
“Don’t psych yourself up and say you’re going to do it,” she said. “Let’s do this now … When you’re ready to make the change, make the change.”
2. Find support.
Having Buckingham support and guide her, really helped Fanco transform her health. At the same time, she noticed some people in her life weren’t supportive. She decided to spend more time with those who encouraged her to continue her healthy habits.
“Surround yourself with people who believe that you can do what you’re working towards,” she said. “At the same time, distance yourself from the people who are waiting for you to fail. It’s so discouraging … you’ve got to cut those people out of your life.”
3. Make things easier for yourself.
It took Fanco a little time to adjust to eating every two hours. But she started setting alarms on her phone to remind her until it became a habit. She also keeps healthy snacks and meals packed so she can grab them when she’s on the run with her kids.
“Once I made that adjustment with the eating it just became second nature,” she said. “I still eat like that.”
CORRECTION (Dec. 16, 2021, 9:40 a.m.): An earlier version of this article misspelled Fanco's last name. It is Fanco, not Franco.