Until a few years ago, Ridgefield stay-at-home mother Renee Kuhn lived in a world of limitations.
Because of her size — at her peak, the 5-foot 4-inch Kuhn weighed 398 pounds — she couldn’t go on rides with her son at the Clark County Fair. Walking outside to get the mail or going up the stairs left her breathless, sweaty and in pain.
She could only shop at grocery stores with benches, where she could stop and rest periodically. She had to shop at plus-size stores or order clothes online, and could barely fit behind the steering wheel of her car. She once got a ticket for not wearing a seat belt, but it wouldn’t reach across her body.
Now, Kuhn is less than half her former size, after dropping more than 244 pounds through diet and exercise. All of those limitations have melted away with the pounds.
“I can do anything,” said Kuhn, 39.
She and husband David Roe took 6-year-old son Adam Roe to Walt Disney World in May, and Kuhn was able to go on any ride she wanted.
“I was outrunning my family,” she said. “It was fun.”
Kuhn credits Weight Watchers with helping her get healthy. She recently was named one of 100 first-prize winners in the nationwide 2010 Weight Watchers Role Model of the Year contest. Vancouver nursing student Emily Fewel, who has lost 40 pounds in the past nine months on the program, was also selected.
Each woman received a $100 Macy’s gift card, and Weight Watchers donated the equivalent of their weight loss to local food banks. Neighbors Helping Neighbors in Ridgefield received 204 pounds of food in Kuhn’s name (the amount she’d lost at the time since joining Weight Watchers, though she’s now down another three pounds), and Meals on Wheels in Vancouver got 40 pounds of food to celebrate Fewel’s streamlining success.
Both Fewel and Kuhn struggled with their weight much of their lives, and both committed to getting healthy the old-fashioned way.
A lifestyle change
Kuhn was chubby as a child, but the pounds crept on after she moved out on her own in her 20s. After she gave birth to her son, her weight skyrocketed.
“My doctor said I was a heart attack waiting to happen,” said Kuhn, who feared she wouldn’t be around to see Adam grow up.
Her doctor wanted her to have laparoscopic gastric banding surgery, but Kuhn vowed to lose weight without surgical intervention.
She bought a treadmill and started walking for five minutes three times a day.
“I would be sweaty, and hot, and my back would be hurting so badly,” Kuhn recalled.
But she kept with it, and in six months had lost 37 pounds.
In April 2008, Kuhn joined her local Weight Watchers to get help modifying her approach to food. Weight Watchers emphasizes portion control and assigns points to different foods based on their calories, fat and fiber content. People can eat what they want as long as they stay within their allotted points.
Through Weight Watchers, Kuhn has learned to swap out fast food and starchy, fatty favorites like hash browns with more filling, lower-calorie options including bananas, tomatoes, stir-fries, lean meats and raw sugar snap peas, carrots, celery, bell peppers and cauliflower.
“I eat completely differently,” she said.
Fresh fruits and vegetables seem to disappear at home because they’re eaten so quickly.
Kuhn, a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Portland, even gives splurges a healthy makeover. She makes cookies with Egg Beaters, whole-wheat flour, Splenda brown sugar and miniature chocolate chips.
“My family didn’t know the difference,” she said.
She’s vigilant about weighing and measuring food to ensure her points calculations are accurate, and she’s teaching Adam portion control as well. He knows to look at the number of servings on a bag of chips. If it says three, then he divides the bag into three smaller bags of chips and only eats one. Kuhn also favors the preportioned 100-calorie snack packages of popcorn, crackers, cookies and candy.
In addition to nutrition, Kuhn has changed her approach to exercise. She now works out between six and eight hours a week. She walks or jogs on her treadmill or around town with a friend she met through Weight Watchers. Sometimes she’ll do workout DVDs at home, but she doesn’t belong to a gym.
Kuhn is about six pounds from her goal weight of 147 pounds, which she hopes to reach by her 40th birthday in October. She’ll weigh even less after she has surgery to remove about 20 pounds of loose skin. But even after she reaches her target weight, she’ll keep going to Weight Watchers meetings to keep from backsliding, she said.
Though she’s revelling in the freedom of being able to jump on the trampoline with Adam, bike, roller-skate and go horseback riding, sometimes it’s hard for Kuhn to accept that she’s now a size 9 or 10, not a 5X or 6X.
“I still can’t believe that I’ve lost all this weight,” she said. “When I go into a room, I still feel like I’m the biggest person there.”
But she’s not.
Kuhn’s entire body now fits into one leg of her old pants. These relics from her past, along with a picture on the refrigerator from before she lost the weight, remind her to stay on track. No longer needing medication to control her blood pressure and cholesterol is a powerful motivator, as well.
In addition to how she looks and feels, Kuhn has noticed a difference in how people treat her now that she’s thinner.
In the past, she was mooed at, mocked and ridiculed by strangers, she said.
“It’s hurtful,” she said. “People are kinder (now).”
Kuhn said she hopes her story will encourage others not to let their weight get out of control and, if it does, to realize that they can get in shape by setting incremental goals and not giving up.
“If I had looked at the 204 pounds I had to lose, I would have given up that morning,” she said. “You have to take it day by day, meal by meal.”
Modeling the way
Setting an example for her son motivated Kuhn to get healthy, and modeling the advice she’ll give to future patients helped push Fewel, the nursing student, to finally dip below the size 14 she’d hovered at for the past 15 years.
Fewel, 27, is studying nursing at Linfield College’s Portland campus and decided she needed to practice what she’ll be preaching as a health care professional.
“I want to be the symbol of health for my patients,” she said. “I thought it was important to look the part.”
Fewel has always been active, she said, but no diet she tried helped her lose weight.
About a year ago, she joined Weight Watchers, and the pounds started coming off. Fewel, who is 5-feet-9, is now a size 6 and at her goal weight of 138, down from 178.
“It’s awesome,” she said. “I finally feel like I’m at the place where I want to be. I feel like I look on the outside how I feel on the inside — healthy and athletic.”
Fewel credits changes to her eating habits with helping her drop the weight.
“It’s all about portion control, which is awesome because nothing is off limits. I love pastas, cheeses and wine,” she said.
Fewel and her boyfriend, Tom Zitzwitz, still eat the foods they like, but they weigh and measure serving sizes and make healthful substitutions whenever possible.
Homemade pizza night, for example, now involves whole-wheat wraps in lieu of pizza dough. Sandwiches and burgers are made on lower calorie Oroweat Sandwich Thins or Thomas’ Bagel Thins instead of bread. Fish is served with roasted vegetables instead of bread, pasta or rice.
Fewel is also more aware of what’s motivating her to eat, she said. She makes sure she’s eating when she’s hungry, not out of boredom or stress.
As she always has, Fewel goes to the gym three or four times a week and does group exercise classes. Like Kuhn, she plans to keep going to Weight Watchers meetings even in maintenance mode.
“I don’t want to slip back into old habits, especially since I’ve worked so hard to get where I am,” she said.
Fewel said she hopes her weight struggles will help make her more relatable to patients as a nurse.
“I can say, ‘Hey, I know where you’re coming from,’ and hopefully inspire them to lead healthier lives,” she said.
Mary Ann Albright: firstname.lastname@example.org, 360-735-4507.