Paul Versluis

January is a restorative month, a time when we put aside the indulgences of the holidays, the excesses of the past year, the habits we want to shed. We wiggle back into a simpler life and eat simpler food. We detox from the intake of carbs and sweets and spiked eggnog that started the day before Black Friday and continued well past “Auld Lang Syne” at midnight on December 31. We take a good, long look in the mirror and honestly consider the reflection.

For resolution-makers, the New Year is clean slate time; a white board filled with fresh opportunities to succeed in any area of life that needs a nudge, a measure of improvement, a makeover. And in case you’ve missed the post-holiday headlines for the past three decades, the most popular pledge that people make on January 1 is to lighten the scale.

435 South magazine put out a call last fall for people who shed weight during the past year through nutrition and healthy lifestyle changes and choices. We found six individuals who joined the legions of weight-loss seekers in 2011 and succeeded in reaching their goals. Though each of them—Lisa, Mark, Nancy, Kurt, Annette and Elizabeth—wanted the same result of a slimmer physique, their approaches were different.

The common thread, however, with these Weight/Less stories, is that no one experienced a quick fix. There was sweat in the gym, growling stomachs, occasional feelings of defeat.

Dan Kampen, the January 2011 cover boy for our “Perfect Loser” issue, dropped 69 pounds in 2010. He’s now run three marathons and narrowly missed qualifying for the Boston Marathon in November 2011. Kampen has a sage piece of advice for anyone who wants to drop weight in the New Year: first figure out why.

“Make it personal to you and no one else,” suggests Kampen.

Meet our six Weight/Less success stories—people who felt the burn and were rewarded with the payoff of a healthier, more fulfilling life.

Annette de la Cruz Hilvitz

Annette de la Cruz Hilvitz calls it like she sees it, and what she saw in her mirror in October 2009 was disturbing. She calls her personal epiphany the “something’s gotta give” moment.

More than a wake-up call, the sober realization that Hilvitz’s health was being severely compromised by her poor diet and exercise choices was a swift kick in the butt.

“I was overweight,” says Hilvitz. “I knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that something had to change or I wasn’t going to be around for my two kids.”

Physically active as a young adult, Hilvitz had slipped into a mono-routine of non-activity and yo-yo dieting over the years. She felt insulated by her weight, detached from reality and mired in a virtual bed of quicksand. Her first decision was to begin taking yoga classes.

“I wasn’t overweight because of ignorance, because I knew what I needed to do,” says Hilvitz. “It was apathy.”

The body movement and breathing of yoga and monitoring her food intake helped Hilvitz find a light at the end of her self-imposed tunnel of overeating and inactivity. She progressively started to feel better, and lost 30 pounds the last three months of 2009. She entered 2010 with a resolve to continue exercising and eating healthy foods. She took up playing tennis again—a sport she loved—lifting weights and taking Zumba classes.

Movement has become Hilvitz’s mantra.

“When people tell me they don’t like to work out, I tell them to find something they like,” says Hilvitz, who recently became a certified Zumba instructor. “Unless you’re 15 years old or have an unusual metabolism, weight isn’t going to stay off just by eating the proper foods. We take our dogs for walks … why can’t we take ourselves for a walk?”

Hilvitz has maintained her impressive weight loss through a variety of exercise—Zumba, tennis, road cycling, yoga and walking and eating a diet high in protein.

“I can’t eat sugar and the white carbs, and I recognize my triggers,” says Hilvitz, who stresses that she also doesn’t deprive herself of the occasional sushi dinner, slice of gooey chocolate cake or glasses of wine. “You have to enjoy life, too. Just be aware of what you’re putting into your mouth.”

Hilvitz says one of her secrets to successful weight loss is accepting that it’s not only a physical challenge, it’s a mental one, too. “I’m an emotional eater, and every so often I will eat even if I’m not hungry. That doesn’t mean I’m a failure, it just means I get back on track.”

Hilvitz doesn’t suffer fools gladly. When friends tell her they lack discipline, she volleys back a quick counterpoint.

“Make a decision to take care of you—to be the best person you can be,” she says.

