When Sharon Schwartz learned that she had prediabetes in 2022 she was worried about what that meant for her future.
“I’ve been in medicine for 35 years as a nurse anesthetist, I know what diabetes does to you,” the 61-year-old from North Carolina tells TODAY.com. “It was a huge wake up call.”
Schwartz is just 5-feet-2-inches tall and, at the time, she weighed 200 pounds. She was concerned that if she didn’t lose weight she would end up like her mother who had Type 2 diabetes. She believes the disease contributed to her mother's strokes and dementia later in life. Schwartz started eating a low carbohydrate diet and began taking Mounjaro, a GLP-1 agonist, a type medication used to treat Type 2 diabetes and can aid in weight loss. She was shocked by the results.
“Much to my surprise, it worked,” she says.
Thyroid surgery, weight gain and a new diagnosis
Growing up, Schwartz was bigger than her friends and bullies often targeted her about her weight.
“Kids are mean,” she says. “People are a lot less tolerant of larger folks.”
After being the butt of their jokes, she often ate to soothe her feelings. That led to her to gain more weight at times, but often she was able to lose it. About 25 years ago, Schwartz received a thyroid cancer diagnosis and doctors removed her thyroid. While she took synthetic thyroid to replace the missing hormones, she still struggled over the years.
“When you lose your thyroid, even being put on (thyroid medication), it’s very hard to lose weight,” she says. “I’ve been able to lose weight at times during my life … this time it didn’t work.”
Schwartz walked about seven miles a day, a practice that had helped her lose weight in the past. When it didn’t work this time, she visited her doctor and had bloodwork taken to understand why.
“My hemoglobin A1C level, which tracks your average blood sugar over three months, was two-tenths of a point below a diabetes diagnosis,” she says. “You see your life’s path in front of you and I saw mine and it wasn’t pretty.”
Weight loss with Mounjaro and a healthy diet
While she was active, Schwartz wasn't mindful about what she was eating, which she thinks made it tough for her to lose weight and increased her blood sugar. A friend had been working with Hello Alpha, a telemedicine platform for women, and recommended that Schwartz reach out to them to learn more about GLP-1 agonists. She was prescribed Mounjaro and worked with a nutritionist on how to eat.
“(I lost) 10 pounds in a week,” Schwartz says. “I figured, ‘Nah it’s just all water. It’ll stop.’ Well, it never did.”
Schwartz eats a low-carb pescatarian diet enjoying foods, such as low-carb, high-protein pancakes, yogurt shots, fruits, vegetables, cottage cheese, fish and mixed nuts. As more plant-based meat substitutes have become available she has tried a variety of those as well. She’s always loved baking and still makes things, including sourdough bread, which she occasionally enjoys with meals. If she goes on a baking kick and has too much bread, she shares it with others.
“I have a lot of friends locally (and) they all love my bread,” she says. “I’ll make it and I'll go find somebody to give it to and that causes me as much joy as actually eating it.”
Walking is her preferred way to exercise
While she always enjoyed walking, she incorporated some weight training into her exercise routine. Schwartz used to go to the gym and ride a Peloton a lot prior to taking Mounjaro. Now, she doesn’t feel the pressure to exercise excessively.
“I don’t do anything like kill yourself at the gym every day, which is what I was doing (before),” she says. “We walk. We chat. We meet friends. We walk more.”
She's ‘more joyful’ now
In total, Schwartz lost 75 pounds and now weighs 112 pounds. Due to the effects of her weight loss, she had a breast lift and skin removal surgery around her abdomen. While she likes her appearance, Schwartz also appreciates that life is easier for her. She and her husband spend time boating and she finds it is easier for her to lift heavy ropes and scamper around the deck.
“Movement in general is easier and safer,” she says.
She retired early so she and her husband can “do what we wanted to do all our lives, which is to be on the water.” Since losing weight, Schwartz has noticed a change in her attitude.
“I’ve always been happy before,” she says. “I feel more joyful.”
She encourages others who are struggling with their weight to seek guidance.
“The biggest step you have to do is to ask for help. I thought as a nurse (that) I know diet, I know nutrition,” she says. “I should be able to do this myself. Well, that’s not the case. Obesity is a disease and up to a certain point, you have no control over it."
CORRECTION (Feb. 6, 2023, 2:37 p.m.): A previous version of the article misspelled Sharon Schwartz's last name as Shwartz.