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Lost weight, beat addiction with help of family

After years of taking weight off and putting it back on again, Kim Bensen lost 213 pounds. She's maintained her weight at 134 for two years and attributes much of her success to the support of her husband, Mark. Kim's story is highlighted in the July issue of Prevention magazine. Amy O'Connor, deputy editor of Prevention, visited “Today” to discuss Kim's story. Here's an excerpt of the article
/ Source: TODAY

After years of taking weight off and putting it back on again, Kim Bensen lost 213 pounds. She's maintained her weight at 134 for two years and attributes much of her success to the support of her husband, Mark. Kim's story is highlighted in the July issue of Prevention magazine. Amy O'Connor, deputy editor of Prevention, visited “Today” to discuss Kim's story. Here's an excerpt of the article:

They lost megapounds, quit smoking, and more, with support from family and friends

by The Editors of Prevention

Getting a scary diagnosis might inspire change:

Several arteries in your heart are nearly closed. Catching a sidelong glance in a shop window may do the same: Look how fat that woman is ... Good Lord, that's me! But research suggests that when people make a change and stick to it, they often have the guidance, example, or support of family or friends behind them.

“The more people care about you and help you attain a healthy goal, the more likely you'll be successful,” says Dean D. VonDras, PhD, an associate professor of human development and psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay who has studied behavioral change in-depth. “Knowing that others want you to do well is a very powerful influence.”

Here are six people who found motivation — in friends, family, even strangers — and provide plenty of inspiration if you're looking to make a change, too.

Losing 213 Pounds

Kim Bensen, 45

Her Inspiration: Husband Mark Bensen, 45

The Challenge

Kim Bensen, author and mother of four, used to have a tough time shopping for clothes. She could barely squeeze into size-32 pants. And at 5-foot-5 1/2 and 347 pounds, “I needed to pick a path in the store with enough space at every point so I could fit,” says the Huntington, CT, resident. Afterward, if someone had parked too close to Kim's car, she'd have to wait until they pulled out so she could get in her door.

“There wasn't a single day my weight wasn't on my mind,” she says. Her size caused severe back and knee pain; she had trouble walking, sleeping, and breathing; and her cholesterol was through the roof. Her doctor couldn't even weigh her; his scale didn't go above 300 pounds. He'd simply mark her as OTC — “off the charts.” Her girth hindered her family fun, too. “When I was on a trip to Massachusetts with the kids, I simply wasn't able to keep up,” Kim says. “My family suggested I rent an electric cart to get around. It broke my heart.”

Kim has always loved food. “Even as a little girl, I was never satisfied with one dessert,” she says. But thanks to her youthful metabolism and a life filled with physical activities like softball, her weight didn't become an issue until she went off to college, stopped exercising regularly, and started making all her own food choices. “It was junk all the time,” she remembers. Instead of the usual freshman 15, Kim struggled with 4 years of 15- to 40-pound weight shifts.

Things got worse when she married, shortly after graduation: “The only dishes I could cook — macaroni and ground beef, cheesy casseroles, fried rice — were filled with fat,” she says. Kim quickly broke the 200-pound mark, but not without a fight: “I tried everything to lose weight — over-the-counter pills, fad diets, even those shakes Oprah lost a ton with.” Though Kim could stick to a regimen long enough to drop as much as 70 pounds, she'd always gain more back than she lost. Through it all, however, her husband, Mark, stood by her: “No matter how I looked, he always told me I was beautiful.”

The Moment that Changed Everything

In 2001, when Kim was at her heaviest, Mark, an insulin-dependent diabetic since childhood, contracted an infection that nearly killed him. Surgery saved his life, but the experience shook Kim. “Mark took such good care of himself — giving himself insulin shots twice a day and watching what he ate despite my bad habits; he wanted to stay strong for our family,” she says. “Having him so sick finally made me realize that I should be doing the same.” So with Mark's encouragement, Kim signed up for Weight Watchers for the 10th time — but with a new sense of determination.

She stuck to the food guidelines and made diet versions of her favorite recipes, and all the while Mark helped her dodge temptation. “He cleaned up after dinner because he knew that I'd eat the leftovers,” Kim says. And he always helped her find healthy alternatives. “Once when we were visiting friends, they bought me a veggie lasagna thinking it was healthy, but it was loaded with calories,” she says. Without missing a beat, Mark got back into the car to find his wife a diet-approved meal. He even learned the Weight Watchers Points system. “He'd always say, ‘I know you can do it,’ despite the fact that he'd never seen me do anything but fail the whole time we'd been together,” Kim says. As Mark puts it: “I think I believed in her more than she believed in herself.”

