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How Denise S. Lost 157 Pounds!

Name: Denise S.

LIVESTRONG.COM Username: Gsmceo
LIVESTRONG.COM Member since: 2009

Age: 50
Height: 5’8″

Before Measurements
Weight: 305 pounds
Dress/Pant Size: 28

After Measurements
Weight: 148 pounds
Dress/Pant Size: 8

Denise S. and Erika Humke 

1. LIVESTRONG.COM: What was your life like before joining LIVESTRONG.COM?
In late 2010 I was just so sad and frustrated because my weight had spiraled out of control. My knees, ankles and joints hurt, and I had no energy. I could no longer carry a full laundry basket down the stairs to the laundry room. I couldn't bend over to cut my own toenails. I couldn't sit up straight, and I had to squish into movie theater seats. I could barely fit into airplane seats. I was horrified, humiliated and embarrassed every day.

I have always been a semi-active person. I took the dog for a walk every morning, but it wasn't enough to constitute real exercise. I also knew how to eat healthy, but I just didn't do it. I work a full-time job and didn't take the time to pack a lunch, so I often ended up eating out. When I got home from work I was tired, and ordering takeout was easy.

Surprisingly, my overall health was fairly good. My blood pressure and heart rate were always normal and I wasn't diabetic, so at least I didn't have to repair that.

Erika Humke

2. LIVESTRONG.COM: What was your inspiration to make a change?
By the end of 2010 I was horrified by my appearance and declining health. I could look ahead 10 years and see that if I stayed on the path I was going down I would no longer be able to walk. I had a distinct sense of being on the verge of the point of no return. I decided then that 2011 would be the year of Denise. Having that "year of Denise" slogan really helped me. It gave me hope that in one year things would be better, and it also acknowledged that it would take a year to get close to my goal.

3. LIVESTRONG.COM: How did LIVESTRONG.COM help you lose weight?
The LIVESTRONG.COM MyPlate Calorie Tracker app was a key tool in helping me lose weight, and it is vital to helping me keep it off. Having it on my cellphone was critical because it was always handy to look up calories for any food. The app syncs with the website, so if I visit the Calorie Tracker via the website I can see even more nutrition detail and set goals for macronutrients like protein, fat and carbs. Since I lost weight I have learned a lot about nutrition, but originally I focused on calories. It was pretty obvious that I could eat three chocolate-chip cookies or a sandwich and an orange for lunch for the same number of calories, but I knew that if I ate the cookies I would be starving later. I was motivated to make better choices by the desire to not be hungry.

I have tracked my food and exercise on LIVESTRONG's Calorie Tracker every single day since January 1, 2011, and I can see myself doing it forever. Tracking keeps me from mindless eating and helps keep me aware of how important exercise is to maintaining my weight. For me to be successful that has to be front and center.

I also read the articles on LIVESTRONG.COM, and I've learned a lot from them. It is interesting because often they are the opinion of someone backed by their interpretation of the available science, and sometimes the two contradict each other. That was good because it taught me that there is so much conflicting information out there, and it isn't as simple as one would like to think. Just reading all the differing opinions has been educational in itself.

I have used some of the Stronger workouts in the past year. They are quite challenging, which I appreciate. Early in my journey I could not have completed them, but now I like to get a good workout for the time I invest.

When I spend time participating in the LIVESTRONG community I prefer the Running message board, since it seems to be focused on running and has less non-fitness-related conversation.

Erika Humke

4. LIVESTRONG.COM: What was your support system like?
As I began to cook differently, my husband and son added to what I made to satisfy their food desires. They never encouraged me to eat more than I should or to skip exercise. They worked their schedules around my need to exercise. If they had been less accepting I still could have achieved my goal, but it would have been much more difficult.

My husband started using the LIVESTRONG Calorie Tracker app nine months after I did, and it became much easier once we were both trying to make healthier choices. He has since lost 100 pounds and is very fit and looks great! He and I often work out, bike, hike and plan our meals together. He was my water-station volunteer when I ran a half marathon on my 50th birthday. His participation has made maintaining my healthy weight fun.

