About a year ago, Cheryl Tooke found herself in the last place she ever wanted to be. She weighed 268 pounds, and her doctor had just diagnosed her with type 2 diabetes.
“It was devastating,” Tooke says. “I always knew it was a possibility for me. My pediatrician told my mom when I was a child that given our family history, it was more than likely that at least one of her four children would develop diabetes.”
Tooke’s family history with diabetes was extensive. Her father’s mother and sister both had diabetes. Her mother, several of her mother’s first cousins, and her mother’s
siblings have all suffered horrible effects of the disease. After seeing their struggles, Tooke had always sworn that she would do whatever it took to keep diabetes at bay.
“I always felt that I would take care of myself and never allow myself to develop type 2,” she says.
Her motivation kept her active throughout her twenties and early thirties, but then events started to get in the way. First, a knee injury kept her sedentary for a long time. Then she had children, adding to her weight issues.
“Life happened, and three years ago I found myself at the thresholds of diabetes,” Tooke says. “I started seeing all my bad habits come home to roost, and I knew that I was really at risk for having my life shortened.”
Making a Change
Even though Tooke knew she had to modify the way she was living, at first she didn’t know where to start. Determined to stay off medication for diabetes, she convinced her doctor to let her try simply monitoring her food intake and glucose. Tooke lost about eight pounds on her own, but last June her blood glucose and cholesterol numbers were still climbing steadily.
“I told my husband, I can’t do this anymore,” Tooke says.
She considered gastric bypass surgery, especially after medical studies determined the surgery’s positive effects on those with type 2, but the procedure wasn’t covered by her insurance. “If it had been, I would have started filling out the paperwork, because I didn’t think I could lose weight on my own,” Tooke says.
Despite these frustrations, she was determined to get healthy. That’s when she discovered Medifast, a pre-portioned meal replacement program designed to create a calorie deficit so that users loses weight. What initially impressed Tooke was the plan’s connection with the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “I work for a hospital, and Johns Hopkins has such a great reputation,” she says. “I read the success stories, and I told my husband I just wanted to try it for four weeks.” In the first week, Tooke lost nine pounds and had a morning blood glucose reading of 89. “I told my husband, ‘This just might work!’” she says.
Tooke found the plan simple enough: replace breakfast and lunch with a bar, shake, or other meal selection, have a lean protein and vegetable for dinner, and include two snacks throughout the day. The combination of properly portioned protein and carbohydrates kept her from feeling hungry. In fact, she says there were times when she had to make herself eat the last snack of the day. But most importantly, she says, the food actually tasted good. The plan she was on included online support forums and professionals to help her stick to her goals. “I’ve been on every diet you can name, and this is not only the only one that ever worked, it is also the easiest I ever went on,” Tooke says.
Overall, she lost 134 pounds in less than a year. The best part, though, came last January.
Reaping the Rewards
Tooke went to see her doctor about her diabetes, and it was there that she received the best news of all: her fasting blood glucose was 92.
“It was incredible,” Tooke says. “It made everything that happened over this past year, the food I couldn’t eat while I was on the plan, it made it all worthwhile. I couldn’t think of a slice of pizza or a brownie that was worth anything like hearing my doctor say those words.”
What gives Tooke real joy, though, is passing on the health. After getting so many questions about how she’d lost her weight, Tooke became a health coach for Medifast and now provides one-on-one support for 54 clients, including several people with diabetes.
“They’re losing weight, and most of them have had their insulin cut in half,” she says. “It’s been really exciting for me to see not only the weight loss and turnaround in my own health, but to see that repeated in the lives of other people I’m working with.” While she’s proud of the success of her clients, no change could make her happier than the one she has inspired within her own family.
Tooke’s husband, John, watched her yo-yo diet for years without finding any lasting success. That all changed when she started on Medifast. “He saw me sticking to it and did everything he could to support me,” Tooke says. “He would eat the lean protein and the vegetable with me for dinner. He said, ‘Whatever you need to eat, I’ll eat.’”
After seeing the success of his wife, John started the program last January and has lost 50 pounds. “Between my husband and me, we joke that there’s 184 pounds less weight on our mattress,” Tooke says.
Tooke’s mother, who is 79, also started on the plan three months ago, after suffering from diabetes for years. Now she’s down from taking four to seven units of insulin after every meal to only one dose in the evening, and her glucose readings are stable in the 90s.
“She’s amazed,” Tooke says of her mother’s transformation. “She went from feeling like this was just how it was going to be to being very hopeful. She’s optimistic that once she reaches her goal weight, she might not need any insulin at all.”
Quality of Life
Besides these rewarding results, Tooke’s quality of living has improved immensely since dropping the weight. Before she started her diet plan, she did everything she could to avoid being the center of attention. Every time she walked into a room, she would do a quick assessment to see if she was the heaviest person there. “If I didn’t see anyone heavier than me, I felt bad,” Tooke says. “If I did, I felt relieved, and then I felt really shallow.” She had to worry about fitting between tables at church functions and being able to snap her seatbelt on planes—even crossing her legs was a challenge. All that changed over the past year.
Now Tooke travels and lives her life with as much adventure as she can. A recent trip to Cozumel brought snorkeling, rappelling, and scaling a 60-foot rock-climbing tower. “Four years ago I went to Cozumel and just walked around and shopped, and I felt exhausted,” she says. “I did all this stuff this time and got back to the ship, did dinner, saw a show, and went to a karaoke bar!”
Tooke’s weight loss has had another side effect besides extra energy: increased self-confidence. Recently at her nephew’s wedding, Tooke had no qualms about joining her friends and family on the dance floor. “I would not have done that before,” she says. “But I was dancing, and I looked great. I’m so much less self-conscious. I just want to go out there and do things and have fun.”
Breaking the Cycle of Comfort Food
Although she knows she couldn’t have gone through her metamorphosis without Medifast, Tooke also credits her faith with helping her get over her issues with food. “I made the decision to stay on the plan, so there was a lot of emotional and spiritual growth that happened,” she says. “I understand now that food is incapable of providing comfort.” By relying on her faith instead of her next meal for emotional reassurance, Tooke was able to break away from a cycle of overeating and self-loathing.
Her makeover may seem monumental, but Tooke knows it all began with a simple step: deciding to make a change in the way she was living her life.
“My big takeaway message is that it’s never too late to turn things around. It’s never too late to make positive changes in your health,” she says. “It doesn’t matter if you’re in your fifties, sixties, or seventies, if you’ve just received a diagnosis of diabetes, or if you’ve been on insulin for decades. It’s possible to make positive choices that will change your health. What you’re dealing with now is not inevitable.”
Relying on her inner strength, her faith, and her support systems, Tooke made incredible strides in improving her health and value of life.
And that’s a mindset she plans to have for a long time.