Cathy Gaw
Health Department

Cathy Gaw's weight had been see-sawing for years.

She'd tried the fad diets. She focused on exercise at various times, but didn't always stick with it. She'd had successes at times but always seemed to regain most of the weight after the diet ended or she stopped exercising. Eventually she stopped focusing on her weight altogether.

“I had just gotten lazy,” she says. “I lost the same 50 pounds numerous times. … I had really just resigned myself to the idea that I was just going to be heavy. I was tired of battling it.”

But in 2010, something changed. It wasn't just a more balanced diet and consistent exercise – though these were the two keys to Gaw's permanent loss of more than 90 pounds. There was something else that gave Gaw the determination she needed to truly change her life: accountability to others.

It started when the Health Department began creating a new wellness program for its employees after the City-wide wellness programs were cut in 2009 due to budget shortfalls. Gaw helped plan the new program, but says she “didn't look the part.” That bugged her. Once the program began, one of the first initiatives was a team walking challenge. Gaw's teammates included two regular walkers and a runner.

“I didn't want to let them down,” she says.

So she walked regularly – and kept it up. She started with just 15 minutes at a time on the treadmill at a slow walk. She admits even that was not easy. But she didn't quit. It didn't take long for her to notice a difference. She started feeling better and had more energy. It allowed her to take longer and faster walks. Feeling better creates a virtuous cycle that is more long-lasting than a superficial desire to look better, she says.

“I'd always done it for that reason,” Gaw says. “But at some point that shifted, and looking better wasn't as important as feeling better. I can play with my grandkids now without huffing and puffing.”

Tuesdays through Fridays now begin with 75 minutes of walking, which is not a chore but a routine. “It's ‘my time,'” she says. “Some people curl up with a book to get away, but that's my way of escaping.”

She also got serious about her diet. Instead of “going on a diet,” she truly changed what and how she ate every day. She started actually eating breakfast, which she had been skipping for years (along with lunch on some days). Skipping meals had led her eat too much for dinner. A light breakfast, a healthy lunch and nutritional dinners from her own kitchen instead of the drive-thru made all the difference.

“I don't feel like I'm missing anything,” Gaw says. “I still love a good cheeseburger but that's not something you should eat every night.”

We all want an easy fix, but Gaw says losing pounds and maintaining a healthy weight is about putting in the work and making the right choices.

“It sounds hokey, but I really believe that if I can do it, anybody can do it,” she says.  “You don't have to be perfect. I tell myself that all the time. You don't have to be perfect when it comes to exercise or in all of your choices. You just have to make more good choices than bad ones.”