Heading into the new year 123 pounds lighter

Camas woman celebrates year of losing, determination renewed

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian health reporter

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More on her journey

For more stories, photos and videos about Laina Harris, visit The Columbian's Web page dedicated to her journey.

Shopping for clothes can be tricky when you weigh 400 pounds.

Most department stores don't sell clothing larger than a size 24. As a size 34, Laina Harris' only option was to pick out and purchase clothes on the Internet. More than eight years have passed since she last shopped at a department store.

But today, Harris is no longer 420 pounds, and she doesn't wear a size 34. She weighs 297 pounds and is down to a size 24, almost a size 22.

Last week, for the first time in nearly a decade, the Camas woman walked into department stores, browsed through the racks and tried on dresses.

"I had a ball," she said. "It was just great to try something completely different."

The goal of Harris' shopping trip was to find an outfit for a Christmas Eve party. Rather than her signature head-to-toe black outfit, Harris wanted something bold. Something to make her stand out. Something to show off her figure.

"When you're over 400 pounds, you are already noticed, just in the wrong way," Harris said.

But this year, she's hoping to get noticed for her hard work, for the 100-plus pounds she's lost. Rather than black, she'll don a cobalt blue, semi-sheer blouse with dress pants. She bought a new pair of sparkly shoes to go with the outfit.

"I can't wait," she said. "I can't wait to see them, to surprise them. I can't wait to see their faces."

Harris started her journey to better health in earnest this spring. Recently, she passed another of her many milestones. When Harris steps on the scale, the first number she sees is a two -- a number she hasn't seen there in more than eight years.

"It's a two. A two!" Harris said. "I love seeing that two."

But it hasn't come easy.

In six weeks, Harris has lost less than 10 pounds.

"It slowed down in a major way, and I'm worried," Harris said.

Harris has continued to meet her calorie goals, but lately, the calories have been tied to more breads than usual. She's also picked up her coffee habit again, which means an extra 55 grams of sugar per cup.

She now knows the results of letting her diet slip: no results on the scale.

"I've had a small wake-up call," Harris said. "It was working. I got a little lazy, and I see the result: no results."

So now she's working to correct those missteps and plans to seek the advice of a nutritionist.

Harris has maintained her workout regime, attending fitness classes, going on hikes and playing tennis to stay active.

Before preparing a Thanksgiving meal for her family, Harris headed to Portland to do intervals on the stairs at Mount Tabor Park. Portland resident Jarvez Hall, who was featured on the TV show "Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition," pushed her physically and mentally for two hours.

"I was out of breath for almost two hours straight," Harris said.

The workout also led Harris to a revelation.

"I can give more," she said.

Harris is celebrating her 123-pound loss. But she also knows she can dig deeper.

"I hoped but I certainly didn't expect a year ago that I'd go into this next year 123 pounds lighter," Harris said. "I'll celebrate. I'll take that as a win. I'll take it and move forward."

As she heads into the new year, Harris has her eyes set beyond the next milestone -- the 135-pound halfway point -- and onto the future.

She's going back to work in January, trading in her stay-at-home mom duties for a full-time pharmacy technician position at

a Vancouver Safeway store. With the job comes the task of managing work and workouts -- a challenge Harris is ready to accept.

She sees it as just another lifestyle change that will change her life.

"It's never too late to rewrite the ending of the story," Harris said. "It's so true. It's never too late to begin again."

"You don't have to accept the fate that you think you have before you," she added. "You can change your life at any moment. At any moment you can make a great healthy decision. You can just start at your next decision."

Marissa Harshman: 360-735-4546; http://twitter.com/col_health; http://facebook.com/reporterharshman;marissa.harshman@columbian.com.