Judy Wilson still remembers her highest weight down to the decimal point. And she can’t forget how it made her feel.
Standing 5 feet, 9 inches tall, she reached 431.2 pounds at the age of 65. Wilson had to take two blood pressure medications and use a sleep apnea machine. Chairs often didn’t fit her large frame and someone always had to pull her up if she wanted to stand. She relied on a walker and a cane, and couldn’t put on her own shoes. She had no energy.
The weight started to rise when she started having children, Wilson said. When there were rough times in her life, she’d turn to food, comparing it to an addiction. Potato chips and candy bars were some of her favorites.
“I had to see food in a different light. Some people go to food for comfort and that's what I was doing. Then sometimes you don't even realize you’re eating all that junk,” Wilson, who lives in Monroe, Louisiana, told TODAY.
“Enough was enough so I decided to do something. I'm a believer in prayer so I prayed about it.”
Wilson started her weight-loss journey by attending “Queendom Bootcamp,” a local 21-day eating program. It covered proper nutrition and taught her to stop using food as something to celebrate with, she said.
As Wilson incorporated the lessons into daily life and her weight gradually started to drop, she added regular exercise into the mix. It took her less than four years to lose 200 pounds, getting down to 229. She's been able to stay within 10 pounds of that.
When she celebrated her 70th birthday last month, Wilson no longer had to take blood pressure pills, didn’t have to use a sleep apnea machine and the cane and walker were history.
“You’re never too old. You’re never too big. You’re never too late. As long as you’ve got breath in your body and you’re willing… if I can do it, believe me, you can do it,” she said.
Here’s how Wilson lost the weight:
Focus on portion control
Wilson doesn’t count calories, but she has three scales in her kitchen and she carefully weighs her food so that she can measure her portions. A portion of fish, chicken or other meat never weighs more than 3 ounces. Vegetables are measured by the cup. She uses salad plates instead of regular plates to avoid piling on too much.
“Food is good for you, but anything is excess is going to mess you up,” she said.
Wilson eats three meals a day, plus two snacks. Breakfast may be a cup of cereal with almond milk. For lunch, Wilson will have a meat and a cup of vegetables. For dinner, two vegetables and a meat. Snacks are usually fresh fruit.
Wilson avoids bread, white rice and potatoes, but will sometimes have brown rice or a baked sweet potato.
Pay attention to how the food is prepared
Everything Wilson eats is either baked, broiled or grilled. She eats nothing fried. “You can eat the right foods, good food, but eat it the wrong way. Chicken is good, but dip it in grease and fry it all up — that’s not right,” she said.
Wilson also avoids processed foods, focusing on fresh whole foods like fruits and vegetables or frozen versions.
Change how you see food
“It starts with your thinking,” Wilson said. “Look at food not as a crutch, not as something to celebrate with. You can celebrate with a pedicure. You don’t have to go pig out.”
Don’t put yourself in tempting situations
Wilson eats dessert every now and then, but tries to stay away from sweets because she knows herself and knows a bite could trigger overeating. “The minute you make your mind up you want to lose weight, somebody will want to take you out to eat or want to make you a cake. But you have to say, ‘No. I choose to live and not die,’” she advised.
When she craves potato chips, she sometimes allows herself a small personal-size bag to keep the portion in check.
For Wilson, that means going to the gym six or seven days a week. She started going after losing the first 100 pounds and getting surgery for a painful knee.
Her exercise sessions last 45 minutes to one hour and focus on cardio: She warms up on a treadmill or elliptical machine, then rides a stationary bike.
There are days when she doesn’t feel like going to the gym, but she reminds herself it’s about her health: “I'm living my best life right now. I've got energy now I’ve never had,” she noted. “I’ve come too far and I'm not going back.”
She also loves how she feels after working out. Still, Wilson attributed 80% of her weight loss to diet and cautioned people that they can't out-exercise bad eating. Don't put it in your mouth in the first place, she advised.
You are responsible for what and how much you eat, Wilson said.
“I don't have an excuse for being 430 pounds. I did that to myself,” she noted.
“I want to live and not die… (now) I feel good. I'm so thankful that I had an opportunity to lose weight and keep it off. I’ve got the joy of the Lord. I'm just happy with everything.”