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During a girls’ night in 2012, Karen Scales made a pact with her friends: They'd lose weight together. At 5 feet 8 inches tall, Scales weighed 273 pounds at the time. She was the only one in the group who truly needed to shed some pounds. She reluctantly agreed to try, but never believed it would work.
“I was always sort of larger than my friends,” the 36-year-old woman from Fife, Scotland, told TODAY. “I thought, I would join, lose a stone or two, and go back to my original weight.”
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Scales was overweight for most of her life because she was a “lazy cook,” relying heavily on processed foods, take out and junk and fast food.
“I didn’t really cook from scratch,” she explained.
On top of her poor eating habits, Scales never lost the baby weight from her two pregnancies. She simply kept gaining.
When faced with the friendly weight-loss challenge, Scales knew she needed help. So, she joined Slimming World, a weight-loss plan that focuses on healthier eating and portion control. While she first struggled to master new cooking and eating habits, she soon noticed the number on the scale gradually going down. Because the weight loss was slow, it took her a while to notice changes in her body.
At about the same time, doctors diagnosed Scales with multiple sclerosis (MS), a disease where the immune system attacks the protective coverings on the nerves in the brain and central nervous system. People with MS experience pain, tingling, tremors and problems with coordination. While the health crisis made it tempting for Scales to quit her healthy behaviors, she embraced them even more.
“Everything else was out of my control,” she said. “The only thing I could control was my weight. I couldn’t control the rest of my body.”
Scales shed 126 pounds in 18 months. She’s been maintaining her weight of 147 pounds since 2014. Of her friends, she’s the only one who stuck to their weight-loss promise. While she believes that being fit makes it easier to cope with some of the MS symptoms, she also appreciates how she's changed emotionally.
“I’m so proud of myself for losing the weight that had been holding me back,” she said. “I feel ready to face whatever the future may bring.”
Scales shared this advice to others hoping to lose weight:
1. Find your motivation.
While Scales originally agreed to lose weight because of her friends, she continued because she wanted to be healthy for her children. Finding something that encouraged her made it easier.
“Losing weight has given me the best chance to continue being active with my children and that’s so motivating,” she said. “We do as much as possible as a family, like going swimming or taking a day trip to the countryside.”
2. Get a boost.
Having a support system — like the consultants and groups through Slimming World — keeps Scales focused when she feels discouraged.
“Getting support from my group was my secret to getting — and staying — here. There’s no way on Earth I’m going to put (that weight) back on,” she said.
3. Stick to the plan.
Scales believes she was so successful at losing weight and maintaining the loss because she followed a healthy meal plan closely and started cooking more. She still does.
“It is the same routine I have always had, and I keep to it,” she said.
While some might think that following such a plan would seem restrictive, Scales said it’s easier than she imagined it would be.
“There is so much you can eat,” she added.