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Walking and diet changes helped her lose 114 pounds, cure acid reflux

Missy Gillenwater made a lifestyle change to combat painful symptoms. Now she’s celebrating a 13-month walking streak.
/ Source: TODAY

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For Missy Gillenwater, a 50-year-old stay-at-home wife from Ohio, maintaining a healthy weight has always been a struggle.

While she would attempt to eat healthy and exercise, she found it hard to stay motivated. “I was up and down throughout the years, but never could consistently stay at a healthy weight,” she said. 

It wasn’t until her acid reflux symptoms became unbearable that she finally got serious about committing to a healthy lifestyle. 

“Pain started overtaking my life in the second half of 2021,” she told the TODAY show in a segment on April 17. “My mouth, head and throat hurt so much, and I was exhausted all the time. Finally, I was diagnosed with acid reflux and that’s when my transformation began.” 

At her heaviest, Missy Gillenwater weighed 277 pounds.
At her heaviest, Missy Gillenwater weighed 277 pounds.Courtesy Missy Gillenwater


An acid reflux diagnosis led to a lifestyle change

When the burning and itching in her throat became too much to handle, Gillenwater decided to see an ear, nose and throat (ENT) doctor in March 2022 to find out what was wrong.

After diagnosing her with acid reflux, Gillenwater’s doctor advised her to modify her diet by cutting out fried and fatty foods. She also decided to eliminate soda and tomato-based foods and focused on eating fresh vegetables and lighter meats. After a lot of trial and error, Gillenwater settled on a list of foods that wouldn’t cause her reflux to flare up, and she committed to the diet. 

Today, the only animal proteins she eats are chicken, salmon and turkey. She eats a lot of fresh vegetables and doesn’t eat red meat, bread or pasta. Every morning, she has oatmeal and a protein shake for breakfast.

When she started walking, Gillenwater could barely walk a mile. Now, she logs 10-13 miles a day.
When she started walking, Gillenwater could barely walk a mile. Now, she logs 10-13 miles a day.Courtesy Missy Gillenwater

A healthy diet inspired a walking routine

After making the changes in her diet, she turned her attention to fitness. “I figured it was the perfect time to really focus on my health. I had walked before but knew I could really make a change if I kept moving while also focusing on my diet,” Gillenwater said. 

When she began her walking routine, she weighed 277 pounds and logging just 1 mile was difficult. She started by walking 2 to 3 miles a day at a pace of 25 minutes per mile.

“Motivation through the hard times continued to be a struggle,” Gillenwater said. “It can be hard to get started and then continue going. At first, I could hardly walk a mile!” But she stuck with it, gradually increasing her distance each day, and the pounds started to come off.

Today she walks 10 to 13 miles a day at a pace of 14 to 16 minutes per mile.

“I haven’t missed one day of walking over the past 13 months,” she said.

She found motivation in the Start TODAY group

When Gillenwater started posting her walks on Facebook, a friend suggested she join the Start TODAY group. She loved how much encouragement and motivation she received from other members.

“If you’re having a bad day and you get on there and you look at that, it just lifts you up, because there’s days when you struggle, you don’t want to walk or you don’t want to do anything and you get on there and that just sets the mood to ‘hey, get up and do something,’” she said.

It was a post in the Start TODAY group that encouraged Gillenwater to complete her first 5K, she previously told TODAY.

“I wasn’t sure what my time would be, and that day was my fastest time — I had several times of 55 minutes when I practiced, and I finished that day in 52 minutes. I was so excited! I worked up to that from the people in the program motivating me!” she said.

Gillenwater had more than 250 people comment with congratulations when she posted in March 2023 — a year after her diagnosis — that she was officially off of her acid reflux medication.

She lost 144 pounds and went from a size 24 to a size 12-14 in shorts.
She lost 144 pounds and went from a size 24 to a size 12-14 in shorts. Courtesy Missy Gillenwater


The positive changes she has seen

Since committing to a walking routine and changing her diet, Gillenwater has seen both her physical and mental health improve. Some of the biggest changes she has seen are:

  •  She’s lost 114 pounds, going from size 4X to size L in shirts and 24 to 12 to 14 in shorts. 
  • She is off her blood pressure and acid reflux medications.
  • Her energy is through the roof.
  • Her confidence and self-esteem are higher than ever.
  • She finally enjoys shopping and trying on clothes.

“I feel more confident and happy than ever. … I love taking selfies of myself and trying on new clothing now!” she said.


Missy Gillenwater said she has never felt more confident in her own skin.
Missy Gillenwater said she has never felt more confident in her own skin.Courtesy Missy Gillenwater

Her advice for others

When it comes to making diet changes, she recommended creating a diet that works for you. “I followed doctor’s orders and did research to find out specific foods that would make me feel good and also were good for me too, and from there I built my plan.”

Gillenwater knows firsthand how hard it is to stay motivated. She suggested taking photos at every stage of your journey. Seeing the transformation of her own body has helped her stay motivated and she loves looking back at photos and seeing how far she has come.

She also encouraged others to “focus on what you want to do and how you want to do it. Set a plan that fits in your schedule and join a group like Start TODAY that motivates you.”