My sister has always been a healthy eater and active runner. She encouraged my exercise very much as I was losing weight. Pushing to the point of pouring sweat and pounding heart was very new to me. I appreciated that when I shared my progress with her she was always very encouraging and supportive. When I told her I was going to start a Couch to 5K running program, she told me that we would run a race together when I finished. And in August of 2011 we did just that.


Erika Humke

5. LIVESTRONG.COM: What's your favorite way to work out?
When I started my journey in January 2011, I began with the Walk at Home program by Leslie Sansone. When I first started I would walk one mile, but by the end of March I had worked up to five miles. Her program included using resistance bands for the upper body and additional lower-body moves like knee lifts and kicks. They are great for working your core while also getting an aerobic walking workout. Originally, I did the tapes six days a week unless there was a heavy snow, and those days I shoveled snow for exercise! On the seventh day I'd go for a walk or a bike ride or do yardwork or housework to tax me just a little.

In April 2011 I decreased the tapes to three times a week and started a program called Couch 2 5k (c25k) three times a week. I want to be clear: I was not the running type by any stretch of the imagination, and I had never run before.

The c25k program is a nine-week program that starts you running 60 seconds and walking 90 and repeating that for 30 minutes. Each week it increases the run time and decreases the walk time until at nine weeks you can run 30 minutes. I did it every other day, alternating with the walking program.

After I ran the 5K in August I still kept running three times a week and doing the five-mile Walk at Home program three times a week, but I gradually increased my runs to nine miles in 2011. If someone told me early on that by the end of 2011 I would be able to run nine  miles I would have thought they were nuts! I lost my first 47 pounds in three months doing the walking program and counting calories before I ever ran a step. Over the next four months I lost an additional 47 pounds just by adding in a little bit of running, so I didn't lose more running than I had walking.

Now I really enjoy all forms of exercise. I run, do the elliptical, swim, bike, walk, hike, weight train and snowshoe. It is a blessing to me to be able to do these things when four years ago I couldn't carry a laundry basket down the stairs.

Erika Humke

6. LIVESTRONG.COM: What's your weekly exercise schedule?

  • Monday: I run 30 minutes (3.4 miles) and stretch for 15 minutes.
  • Tuesday: I lift weights for 40 minutes, swim laps for 30 minutes and stretch for 15 minutes.
  • Wednesday: I run seven miles and stretch for 15 minutes.
  • Thursday: I mix it up, so depending on my mood I walk, bike or elliptical and stretch for 15 minutes.
  • Friday: I lift weights for 40 minutes, swim laps for 30 minutes and stretch for 15 minutes.
  • Saturday: I run five miles and stretch for 15 minutes.
  • Sunday: I lift weights for 40 minutes, swim laps for 30 minutes and stretch for 15 minutes.

In addition to the above, my husband and I bike, hike, snowshoe, go sledding, go for walks or play pickleball or disc golf on Saturday and Sunday.

Erika Humke

7. LIVESTRONG.COM: What's a typical day of meals and snacks?
I have read that most people maintain their weight better when they stick with a consistent meal plan and spend less time considering what to eat, so I tend to rotate between a few meal options for breakfast and lunch. For breakfast; three days a week I have a serving of fruit, coffee with skim milk and whole-wheat toast with peanut butter; a couple of days I have multigrain hot cereal with pumpkin and protein powder; one weekend day I have an egg and toast, cereal and fruit, a smoothie or pancakes with fruit salsa. No firm rules, but that is how it usually plays out.

For lunch I usually have fruit, an egg and yogurt with some added crushed nuts or granola. Although sometimes I have half a turkey sandwich and fruit or tuna with light mayo, crackers and a salad.

For dinner we usually have a salad or other green veggies along with marinated chicken breasts and squash, chicken fajitas, salmon and sweet potatoes, hamburgers, spaghetti (more veggies and less meat in the sauce than before) or pork chops and rice. We try to eat beef only once or twice a week and an oily fish a couple of times a week.

While I was losing weight I gave up alcohol completely. I know that I make bad food choices when I drink alcohol, so during that time I abstained. Every night before bed I have a dark-chocolate Dove Miniature.

Now that we are on maintenance we have what we call our "special meal" once a week. We have wine, an appetizer, a really good meal and dessert. Before our lifestyle change we would have chosen pizza or fast food. Now we are very thoughtful about our special meal, making it as "gourmet" and healthy as we can.