Hilvitz is a mere shadow of her former portly self, and though she says her body isn’t perfect and never will be, she’s comfortable in her own skin.

“Weight loss and proper nutrition are liberating,” she says. “I love life, and I love who I am.”


Kurt Kloeblen

Kurt Kloeblen says he was being plain lazy in many facets of his life, and that poor choices were catching up with him. So when January 3, 2011 dawned, Kloeblen decided to take charge and do an overhaul.

“For me, the battle was against being lazy,” says Kloeblen. “I had to finally realize there was no magic bullet to lose the weight that had always dogged me.”

Kloeblen who is separated and the father of two small children, entered a weight loss challenge in early January 2011. Old-fashioned hard work and discipline became Kloeblen’s companions instead of chips, dips and bread. He started working out in earnest, and developed an affinity for running. He had two trainers who taught him the principles of nutrition and exercise that he has adopted and integrated into his daily routine.

“Growing up I was athletic and played football in college and high school,” says Kloeblen, who entered his season of transformation last year in XX—pushing XXX—sizes. “Food was my downfall.”

Now Kloeblen spends time planning his weekly menus and working that plan, taking care to eat five healthy meals, including snacks, each day. He grills chicken at the beginning of the week to have on hand for quick dinners. Rather than going on a spur-of-the-moment barbecue lunch with colleagues, he packs a healthy lunch. He totes mid-morning and mid-afternoon snacks to work in order to curb the munchies and has become acutely aware of his metabolism. He runs four to five miles each day, and mixes in classes at the gym and the occasional basketball game. Toning—not bulking up—is Kloeblen’s mission, along with not overthinking the process.

“I’ve definitely become more confident since losing weight,” says Kloeblen. “I’ve always been an optimistic person, but this experience has raised my spirits. I don’t get sick as often, don’t feel run down and enjoy being active with my kids.”

Time management is also a new tool in Kloeblen’s healthy toolkit.

“As a single dad with a career, there are lots of demands on my time,” he says. “I make sure I fit an hour workout at the gym or a run into my schedule. That helps me be a better person and parent.”

Today Kloeblen is a far different person than the inactive individual he started out as on January 1, 2011. He’s proud that he has stuck to his plan and says that his life has improved on every level.

“The status quo wasn’t working,” says Kloeblen, speaking of his pre-weight-loss inertia. “I had to start somewhere, and I’m glad I did.”


Nancy Kuehler

About this time last year, Nancy Kuehler wanted to stop the insanity. She was tired of doing the same things over and over, expecting different results but ending up at the same dead end.

“My weight has yo-yoed throughout my life,” says Kuehler. “I lost weight following the birth of my son decades ago, but it was the stubborn weight that remained following the birth of my daughter, who is now 21, that was frustrating.”

Kuehler was familiar with exercise—she was a member, at various times throughout her adult life, of large workout facilities and women-only gyms. She ate lots of fruits and vegetables, but not the right amount of protein. She consumed the foods she craved, including chocolate. She had no accountability.

“I was the hamster on the treadmill, spinning in circles,” says Kuehler, who was a women’s size 18 a year ago.

A friend told Kuehler about personal trainer Jamie Plunkett of Jamie Plunkett Fitness—an expert whose name pops up frequently around town. Kuehler, who described herself as a frumpy and middle-aged woman when she started her journey, signed on with Plunkett and began a personal metamorphosis of physical, spiritual and emotional transformation.

“Suddenly I had a coach, a guide, someone who would hold me to task,” says Kuehler.

Proper nutrition was a significant piece missing from Kuehler’s potentially healthy lifestyle puzzle.

“For me, learning how to eat and what to eat was 80 percent of the process,” she says. “And it’s not about deprivation—I am human and still have cravings.”