Her Results

“Two years into my new lifestyle, I felt a scary lump on my side, so I had Mark touch it,” Kim says. He did, chuckled, and told her to check her other side — she'd find another just like it. “It was my hip bone!” Kim recalls. “I hadn't felt it in so long, I forgot it was there.” By October 2003, Kim reached her goal: 134 pounds, which she has maintained ever since. “My feet even shrunk a size and a half,” she laughs.

An amusement park trip showed Kim how far she'd truly come. Three years earlier, she couldn't fit on the rides. This time, she rode all she could: “Mark even piggybacked me over to my flip-flop, which had fallen off while I was on a roller coaster!”

Today Kim is a Weight Watchers leader and has self-published a book filled with her own healthy recipes. “I couldn't have done any of this without Mark,” she says. “He's taught me that having unconditional support can truly make a difference.”

— Maura Kelly

Beating Alcoholism and an Eating Disorder

Mecah Welch, 38

Her Inspiration: Support group member Jennifer Torio-Hurley, 33

The Challenge

In 2001, after a decade long addiction to alcohol, Mecah Welch was finally able to label herself a recovering alcoholic. But she was still battling full-blown bulimia and had told no one. “I felt so much shame, embarrassment, and pain,” says the San Diego native. “I felt like a fraud that I couldn't beat this addiction.”

The Moment that Changed Everything

When Welch heard fellow support group member Jenn Torio-Hurley share her story of alcoholism, anorexia, and recovery at a meeting, a lightbulb went off. “Eventually, I revealed to her my obsession with being fat and gaining weight. She understood my fears like no one else ever had,” Welch says. Torio-Hurley gave her strict marching orders. “She started insisting that I eat three meals a day. I was horrified! I said, ‘I can't look in the mirror; my husband won't love me.’” And Torio-Hurley made Welch call her daily. “Knowing that Jenn was waiting for my call kept me on track,” Welch says. “She made me responsible for my wellness and accountable for my actions.”

Her Results

Welch hasn't had a bulimic episode in more than a year, and Torio-Hurley couldn't be happier: “Every time I work with Mecah, I feel stronger. The more I help her, the more solid I become.” When Welch feels the old tension building within her, she steps outside herself. “I'll take a walk or call Jenn, of course. She's my mentor in health and life.”

— Amanda MacMillan

Couch Potato to 10-K Runner

Bridget Lichtinger, 36

Her Inspiration: Friend Tracy Baxter Haynes, 43

The Challenge

Bridget Lichtinger went to the gym — she just didn't do much when she was there. “I wouldn't even break a sweat,” she says. “My clothes kept getting tighter, my energy level was getting lower, and my attitude wasn't the greatest, either. I remember not caring about work. It bothered me that I was just existing in my life,” says the Syracuse, NY-based office coordinator.

“Then one day my friend Tracy mentioned she was training for a 5-K race. I told her it was great because, let's face it, running isn't easy. Plus, Tracy had never run a day in her life, so going for even a minute was torture. She told me that her breathing sounded like a freight train when she started.”

The Moment that Changed Everything

“When Tracy finished that 5-K. I thought, ‘I can do that,’” Lichtinger says. So she asked her friend to train her. “I loved helping Bridget get healthy and I loved the company,” Baxter Haynes says. Soon the pair was running 10 to 15 miles a week and swimming regularly.

Her Results

After 6 months of training, Lichtinger completed a 10-K charity run and lost nearly 20 pounds. “I dropped two dress sizes!” she says. And she's brimming with energy, just like her coach: “Tracy became extremely ill 2 days before the 10-K race, but she didn't let it stop her from coming out and cheering me on. As I got close to the finish line, I looked over to see her sitting on the sidelines, huddled in a blanket, sick as a dog, yelling for me. Now that is my idea of a hero — someone who will be there for you no matter what.” Baxter Haynes says it's worth it: “It's very emotional to see people finish who never thought they could do anything like that. I bawled like a baby.”

