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Weight loss stories to inspire you in 2015

Helen Adams | MUSC News Center | Jan. 21, 2015

yogic breathing
Sarah Pack
Renee Jefferson has lost 20 pounds and 10 inches so far by exercising and changing her diet. 

If you need a little inspiration to lose weight and get healthier this spring, the following stories about four amazing people may be just what you need.

All of them realized they needed to change their ways and actually did it through the Healthy Charleston Challenge. The intense 12-week program at the Medical University of South Carolina’s Wellness Center is for people at least 25 pounds overweight. In order to permanently change their lifestyle habits, they work with a team of experts, including personal trainers, a registered dietitian, exercise physiologists and a psychologist during the program.

The program works, as you’re about to see. It has won national honors, including Best Behavior Modification Program in the Nation. But the best way to judge the challenge is to see the dramatic impact it’s had on four people living in the Charleston area. Even if a structured program like the challenge is not for you, what they learned about losing weight and keeping it off can help anyone who wants to make healthy changes.

Sarah Pack

Ben Ellsworth

Age: 37

Weight loss: 43 pounds

Routine: Cycling, light jogging, pushups, squats, planks, wall sits

Secret tip: Lots of Ibuprofen and good shoes

Top lifestyle change: Diet, definitely

Nutrition: Chicken, vegetables, lentils, greens and nonfat cottage cheese with pineapple; I also love air popped popcorn with salt and vinegar powder


Chef follows new recipe for weight loss

Ben Ellsworth's weight climbed to 285 pounds while he was working as a chef in a Charleston restaurant. "I would feed my customers healthy food, but not myself," he said while taking a break from riding his bike in Hampton Park. 

"I'd get the servers excited about the health benefits of the dishes I was making, then I'd go home and eat Taco Bell and Ramen noodles because it was fast, quick and easy."

One day, he ran into a friend he hadn't seen in a while. "I was like, what happened?" His friend had dropped 62 pounds through the Healthy Charleston Challenge. "I said, sign me up," Ellsworth said.

He lost five pounds during his first week in the challenge, but had trouble consistently losing weight in the weeks that followed. "Then, the last three weeks, I really got my wind," Ellsworth said. "I started running a lot more." He also started riding his bike.

Exercise wasn't his only change. He quit smoking, cut back on alcohol and started eating chicken, greens and healthy snacks such as air popped popcorn with vinegar powder. By the conclusion of the challenge, he'd lost 43 pounds, making him the first place finisher in the men's category.

Now, he bikes, jogs and does push ups, planks and wall sits. He also plays outside more with his children. "I take the kids to the park a lot more. I used to look for excuses to avoid it."





Sarah Pack
Renee Jefferson

Age: 51

Weight loss: 20 pounds

Routine: Weight lifting and cardio two or three times a week

Secret tips: Invest in Epsom salt and get a massage therapist

Top lifestyle change:
Wanting to exercise

Nutrition: A lot more fruit and vegetables and healthy snacks

Citadel professor changes life after loss of loved one

Citadel professor and Assistant Dean Renee Jefferson was no stranger to exercise. She'd worked out at the Wellness Center for years and noticed the signs for the Healthy Charleston Challenge. But she wasn't ready to commit to it until she experienced the loss of a loved one. "My mother died in 2013. The following fall (2014), I said, ‘This is it.’"

Her weight had risen to 370 pounds. "That's the most I've ever weighed in my life." 

Jefferson was teaching graduate students at night, so she was able to join a group that exercised together five days a week.

They climbed stairs, ran, lifted weights and exercised past the point many of them thought they could handle. Jefferson invested in Epsom salts to soak in and found a good massage therapist.

She also started selecting fresh food and scrutinizing ingredients. “That was a mind change,” she said.

Her hard work paid off. “At the end of 12 weeks, I lost 20 pounds and 10 inches. I went from not jogging at all, to now, I can run a mile.”

Jefferson has kept up her fitness regimen since her challenge ended, starting a new exercise program in January 2015. “It’s slow and steady, so I know I can keep doing this.”

Helen Adams
Suzanne Kobbe

Age: 47

Weight loss: 47 pounds

Routine: Walking on the Ravenel bridge and beach, plus lunges, dips and pushups

Secret tip: Go with a friend or a group

Top lifestyle change: My diet!

Nutrition: Food has to have fewer than five ingredients; plan meals and prep on Sunday for dinner during the week

Teaming up with a friend to get fit together

Suzanne Kobbe has gone through a lot of change in the past few years. First, her husband died. She moved to the Charleston area to be near family. Then, she got some scary news from her doctor. 

"I was on the verge of becoming insulin-dependent with diabetes,” Kobbe said. “That was the biggest thing that made me realize I needed to change my lifestyle.”

The next change for Kobbe was one that has made her healthier, happier and closer to her good friend Karen Walters. They’re related – sort of. Walters is Kobbe’s brother’s sister-in-law.

Like Kobbe, Walters needed to lose weight and get into better shape. She wanted to quit having to return to the larger size clothes she saved for when her weight was up. “I put on weight so quickly and I can lose it, but I can never keep it off. My goal was to learn how to keep it off,” Walters said.

Together, they decided to join the Healthy Charleston Challenge. The Wellness Center put them on a team that exercised several days a week for 12 weeks. “The workouts were really hard, but worth it,” Walters said.

But Kobbe was right behind her. “I know I wouldn’t have lost as much weight without Karen and our teammates,” Kobbe said. “We all kept each other going and motivated.”


Helen Adams
Karen Walters
Age: 47

Weight loss: 43 pounds
Routine: Walk, exercise four days a week
Secret tip: Drink a lot of water
Top lifestyle change: Diet

Nutrition: Fish, chicken, vegetables,  brown rice, no salt

During the final days of the challenge, Walters and Kobbe were almost even. “I looked at Sue and told her I couldn’t let her win,” Walters said with a smile on her face.

In the end, they both won. Walters lost the highest percentage of weight (19 percent) and Kobbe lost the most pounds (47).

"I'm off one medication for high blood pressure,” Kobbe said. “My blood glucose level is a lot lower and I have so much more energy.”

Walters said she also has more energy. “I feel a whole lot better, but I still worry,” she said. She doesn’t want the weight to return.

So they’re still exercising together, walking the Ravenel Bridge and the beach and working out with a trainer. They’re also continuing to use what they learned about eating well.

Kobbe cut back on dining out and started reading food labels. “They have to have less than five ingredients and I have to be able to pronounce them,” she said. The challenge’s five-ingredient rule means most junk food is out. Kobbe also plans her meals and uses Sunday to prepare her weekday dinners.

Walters also makes careful choices. “I am extremely conscious of what I eat. No processed foods. I eat a lot of fish, chicken and a variety of vegetables with sweet potatoes or brown rice. No salt.”

For more information about the Healthy Charleston Challenge, click here.





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