38 minutes ago
Losing never felt so good.
Meet four residents of the Alle-Kiski Valley who lost more than 225 pounds combined last year during the covid-19 induced restrictions.
When pandemic restrictions and lockdowns forced everyone to endure changes in their lifestyles and eating habits, these folks said bye-bye to what was widely nicknamed the “Quarantine 15” in 2020.
Verne Bergstrom said he’s embarrassed to tell his story.
“I was overweight, looked unhealthy and was on blood pressure medicine and very unhappy,” said Bergstrom, 28, a financial manager at Shady Side Academy.
He hopes his story will help others realize they’re not alone in the battle of the bulge.
“I’d lost weight before 2020 and the lockdown, and I panicked when I found out that gyms were going to shut down,” said Bergstrom, who weighed in at more than 300 pounds when in his mid-20s.
Fearing he would revert to his old habits of eating “bad choice” foods, Verne began working out with an online trainer.
He said losing the weight was psychological and physical.
“Change your bad habits; block out the negativity in your life, whether it’s coming from food or people, and make choices that make you happy,” Bergstrom said. “Do not give in to the peer pressure in your diet and take things one step at a time.”
Verne hits the gym almost daily, runs with a weighted vest and can finally do burpees — a longtime personal goal.
He’s replaced carbs with protein and veggies. He cooks zucchini noodles and spaghetti squash instead of pasta.
Hamburger buns are gone and his alcohol consumption, once an after-work, happy hour norm, has been reduced to the occasional cocktail.
He had arranged previously to attend a gastric bypass information session but ultimately canceled because he was determined to lose weight the “old fashioned way.”
“I know there are people that need to have this surgery because everyone’s different, but I didn’t have any major health issues then, so I figured it was not too late to try it on my own,” Bergstrom said.
Two years later and more than 140 pounds lighter, Bergstrom said he shed about 60 pounds during 2020.
He consults with a dietitian and said he’s determined to maintain his new healthier lifestyle.
“An impactful moment was when I had to keep getting new clothes because my old ones were too big for me,” Bergstrom said.
Dana Haines spends her days taking care of others.
Now, she’s putting herself first.
“I’ve been overweight since I was a teenager,” said Haines, 42, a registered nurse.
Extreme back pain, headaches and other symptoms red-flagged as pre-stroke or heart attack risks by her doctor motivated her weight loss.
“I was terrified of either dying or becoming incapable of caring for myself,” Haines said, “and knew if I didn’t make a major change, I would be dead soon.”
Describing food as a lifelong “crutch,” Dana found support with an online weight loss group.
“Now I know food is nourishment; it’s simply food, and nothing more,” she said.
She’s down 82 pounds of her 150-pound total weight loss goal.
She said the covid-related restaurant shutdowns helped.
“There were limited options to eat out — no parties or social situations were occurring where food would be the focus,” Haines said.
She drinks a gallon of water a day and doesn’t count calories.
“I eat clean, unprocessed foods,” she said.
Low dairy, gluten free, protein, healthy carbs and lots of vegetables are her main go-to choices.
Dance cardio is her new fitness secret weapon, and she works out six days a week.
“I feel fantastic,” Haines said. “I’m no longer in pain or afraid I will die from my weight.”
“Find a good support system. Don’t quit just because you ate something ‘bad.’ It’s just food,” Haines said. “Make a better choice next time.”
Haines said dancing and hugging her young nieces and nephews are sources of joy.
“If I can teach them healthy habits instead of the unhealthy ones, I used to have that would be the best gift,” Haines said.
Jean Stull makes a living with numbers.
And she’s counting on the 50 pounds she’s lost since July to increase.
An accountant, she said her sedentary job and pandemic-related stress were taking a toll on her body.
“I had trouble sleeping and my anxiety level was high,” said Stull, 51.
A random ad for Noom, a personalized weight loss app, showed up on her phone in 2020 and she decided to sign up.
She credits the pandemic-restricted lifestyle for helping in one department: Her routine.
“It was easier to take a break from working at home to walk instead of when I’m at my office,” Stull said. “Also, I have cooked a lot more at home as opposed to eating out, and I cook healthier meals.”
Stull recently completed two walking 5Ks.
She would like to lose about 100 more pounds.
Limiting carbs, including pasta and bread, and alcohol, are primary nutritional goals.
“I have found that alcohol greatly affects my weight loss,” she said. “Eliminating it is the best thing to do, but I did have drinks with my friends over the holidays. It’s back to lots of water now.”
In 2013, Stull underwent gastric bypass surgery.
Post surgery, she initially lost about 150 pounds.
“With stresses of life I put about 70 pounds back on,” she said.
But now she’s lost 50 pounds in five months. She incorporates weigh-ins and sensible eating as daily habits.
“My biggest victory has been I sleep better, have less knee pain, more energy and generally feel healthier,” Stull said.
A photo posted on social media was a reality check for UPMC flight nurse Wendy Koulouris.
“Someone posted a photo of me at my heaviest, and I didn’t recognize the person in the photo,” said Koulouris, 45. “I was unhappy and didn’t feel like myself.”
Always active and interested in fitness, Koulouris was sidelined when she had foot surgery last year.
“Initially when things first shut down, I gained weight being home with little to do, aided by eating and drinking whenever, and whatever.”
She adopted a low-carb, Keto-friendly diet. She eliminated sugar, bread, pasta and potatoes.
“Honestly, now that I don’t eat those foods much anymore, I really don’t miss them.”
Wendy said testing positive for covid-19 last July didn’t derail her weight loss of 36 pounds.
She has since recovered and is feeling strong at work, a “bonus” she said has contributed to her happiness.
“Being strong makes me a better wife and mother.”
She hopes to lose an additional 10 pounds and said determination is a key factor in achieving weight loss.
“I’m determined not to fall back into that rut of feeling both terribly physically and mentally,” she said.
Experts weigh in
Jeffrey Lucchino, a registered dietitian and director of sports nutrition at UPMC, said creating a long-term plan after losing weight is essential.
“Everyone always starts,” he said, but many “fizzle.”
“Weight loss during covid is an eye-opener,” Lucchino said. “It’s positive that people have taken the bull by the horns to get healthier, and a lot of people are taking a deep look at their health and weight.”
Dr. Robert Quinlin of Fox Chapel, a retired assistant professor of surgery and director of Bariatric Surgery at WVU Healthcare, said the greatest challenge people with significant weight loss will face, with or without surgical help, is maintaining their weight loss.
With more than 3,000 bariatric surgery cases during his 37-year career, Quinlin said when reasonable weight loss is achieved, identifying one’s individual circumstances is paramount.
“The recognition of one’s vulnerabilities and continual mindfulness of the consequences of recidivism is the most powerful motivator for success,” Quinlin said.
Lucchino said many of his clients said they were “eating their feelings” in 2020.
He recommends keeping a food journal.
“It’s huge because it’s accountability and creates good habits,” Lucchino said.
Quinlin added most bariatric surgical programs require patients to have a BMI (body mass index) greater than 40, or a BMI of 35 or more with co-morbid conditions such as Type II diabetes.
Most complete a psychological evaluation, undergo dietary counseling and provide documentation of prior attempts at weight loss by dietary means alone before qualifying for bariatric surgery.
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