Keri North still remembers feeling hopeless when her weight reached 305 pounds. She suffered back pain, her knees hurt and simple tasks left her out of breath.
“It was hard to get around. I could barely carry my groceries and started having them delivered because I couldn’t go up the steps while carrying the bags,” North, 39, who lives in St. Peters, Missouri, told TODAY.
“I didn’t feel pretty. … I had anxiety and depression.”
At 5 feet, 1 inch tall, North said the extra weight left her feeling physically and mentally unwell — but it also may have been preventing her from feeling a tumor growing in her breast.
North, a mom of two girls, said she didn’t struggle with obesity until her first child was born in 2007 and she was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, an autoimmune disorder that can cause an underactive thyroid. Common symptoms include weight gain.
North also blamed the extra pounds on overeating fried foods and a lack of exercise. She tried losing weight along the way but couldn’t stick with any diet.
Losing weight with diet and exercise
In 2016, she separated from her children’s father — a new motivation to improve her health, she said.
“It was being out on my own, not having anybody else to rely on in the house and, of course, wanting to be around for my children,” North recalled.
When her sister told her about a gym she had joined that year, North started joining her on a regular basis and lost about 50 pounds between July and November.
But it didn’t stick: between 2017 and 2020, she gained all that weight back, plus an additional 30 pounds. That’s when the number on the scale reached 305 pounds, the most she had ever weighed.
In late 2020, North started going back to the same gym. This time, she stuck with it, focusing on lifting weights because she liked how the strength training sculpted her body and led to weight loss.
At the same time, North began eating fewer carbs and added more nutritious foods, like chicken and vegetables, to the menu. She also stopped drinking sugary drinks.
“I tried to not eat out, that’s the biggest part. So no fast food, french fries and burgers. I tried to just cook at home,” she noted.
North still ate some of her favorite foods, but in much smaller portions. Not depriving herself has been key to maintaining the weight loss, she said. Whenever she overindulged, she’d add more cardio to her exercise routine, walking on a treadmill for 30 to 45 minutes after weight training. She tries to go to the gym at least four times a week.
North has now lost more than 105 pounds, rejoicing when the scale recently showed 199 — the first time in 14 years that she has weighed less than 200 pounds. She’s been able to stick with her routine because of the way she now feels and looks.
“I’m not as tired. I’m much more confident, I like the way I look in the mirror. My daughters compliment me and tell me that they’re proud of me," North said. "The feeling of the endorphins after going to work out is amazing."
Breast cancer diagnosis
In April, North was in the shower when she felt a lump in her breast. She underwent a mammogram followed by biopsies of her breast and lymph nodes, which confirmed stage 2A breast cancer.
Her doctor believes she didn’t feel the lump before because of her size, and losing weight helped her find it, North said.
'I kept telling the doctor, 'This is just so surreal,'" she recalled. "Losing weight definitely helped me find it sooner."
She has started chemotherapy and will have a double mastectomy and a partial hysterectomy later this year because tests showed she has the BRCA1 gene mutation, which makes her much more likely to develop breast and ovarian cancer.
North plans to stick with her exercise regimen throughout treatment, hoping it will lead to more energy and a better recovery from surgery. She feels well and no longer fears going up the stairs while carrying grocery bags.
“I can run upstairs without holding onto the railing now,” she said.