Somerset — Debra Harrison was recently recognized as the biggest loser, but in the best possible way.
“It’s the best feeling ever,” Harrison said. “I literally cried when I reached my goal because I never thought I would achieve it.”
For Harrison, 52, the weight loss journey has been a rollercoaster of ups and downs.
At her heaviest, Harrison weighs 480 pounds and over the years has dealt with a number of medical issues related to her weight, including diabetes, high blood pressure and sleep apnea.
But slowly and steadily win the race. After decades of struggle, Harrison ditched his CPAP machine, discontinued insulin therapy, and worked his way up to the goal, adding 10 lbs in increments, but eventually reaching his goal. reached his 230 pounds.
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Now she’s set her sights on using what she’s learned to maintain that progress, and hopefully inspire others who may be struggling on their way to losing weight. hoping.
Harrison said to his fellow members of TOPS (Take Off Pounds Sensibly), “If I can do it, you guys can too.”
What is the secret of her success? “Keep focused,” she said. “Focus on you and what you need, instead of focusing on other people and what they need.”
How she started her weight loss journey
Harrison was first introduced to TOPS when she was 17 and tagged along with her mother at a conference, but at the time she was young, in college, and ready to fully commit to a lifestyle change. was not
As the years went by, Harrison got heavier and heavier, and said that weight made even the simplest of things difficult.
Harrison said it got to the point where stepping on curbs became a chore. She couldn’t enjoy the amusement park rides. It was hard for her to stand and have conversations with her friends she met at her shop while she was doing her job.
“I’m standing there looking for a place to sit in less than 10 seconds because my knee hurt so bad or my leg was dead and I couldn’t sit,” she recalled.
“I’ve finally had enough.”
Harrison said he’s been working on his weight since he was a kid. It was like everything,” she recalled.
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Part of her struggle, she said, is an underactive thyroid caused by hyperthyroidism.In 2001, she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, so she only has half a thyroid. is currently dormant and doctors are suppressing her thyroid levels with drugs to prevent these cells from growing and spreading.
“So it’s hard to lose weight,” Harrison said.
She knew she needed some help getting healthy.
Before starting TOPS, Harrison said he tried a variety of ways to lose weight, from Slim Fast to eating salads for lunch and frozen dinners at night to hypnosis at the doctor’s recommendation.
“It didn’t work,” she said.
Gastric bypass surgery requiring lifestyle changes
In 2008, at age 38, Harrison decided to take his doctor’s advice and visit the Mass General Weight Center in Boston to explore his options. Although she was a little skeptical at first, she chose to undergo gastric bypass surgery.
But she knew that the procedure itself wasn’t a one-time weight loss solution. It was just the beginning of a long road to healthy living that involves commitment and big changes.
“Gastric bypass is not a quick fix.It still takes effort to get the results you want.I still had to eat wisely and exercise. It’s a tool that helps you notice when you do,” she says. she said.
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Before surgery, Harrison met with a nutritionist who educated her on portion sizes and emphasized the importance of eating lean protein and fruits and vegetables before turning to carbs.
She was also introduced to mindful eating, the practice of chewing and savoring food.
On the day of the gastric bypass, Harrison weighed 464 pounds. She estimates she lost her 160 from 150 in the 18 months post-surgery, especially when she falls into the all-too-familiar trap of comparing her progress to that of others. Progress was slow and at times discouraging.
“It’s rough… For the first few months, you sit there and think, ‘What have I done to myself? Did I make the wrong choice?’ But then you start to see the difference,” she said.
acknowledge her progress
Her TOPS Massachusetts Queen honors only account for her weight loss starting 18 months after her surgery, but in total, from her heaviest, Harrison lost about 260 pounds.
Sometimes it doesn’t seem real, she said, until you spot a reflection of yourself walking by a storefront window, or catch a glimpse of a much smaller shadow cast on the sidewalk in front of you.
It’s hard to fully acknowledge her progress until she takes a step back. Her recent TOPS certification helped her finally realize it and seal her success story.
According to the nonprofit, TOPS loyalty is women and men who have officially recorded the greatest weight loss from their starting weight at the end of the year, regardless of how long it took them to reach their goal.
Harrison, the 2021 Queen of Massachusetts, was honored at an event in Woburn in April.
So how did she finally make the leap? Harrison said it’s all about planning, preparing, and setting realistic goals.
“I set myself small goals, like losing 10 pounds at a time, and when I hit that, I set another goal of 10 more pounds…and reward myself with treats like food. Instead, I gave her a reward: getting dressed, getting her nails done, and feeling better about myself.”
Her to-do list now includes a week-ahead meal plan for her and her husband. Also, the grocery list is carefully curated and adhered to. Now she has one pro tip: never go shopping hungry.
For exercise, Harrison said he walks a lot. As a cytogenetic technician performing prenatal testing at her Labcorp in Westborough, she takes many steps in her lab walk.
Regarding her diet, Harrison said she doesn’t rule out any kind of food.
“One thing I’ve really noticed over the years is that when I’m actually craving something sweet, what I want is fresh fruit, not actual sugar. “If I don’t eat fresh fruit, I will crave sugar for a long time,” she said.
It was a difficult ascent that faced many hurdles, including the pandemic and personal struggles like the death of her father, but she managed to overcome adversity.
She credits her husband Tom, her family and the TOPS family for their encouragement and unwavering support.
Harrison attends the weekly TOPS meetings at her chapter’s Berkeley Congregational Church. She said her group sessions helped her stay on track and gave her the motivation she needed to keep going.
“I made a lot of friends and met some great people, and now the people in my chapter are like family. We are helping each other.
“If you’re having a difficult day and want to help out with something you shouldn’t be doing, just call and say, ‘I need to talk.'”
The face-to-face meeting included a weigh-in where members shared challenges, successes or goals, followed by a brief program covering various health and wellness topics, and concluded with awards and recognition for the week. may be
“When you weigh yourself, you have to face that scale every week and it makes you accountable for your actions,” Harrison said. “When you attend TOPS meetings, there is a lot of love, a lot of help and encouragement, and that is what people need.”
According to statistics provided by TOPS, Massachusetts has an adult obesity rate of 24.4%. Through 2021, her TOPS member of Massachusetts has lost a cumulative 4,538 pounds.
Harrison, who has finally found a place where he feels comfortable, said he is focused on his next goal.
“I became KOPS (Keep Off Pounds Sensibly) so I understand how difficult it is to get back on track, but I know that I have the encouragement, love and continued support I get from friends, family and the TOPS chapter. I know MA – Berkeley’s # 439, I know I’ll continue to maintain this weight,” she said.
“Just as you have always helped me, I promise everyone in my chapter that I will always stand by your side and help you on your weight loss journey.
Click here for a list of TOPS chapters https://www.tops.org/tops/TOPS/FindAMeeting.aspx.