Small steps lead to big weight loss for Duluth womanA Lincoln Park woman who lost 160 pounds and transformed herself into a long-distance runner will be honored Saturday as the American Heart Association’s 2012 Lifestyle Change Award winner.
By: John Lundy, Duluth News Tribune
A Lincoln Park woman who lost 160 pounds and transformed herself into a long-distance runner will be honored Saturday as the American Heart Association’s 2012 Lifestyle Change Award winner.
Dayle Nelson, a transportation aide in the Duluth schools, weighed 322 pounds on Nov. 2, 2009, when she decided it was time to lose weight, she said. She had tried before without success.
“I look back three years ago, and I guess I was in denial of what I could or couldn’t do,” said Nelson, 45, who will be honored during this year’s Heart Walk at the University of Minnesota Duluth’s Malosky Stadium. “I tried dieting in the past, and I would last three or four days and I’d think: This is too hard.”
Nelson had visited her doctor three days earlier, and she had an appointment for the middle of the month with the Heart to Heart program at Essentia Health. The program, now called the Heart and Vascular Wellness Program, is designed to help people adopt healthier lifestyles, said Bonnie Brost, a registered dietitian who worked with Nelson.
But Nelson decided not to wait until the program started.
“I decided … I was going to start off just being mindful of what I ate,” she said. She started simply by watching portion sizes and avoiding junk food.
By the time she started the Essentia program, she already had lost 11 pounds on her own. She took advantage of the program to incorporate additional changes into her life. “They helped me to learn that you take small steps,” Nelson said.
She started exercising in small steps, walking the seven-tenths of a mile to work. In March 2010, she set a goal of being far enough along by June to walk the William Irvin 5K, one of the Grandma’s Marathon events.
“I knew that to do that I’d have to be able to walk three miles at a time,” she said. “And I did it. That night, coming around the back side of the DECC … to come up Harbor Drive by the Irvin, somebody yelled, ‘Run.’ And I thought, ‘Why not?’ It took everything I had.
“I got down to the finish line, and it was all I could do to breathe. I thought two things. One was: ‘You did it.’ And the second one was: ‘Oh, I gotta do this again.’ And a runner was born.”
Since then, Nelson has competed in 11 or 12 races, she said, including two half-marathons. She ran the most recent in less than two hours. She no longer takes blood-pressure medications. Her sugar levels are where they should be.
“I feel like a whole new person,” Nelson said. “There’s a self-worth, a self-confidence that is amazing.”
Losing weight is an “amazingly effective” way of improving the heart’s health, Borst said. If you’re overweight, the heart has to pump more miles of blood and support more weight. “Think about carrying 40 pounds around all day, 24 hours a day,” she said.
Scott Nelson, 45, and their children, Alex, 16, and Greta, 14, have been her biggest supporters, Nelson said, and they’ve joined in the effort. Scott has lost weight and become more active, Alex walks to school at Denfeld High School, and Greta has a goal of running in a race with her mom. They all eat healthier meals than they were eating three years ago.
Family support was vital, Borst said.
“The key thing about Dayle is she was ready,” Borst said. “She wanted to set a better example for her children and her husband.”
People who haven’t seen Dayle Nelson in a couple of years don’t recognize her, she said. Some people have wondered who that woman is with her husband, she said with a laugh.
“My husband’s joke is, ‘Yeah, I got rid of my wife and got a new girlfriend,’ ” she related.
What worked for her can work for other people, Nelson said. She didn’t set out to lose 160 pounds; that would have been overwhelming. She changed her lifestyle, a little at a time, and stuck with it.
“Take those small steps,” she said. “They kept adding up and adding up and adding up.”