Like many women, Lupe Barraza gained weight while pregnant and never lost it afterward. The mom of six weighed 220 pounds at 5 feet 2 inches tall and her weight was impacting her health. Several times, she would lose weight, only to regain it. After being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in 2017, she still didn’t make any changes. It wasn’t until her mom had a stroke in 2019, then Barraza realized she needed to do something.
"I didn’t know that heart disease was something that she was struggling with,” Barraza, 45, of Plano, Texas, told TODAY. “It all hit me at the beginning of 2019 with my mother’s stroke. Here was my matriarch, my hero, my Wonder Woman … It woke me up to what I was doing.”
At the time, Barraza was in an unhealthy relationship: Her then-husband would undermine her weight loss. She divorced him and in February 2020, she dedicated herself to healthy exercise and eating. In the past, she had lost weight, in part, thanks to running. She finished 10 marathons and ultramarathons from 2009 to 2012, when her first marriage ended. But that's when she slipped into unhealthy habits again after she rebounded and married a childhood friend.
“That began probably the worst part of my life as far as my health is concerned. I lost who I was,” she said. “I stopped running. I stopped eating healthy. (My ex-husband) was an avid cook and very controlling and food was a big deal and almost a way to control me.”
In addition to developing diabetes, she experienced frequent pain because her weight led to stress on her joints and nerves.
“I (had) nerve damage. It was difficult to walk,” she explained. “I laced up my shoes again and started walking. Every stride I made, my then-husband was not supportive.”
While she was upset when she was first diagnosed with diabetes, she didn’t truly start her weight loss until February 2020 when her second marriage ended. She started again by walking.
“I just said, ‘I am going to do it this time,’” Barraza said. “Walking at first was hard because I was so heavy … and my knees hurt and it was hard to breathe.”
Slowly, the walking turned into running. In less than a year, she lost 55 pounds, but hopes to lose about 20 more pounds to reach her goal weight. Her blood sugar levels are normal. Each month she runs about 100 miles. Losing the weight allows her to spend more quality time with her children, especially during the pandemic. They hike together to keep busy while many of their favorite spots are closed.
“I say, ‘Let’s go. Where are we going?’ I pick a direction and we get in the car and take road trips,” she said. “I would rather be on a hike. To me that is rest. That is peaceful.”
What’s more, she says hiking, walking and running help her cope with the stresses of work as a certified public accountant and helping her kids navigate virtual learning.
“Exercise keeps me sane and from going COVID-crazy. Getting out and moving is the safest thing,” she said. “We can’t take the kids to Chucky Cheese or museums, but you can lace up and walk around the block. We pick up leaves or talk about animals we see.”
Barraza said that exercise and diet help her maintain her blood sugar levels.
“I feel free and that has helped me take control and manage my life and break cycles culturally and generationally that have needed to be broken,” she said.
She shares tips on what others can do if they want to create healthy habits.
1. Move more.
Even taking a few steps around the living room can be the start of a new exercise routine.
“Take that walk,” she said. “When I started moving, I started feeling better about myself.”
That confidence boost made her want to make more healthy choices.
2. Make small changes.
While Barraza’s love of running keeps her active, she stated changing her diet by making small tweaks. Maybe she’d get a burger and fries, but with no bun. Soon, she didn’t even want junk food and made healthier choices.
“My appetite has changed. I don’t want the greasy food; it will weigh me down,” she said. “I come back from a good hike and I feel happy and want to reach for healthier food.”
3. Find a supportive doctor.
Sometimes doctors tell patients to lose weight but don’t provide advice on how to do it. Barraza believes her doctor’s support and recommendations contributed to her success.
“I love my doctor and that is so important,” she said. “She was not just looking at my numbers on the bloodwork and prescribing me something … She genuinely takes the time to listen to me.”
While having a doctor who listens to her is important, Barraza noted that having friends and family in her corner also helps her succeed.
“It feels good to have a support system that is happy for you,” she said. “That happens because I made the choice and decided this is who I want to be around me.”