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In January 2021, Kari Hughes Newman, now 46, made a New Year’s resolution to lose weight, but she didn’t just want to drop the excess pounds, she wanted to get healthy. “I wasn’t feeling well, my knees were hurting, and I was just always tired,” she said. Plus, her family has a history of diabetes and heart disease, so she knew she had to take better care of herself.
She had always struggled with her weight, but in six years of building a business with her husband she gained about 80 pounds, bringing her up to 248. “It was the stress of the business and a lack of time, with me not realizing I needed to manage my time better,” she said. “I was exhausted every day. I would come home from work, cook, take a nap, get up two hours later, stay up late and do it all over again. It was a vicious cycle that I couldn’t get out of. My sleep schedule was messed up. Everything was just a disaster in my life.”
She was also frustrated because she enjoys hiking, and she was afraid if she fell on a steep trail, she wouldn’t be able to get up. “I weighed 100 pounds more than my husband, so he wouldn’t have been able to help me out,” she said.
A tipping point for her was when she took an anniversary trip with her husband and she couldn’t climb to the top of a scenic view — they had to take the ski lift. “I knew with my heavy weight and activity level that I just didn’t have the ability to climb the incline. I was too out of shape, and I was embarrassed to admit that I just couldn’t physically do it,” she said.
"When New Year’s came I decided, ‘OK, I’m going to get in shape. I’m going to fix myself.” And she did it. Newman lost 60 pounds in six months, dropping about two pounds a week. “Sixty pounds came off pretty quickly because I was so overweight for my height at 5 foot 2 inches,” she said. She dropped 40 more, but those pounds took more time — almost a year. Here’s how she did it.
She changed her life gradually, not all at once
Newman didn’t attempt a total lifestyle overhaul. She took one step at a time.
- She replaced soda with water. That change meant she also scaled back on alcohol, since it pushed her to stop drinking soda mixed with liquor.
- She gave up fast food. “I’ve honestly had fast food four times in the past two years. Even when we go to [our daughter’s] track meets, I pack snacks, so I don’t go to the concession stand. When we travel for our business, I pack healthy choices for myself, so when other people are stopping at McDonald’s I don’t need to. Fast food is a thing of the past,” she said.
- She started walking. Her daughter, an athlete, injured herself and needed to start swimming as part of her recovery. Newman got a family membership to her local YMCA and began walking on the treadmill: “I could only do a little bit at a time, at a very slow pace. There wasn’t really any other choice but to walk.”
- She recorded what she ate with her Fitbit app.
- She and her husband started hiking again. “I like to be in nature and be outside,” she said. “So that was one of my motivations — to just be able to go out and do things,” she said. “We started hiking a lot and the weight came off pretty steadily.”
- She gave up the midnight bedtimes. Now, she turns in at 10 p.m. And because she saw how alcohol was changing her sleep patterns, if she has a drink, it’s much earlier in the evening.
- She stayed consistent with her physical activity and nutrition. “Keeping my health a priority even when my schedule wasn’t normal was important. With consistency, everything became a habit. Even on vacation, I was conscious of my food choices and activities so I wouldn’t fall out of my routine,” she said. “During times of the scale not moving, I stayed consistent knowing the big picture involved so much more.”
After solid progress, she had to break through a plateau
Newman had improved her diet, but she knew it wasn’t as healthy as it could be. “I couldn’t lose any more weight and I knew something had to change. That’s when I saw Stephanie [Mansour] on the TODAY show,” she said.
She realized that adding in some strength training would boost her health and fitness. She joined the Start TODAY Facebook group and added core, arm and lower-body strength training to her workout routine.
“When I joined that group, it was nice seeing other people progressing and sharing their stories. That motivated me,” she said. “I thought, ‘If they can do it, I can do it.’”
She now wakes up at 5:30 a.m. and gets her workout done first thing. And on Sundays she shops for groceries and meal preps for the week. “That sets me up for success,” she said.
She also takes photos of herself every month to see her progress. “I know what I look like and that is more important than what the scale tells you,” she said.
She overhauled what she was eating
Newman said transitioning her diet was a challenge — she comes from Appalachian culture, so she grew up eating a lot of fried foods and small portions of vegetables.
“I never realized how unhealthy my cooking was because it wasn’t processed food. I always loved to cook, and it was good homemade cooking, but it was things like gravy, biscuits and cornbread,” she said. “I still eat those foods in moderation, but on a regular basis I’m pretty good with my diet.”
- She stopped frying foods. “I started using a lot of olive oil and nonstick spray, and baking and grilling. I use some of Steph [Mansour’s] recipes,” she said.
- She tried restricting her calories to 1,200 per day, but discovered that didn’t work. “I wasn’t eating enough food,” she said. “It’s not sustainable. When I started doing strength training, I realized I had to have my protein.” Now, she aims to eat 130 grams of protein per day, in foods like eggs turkey sausage, Greek yogurt, protein cereal, chicken, seafood and a daily protein bar. She’ll prep a week’s worth of high-protein salads or soups for lunch.
- Her carb intake naturally decreased. She has found that the way she eats now, she doesn’t eat many carbs. “It’s not that I restrict them, I just don’t want them,” she said. She no longer has any junk food in the house. And when she eats in a restaurant, she skips the appetizers and chooses salmon or seafood with a salad.
Here’s how her life has improved
The weight loss and health changes she’s seen in the past year have made a big difference. She can hike a lot more, for starters. “We do the same trails now that we did last year and our time is so much better. I’m not tired. I can do it all. We’re in West Virginia — we have nothing but mountains — and I feel good after hiking, not exhausted or embarrassed that I had to stop so many times,” she said.
Her hot flashes, which were waking her up three or four times a night, are almost gone. Along with the weight loss, she’s seen her resting heart rate decrease and her Fitbit cardio fitness level improve. “It states that I’m in good to very good shape versus poor when I first started,” she said.
And her stress level has gone down a lot. “I’m not as tired so I get more done — it all goes hand in hand. Even work is less stressful. Everything is moving in the direction I’d like to see it go.”