Rhonda Lokken still remembers being taunted about her weight as a child.
“I’ve been overweight since I was 5 years old and I was the kid on the playground who was teased and bullied. The boys called me fatso,” Lokken, 60, who lives in Bemidji, Minnesota, told TODAY.
“My mom had to order chubby sizes from catalogs because I lived in a small town in southeast Alaska and that was the only way I could get clothes. That was always embarrassing.”
Lokken said she always had a sweet tooth and as an adult, spent most of her life weighing more than 300 pounds. When she became pregnant with twins, the number on the scale grew even bigger — so big that she told her doctor she didn’t want to know about it anymore.
She tried many ways to lose the weight: a liquid diet, very strict calorie counting, the keto diet, Atkins and Weight Watchers. Nothing worked in the long term.
At 5 feet, 8 inches tall, Lokken had a BMI that put her in the severe obesity category and impacted her health. In 2000, she developed Type 2 diabetes. Doctors told her she could never get off insulin.
Severe sleep apnea meant Lokken had to start using a CPAP machine. She had high blood pressure, found it hard to move around and would get easily winded. Her self-confidence suffered, too.
“You’re just treated differently when you’re when you’re obese,” she recalled. “People look at you and judge you… they look at your weight as a character flaw. I always thought people didn’t take me as seriously as they took others who are a normal weight.”
Weight-loss plan: 'I completely changed my mindset'
Things began changing when she moved from Seattle to Bemidji in 2017. She started seeing a doctor who kick-started her health improvement journey, Lokken said.
In 2020, she started meeting with Sue Diaz, a nutrition specialist at Sanford Health who also has Type 2 diabetes. Lokken was on a lot of insulin at that time, which can make it difficult to lose weight, so Diaz recommended an alternative medication that was approved by her doctor.
Together, they made changes to Lokken’s lifestyle that included:
Only eating when she was hungry: “It’s about listening to my body and being very mindful of what it’s telling me. Am I really hungry or am I just stressed out, angry or happy?” Lokken noted. Before she started paying attention to that, “any emotion, and I would head for the food,” she said.
Looking for ways to eliminate added sugar: When Diaz starts working with patients, she asks about the sugary foods or liquids in their diet. “Just start pecking away at that,” she advised. “If somebody is drinking five cans of pop a day, maybe make a goal of going down to three and see how that goes.”
Making certain changes: Lokken ate a vegetarian diet for a year, though she’s now back to eating some meat. She skips fast food and doesn’t drink alcohol.
Eating smaller portions: Diaz once had a patient whose favorite bowl of cereal was about three times larger than what might be expected. He was basically eating the equivalent of three meals at one sitting and had no idea, she said.
Paying attention to serving sizes: Use measuring cups to figure out the proper serving size. If they’re not available, there are other ways to gauge the amount: a closed fist is about a cup of food; a thumb is about a tablespoon; a tennis ball is about the size of a serving of fruit; and a computer mouse is about the serving size of a starchy vegetable, Diaz said.
Exercising: Lokken joined a gym in 2019 and started working out with a personal trainer. That routine continues today.
Indulging carefully: “If I have a craving for chocolate, I will have some chocolate. I will try to have it in a smaller portion and then I’ll put the rest of it away where I can’t see it,” Lokken said. “I don’t want to ever feel deprived. If I start acting like I’m deprived and 'Oh, I can’t have this ice cream' and I really want it, then that’s trouble for me, then I could have a hard time not thinking about it.” She still loves sweets, so when the holidays come around or someone brings a box of donuts to share, she mentally prepares for that and is careful to indulge just a bit.
Making it a way of life: “I completely changed my mindset. I never called what I was doing being on a diet,” Lokken said. Instead, she looks at it as a lifelong way of eating that’s not “ruined” if she eats a piece of cake. Most people want a quick fix, she said, but she has taken it slow and gradually changed her lifestyle.
After about three-and-a-half years of this routine, Lokken has lost more than 100 pounds and now weighs 196. She is completely off insulin and her diabetes is under control. She no longer has to use a CPAP machine when she sleeps. She went from a size 24 to 12 and recently bought her first swimsuit in years.
“This whole journey is not just about weight loss for me,” Lokken said. “This is about being the best version of me I can be and focusing on my health.”