If you had met Sarah Hughes for the first time today, you wouldn’t believe that two years ago, she couldn’t fit into the largest available bridesmaid dress. Today, she’s a confident young woman with defined triceps and back muscles, impossible to miss as she does rep after rep of modified pull-ups at the Jack Barto Center for Employee Fitness.
But Sarah wasn’t always a model of health.
Being overweight had created moments of embarrassment and regret for Sarah, a nurse at the Novant Health New Hanover Behavioral Health Hospital. Her joyful moments as a bridesmaid were tainted by not being able to fit into a bridesmaid dress until it was creatively altered by a seamstress. She also remembers feeling ashamed on a flight when the tray table in front of her wouldn’t open completely because of her size.
These humbling moments nagged at Sarah as she suffered the social impact of a dramatic weight gain, which had occurred largely while she was in nursing school.
When Sarah visited her physician, though, the lab work revealed a potentially more serious issue -- the added weight was damaging her health. Still in her mid-20s, Sarah was on the verge of becoming pre-diabetic.
“That was a huge slap in the face!” Sarah said. “That’s when I acknowledged that my habits were impacting my health negatively.”
Sarah realized that, until that moment, she had been minimizing her weight-control issues. The word “diabetes” hit Sarah hard, as she did not want to continue her family’s history of diabetes.
So, Sarah started making changes. At first, she started walking. She maintained a leisurely pace for about a mile lap in her neighborhood. Her other primary tactic was to stop drinking her calories. She cut out regular sodas and sweet tea and was encouraged by the results.
After a month, she had lost about 20 pounds.
Discovering a new place
With newfound confidence, Sarah started working out at the NHNHRMC Employee Fitness Center. She had purchased a membership when she started working at NHNHRMC, but she had never taken advantage of the resources that are available.
At the beginning of her weight-loss journey, Sarah was intimidated by the gym; she felt she would be judged. Once, she started attending the EFC, she realized that the gym was an inclusive place for people at all levels of fitness.
“Everyone was very welcoming,” Sarah said. “It’s nice to not feel judged. Every person was super friendly. They always had a smile on their face and were encouraging.”
Sarah gradually made other adjustments to her diet, including intermittent fasting, where she eats only during an eight-hour window each day. She continued to work out on her own and kept losing weight. The trainers at the EFC noticed Sarah’s progress, and through casual interactions, they celebrated her success.
At work, Sarah’s teammates acknowledged her progress and gave her some good-natured teasing about how her scrubs were hanging off her. Sarah knew her weight loss was not complete, though, so she didn’t want to buy too many sets of scrubs just yet.
Eventually, Sarah got down to about 170 pounds – an 80-pound drop. That’s when she added more strength training to her workouts and enlisted the guidance of Courtnie Whaley, a certified personal trainer. Courtnie showed Sarah how to use more of the equipment at the EFC and devised a strength training system for Sarah.
About a year and a half after she first walked to the end of the road and back, Sarah reached her goal weight. At 5-foot-1, she continues to monitor her weight, keeping it consistently below 115 pounds, about 140 pounds from where she started.
A self-described introvert, Sarah is sharing her story – even the embarrassing moments – because she wants others to be inspired.
“I’ve noticed so much improvement in my endurance, energy, mood and strength,” Sarah said. “It’s hard to admit when you have a problem and harder still to change, but I’m living proof that it’s possible. I hope that sharing my story can encourage someone to find the determination to strive toward whatever health goals they set for themselves.”