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Bagging the pants

Debbie Hensch was well on her way in the summer of 2010 when she was inte1 / 3
On Valentine’s Day, Debbie Hensch and her husband Dan were snapped together. Deb2 / 3
When Debbie Hensch lost enough weight to equal her mom, Bonnie McNerney, they po3 / 3

How many of us want to lose weight? It’s probably easier to count those who aren’t happy with what the scale, or the way their clothes fit, is telling them. But the decision to really make a lifestyle change, that’s a little different. That’s hard. 

Debbie Hensch knows a thing or two about it. 

She lost 250 pounds. 

The 38-year-old’s shirts went from 5X to mediums. Her pant size dropped from 36 to 10. The 5 foot, 7 inch Hensch weighed 400.2 pounds when she started her journey to a different way of living in 2008. 

“It can’t be a diet,” she said. “I had to totally change my lifestyle. So now I don’t even think about it. It’s just how I live.”

Now she runs daily and is in training for a leg — a quarter marathon of 6.5 miles — in the Brainerd Jaycees Run for the Lakes event April 30 in Nisswa. She has her eyes on a half-marathon in August. 

The Pequot Lakes resident joined Weight Watchers in the summer of 2008. She joined a gym. She combined cardio work with weights. She counted food points and measured portions. She never wavered from her goal. She never quit. And the pounds dropped off. 

She started walking, then biking, then jogging. In January, she began running five days a week. Now she averages about 13 miles a week on a treadmill or running outside. Interval training helped her increase her running speed from 4.2 mph to 5.9 mph. Not bad for someone who used to drive the car to pick up the mail at the end of the driveway. And a big change for a woman who was once out of breath after walking a short distance.

With her goal accomplished, her focus is on maintaining her weight. She now works for Weight Watchers and attends weekly meetings. She hears familiar stories there of people who hit their weight loss goal, who stopped tracking what they were eating, or how much, and found the pounds crept back on. 

“That’s why it has to be a lifestyle change,” she said. “If you look at it as a diet, at some point you are going to stop dieting.”

The new lifestyle of healthy eating, portion control and exercise brought rewards. 

“It’s just been amazing to be healthy,” Hensch said. She was off high blood pressure medications and no longer needed help to control cholesterol. She gained new-found confidence in herself. Now she’s the one others look up to for an example of what can be accomplished. 

“I would have never thought I would be able to help someone else be on a health path because I would just want to hide and blend in,” she said. 

Adjusting to her new body has taken time. Once she was exercising at the gym and wondering who that was staring at her in the mirror. Then came the realization, she was staring into her own eyes. 

Hensch said her goal wasn’t about a number on the scale, but was an effort to live a healthier lifestyle each day. She’s watched others set a goal of losing so many pounds by a specific date, perhaps Memorial Day, just to see that goal fail. Discouraged, they gave up and quit. Hensch tackled it each day even if the scale didn’t always show a weight loss.

“That’s I think what got me through it,” she said. “I chose to live it one day at a time.”

Each day was an opportunity to start again.

“The weight will come off if you keep making healthy choices,” she said.  

A Brainerd area woman, who asked not to have her name used, echoed those sentiments. She also faced serious health problems and chose gastric bypass surgery. The surgery helped, she said, but it isn’t a magic pill solution that works on its own. 

“You have to change your lifestyle,” she said. 

And by doing that, there were other changes as well. She can now run after a grandchild. But she has gained some of the weight back, although she said there is no comparison to her weight and way of life before the weight-loss surgery.

“I maybe wouldn’t have been around,” she said if she hadn’t had the surgery. “It’s basically been a lifesaver, for me. I would do it again in a heartbeat.”

Essential Health’s Brainerd Clinic hosts information meetings for its weight loss center available to anyone seeking more knowledge about the subject. The next session is 5-7 p.m. April 13 at the clinic. Jennifer Abfalter, nursing director, said they work with people before and after surgery to look at nutrition, portions, exercise and activity. 

Typically, a person must have a body mass index of 40 or greater to be considered for weight-loss surgery, or have a BMI of 35 or greater with two or more medical conditions — hypertension, diabetes or arthritis. Abfalter said the program made recent changes and has a partnership with St. Mary’s in Duluth, where the surgeries are now performed. 

The Minnesota Institute Minimally Invasive Surgery at the Cuyuna Regional Medical Center in Crosby also has weight loss surgery. They note it’s a life-changing event, not a quick fix. 

For Hensch, one of the changes is being able to shop for clothes anywhere and actually enjoy trying things on. It’s just one of the everyday moments of an entirely different way of living. 

“Just the thought of running a half marathon blows my mind that I’m even thinking about doing it,” Hensch said. “A year ago you never would have convinced me I could do that.”

RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at or 855-5852.