Some mid-Missouri residents chose to use the isolation caused by the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdowns to get themselves into peak physical health.
Many around the world have taken on the challenge of getting into shape both during and following the lockdowns. And the focus isn’t just on weight — increasing numbers of people are looking for healthy lifestyles, not just smaller waists or flatter stomachs.
It’s a more complete, and less superficial, approach to health that recognizes different bodies need different things.
More than half of Americans are trying to lose or manage their weight, according to a study conducted in March by Reach3 Insights provided to USA TODAY. About 48% of respondents were trying to eat less; 24% were using a weight-loss or fitness app; and 23% were on a special diet or nutritional drinks or shakes.
For Sam Fleury, Kerrie Bloss and James Melton — each with their own journey to better health — losing weight was just one aspect of their individual journeys to healthier eating, exercise and awareness of their value.
‘Tired of being tired’
Sam Fleury, a spokesman for Columbia College, lives in Jefferson City. During the pandemic, he found himself working from home.
“That shortened my commute — and I had some time to commit to exercise,” Fleury said.
It took him a little time, he said.
“When the pandemic hit in March 2020, my wife and mother-in-law started walking every morning,” he said. “After about a month, I decided to join them.”
Now, Fleury wakes up at around 4:15 a.m. In an hour, he said he logs four to five miles.
It was a quality-of-life decision, though he said he didn’t have any serious health problems.
“It has brought a whole other level of positivity to my life,” Fleury said. “I was tired of being tired. I definitely give credit to my wife. She got me up and walking.”
Now back working in his Columbia College office, he continues his early-morning regimen. Although sometimes tired from the workout when he arrives at work, he said extra coffee helps.
Another motivation for getting healthy is children, he said.
“We want to model healthy behaviors for our kids,” he said. “It’s just made for a good family dynamic.”
He monitors the amount of food he eats, limiting himself to around 1,800 calories per day. It may include a protein bar for breakfast, a mid-morning snack of a banana, a turkey burger with cheese and no bun for lunch, another snack of peanut butter and finally, chicken or some other lean meat for dinner.
He’s down to 210 pounds, he said, with a goal of losing a little more.
“I’m about 55 pounds from my heaviest weight,” Fleury said. “I have a goal of getting down to 195.”
His fitness routine has done wonders, he said.
“I think focusing on my health has improved every area of my life,” he said. “It has given me improved self-esteem.”
‘Anybody can do this’
Kerrie Bloss, community development director for Boys and Girls Clubs of Columbia, had conversations about weight loss with her primary care doctor who told her when she was ready, she could refer her to Columbia Surgical Associates.
“In February 2020, I said ‘OK, I’m ready,'” Bloss said. “As soon as we got to the point of making an appointment, everything was shut down.”
She was able to get an appointment in May 2020.
“When I heard about medically supervised weight loss, I worried someone was going to try to sell me diet shakes,” she said.
Her concerns were alleviated when she met with Allie Arends, a nurse at Columbia Surgical Associates.
“We talked about general health and nutrition,” Bloss said. “For me, it was going to be eating low-carb meals.”
She doesn’t deny herself any of the foods she loves, she just eats differently, she said. A burger would be without a bun, or pizza without crust, or low-carb ice cream.
“It’s just being mindful” about eating, she said.
She was too strict on herself in the beginning, she said.
During the pandemic, there were none of the temptations, including Chamber of Commerce breakfasts and lunches with donors, making it easier for her to keep with her routine, she said.
“I was going out to eat a lot” before the pandemic, she said.
Since March, she has enlisted the help of personal trainer Amanda Tolson. Her routine includes strength training, such as using free weights. She works out with Tolson online once a month, but does the training on her own for 30 minutes at least three times a week.
“I have lost 150 pounds since June of 2020,” Bloss said.
People noticed the difference when she posted side-by-side before and after photos on her Facebook page.
“I got tons of reactions,” she said.
Her message to her Facebook friends: “I promise if I can do this, anybody can do this.”
The pandemic gave her space for herself, she said.
“I was just ready,” she said. “I’m a very social person, but there weren’t parties. There weren’t happy hours.”
Now, she accepts invitations to eat out, but understanding her goals.
“A friend of mine asked me if I wanted to go to dinner,” she said. “I had this moment of panic.”
She knew her friend also was mindful about food, so they enjoyed a low-carb restaurant meal together.
There were health benefits, she said.
“I had high blood pressure for a couple of years,” she said. “I’ve been off blood pressure (medication) for five months now.”
‘I realize I’m important’
James Melton, the fine arts coordinator for Columbia Public Schools, has lost weight before and gained it again. Many times, he said.
He loves his job, but he felt constant stress, he said.
“You spend all your time not taking care of you,” Melton said. “I was having anxiety.”
He visited his doctor, who told him he was healthy, but stressed.
“You’re starting to show signs that runway is running out,” Melton said he was thinking in relation to his weight and health.
He had panic attacks where he felt like he was dying of a heart attack, he said.
He underwent a program with dietitians at the University of Missouri Weight Management and Metabolic Institute.
“I began to explore the idea of weight-loss surgery,” he said.
First, through walking and some minor changes to his diet, he lost 90 pounds on his own.
He decided to get the gastric bypass surgery, noting the number of times he has lost weight and regained it, he said.
He described it as a three-legged stool that also included mindful eating habits and mindful exercise, he said.
“It’s a tool to maintain a healthy lifestyle,” he said.
The surgery took place Feb. 11, 2020.
“I feel great about it,” Melton said. “The stress or anxiety I had has really dissipated. I realize I’m important.”
With the surgery, he said he must get protein, or his brain “gets soft” and he’s unable to concentrate.
“It physically means I eat less,” Melton said. “I have to prioritize protein. Next in line is fruits and vegetables. I stick to things I like. It makes me feel nauseous if I eat too much.”
He doesn’t drink carbonated beverages, he said. Sugar goes straight into his bloodstream.
“I’ve learned to listen to what my body is telling me,” he said.
Working from home during the pandemic was important for him, he said.
“I think it was critical,” he said of the pandemic. “It did provide time for me to really, truly settle into routines.”
He exercises at the gym four to six times a week for a minimum of 30 minutes. He does yoga, walking and uses an elliptical machine. He also rides his bike.
He also had been on blood pressure medicine for high blood pressure, which has been eliminated. His resting heart rate is 52 beats per minute.
He thought the resting heart rate was too low, but his doctor told him it was great.
He also no longer has heartburn that he took medication for before the transition.
He has lost 240 pounds, he said. His top weight was 417, and now he weighs around 177.
There were many reasons to get healthy, he said. His family has been “super supportive.”
“I have a 14-year-old daughter,” he said. “I’d like to squeeze in as many years with her as I can.”
He was happy before his weight loss and isn’t happier now, he said. He just has a different outlook.
“All of the things related to being obese, I’ve taken them off the list of things that will kill me,” he said.
He said he doesn’t regret anything about his decisions.
“It has brought so much benefit to my life, and I feel so much healthier,” he said.