By Kelly Dickey
The Herald Bulletin, Anderson, Ind.
Stories of gradual weight loss. Stories of struggle. Stories of triumph.
That’s what Stephanie Belesky wants to hear.
Not the stories of rapid weight loss that often get attention. She wants to know about the people who slowly dropped the pounds. The people who didn’t see results quickly, but got healthier over a long stretch of time.
She’s been on both sides. When she started her own weight loss journey three years ago, the pounds melted off — about 80 in the first year. But since then, it’s been slower, and she gradually lost between 110 and 115 pounds.
She rarely hears tales of people who steadily lost weight, but now she gets to tell hers.
The 27-year-old Anderson resident is one of the American Heart Association’s 10 “Real Women. Real Change” campaign finalists.
Although she didn’t win one of the top three spots, as a finalist she’ll represent the American Heart Association to tell her story and encourage Hoosiers to take charge of their own health.
“I think it’s easier to be encouraging to other people when you’ve seen and you’ve experienced the results yourself, be that in health and fitness, weight loss or just anything,” she said. “When you’re not so bogged down with feeling blue and feeling pity for yourself because of what you look like and feel, it’s a lot easier to reach and pull other people out of whatever rut they’re in.”
Stephanie’s journey has been a family affair. Most of her family has struggled with weight throughout the years, and all of them have tweaked their lifestyles.
Stephanie’s parents, Ken and Teresa, have undergone their own transformations.
Ken lost 85 pounds after Weight Watchers came to his work several years ago. Teresa lost 100 pounds and won the White River Club’s Next Biggest Loser competition last year.
Both have gained some of the weight back, but the entire family has had a lifestyle overhaul.
Stephanie was the last to make drastic changes, but she had the most to gain by losing.
She was always overweight or obese, and knew she needed to get healthy. A few years ago when she saw her grandmother’s rough and lengthy recovery after hip replacement surgery, something finally clicked with Stephanie.
“I knew that was going to be me,” she said.
At her heaviest, Stephanie weighed between 386 and 400 pounds — she often avoided the scale.
She was often bullied for being overweight on the playground. She didn’t have many friends until she moved from her elementary school in White County, and she often felt shunned.
Meanwhile, her mom felt guilty.
“She wasn’t the one cooking the food at the time and buying the groceries,” Teresa said. ” I was heavy, too, and they say you mimic — girls mimic their moms, boys mimic their dads — so she had to be getting it from somewhere.”
Now Stephanie gets encouragement from her parents, and vice versa.
“You’ve got to want to (get healthy),” Ken said. “You can’t just go along with somebody else or just have a ‘Gee, it would be nice to lose weight’ attitude.”
Stephanie and Teresa made changes because they saw a change in Ken and realized they wanted it for themselves. The three were able to power through hard days and slumps together.
Stephanie said she learned that at the end of the day, her health choices are her responsibility, but support from others who understand the realities, struggles and temptations is crucial to success.
“You have to have people who are going to encourage you and not people that are going to be like, ‘Oh, it’s OK, it’s just one cookie. It’s no big deal,'” she said. “But it starts with one cookie. It doesn’t end with one cookie.”
One of Stephanie’s biggest cheerleaders said her eating and fitness habits are the total opposite now from when she started.
Kelsey Taylor, her former trainer, said she first saw Stephanie as a young lady who needed major changes in her life. But she could also tell she was someone willing to make those changes.
“She was so enthusiastic about it. I knew she would do well,” Taylor said. “Stephanie was also like a sponge. When I talked to her about things and told her, ‘Of course you can run a 5K,’ she’d be like, ‘OK, I’ll do that.'”
Now, Taylor said, Stephanie goes crazy. She ran the Mini Marathon last year, and she does sprint triathlons. Her goal from the beginning was to complete a marathon.
Stephanie is still running toward that marathon goal, but even though she hasn’t checked it off her list yet, she’s already adding new dreams, such as entering an Ironman competition someday.
That dedication and drive is part of the reason why Taylor nominated Stephanie for Real Women. Real Change.
“I know what great strides she’s made since coming to Angie’s List (where Stephanie works and has access to free fitness facilities),” Taylor said. “She’s become a totally different woman. Her outlook on health, wellness and fitness has completely evolved. She’s truly living life now.”
Stephanie’s already shared her story with friends, family and people online. As a Real Women. Real Change ambassador, she’ll be able to reach even more people. Next month, she’ll participate in the program’s Red Dress Dash and Go Red For Women Luncheon.
It will allow Stephanie to share the type of story she craves — one about gradual weight loss, struggle and triumph. She’ll be able to tell people it’s more important what they can do than what the scale says.
“I don’t like thinking about my journey as a weight loss journey,” she said. “Yeah, the scale is a part of it, but it’s more a fitness journey. It’s a health and wellness journey.”