NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – As a 4-H teaching assistant with the UT/TSU extension service in Murfreesboro, Tenn., Heather Gum has recited the club’s pledge more times than she can remember.
The line that would always get to her was, “I pledge…my health to better living for my club, my community, my country and my world.”
It was ironic that she was teaching children to live a healthy lifestyle when she herself was morbidly obese. After 30 years of overeating and bad choices, she tipped the scales at 367 pounds and had a 55½-inch waist.
“It really hit me that I needed to make a change, that I had lived this lifestyle for far too long,” said Gum. “But to start my journey I had to learn to love myself first.”
Gum recently returned from a trip to Hollywood where she taped an episode of “The Doctors,” a medical television talk show set to air March 20. She sent a letter to producers telling them of her life story and how she shed more than 170 pounds in 15 months.
“I told them everything, the problems I had growing up and how I got to be where I was,” Gum said. “I wanted to share my story so that others know they can lose an extreme amount of weight by just eating right and changing their lifestyle.”
According to Gum, she grew up in the era of “cleaning your plate” or eating everything, and never learned to feel full on her own. She ate because it was time to eat, not because she was hungry, but because it was there.
“This whole process started when I was 12 and I just packed on a layer of protection that I hid behind,” added Gum. “I was making bad choices such as sneaking food and eating a lot of junk food. It finally just caught up to me.”
On Feb. 14, 2011 at the age of 40, she made the decision of a lifetime. After eating a couple of Taco Bell 5-layer burritos for a quick lunch, she decided to make the life-changing decision to improve the health of her body. She wrote on her blog:
“I paused for a moment and told myself ‘This is It!’ My weight and size is an embarrassment. My family loves me…but I know there has been times that they wish I didn’t look the way I do…I couldn’t help but have tears trickling down my plump rosy cheeks. Where do I start? There’s thousands of little reasons but one big one – I AM DOING IT FOR ME!” [sic]
Gum was referred to the Metabolic Research Center in Murfreesboro by another client, and according to Brittany Tucker, manager of the weight-loss center, she was ready to start her journey.
“You could just tell,” said Tucker. “She was excited about the process and the road that lay before her.”
The program consisted of twice-weekly weigh-ins, sessions of encouragement, blood pressure checks and documentation of health history.
“This is the easiest diet to follow because you are eating real food,” said Tucker. “Heather was loosing an averaging of 4-5 pounds every week.”
Gum had to learn to eat all over again. Now she was weighing her food as instructed by the center, eating lots of fruits, vegetables and lean meats.
“It was so easy,” she said. “I didn’t have to count calories. I just had to weigh my portions. I didn’t go anywhere without my scales.”
She also joined TOPS (taking off pounds sensibly) another support group which she had been part of on-and-off since 2005. After she shed 170 pounds, TOPS recognized her as the 2011 International Division Winner based on her age and the amount of weight lost during the calendar year. She was also the “biggest loser” at the Murfreesboro weight-loss center.
With the weight loss came a lot of firsts for Gum, including being able to sit in a chair without touching the sides, going kayaking, and just recently, snow skiing with her children in January. But one of the biggest moments was when her youngest daughter, now 11, was able to put her arms around her mom for the first time after losing 80 pounds.
“It was a special moment for the two of us,” she said. “I wondered how I ever got to that point, a point I am never going back to.”
Today, Gum is down to about 185 pounds and went from a size 30 to a 12/14. She still is not where she wants to be, because she estimates her excess skin from her weight loss at about 25-30 pounds.
“My goal is to get to a size 8/10,” Gum added. “But since insurance won’t cover that type of surgery, it might take a while. I am really pushing for insurance companies to cover the cost of the corrective surgery. I worked hard to loose all that weight and that is my reward? I think things really need to change.”
Her quest for insurance policy change is the reason for her appearance on “The Doctors.” She sent a letter to both the president of TOPS asking them to lead the charge in helping to change policy, and producers of the television program. While the TOPS organization discussed it at an international meeting, they thought it was too large an issue to take on. “The Doctors,” however, invited her to appear on the show about the issue of skin.
“It was a wonderful experience and amazing that they picked me to talk about weight loss and the effects it has on your skin,” said Gum. “Excess skin is as much mentally debilitating as the weight was physically debilitating. I just hope some good come out of this for others going through the same thing.”
The episode of “The Doctors” featuring Gum will air Wednesday, March 20 at 11 a.m. on WKRN Channel 2 in Nashville.
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