Like many women, Kerri Fitzgerald, 55, gained weight after her children were born. “I just took care of my family. I was too tired to take care of me,” she tells TODAY.com.
Over the years, she tried dieting, but the weight wasn’t coming off and her blood pressure and cholesterol levels were climbing. So, she decided to give walking a chance in 2011.
“I tried walking in the mall, and my arms would start to tingle and go numb. And when it was cold outside, I had a lot of chest pain. It felt like someone was squeezing my chest. That was a red flag for me — I knew something wasn’t right. It was not normal for the cold to hurt like it did,” she says.
She took a treadmill stress test to check her heart. When her doctor increased the incline and the speed, she got so tired that the doctor stopped the test. They discovered she had an enlarged heart, probably due to an infection, and she needed a defibrillator. Without it, she could die suddenly.
“I was not prepared for this. I had no idea it would be so severe. I always had problems using my arms over my head, but I figured it was just weight related. I had hardly ever been sick,” she says.
The threat of a heart transplant changed her life
A heart specialist told Fitzgerald that she might need a heart transplant, and if she did, she would have to weigh 195 pounds or less to qualify. She weighed 257 pounds, and the doctor told her it would be impossible for her to lose the weight without weight-loss surgery.
That was the point where she decided she had to make a change.
She thought about having the surgery, but she realized it would be almost impossible to make and keep the appointments in Kansas City, MO, more than a two-hour drive from her home in Carthage. So, she decided to buckle down and try to lose the weight without surgery.
“I told myself that anything is possible with God. I knew it would be harder for me than the average person because I had my age, menopause and heart failure going against me, but I was prepared and determined to do what I had to do,” she says.
Over 27 months, she lost 110 pounds, and now weighs 147 pounds. And her health is better than ever.
“This girl worked towards a goal and has accomplished it! I prayed for a good report from my cardiologist, and I got just that. I was beyond excited — I could hardly sleep that night!” she says. She no longer needs a heart transplant, and if she does need one in the future, she knows her weight won’t be a barrier.
When Fitzgerald turned 55 earlier this year, her son asked her how it felt. “I was proud to say I feel better at 55 than I did in my 20s — no joke,” she says.
The diet changes that helped her lose weight naturally
Fitzgerald changed her diet drastically to help her weight-loss efforts. The changes she made include:
- She was a big meat eater, but she cut beef down to once a week. And she scaled back on the pasta and ice cream that she loves.
- Now she eats mostly chicken, turkey, fruit and vegetables, salads (without croutons), almond milk, boiled eggs, cottage cheese and lots of tuna.
- She drinks water with lemon or sugar-free flavorings and unsweetened tea.
- She also paid attention to portion sizes: “That was a big eye-opener for me.” She says. She discovered that a portion of cottage cheese was a half-cup, and a portion of Ritz crackers was five crackers, “not half a sleeve!”
Here’s what she eats in a typical day:
- Breakfast: A Honeycrisp apple, boiled or scrambled eggs, Greek yogurt or oatmeal.
- Lunch: Sliced cucumber, celery, three mini peppers and a half a cup of cottage cheese.
- Dinner: Air-fried chicken breast, steamed broccoli or Brussels sprouts and a lettuce salad with light raspberry vinaigrette dressing.
Here’s how she added exercise to her routine
For physical activity, she just started moving. “This girl absolutely hated to exercise, and it showed,” she says. But once she started, she noticed her legs slimming down. “I thought, ‘This is pretty cool! If I keep it up, I’m excited to see what’s going to happen.’”
At first, she walked on a treadmill for a half-mile four times a day. That was as much as she could do at one time. Now, she’s up to three miles, six days a week, with a rest day on Sundays.
She also mixes in some other workouts. “I do resistance bands, kettlebell workouts, hand weights and Leslie Sansone videos when I want to do something a little different, but I always get the three miles in on the treadmill,” she says.
She connects with people for support
Fitzgerald counts on her husband for support and encouragement, especially when she’s feeling down. For example, some heart tests in May 2022, after she had lost 80 pounds, only showed a 5% improvement.
“I was very discouraged, but my husband reminded me that instead of improving 5%, it could’ve declined 5%. He helps me look at the positive side,” she says.
“I told my husband several times that I felt that this journey was going to kill me, and at times I’ve really thought it might. But I was determined to get the weight off and show the doctor that it was not impossible. It was a lot of blood, sweat, tears and disappointments,” she says.
When she saw the Start TODAY group on her Facebook feed, she got involved. “Seeing what others have done to get to where they are is so encouraging. It lets me know that I’m not alone in this weight-loss journey. There are so many of us fighting obesity and we’re all in the same boat,” she said.
Non-scale victories are endless. We see them every day if we pay attention.
She shares her non-scale victories
Fitzgerald has seen success in other areas besides overcoming obesity. “Non-scale victories are endless. We see them every day if we pay attention,” she says. Here are a few of hers:
- Her shirt size dropped from 3X-4X to medium and large, with a small in there once in a while.
- Her pants went from size 20 to 24 to size 7 to 10, depending on the brand.
- She had to have all her rings resized: “I had to quit wearing my wedding ring because I was afraid of losing it.”
- She no longer has back pain, and she can cook dinner, wash dishes and clean the house without having to sit down.
- She can mow her yard with a push mover: “I would never have been able to do this before.”
- Her cholesterol level dropped from 219 to 155 in a year.
- She no longer needs medication for high blood pressure or high cholesterol.
- Her diet is helping to control symptoms of acid reflux.
- All her lab tests are normal for the first time she can remember.
- She’s not out of breath when she takes the stairs.
- She can keep up with her husband and grandkids.
Fit is hard, and obesity is hard. Choose your hard.
She reminds people to be patient — she steadily lost weight over 27 months. “We’ve got to give it time. We did not gain the weight in a few days or weeks,” she says. “As the saying goes, ‘Fit is hard, and obesity is hard. Choose your hard.’”