— Tanya Beers

Quitting Smoking

Cheri Crist, 34

Her Inspiration: Daughter, Paige, 13 months

The Challenge

After a decade of smoking half a pack of cigarettes every day, Cheri Crist, a field marketer for an advertising agency in San Bernardino, CA, needed to kick the habit. “I felt dirty and unhealthy. I couldn't catch my breath walking down the street,” she says. “A deep breath made me feel nauseated.”

The Moment that Changed Everything

“The day my husband and I found out, to our surprise, that we were expecting our first child, I quit cold turkey,” she says. “That was the push I really needed. I had to protect the baby.” It also prompted her to get in better shape: “I'd have a child to keep up with, after all.” She started walking at the local park, something she still does. “Two days after Paige was born, I was out there doing laps. Going outside and walking isn't just about me. I put the baby on my back and do a 2.5-mile walk 3 or 4 days a week.”

Her Results

“I can actually walk without huffing and puffing,” she says. “Now I tote all 20 pounds of my daughter around, and that doesn't slow me down.” As far as cravings go, “I still get the urge, usually when I'm stuck in traffic,” she says. “But then I laugh and think about my little girl. I've come too far to go back now.” These days, the only pack Crist really craves is six-pack abs: “I'm back to my pre-baby weight and still working on losing 20 more pounds,” she says. “But the real reward is being a good example for my daughter.”

— Rebekah George

Living with Type 1 Diabetes

Jenny Haliski, 30

Her Inspiration: Researcher Denise Faustman, MD, PhD, 47

The Challenge: “Keeping my type 1 diabetes under control can be a tightrope act. It's frustrating,” says online editor Jenny Haliski. “I've often felt I was on my own in my struggle.”

The Moment that Changed Everything: Almost 2 years ago, Haliski read an article detailing how doctors in Massachusetts had cured diabetes in mice. Haliski traveled from her home in Silver Spring, MD, to visit lead researcher Denise Faustman, MD, PhD, and donated blood for her project. “Before we met, I thought she'd be this lab researcher who didn't understand the human impact of the disease,” Haliski says. “But she gets it. She has all these photos in her office of kids who have visited the lab. She remembers why she's doing this research. It made me want to do more for her.”

So when Haliski heard about a 100-mile bike ride to raise money for Faustman's research, she signed up. Says the doctor, “The exercise is good for her — by taking care of herself and tightly controlling her blood sugar, she'll be better able to benefit from our developing research.” As Haliski trained, she realized not only how key fitness is but also that people with diabetes could be athletes. “On the ride, I'd see others stopping to check their blood sugar. It reminded me that I'm not alone,” she says.

Her Results

Haliski now facilitates inspiration of her own: She organized a bike-to-work day at her company and created two online communities where people with diabetes can connect with each other. “Dr. Faustman encouraged me to keep moving forward. Because of her, I believe there will be a cure.”

— Heather Lee

Dropping Weight to Donate an Organ

Kate Greenebaum, 33

Her Inspiration: Brother Josh Hugg, 35

The Challenge

Attempting to balance her life as a wife, new mom, and nurse left Kate Greenebaum harried, heavy, and stressed in 2000. Then her closest sibling, older brother Josh Hugg, became extremely ill: A liver disease he was born with suddenly worsened, and he needed a transplant. “I'm 22 months younger,” says Greenebaum, a Philadelphia resident, “but I've always felt older. A family member could donate half a liver to him, and I wanted to do it, but the doctors said I was 30 pounds too heavy.”

The Moment that Changed Everything

She decided to volunteer for the risky procedure anyway, knowing she'd have to drop the weight within 3 months. “My brother said, ‘Go home, think about it,’ but I didn't need to. I said, ‘I'm doing it,’ and the next day I started eating better — more fruits and veggies and a lot less sugar — and waking up at 5:30 AM for workouts. It was hard, but my husband would say, ‘Your brother's life depends on this. Get out of bed.’ And I did.” Daily phone calls from her brother also helped keep her focused. Says Hugg: “Kate has a rigorous work schedule and kids. Trying to balance all that and lose weight — I found it amazing she could juggle all those things at once.”

Her Results

But she did juggle it, and she met the 3-month deadline. The transplant was a success, and nowadays Greenebaum is staying on track, continually buoyed by her big brother: “He won a gold medal in volleyball at the US Transplant Games. What's more inspiring than that?”

— Amanda MacMillan

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