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How one couple lost more than 300 pounds during the pandemic

‘When I see her not quitting — even through a pandemic — it makes me want to be better.’
At their heaviest, Wes and Sussy Hunter weighed in at 552 pounds and 330 pounds respectively.
At their heaviest, Wes and Sussy Hunter weighed in at 552 pounds and 330 pounds respectively. Courtesy Sussy and Wes Hunter

Sussy and Wes Hunter had been overweight their entire lives.

“I was always the chubby kid,” Sussy told TODAY. She and her husband Wes are both 36 and pastors at the Lighthouse Church of God in Traverse City, Michigan.

At their heaviest Sussy and Wes were 330 pounds and 532 pounds respectively. At the beginning of 2019 Sussy weighed 305 pounds and Wes weighed 490 pounds. That year, both of them received tough news from their doctors. Sussy was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in January and Wes, already a type 2 diabetic and hypertensive, found out in May he had to go on insulin because his blood sugar levels were out of control.

“It was a shock — kind of,” Sussy said of her news. “I was overweight. I wasn’t eating healthy. I kind of knew it was coming.”

Wes said his news was very upsetting: “I was just at a point where I had to make a change.”

Finding a plan that worked

That summer, the couple tried eating healthier. Once the Hunters’ 8-year-old daughter was back in the classroom at the end of the summer, Sussy and Wes started doing 45 minutes to an hour of low-intensity aerobic exercise about four times per week.

But weight was not coming off. “We had tried to make some positive changes, but I was still having a lot of trouble losing weight,” Wes said.

Then Sussy heard about a friend who had lost 122 pounds using a nutrition and behavior change program, Optavia. Sussy and Wes decided to give the program a shot — and it worked.

Wes started the program in November 2019. Sussy started a few months later, in February 2020. As part of the plan, they eat five small meals throughout the day that come directly from the Optavia and one meal they prepare themselves, which consists of a moderate portion of lean protein and three servings of vegetables.

There’s no specific exercise component to their plan, but the couple is focused on making healthier lifestyle choices overall. They drink more water throughout the day. They don’t bring unhealthy food into the house. And they don’t stay sedentary for too long. “If we’d been sitting on the couch for a while watching TV, we’ll get up and wash dishes or go outside and play with our daughter,” Wes said.

By February 2021, Sussy weighed 191 pounds and Wes weighed 345 pounds. “But we’re not ‘there’ yet,” Sussy said. “This is a lifestyle change. This is a lifelong journey for us.”

They’re still following the eating plan today, but once they reach their goal weights, they’ll shift into the “maintenance” phase of the program, which is more flexible.

The couple said their daughter, now 8 years old, is a huge reason they are committed to losing weight.Courtesy Sussy and Wes Hunter

Choose a rock-solid ‘why’ — and remind yourself of it over and over again

Why did this weight-loss program work for Sussy and Wes now? They attribute their success in large part to having a really good reason “why” they are doing it.

“Our daughter is a huge reason we’re doing this,” Sussy said. She and her husband wanted to be healthy enough to be a part of their daughter’s life for many years to come.

“We want to be around to see some of these milestones for my daughter. I don’t want to miss out on those things,” Wes said. “I don’t want to be unable to participate to our fullest because of our weight.”

Remembering that that is the motivation behind all of these efforts has helped the couple stay on track — even during a global pandemic.

“Your why really does have to be stronger than your want to be unhealthy,” Sussy said.

I couldn’t control what was going on outside my home, and some days I couldn’t control what was going on inside my home. But I could control taking care of my health.

It wasn’t easy, especially when the pandemic hit in March and the Hunter family’s school, work and social lives were turned upside down like everyone else’s. There was a lot of fear, Sussy said.

But Sussy and Wes decided together they were going to stick to the weight-loss plan. “I couldn’t control what was going on outside my home, and some days I couldn’t control what was going on inside my home. But I could control taking care of my health,” Sussy said.

Keeping their daughter in mind meant the weight loss effort was always worthwhile, even when it was challenging.

In tough times, we just took it day by day and sometimes hour by hour, Wes said. “We just decided to keep the main thing the main thing.”

Establishing a support circle

As part of the program, Sussy and Wes connected with their own personal health coach, as well as an online community of other people doing the same program. The couple’s health coach was in touch with them daily during the first week of the program via phone calls and text messages to answer questions and provide encouragement. Now they connect weekly.

Sussy regularly connects with other people she’s met in the online community to share recipes and other tips.

Having this community of people supporting him is one of the factors Wes said has made this weight-loss journey successful for him. “When you’re trying to change your life and lose as much weight as we have, isolation is not your friend.”

Your support circle might include family, friends, a health coach, other people going through the same experience or a significant other, but having people who are pushing you to do better really helps, Wes said.

Making the effort together as a couple was a big motivating factor, too, both Sussy and Wes said.

“Seeing how Sussy has continued and persisted makes me want to do it as well. When I see her not quitting — even through a pandemic — it makes me want to be better,” Wes said. “Sussy and I have always been the best of friends. We’ve been together for 14 year and married for 12. We had a great relationship and it’s gotten better.”

The couple’s advice for others trying to lose weight, no matter how much, is: There’s hope.

“I’ve had so many ups and downs with how I felt about myself because of my weight and health. That can be a very dark place,” Wes said. “It can feel crushing when there’s an insurmountable amount of weight to lose; that’s where I was.”

But remember it’s starting small and changing your habits by changing your actions one day at a time, Wes said. “You can change your life.”