The simplest tasks, even walking to the car, would reduce her to breathlessness and bouts of profuse sweating.
She’d dealt with it far too long.
In November 2016, inspired by a friend and exhausted by her own longtime battle with weight issues, Tonya Woods decided to undergo gastric bypass surgery.
On the day of her surgery, she weighed 384 pounds.
“Many think after surgery the hard work is done,” said Woods, 37, of Grant, Michigan. “But my journey was just getting started.”
Bariatric surgery doesn’t automatically keep the weight off, according to the American Medical Association. To achieve sustainable, long-term weight loss after surgery, patients must incorporate substantial lifestyle and behavioral changes.
Woods said she felt terrified to start her post-surgery journey. She wasn’t entirely certain how to begin.
“As long as I can remember, I could eat what I wanted when I wanted,” Woods said. “My family fried their food. I was always over-eating and nutrition was never a factor in my life. I could eat cake all day long—carrot cake.”
“I knew that I needed to hold myself accountable and enable myself,” she said.
In the wake of surgery, she conducted research to help her understand how to adjust her eating habits so she could still enjoy food, but with an emphasis on nutrition.
Create your toolbox
Woods knew progress wouldn’t come through nutritious eating alone. She had to introduce physical activity.
In August 2017, she stepped into Tamarac, the wellness center in Fremont, Michigan, where trainers introduced her to InBody, an analytic device that would come to help change her lifestyle—and her life.
The advanced body composition analyzer measures a person’s body composition and displays it on an organized, easy-to-understand result sheet. The results helped Woods visualize and understand measurements relating to her fat, muscle and various other body composition.
InBody essentially acted as a guide to help her achieve her goals.
“The InBody body composition analysis was my first realization of a starting point after my surgery,” she said. “I knew with scoliosis it would be difficult. The results sheet showed my muscle imbalances and what areas I needed to target.
“I wanted to get a trainer to teach me what I wanted to know, but more specifically, what I needed to know,” she said. “I knew that I needed to be pushed and motivated.”
Woods enlisted the help of Tamarac personal trainer Megan Dickinson.
“I met with Megan and I felt an instant connection,” Woods said. “I felt comfortable with her immediately and I knew at that moment that I had made the right decision.”
Woods wanted to do strength training but she didn’t know how to get started. Dickinson helped her customize workout routines to avoid boredom and to give her body the workout it needed.
More importantly, Dickinson pushed Woods to be accountable three days a week.
“And I could see the changes,” Woods said. “Muscle definition was crucial. And it was great to see my development.”
About 19 months after her surgery and eight months into her InBody workouts, Woods weighed in at 155 pounds.
Through grit and determination—and an assist from modern medicine and customized technology—she shed nearly 60 percent of her previous weight.
She is proof that incredible results are achievable with the right resources and mindset.
“What Tonya proves is that good nutrition, medicine and targeted exercises can help anyone reach their fitness and weight goals,” Dickinson said. “I had a great time working with Tonya, helping her identify specific areas she wanted to work on and seeing her target those specific areas with laser-like focus.”
Human and technological resources both came into play during Woods’ regimen.
“Between the combination of InBody and certified fitness trainers, people can achieve just about any wellness goal they set their minds to,” Dickinson said.
InBody’s data reports help Woods maintain progress every month. The data visualizations were particularly useful to help her overcome psychological or emotional hurdles during periods of uncertain progress.
“From January to June of this year, the scale didn’t move,” Woods said. “And when it would go up a few pounds, I would panic and Megan would assure me it was muscle gain.”
Sure enough, she would see this borne out in the InBody results.
“I need to see results, whether it’s on the scale or with the InBody assessments,” she said. “InBody is that extra indicator that allows me to see the numbers on paper and gives me the peace of mind to know that my body is transforming.
“It’s tempting to throw in the towel,” she said. “But I am able to see positive results, which encourage me to keep training and continue to work toward my goals.”
Woods works in a call center where she’s sedentary for eight to nine hours a day. To hold herself accountable to fitness, she maintains routines and plans ahead.
She typically strength trains five days a week. When she’s not in the gym training, she enlists her Fitbit as her trainer, averaging 22,000 to 30,000 steps per day.
“I made it a competition with myself, challenging the previous day’s victory,” she said. “I had to hit those steps or even surpass what I did the day before.”
Woods now walks before work, during lunch and in the evenings. It has been a great way to exercise while resting her muscles from strength training. If she’s watching television, she’ll get up and start walking in place.
“Next thing you know, the show is over and I have walked over 45 minutes,” she said. “It’s so simple and I feel so good after I am done.”
Meal preparation has been another big part of her lifestyle change. The task seemed daunting at first, but now she can’t imagine how she managed without it.
“Once you adopt the meal-prep lifestyle, there is no turning back,” she said.
Woods typically eats six to seven small meals a day, every two to three hours. She starts her day with overnight oats and combines fresh berries, protein, cottage cheese and fresh vegetables throughout the day.
“There was a point in this journey that I was so hungry and I wanted to eat everything,” she said. “I talked to Megan about nutrition, calories and changing the way I eat and how to beat those cravings. Megan suggested smoothies—and those have kept the food cravings at bay.”
Woods scours the internet to find recipes she can modify so they’re “Tonya-friendly.” This lets her indulge in the foods she loves.
When she makes carrot cake, for example, she opts for old-fashioned oats and uses applesauce and sugar-free maple syrup for sweetness.
“I am able to modify recipes and make healthy substitutions to reduce the fat and calories while often boosting the nutritional content,” she said. “I feel that just because I am choosing a healthier lifestyle, I don’t need to restrict myself from my favorite foods.”
Dickinson admires Woods’ zeal for knowledge.
“Tonya is a real inspiration because she’s really taken charge of the changes she wants to make and she’s proactively teaching herself how to live a healthy lifestyle,” she said. “One word you could use to describe her journey is empowerment. She’s empowered herself through her healthy lifestyle choice.”
Prior to surgery, Woods had been a size 30, weighing 384 pounds.
At that time, her goal had been to get into size 18 jeans.
Today, she wears a size 7 and weighs 155 pounds.
In 19 months, she lost more than 220 pounds.
“I always felt that I was a positive person,” she said. “And now I exude confidence, positivity and I am much happier. Loving myself the way I do now feels beyond any level of explanation. I love me.”
Woods said her journey allowed her to be strong and enjoy working out. She has become confident in her routines and she’s now able to train herself in the gym.
“People look to me for advice and support,” she said. “I understand that people might not be as addicted to health and wellness as I am, but it is something that works for me and I love it.
She recommends enlisting a team for support and encouragement.
“This isn’t a one-size-fits-all-approach and something that you don’t have to do alone,” she said.