“Why are you emailing me? I’m right here!” chuckled Becky, glancing at her sister Susie. Ever since bad knees forced Susie to retire and move in with Becky and her husband, the sisters had shared a home office where they’d surf the web and plan adventures for their golden years.
Of course, at over 325 pounds each and in constant pain, they had limited options — unless they made changes. “Read what I sent you,” urged Susie. “It sounds doable.” A lover of all things sparkly, Susie had stumbled on a free weight loss site called SparkPeople and decided it was fate. Becky wasn’t so sure. “No diets,” she insisted. “I refuse to starve ever again.” Susie bit her lip. The site says we don’t have to go hungry! she thought. Suddenly, Susie had an idea: “Tell me what you want to eat, and I’ll find a way to make it healthy.”
Susie was the more hopeful one on that spring day in Wisconsin, but she understood how Becky felt. Both had battled extra pounds their whole lives, enduring failure after failure. Susie recently looked into gastric bypass but couldn’t even manage to lose 35 pounds to qualify. They wanted me to drink shakes and be miserable, she thought, typing basic info into the Spark site. But this seems different. So different, in fact, that the site calculated she could have 2,200 calories a day. Was it too much? She read posts from other dieters; they seemed to be happily succeeding. So Susie put her doubts aside. Becky asked for Sunday brunch, and she’s in for a treat, thought Susie, scrolling through recipes. She entered options in the free food log and smiled. We can have omelets, whole grain toast, fruit, even bacon! And so they did. “It’s delicious,” said Becky, as they dug in.
In the days that followed, Susie experimented with lightened-up chili, casseroles, and pot roast. She typed it all into her food log, which tracked calories and helped make sure her meals had enough energizing nutrients like protein and fiber. By the time Becky signed up for her own account, the pair were down an easy 12 pounds each. Becky was officially excited. Eyes shining, she turned to her sister and asked: “Should we try exercising?” Susie grimaced. “I can barely walk 30 feet,” she said. So it was Becky’s turn to be the problem-solver.
How can walking help with weight loss?
“Let’s just walk and see how far we get,” Becky begged. “It can’t hurt to try!” Speak for yourself, thought Susie, whose hips were now as bad as her knees. Still, Becky’s enthusiasm was contagious. They set out. By the end of the driveway, Susie’s lower half was on fire. “I have to go back,” she said. Becky made it to the end of the block before collapsing beside her sister. “Let’s try to go a little farther each day,” Becky panted. Susie just sighed.
Later that night, they told their oldest sister, Karen, what had happened. “Do you still have Mom’s old canes?” Karen asked. “They might help Susie.” Becky fished them out of the garage; using two at once, Susie made it half a block. Then Becky had a light-bulb moment: She’d gotten a job at Lands’ End, and they were offering employees a great deal on Nordic walking poles. Might the poles help more than canes? The sisters watched a video online and decided yes. Becky bought two pairs, and as soon as the sticks were in their hands, the movement felt natural. That day they made it four blocks! “I didn’t have pain in my hips or even my knees,” Susie marveled afterward.
What do the results look like?
Block by block, Susie and Becky extended the distance they covered in their neighborhood, passing landmarks like a school, church, and hospital. People saw their walking poles and asked, “Are they worth it?” The sisters answered: “Absolutely!” The poles not only relieved pain but also helped them stay balanced and stand taller so they could step farther and faster. “It’s really so much easier than regular walking,” Susie marveled.
By the time the women could walk two miles, they felt gleeful — which made them extra-motivated to eat well. As pounds and health issues steadily disappeared, one day it hit Susie: “I turned to my sister and said, ‘We’re actually going to make it this time, aren’t we?’” The answer soon became clear: Susie lost 186 pounds in about two years while Becky ultimately shed 187 pounds. Becky got rid of her asthma inhaler and CPAP machine; Susie got off cholesterol medication and hasn’t felt hip pain since.
Says Becky, 74: “Once you’re at a certain point, you might think, It’s too late for me. But look at us! We turned everything around just by eating food we enjoy and using gentle exercise.” Susie, 71, agrees: “Take one easy step at a time,” she says. “You won’t believe how far you can go!”
What kind of meal plan should you follow?
Experts agree walking works best paired with a nutrient-dense, portion-controlled diet. To make it easy, Becky and Susie used SparkPeople’s free tools to keep calories at 1,800–2,200 daily. Want to follow their lead? We’re sharing some of SparkPeople’s most popular ideas to inspire you. Always get a doctor’s okay to try any new diet or workout.
BREAKFAST: Make an omelet with three egg whites, half a cup of veggies, one-fourth cup of cheese, cooking spray, and seasoning to taste.
LUNCH: Brush eggplant with two teaspoons olive oil and season. Top with two tablespoons of pizza sauce and one-quarter cup of mozzarella. Bake at 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
DINNER: Broil a quarter pound of tilapia with one tablespoon of butter and seasoning to taste. Serve with half a cup of veggies and half a cup of brown rice.
This article originally appeared in our print magazine.