“I’m really sorry, but you won’t be able to take this ride,” Jennifer heard a young woman saying in a kind and professional tone of voice. “The seat restraint doesn’t fit.” Jennifer looked around Hershey Park, sizing up the people in line and the other visitors on the ride. “Am I really bigger than these other people?” she asked herself as she dutifully stepped off the ride. That was Jennifer Knill’s aha! moment.
“I’d noticed that chairs were getting tighter,” says Jennifer, a solo artist hairdresser working in Fairfield, Pennsylvania. “I’d go to my daughter’s band performances, and the chairs were harder to squeeze into. But I never thought I was so big that I’d have trouble fitting into a seat at an amusement park ride. Little did I know that this would be the beginning of my weight loss battle. They say you have to hit your personal bottom in order to make a change. I weighed 273 pounds that day. After being told that the restraint would not reach the correct number of clicks, I decided that, when I got up from that seat, my real journey would begin.”
When she was younger, Jennifer’s weight was not an issue. She wore a size 0 prom dress on her 5'7", 106-pound frame and didn’t have to watch what she ate. After marriage, though, instead of having her mom’s home-cooked meals, she was dining out a lot. Soon she was eating at fast food places all the time and serial drinking one 32oz Diet Coke after another. Then with each of three pregnancies, she put on weight that she didn’t take off. By her 10-year high school reunion, she’d doubled her graduation weight.
After her wake-up call last fall at Hershey Park, Jennifer didn’t invest in a weight loss program or even join a gym. “Drinking diet shakes isn’t me,” she says. “I have to be able to have to a meal if I want a meal.” So, now in her 40s, she just plugged in her own common sense.
“After that day in Hershey Park, I gave up fast food and a lot of carbs and sugar,” she says. "I don’t eat bread. I try not to eat anything that’s processed—no processed meats at all. I’ll have a hamburger, not a frozen patty. If I want cut-up fruit, I cut it myself—even fruit that’s cut up and put in bags can have something on it. When I eat out, I order salads, and I haven’t had a Diet Coke since January.”
Jennifer quickly lost 20 pounds, which by itself was a life-changer because her total cholesterol number dropped from 205 to 174. By March her blood sugar had fallen more than 10 points to 85. In late April her thyroid number, which had climbed to an alarming 5.96, clocked in at 2.96. Her plantar’s facitis improved, eliminating the potential need for cortisone shots. Her dress size shrank from size 24 to size 16, with her body measurements slicing off 52 inches and her weight down 43 pounds. Encouraged, Jennifer continues on, setting an initial goal of weighing under 200 and hoping to eventually hit 165.
“I’m not starving myself,” she says, noting that bacon is still on her menu. “For breakfast I eat one scrambled egg and two pieces of bacon, or I’ll have a strawberry lemon smoothie with no sugar and two pieces of bacon. I eat at my favorite Mexican restaurant once a week, but instead of a huge taco salad I order one soft shell taco without the shell, so it’s like a mini taco salad. I eat a burger without the bun. I’ve cut back portions, and I don’t eat late at night. I’ve really picked up the exercise. Sometimes I walk through the Gettysburg battlefield!”
Her family has provided a lot of support. Without fast food as an option, Jennifer’s husband has become the family chef, always willing to customize Jennifer’s meal. “He made me a one-egg omelet, and that’s not easy to do!” she reports. “He used a quarter-piece of cheese, onion and pepper.” Her husband also walks with her and recently bought her a NordicTrack, while all three of her kids, in their teens and 20s, cheer her on. She gets friends’ support from every Facebook post, with some people asking to walk with her.
Additional encouragement came from her local high school track coach, who invited Jennifer to participate in a “boxing boot camp” targeted to coaches. “It was nice think I’m not so far gone that the coach didn’t think I could do it, so I took her up on the offer!” Jennifer says. “At first I couldn’t do the lunges, but I’ve started doing those. Even though I’ve been the biggest one in the class, I’ve felt myself getting stronger with each class.” She also attends a wellness program as part of a physical therapy regimen.
“It’s hard to do this, but I’m benefiting more than I’m suffering,” Jennifer says. “I’ve heard the saying, ‘I’m eating to live, not living to eat,’ and that’s what I’m doing. People say they get invited to a party, eat too much and then lose motivation. That’s the way it’s always been for me, too. But now I’ll have a little cake or ice cream and not let it change my plan. I know that I’ve gained a lot more from the way I’m eating than anything Diet Coke ever gave me. I’m a happier person. I have a lot more energy. It feels great when people tell me how good I look. Sometimes I still get hungry in the evenings, but I try to handle it by taking a walk, or I might grab a 100-calorie pack of almonds.”
In addition to doing hair, Jennifer drives a school bus. That’s how she ended up at Hershey Park that day. This month, she’s driving kids for a field trip to—you guessed it!—Hershey Park.
“Drivers get a ticket to the park,” Jennifer says. “I can’t wait to get there, because I’m going to ride that ride!”