But Kuehler, a self-professed focused student, adopted moderation in her diet and a major change in her purchasing decisions. She no longer eats food from a box or picks up fast food from a drive-through window. Kuehler plans her grocery shopping expeditions by carefully preparing lists of items that she grabs from the store’s perimeter: fresh asparagus, spinach, broccoli, zucchini, red peppers, tilapia, salmon, chicken. Breakfast is oatmeal sprinkled with cinnamon and blueberries. She doesn’t use artificial sweeteners and only allows herself to eat red meat a couple of times during the month. She picks her vices, still enjoying red wine but capping that occasional consumption with only two glasses. Her drink of choice each day is a gallon of water.

“I understand now that I need so many grams of carbs and proteins to give me good fuel,” says Kuehler, who is now a size 12 and is studying to become a personal trainer.

An important aspect of Kuehler’s nutrition and physical transformation was having a cheerleader.

“Jamie was there as a mentor and inspiration,” says Kuehler. “I’m looking forward to working with people who were stuck in an exasperating position like I was last year.”

Kuehler reflects on her hard work during 2011 and considers the sweat and dogged determination to lose weight and learn how to eat the right foods a priceless investment.

“In me,” she says. “It was an investment in me.”


Mark Hayde

As a traveling sales representative for a four-state region, Mark Hayde spends a good chunk of time sitting behind the wheel of his car. It was in January 2011 that Hayde, a father of two young children, decided to put the brakes on something that no longer worked for him emotionally, physically and spiritually: his sedentary lifestyle, eating habits and lifelong struggle with weight.

“Throughout my life I’ve tried some desperate measures,” admits Hayde, who has eaten countless heads of cabbage, endured fad diets with disappointing temporary results and mind-numbing exercise done without goals or inspiration.

Hayde’s tipping point was a doubleheader: his cholesterol was reaching dangerous levels, and he had the memory of his mother’s heart attack when she was only 59 years old.

“My mother survived, but I saw the after-effects,” says Hayde. “I was turning 40 and suddenly my mortality slapped me in the face. I made the decision to change my course for me so I would be around for my children.”

Hayde sought the assistance of James Mirabile, MD, owner of Medi-Weightloss Clinic in Overland Park. The idea of a physician-supported program that balanced education, appetite management and exercise to achieve a healthy weight loss appealed to him.

“I received nutritional supplements, vitamins and the support I needed to redesign my approach to eating,” says Hayde, who admits that a heaping plate of pasta that once appealed to him is no longer his food of choice.

Hayde started to lose weight as he focused on exercise—cardio with weight work. His routine shifted from couch potato to an active individual; from an all-you-can-eat buffet type of guy to someone who prefers baked chicken, green beans and cottage cheese to a generous portion of fat-laden macaroni and cheese.

“I used to wake up with a hangover after eating the wrong types of food,” says Hayde. “Through Dr. Mirabile I learned that my body doesn’t process carbs and sugar well—they’re almost like poison to me.”

Once Hayde understood how the wrong foods adversely affected him, he ditched his old diet in favor of new, healthier choices. Exercise started to become a habit and his mindset became one of success versus the failure he previously experienced with weight loss attempts earlier in life. The discipline that replaced discouragement gave Hayde a new perspective on life.

“Today I feel like an enormous burden has been lifted,” he says. “Not only have I dropped more than 60 pounds, I have uncovered a new confidence and sense of peace.”

Hayde firmly believes his positive outlook on life and his determination to lead by example for his daughter and son will stand the test of time.

“There’s absolutely no doubt that this experience is a life-changer for me,” says Hayde. “I’ve taken control of something that was barreling down the road, headed for disaster.”

Elizabeth Woolsey

In late fall 2010, Elizabeth Woolsey’s diminutive height was out of balance with her weight and what she found out from a check-up with her physician, Michelle Lester, MD, of Quivira Internal Medicine that November was shocking. Woolsey had high cholesterol—nearly 196—and diabetes.

The news put the mother of two into an emotional tailspin as she recalled her 48-year-old mother’s sudden and fatal heart attack. Frightened that she could just as easily leave her daughter and stepdaughter without a mom and her husband a widower, Woolsey made immediate changes about nearly everything in her life.

“I bought workout tapes and started exercising daily,” says Woolsey. “Dr. Lester educated me on nutrition and encouraged me to revamp the way I ate.”