8. LIVESTRONG.COM: What's the range of calories you eat per day?
Most days I eat 1,200 to 1,300 calories. On our special-meal day I may eat as much as 2,800. 

9. LIVESTRONG.COM: What are the healthy staples that are always in your kitchen?
We always have lots of fruit and vegetables of all kinds, primarily what is in season. We also enjoy visiting our local farmers market. The produce department is our primary lane.

We always have hard-boiled eggs and Greek yogurt in the refrigerator and sweet potatoes in the pantry. Our freezer is stocked with plenty of fish and lean meats. We keep vanilla protein powder on hand to toss into oatmeal, cereal or pancakes. We like to have kimchi to snack on. We use a lot more spices and hot sauces than we used prior to losing weight.

Erika Humke

10. LIVESTRONG.COM: How do you strategize for meals?
We plan our dinners for the week and grocery shop once a week. Sometimes that plan changes if we discover a really good sale or something special at the fish counter once we're at the store. We both pack our lunches for work, and when I go to the gym early I also pack breakfast. We love the farmers market in the summer and usually go there before the grocery store.

11. LIVESTRONG.COM: What's the biggest challenge you faced?
The two biggest challenges I faced have been transitioning to maintenance and a few exercise injuries along the way.

I had to decide if I was going to eat a little more or exercise a little less when I reached my goal and wanted to maintain. What works best for me is to eat and exercise like I'm still trying to lose weight most days, but then to have a really special meal once a week.

Unfortunately, I have experienced a few running injuries. I hurt my Achilles tendon in 2012 and my hamstring in 2014. Rehabilitating forced me to learn new forms of exercise, but it was a little unsettling to have to change my workout program, since consistency is important for my success.

I have gained a few pounds on vacation a couple of times, but I just keep tracking on MyPlate and the weight comes off.

Erika Humke

12. LIVESTRONG.COM: What's your biggest secret to success that you want to share with others?

1. Track your calories in and out -- forever.

2. Know that your life will be so much better right away. I felt so much better after my first three weeks. It didn't take long to start losing weight and feeling more energy and strength.

3. Exercise every day. It doesn't have to be huge. Walk for 30 minutes if that is all the time you have, but schedule some time in every day. I am up at 4:30 a.m. to fit in exercise before work. I think of it like brushing my teeth -- not an option.

4. If you are the family chef, don't make separate meals for you and your family. Fix healthy meals and they will either eat what you serve (and probably become healthier in the process) or cook for themselves. Until my husband was ready to start his own journey he ate what I cooked and added his own extra food to the meal. After he saw that I was losing weight and the process wasn't horrible he decided to join in.

5. I know this is arguable in the weight-loss world, but I weigh myself every day. I know that avoiding the scale and how much my weight was climbing was part of the problem for me. I need to keep this issue front and center, and I do that by weighing and tracking every day. For me, it works.

Erika Humke

13. LIVESTRONG.COM: What's your life like now?
I have lost about 160 pounds, and I have a lot of muscle now. Maintenance will need to be a lifelong priority for me. I still use the LIVESTRONG Calorie Tracker and plan to forever. I am so joyous and thankful to have this wonderful gift of health, strength and a toned body. I want to cry and laugh and sing and dance every day because my life has changed so much.

I am so grateful to bound up the stairs, sit comfortably in chairs, wrap a towel around my whole body, have no aches in my ankles and knees, walk straight through a turnstile and stand on my tiptoes.

I went through five or six wardrobes as I was losing weight, mostly purchased at second-hand stores, since I didn't plan to be wearing those clothes for long. It literally brought me to tears when I hit my goal weight and could walk into any clothing store and find things that fit. The first time a salesperson guessed my size as an 8 or 10 many seconds passed before I could answer without choking up.

This life I am living now is a gift from a loving God.

Ann Rusnak is LIVESTRONG’s Sr. Community Manager. Her quest to lose the “baby weight” before the “baby” finished elementary school sparked an interest in health and fitness that continues to be a passion to this day. She loves hiking and yoga, and thinks the best exercise is one you can do with a good friend. Over the years Ann’s desire to fit into a certain size has evolved into what she feels is the more important goal of feeling good and having energy to live life to its fullest.

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