In July, Jenn Rathweg, 30, got a prediabetes diagnosis that made her realize that she wanted to make big changes in her life. “When I found out I was prediabetic, I wanted to stop there and not get to the diabetic point. I told my husband I really wanted to make a change, and he said he wanted to make changes, too,” she said. Having her husband on board would turn out to be crucial — for both of them.
Rathweg was dealing with other health problems, too. She struggled with anxiety and depression, high blood pressure, tachycardia, osteoarthritis in her back and inflammatory arthritis in her joints. Plus, heart disease runs in her family. That’s a long list of health issues for anyone, but especially for a young person.
But the truth is that Rathweg’s struggle with her weight — which was likely playing a role in some of her health problems — may have started when she was even younger. She remembers being overweight as far back as kindergarten. “My dad would cook every night, but he was creaming, salting and frying everything,” she said. When she was diagnosed with prediabetes, her weight was at its highest. She aims to get below 200 and, ultimately, to 160.
Now, Rathweg has a system for keeping herself accountable for reaching her goals. “I’m going to reward myself for every 80 pounds. When I hit that, I’m going to get a tattoo. And at the end, I’ll probably do a whole new wardrobe,” she said.
She connected with support and accountability
Having a support system made all the difference for Rathweg. She credits her husband, Josh Rathweg, with motivating her to change her lifestyle: “Having his support made a huge difference for me. He holds me accountable and cheers me on — I think that really turned things around.” The changes have also helped him — with their new lifestyle, he has lost 20 pounds.
Rathweg also love to connect with others who are improving their health in the Start TODAY Facebook group. “I love Facebook groups that are supportive. Even if someone is having a bad day, they try to turn your day around and root you on. It’s amazing how positive the group is,” she said.
Here’s how her health has improved
With better food choices and more physical activity, Rathweg has noticed these positive changes:
- She’s managing her anxiety and depression better. “Before, I would avoid going out in public and eating in restaurants. I didn’t know if I would fit in a booth comfortably, or if people would stare at me,” she said.
- She has more energy. “I don’t want to sit around all the time if I’m bored. I want to go out and walk,” she said.
- The arthritis in her back has cleared up a lot. Rathweg’s inflammatory arthritis hasn’t disappeared, but it’s a lot more manageable.
- Her blood pressure has stabilized. She takes medication that helps, too. “Before, even on the medication, it was getting really bad,” she said.
- Her chest pain and palpitations have gone away.
She hasn’t been back to the doctor, but she’s hoping to see her markers for diabetes improving.
These are the 3 changes made the most difference for her family
They revamped what and when they ate
Rathweg and her husband did a “cabinet haul.” They tossed or donated just about everything they didn’t want to eat anymore —including things like cake mixes. Then, they made a trip to the grocery store and stocked up on lean proteins and fresh fruits and veggies. “We try to stay away from processed foods,” she said. They also cut back on carbs.
Now, they eat healthier pasta and casseroles and a lot of fresh fish, chicken breasts, vegetables, and fruit for dessert. They learned how to prepare and season their food, so they enjoy it. “If it was boring, we would lose interest and fall off the wagon. This is a lifestyle change, so we want to enjoy it,” she said.
They still treat themselves to delivery, takeout or restaurant meals, but they are more thoughtful about their food choices. “There are great, healthier options. You can splurge without going all out,” she said.
They also started eating lunch and dinner at set times, rather than whenever they felt hungry, and they no longer eat after their 6 p.m. dinner.
They watched their portion sizes
They bought portion-control plates that show you what size your protein, vegetable and fruit servings should be. “It helped us envision what and how we were eating. Our portions were way off,” she said. “We don’t really need them anymore because now we know what our portions should look like. But they really helped at first.”
Rathweg set a 1,400-calorie daily goal for herself and tracked her calories, since she wanted to stay in a calorie deficit. “I feel like that is working really well. If I get hungry, I drink a bunch of water,” she said.
Most days, their meals look something like this:
- Breakfast: An English muffin and some fruit, and sometimes low-fat yogurt
- Lunch: A salad with some fruit
- Dinner: Baked fish, chicken breasts or spaghetti with ground turkey, and yogurt or fruit for dessert
They launched a walking routine
Rathweg said that when she started making these changes, she couldn’t even walk to her mailbox without getting winded. “I felt like I was gasping for air, and I needed to sit down. My energy was so low. I would start pouring sweat,” she said.
So, she started small. Rathweg began by walking along the roadways in her apartment complex and pushed herself to walk a little further every few days. As her strength and stamina grew, she and her husband started to walk in a nature park near their Dayton, Ohio, home. “I walked the loop there once, and a week or so later, I walked it twice,” she said. She tracks her speed and distance on her Apple watch.
She tries to walk five days a week — though if her arthritis flares, she has to take some time off. She aims for a mile a day, which she can now cover in 20 minutes — down from the 30 minutes it was taking her when she started.
She and her husband have been participating in 5K walks for charity and plan to do more of them, as well as longer-distance walks, in the spring when the weather is better.
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