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Karen Bright: Lifestyle Changes

After a childhood of being the chubby kid with a nickname of Pudge, and a young adulthood of gaining and losing weight after pregnancy, Karen Bright figured, “This is just my body type, just my metabolism, just how I am.”

“Back in the day,” she says, “I thought going over 200 was the end of the world. You get depressed, it affects everything about you – your mental health, your lifestyle. I didn’t feel comfortable.”

In addition, Karen has Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a group of inherited disorders that affect the connective tissues and make it difficult to exercise and be active.

“I got kind of lazy, not eating right, and got really heavy,” she says. In 2021, she reached her maximum weight of 230.

Plus, Karen was conflicted. She works in Surgery Optimization for UPMC in Harrisburg, Pa., which specializes in modifying risk factors prior to surgery, like obesity, to improve surgical outcomes. “I was giving my patients advice, and not taking my own advice.” Then, her daughter Zoey decided to focus on her own physical and mental well-being. “I was giving Zoey advice. I told her to go to weight management. Why don’t I go?

“I decided, I’m just going to do it.”

Making Short-term Goals

Karen Bright before and after surgery.Karen had video visits with Melanie Gillman, CRNP, from the UPMC Central PA Medical Weight Management Center starting in March 2021, in the height of COVID. She was prescribed phentermine, an appetite suppressant, and took that for a year. Now, she takes it as needed.

“We figured out a plan,” says Karen. Her overall plan was to lose 80 pounds – but she says that rather than focus on that overarching goal, Melanie would reel her in and help her form short-term, achievable goals instead. “She brought me to reality and helped me realize this is a long-term process and the best way is to do it slow, to take your time.”

For example, one goal was for Karen to stop drinking soda. Now, she’s been soda-free for almost two years. Another goal that Karen achieved was walking during lunch, or walking in the evening with her husband. She aims to do something active at least once a day.

She also set mental goals, such as keeping a journal. “I write in a little journal whenever I could, just how I was feeling, the different emotions I was feeling, just to get myself mentally healthy. Some other programs are just about weight, but this was about my whole being. I felt this made me more successful. I didn’t feel like I was just another patient with her.”

Karen lost 65 pounds within the first year and has maintained that loss from March through the end of 2022. “I want to lose more,” she says.

Forming New Habits is Key

When Karen started her weight loss journey, she formed new habits:

  • Meal planning.
  • Using an app for tracking food and calories.
  • Reading food labels.
  • Weighing food.

Now she says she doesn’t have to plan everything out all the time because her habits have changed and she knows what she’s doing. “We don’t have soda in the house. We have different things we know we can eat. Now I don’t do the portioning out.”

“In the beginning it’s so hard to change your habits,” Karen says. “Then they just become your habits. It’s just my life.”

This patient’s treatment and results may not be representative of all similar cases.

Read more lifestyle change patient stories.