When Gabs Amster encounters patients who are frustrated with being overweight, she knows exactly what they are going through.
The new critical care nurse — she graduated from the University of South Carolina College of Nursing this month — spent her childhood struggling with extra weight, reaching 210 pounds in her freshman year of high school.
Standing 5 feet, 4 inches tall, Amster was considered obese and endured “extreme bullying” by her classmates to the point where she decided to leave her school and be home-schooled for a year.
Her weight-loss journey began soon after — when she stepped on the scale during a doctor’s appointment.
“The physician actually told me, ‘You’re getting to a point where it’s too much for your body, you’ve got to do something about it.’ I went home that day and it still didn’t hit me,” Amster, who is now 22 and lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, told TODAY.
‘So I asked my mom, ‘Do you think that I’m overweight?’ She’s the type of person who would never say anything wrong about you, but she looked at me and said, ‘It’s time for us to do something about it.’ That’s when it triggered me.”
Weight loss: Round one
Amster said various family issues led her to overeat throughout her childhood, with food helping her cope with her mental health and boredom. A sedentary lifestyle compounded the problem.
But when she was home-schooled for a year, she began to exercise and run. Amster's father helped her get a membership at a gym and she became a regular.
“I went every single day until I could run 5 miles” on the treadmill, Amster recalled. “Sometimes it would take me an hour, sometimes it would take me longer, but I wouldn’t get off until I hit that mark.”
After each cardio session, she’d alternate exercising her abs, upper or lower body using workouts she’d find online.
Next step: changing her diet. Amster’s biggest problem was “carby foods like bread,” she said, so she put herself on what she called “the God diet;” if a food didn’t grow out of the ground or was overly processed, she wouldn’t eat it. The focus was on clean eating, meaning she prioritized whole healthy foods as close as possible to their natural state, like fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats and whole grains.
Amster didn’t count calories but tried to be very conscientious about portion sizes. One way she’d decide whether to eat a certain food or not was to watch YouTube videos on how it was made. “If it looked like it went through a long process of trying to become something, I wouldn’t eat it,” she said.
The diet and exercise worked: Amster’s weight dropped to 139 pounds.
“It didn’t hit me how well I had done until I went back to high school,” she recalled. “The same people who used to bully me introduced themselves to me because they didn’t recognize me.”
Weight loss: Round two
Amster maintained the weight until she got into university, but the stress of college led her to gain some pounds.
The nursing student was trying to get back into a healthy routine and went to the gym every day. Then, the pandemic hit.
Amster contracted COVID-19 in June of 2020. She was young and healthy, but still felt short of breath anytime she moved and spent two weeks isolating in a bedroom at her mother’s house.
“It was a 6-foot walk to my bathroom and I passed out one time on my way to the restroom,” she recalled.
After easing off the exercise for a while, Amster now weighs 165 pounds and her goal is to return to 150. She has resumed going to the gym most days of the week and continues to avoid processed foods, though she’s not as strict as she used to be.
Her weakness continues to be the “bread type of situation,” so she tries not to eat bread until dinner and won’t eat a cannoli when her boyfriend does after dinner, Amster said.
Weight loss advice:
When Amster is craving sweets or carbs, she remembers her dad’s advice: If you’re not hungry enough for an apple, you’re not hungry enough.
“It’s stuck with me ever since,” she noted. “I keep apples on me at all times.”
A person won’t be ready to lose weight until they decide to do it for themselves, she added. Amster once worked as an ultrasound technician assistant and often scanned patients with peripheral vascular disease. Most were overweight — some topping 400 pounds — but they still didn’t know how to get into the healthy mindset of “I really need to do better or it’s not going to be good,” she recalled.
That’s when she would share her own weight-loss journey because she felt it was important for them to realize that if she could do it, they could, too.
“If you’re ready to do it then you need to (ask yourself), what is going to trigger you to be a better you? Is it seeing that you could really hurt yourself if you’re continuing on the track that you’re on? Or is it something that you just really want to do?” Amster said.
“For me it was: I just wanted to be a better me.”