Before and after: In summer 2019, Mary Pearson needed the help of a walker to get around. Less than six months later, she lost more than 100 pounds, seen here walking the indoor track at Tamarac in Fremont, with Gerber Memorial health educator and certified weight management consultant Ruth Barkel, in January 2020
Weight management class empowers woman to turn life around at 62
FREMONT, Mich. (Feb. 11, 2020) – Some people make New Year’s resolutions. Mary Pearson makes New Year’s transformation.
“I told my family I’m starting a new lifestyle,” Pearson says. “I’m done buying candy and baking cookies. That’s just the way it is. I have to change my life. This is how it’s going to be. They know why I’m doing it.”
Between April 2019 and January, Pearson shed 112 pounds, an astonishing achievement by any measure. At 62, after a lifetime of unchecked eating, a diet high in carbs and sugar, and a practically sedentary life, Pearson experienced a sudden awakening when she learned that her developmentally challenged daughter needed surgery to fix her cataracts and allow her to see any farther than her outstretched arm.
“When I found out she was almost blind, I realized I’ve got to do something because if something happens to her, who’s going to take care of her? It’s got to be me,” Pearson says.
Her problem: Obesity.
“I couldn’t walk, I had a cane, I had a walker,” Pearson says. “In stores, I would use an electric cart, and I wasn’t doing much walking at home either. I wasn’t doing anything.”
Pearson’s transformation began when she started following her sister to a weight management class at Tamarac, Spectrum Health Gerber Memorial’s health and wellness center, around the time she learned that her daughter would need surgery.
At the class, called WE (for “Weight Empowered”), Mary and her sister Kathy heard Gerber Memorial health educator and certified weight management consultant Ruth Barkel talk to the room of about dozen participants about personal accountability and taking responsibility for their actions.
“She said, ‘It’s your choice, you got to think about what you put in your mouth,’ and that really stuck,” Pearson says.
Pearson’s pantry and kitchen were the first places she turned to as she began making changes.
“I got rid of a lot of food in my house,” she says. “That was it. I made the decision and I quit eating junk food. I quit buying cookies. I stopped eating the way I used to eat.”
She started walking more. She parked further away. Eventually, as she began losing more weight, she gave up her cane. She ditched the electric cart next. And after five years of being trapped by excess weight and her immobility, Pearson says she finally went Black Friday shopping in 2019 and bought, among other things, new clothes.
“I walked all over the stores,” she says, smiling at the memory of roaming through the shops as if she had been unchained and set free.
Today, Pearson makes the 30-minute drive from her home in Walkerville to Tamarac for her WE class every week, joining about a dozen other people just like her, hoping to lose weight so they can live fuller lives.
Barkel emphasizes that her WE classes tap into the notion of personal responsibility as well as personalized care. She encourages the people in her class to find paths of lesser resistance in their journeys to better health and wellness, to simplify and not overcomplicate or overthink.
“Each person responds differently to different situations, and just as we encourage people to be accountable for their actions, we also want people to recognize that each of them has unique strengths and unique capabilities that can help them get to where they want to be,” Barkel says. “In a group setting, that sense of personal responsibility and discovery can also be a source of shared strength.”
For Pearson, the camaraderie of her WE class is what she finds most enjoyable and productive.
“The best part of the WE class is all of us sharing our stories, sharing ideas, motivating each other,” Pearson says. “We have a dozen people or thereabouts all trying to reach the same goal. It helps us see we’re not alone. We don’t have to do this on our own. Other people are in the same boat, and that sense of support is amazing.”
Barkel chimes in: “When Mary says it’s hard to get in enough water for the day, other people offer suggestions about adding lemon. Likewise, people who struggle with exercise are motivated by other people who like exercise, so they share good ideas and inspire each other.”
Weight management programs like the WE class Pearson attends are central to Gerber Memorial’s social mission.
“We’re continually working to improve health outcomes and meet the needs of those in Newaygo County,” says Jena Zeerip, supervisor of community programs at Gerber Memorial. “By meeting community members where they are and offering a wide variety of weight management programs, we are working alongside the community to do our part to address chronic conditions such as obesity and diabetes. These groups focus on education, support, and accountability and they are critical to the success of participants who achieve positive health outcomes as a result of continued participation.”
For Pearson, motivation came in large part from a mother’s need to care for a daughter, and also from a recognition that unless she changed her lifestyle, she would forever feel as if she were being held back.
“I started watching ‘My 600-pound Life,’” Pearson says, referring to the reality show documenting the challenges of severely obese people. “And I kept thinking, if I don’t do something, that’s going to be me.”
Today, Pearson keeps to a 1,500-calorie diet. She exercises rigorous portion control. She does yoga regularly.
“I don’t know why it took me until the age of 62 to lose weight,” she says. “You’re never too old to change. I honest-to-God thought I was going to be heavy, always overweight. And why wouldn’t I? I was at my highest weight for 10-15 years. That’s a long time. When things stay the same for so long, you think nothing’s going to change.”
Pearson says her family has been supportive as she strives to make her next goal: losing another 50 pounds.
Barkel says Pearson is more outgoing, more open, quick to smile and joke with others, as if losing weight also gave her levity.
“When you’re heavy, you don’t want to stick out because you don’t want anyone to pick on you,” Pearson says. “Yoga teaches you to sit up and stand up straight. I’m more confident now. I have a lot more energy, and I can do so much more. Before I lost weight, when I was cooking, I was bent over all the time. I had to sit down. I had a walker, and I had to sit in the chair. My husband had to tie my shoes because I couldn’t reach down. I can tie my own shoes now. I can stand up the whole time I cook now. I can do yoga. I can do a whole lot of things I couldn’t do before.”
Pearson’s next move is to attend classes with the Tamarac membership her son got her for Christmas. She wants to use the hot tub, exercise on the treadmill and lift weights. Her blood pressure has gone down. Her back no longer hurts. Her healthcare providers are shocked at her progress and she says they keep telling her how happy they are with how far she’s come in just a few months.
“If I can do it, when I thought that no way would I ever change, then anyone can do it,” Pearson says. “You don’t have to accept the way you are. You can change. You can change. You don’t have to accept who you are.”
For more information about the Weight Empowered (or WE) class, call 924.3073, or sign up in person at Tamarac, 1401 West Main, Fremont
Learn about other weight management programs at Tamarac at tamaracwellness.org