Woolsey kept a food journal, recording every morsel she put in her mouth. She monitored her blood sugar three to four times during the day so she knew when it spiked. She replaced red meat with lean turkey and chicken. She gulped glasses of water rather than bottles of soda. She scrutinized labels at the grocery store and loaded her cart with more fresh fruit and veggies. Her breakfast for a year consisted of eggs scrambled with chunks of peppers or mushrooms.

In essence, Woolsey says, her life changed 360 degrees. And that was fine by her.

“I went back to Dr. Lester in March of last year and my cholesterol had dropped to 111,” says Woolsey. “I had also lost 18 pounds, but that was just the beginning of my personal bootcamp. I wanted to step up my game and take it to the next level.”

Woolsey incorporated healthy eating and awareness into her family’s diet, teaching her daughters how to choose healthy food and exercising with them. She took up tennis, walking and bike riding. Her friends, colleagues and families saw Woolsey emerging from a dark cocoon as a beautiful butterfly.

“For me it was a total mindset,” says Woolsey. “I was scared out of my weight, you might say. It was starting to have some destructive effects on me. That wasn’t acceptable.”

Today Woolsey is 35 pounds lighter, eats smaller portions of the right types of food, gets out of bed Monday through Friday at 5:05 a.m. to exercise and is active with her family.

“I have determination and a strong faith,” she says. “That, combined with my new knowledge of proper nutrition and good exercise, is a no-fail plan to succeed.”


Lisa Rockley-Cline 

Call Lisa Rockley-Cline the incredible shrinking bride.

Adam Cline proposed to her in August 2010—a woman he loved regardless of her weight. But Lisa wasn’t pleased with her 200-pound frame or the size 18 wedding dress she purchased in December of that year.

“It wasn’t until February 2011 that I committed to change,” she says. “I refused to get married at my heaviest and knew a dramatic transformation needed to take place, and it needed to happen quickly.”

Lisa and Adam set their wedding date for June 25, 2011 and she set a personal goal to lose weight. Despite the temptations of fad diets and quick weight-loss programs, Lisa chose to consult with well-known personal trainer Jamie Plunkett of Jamie Plunkett Fitness. The bride-to-be embarked on a rigorous workout plan that included six days a week of combined weight training and cardio. In addition to the physical exercise, Lisa learned about nutrition from Plunkett.

“I discovered I needed to add protein to my diet, and to actually taste food—not just consume it,” says Lisa. “I needed to eat for nutrition.”

As executive director of the YWCA Greater Kansas City, Lisa is at the helm of an organization that teaches, among other things, healthy eating habits to girls.

“I was failing to practice what we teach our young ladies through various programs,” says Lisa.

Time was ticking away, and Lisa and Adam’s wedding was drawing near. The pounds were starting to disappear, and Lisa was gaining a new—and welcome—body of knowledge: how to eat, how to exercise, how to be healthy. Her fiancé was a familiar sight with Lisa at the gym during the first 45 days, accompanying her to workout sessions, eating the same food, offering support.

“Suddenly Adam started losing weight, too,” says Lisa. “A month and a half into my new routine, I told him he didn’t need to go with me every day—and that he probably needed to stop his weight loss.”

So Lisa proceeded on her own with Plunkett, developing a healthier Body Mass Index (BMI). She started out in the overweight range at 38 percent; today her BMI is under 21.3 percent.

As the calendar marched toward June 25, Lisa had a new problem: how to wear the wedding dress that no longer fit. She found an alterations expert who continued to cut material off the size 18 gown until it was a size 6 to fit Lisa’s sleek, fit body.

Six months following Lisa and Adam’s nuptials, the newlywed says she is maintaining her weight loss, exercise program and healthy diet choices.

“I’ve been able to change my mindset as it relates to exercise, food, willpower and energy,” says Lisa. “And the world—and Adam—can see me as the person I’ve been all along, without the extra pounds.”

Lisa emphasizes the importance of saying, “I do” to weight loss for the right reasons.

“It was for me,” she says. “No one but me.”

Categories: People, People & Places