When Heather Baber was pregnant with her daughter in 2003, she gained 100 pounds. Immediately after delivery, she learned her daughter, Jazlynn, had a heart condition that required surgery a week after her birth. The ongoing stress of having a child with a chronic medical condition and a volatile relationship meant that Baber often turned to food to cope and never lost the weight.
“I wasn’t able to focus on myself,” the 37-year-old from Minneapolis told TODAY. “I spent a lot of time in the hospital … and just having the stress of all of that, the weight just kind of stayed there.”
For years, she weighed about 332 pounds and then lost 116 pounds after having her son in 2010. But her success made her then-husband angry and he started emotionally then physically abusing her.
“He said he didn’t want me to wear (certain clothes) without him being around,” she said. “It turned into a really sticky situation of what do I do? I still need to take care of my kids but at the same time this isn’t a safe environment.”
Baber left her husband, lost her job and Jazlynn needed heart surgery again in 2011.
“I ended up gaining back weight and then some,” she said.
Over the next several years, Jazlynn was in and out of the hospital, and Baber ignored her own health. She felt too exhausted to do anything and her weight was more than 400 pounds. Finally, in January 2018, life settled down a bit and she knew she needed to focus on herself.
“It was time to really buckle down and start taking care of (myself) because I way past where I had ever been ... I was unhappy. I struggled carrying a basket of laundry up the stairs,” she said. “I really focused more on the strength building and exercising with the nutrition as much as I could.”
She lost 40 pounds and maintained that loss but then hit a plateau at around 400 pounds. After months of no progress, she started a Beachbody exercise program. She slowly built up her strength and eventually started dropping pounds, too. She also changed her eating habits, making healthy recipes and relying less on fast food and processed foods.
“Slowly working on myself in these programs did wonders not only for my physical health, but also for my mental health,” she said.
Baber lost 217 pounds, more than half of her starting weight, to weigh 231 pounds. With the COVID-19 pandemic and her daughter having another health emergency, she gained some of the weight back to weigh about 260 pounds.
“I was still mindful with what I was doing. I was still conscious of making sure my body was moving every day,” Baber said. “When we came back home, I was able to jump right back into things.”
While she hopes to exercise more regularly and to reach her goal weigh of 165 pounds, Baber feels proud of what she’s accomplished.
“Life happens. There are some things that are completely out of your control and the only thing you can control is how you react to it,” she said. “If my daughter should ever go back to the hospital, I know how to better prepare myself for it.”
She shares advice for others who are hoping to make healthy changes and lose weight.
1. Everything in moderation.
Baber found she was more successful with healthy eating when she didn’t completely restrict herself.
“It’s OK to have treats here and there. It’s all about moderation,” she said. “It’s OK to live your life, but you still want to make sure you fuel your body with good things.”
2. You can exercise no matter your size.
Baber liked Beachbody because she felt self-conscious about exercising. She worried that if she went to a gym, people might stare or judge her. Exercising at home gave her privacy. What’s more, the program includes modifications so people of any size and ability can do them.
“Being as big as I was, it's still intimidating a little bit, even though you're doing it in the comfort of your own home,” she said. “There's a reason why that there are modifiers in the workout because it helps you … you have to be able to look at it as ‘I'm going to get to that point. But for right now, I have time to do what my body is able to do.’”
3. Don’t compare your journey to others.
Baber faced a lot of stressful situations that stopped her from exercising or eating like she wanted. She knows her journey took longer than some or had more setbacks. But she’s still proud of herself and knows that everyone embraces healthy habits in different ways.
“You can still get back up and achieve your goals,” she said. “It’s just a matter of shifting your mind and how you think to be more positive.”