published Thursday, March 31st, 2011

Chattanooga couple loses 176 pounds together

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    Jennifer Betus, right, throws punches while working out with her trainer Cory Edwards at Fitness Together. She began in June, 2010, and has lost over 120 pounds. Staff Photo by Tim Barber/Chattanooga Times Free Press

Jennifer Betus says a typical dinner at their home used to be “ordering Pizza Hut and each of us having a medium pizza.”

Now dinner in the Betus household, she said, is a 2-ounce chicken breast, 1/3 cup veggies and a piece of fruit.

Nothing about Alan and Jennifer Betus’s lives are as they once were since their decision last spring to make a lifestyle overhaul. Both have had gastric sleeve surgery to jumpstart their weight losses, they follow strict diets that have changed their nutritional habits, and they work out religiously at Fitness Together.

The result? She has lost 122 pounds since surgery in April, he’s lost 54 pounds since December.

“When I first started exercising, I couldn’t do all the elements of the fitness center’s assessment,” said Mrs. Betus. “I couldn’t even do the minimum to have it show up on the charts.”

This month she ran a 5K on the treadmill in 54 minutes, said Justin Tate, one of her trainers and owner of Fitness Together.

“She has never run in her life and she did it!” said Tate. “She is so goal-driven now.”

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    Jennifer Betus pulls weights for leg conditioning as she works out with trainer Cory Edwards, left, at Fitness Together. Betus has lost over 120-pounds since June, 2010. Staff Photo by Tim Barber/Chattanooga Times Free Press

OPPOSED TO CHANGE

Mrs. Betus said at her heaviest she was 404 pounds; she now is 248. She has lost the equivalent of a person, yet says she still has 100 pounds more to go to reach her goal.

“There were several factors in deciding to make this change,” said Mrs. Betus, a management consultant for Summerfield Consulting.

“My husband is also overweight. He was pressing for a change, which I was fighting. My primary physician was also encouraging me to look at options for weight surgery, which I was fighting.

“I had to have a spinal fusion. My spine doctor told me I had to get the weight off and do it fast,” she said.

So she agreed to lost weight and began researching options.

“She was militantly opposed to it,” says Mr. Betus, with a laugh, “but now she’ll confirm it was a great decision.”

What changed her mind, she said, was that she was driven by wanting a better lifestyle for herself, to have opportunities that she couldn’t do at her heavy weight.

“Just simple things like being able to go to a show, I didn’t fit in the seats. I wanted the freedom to enjoy life without restrictions.”

BARIATRIC SURGERY

Before undergoing gastric sleeve surgery, Mrs. Betus said she lost from 404 to 370 on the NutriSystem plan.

In April 2010, she had gastric sleeve surgery at Erlanger.

A gastric sleeve is an irreversible bariatric surgery in which a surgeon removes about 85 percent of the stomach, so the stomach takes the shape of a tube (or sleeve), according to the Bariatric Surgery Guide. The tube-shaped stomach is sealed closed with staples.

The National Institutes of Health requires a body mass index greater than 40 (the equivalent of about 100 pounds overweight) to be a candidate for the gastric sleeve surgery.

“When I first came out of surgery, I tried to eat 800 to 1,200 calories a day. Eleven months later, my goal is to eat 1,100-1,500 calories a day,” said Mrs. Betus.

In December, the same surgeon performed a gastric sleeve on Mr. Betus, a local attorney.

“I only have a 3- or 4-ounce stomach now,” he said. “I eat slower, make healthier choices and take smaller bites. The doctor wants you to eat three meals a day; it’s a strict plan.”

Mr. Betus jokes that one of the biggest perks of their nutritional change is that the cost of meals has gone down dramatically when they go out to eat.

“Now we can split a meal and still take some home,” he noted.

WORKING OUT

As part of their commitment to lose, the couple joined Fitness Together in June (prior to his bariatric surgery).

“I always tried to be active and work out. Now I clearly go for longer periods of time, I’m definitely stronger and lighter on my feet,” Mr. Betus said.

“I used to struggle to do 10 or 15 minutes on the elliptical at 5 mph; now I’m able to do 15 to 30 at 6,” he said.

Mrs. Betus said every six to eight weeks she is given a fitness assessment and new goals.

“What I’ve loved about working with trainers is that they modify my program to where I am. They are personally involved; I’ve shared by story and they have gotten involved with checking on my nutrition, if I’m following surgery guidelines.”

Mrs. Betus said when she joined the fitness center her weight had her terrified of getting down on the floor.

“I honestly didn’t know if I would be able to get back up. I was scared of getting on the treadmill, I thought I might fall off. My Phase 1 was all about balance.”

She did squats, exercises where she she stood on one leg and lifted weights, all with a goal of better balance.

“A lot of times, we don’t even move people until they can support their body weight as far as exercises go,” said her trainer, Corey Edwards. “We have to teach people to lift properly before we can teach them compound movements.”

Edwards said Mrs. Betus began with body squats off a bench, learning the correct way to move from a sitting to standing position.

“A lot of times people don’t squat correctly; they allow their knees to go over their toes, which puts pressure on the knees. We teach standing up through the heels,” he said.

Mrs. Betus’s current exercises are for muscle-toning.

“She is lifting weights, which is very beneficial for women,” said Edwards. “Women have the misconception that lifting weights is going to bulk them up, but you have to build muscle in order to lose fat.

“One day she does upper body, another day works lower body. After every workout she does 30 minutes of cardio in high-intensity intervals: 30 seconds on a treadmill as fast as she can, then slow down and walk a mile.”

Mrs. Betus said her motivation is being able to achieve small goals every two weeks.

“I love checklists and being able to check off accomplishments. I also like the privacy of working one-to-one with a trainer, not being in a class full of people.”

SEEING RESULTS

Mrs. Betus has lost from a size 38 pants to a 22; a size 32 shirt to a 16.

“The turning point for me was when I went home to visit my family,” she said. “We have this very steep hill that we like to climb to sit in the gazebo at the top. I used to have to ride up in a truck. In August, I hiked up that hill and wasn’t even winded.

“That was when I knew these workouts were working and I had more cardiovascular abillity,” she said.

about Susan Pierce...

Susan Palmer Pierce is a reporter and columnist in the Life department. She began her journalism career as a summer employee 1972 for the News Free Press, typing bridal announcements and photo captions. She became a full-time employee in 1980, working her way up to feature writer, then special sections editor, then Lifestyle editor in 1995 until the merge of the NFP and Times in 1999. She was honored with the 2007 Chattanooga Woman of ...

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