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Like many people, Mel Fish, 36, has found that their weight loss efforts have been derailed by COVID-19. Before the pandemic, they were making good progress. Despite their lifelong struggle with their weight—Fish was at her highest weight and was diagnosed with prediabetes in high school—in 2019, she ranked fifth in a company-wide weight loss competition, dropping 60 pounds to 155.
Fish admits that it was the prize money that motivated them to lose weight initially. But they loved how they felt when they were lighter and how losing the weight helps relieve symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, which they were diagnosed with after their son was born five years ago.
They were making solid and steady progress when the pandemic hit. Working long, grueling hours as a certified nursing assistant (CNA), caring for COVID-19 patients, and getting COVID-19 themselves ended that. We had to work with families who were not able to come and see their loved ones. “You must be an important partner to them, their daughter, their son, their friend,” they said. “I didn’t feel like eating healthy. I wanted to eat my comfort foods. I didn’t gain much weight early in the pandemic—I got to 160 maybe—but I didn’t lose anything either. It was very hard.”
In 2021, Fish and their wife Jane notice that they are getting older and their clothes getting tighter. Therefore, they began to work out daily and eat better. And at the beginning of 2022, they intensified their efforts.
The fish now weigh 142 pounds—the weight they’re happy with. In addition, the fish have experienced a lot of positive changes in their lives other than losing weight, including:
- Arthritis symptoms have subsided a lot.
- Muscle tone is better in the arms, back and legs. They said, “There’s not much in my muscles yet, but I’ll keep working on it.”
- Energy levels are higher, so they can run after their son.
- Breathing is easier, even with exercise-induced asthma. “We have a lot of state parks here in Wisconsin that have a lot of boulders, and climbing those boulders is a lot easier,” they said.
- The risk of health problems is likely lower – their father has heart disease and both parents have high cholesterol and cancer.
Fish find that their exercise routine benefits their mental health, too. They were on medication for postpartum depression after the birth of their son. “After I started exercising again in 2019, I no longer need this medication,” they said.
“I enjoy life. I enjoy being around people, having never wanted to talk to anyone before. I used to keep to myself, go to work, come home, and do what I had to do just to stay.”
Here’s how they added physical activity
Fish and their wife exercise together every morning before they go to work. They have a treadmill, yoga balls, free weights, and a home gym downstairs. Recently they’ve also been getting e-bikes, so they’ve done more cycling. They said, “We’ll see all the trails Wisconsin has to offer that you can’t do in a car.”
In the evening, they take a family picnic or bike ride. With morning exercise plus work, Fish gets to 10,000 steps most days, and tries to add another 5,000 or 10,000 steps. To take care of their feet, they buy a new pair of shoes every six months and exchange them. They said, “I was wearing shoes, but my wife told me I had to get good shoes.”
On the day of the interview for this story, Fish was so committed to his walk that he walked along a trail near their home in Wisconsin while sharing their story.
Here’s how they changed what they eat
The fish and his wife follow a low-carb/keto diet, practice intermittent fasting three days a week, fasting for 16 hours and eat within eight hours.
“My arthritis started to get worse, and I knew that other people with autoimmune conditions were using the keto diet to help with these symptoms. It has helped me tremendously, especially on my hands and knees. They said it was much better than just eating regularly.
Here’s what they might eat on a typical day:
- breakfast: 1 egg and half an avocado or some guacamole
- lunch: Beef or turkey fingers with fruit or yogurt
- Dinner: Meat and vegetables
On the days when they fast, they eat breakfast, lunch, and skip dinner. “So we finish eating by about 2 pm and then don’t eat until the next morning. I have breakfast around 10 am because this is my first break at work.”
And on the weekends, Fish and his wife might go out for a drink or two or dessert. “We know we need to do this for ourselves, even if it’s a keto treat. We love making peanut butter combos with keto-friendly chocolate,” they said.
Here’s how they count on support
“Growing up, it was very difficult for me to lose weight. I was starving myself and doing stomach exercises, but I would always fail. I guess it was because I didn’t have the support system I do now with my friends, my wife and the people I met along the way encouraging me. Plus, my son loves to go for walks and ride his bike, and that helps.”
Fish was walking with their friend Charyl Nelson one day, and Nelson invited Fish to Start a TODAY Facebook group. Fish has been a member for a couple of months now, and they appreciate the motivation they’ve gotten from that.
“I love seeing everyone’s story, from maybe doing absolutely nothing to getting up and walking and trying to improve themselves. People are very encouraging for each other. They don’t put anyone down for their size or their inability to do something. They said they share the foods they prepare and their exercises.
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