JEFFERSON, La. – A woman from Westwego and a woman from Marrero both said enough was enough when it came to their weight. So each one figured out a way that worked.
They were successful because of the support they got. But what motivated them?
They are two women who have never met. Both 41 years old, both overweight for nearly a lifetime.
"I could trace it. My dad was mentally ill and I know when I started gaining weight was when that appeared and I was using food as a drug basically," said Noelie Burke of Westwego.
"When I was 12 years old, I stood in my sister's wedding and I wore a size 12 dress in adult sizes and I had to lose 20 pounds to get in to that dress, and that was very difficult – that out of all of these adult women, I was the biggest one," said Tammy Mixon of Marrero.
Then both had an epiphany.
"I got out of the shower one day and I was winded. My heart was, I was having like chest pains and I started crying. I was almost in hysterics,” Burke said. “I'm tired of feeling like this. I'm tired of feeling like I just ran a marathon because I took a shower.”
Noelie Burke weighed 405 and a half pounds. Tammy Mixon was two pounds shy of 300.
For Mixon, the epiphany was her 40th birthday. So for the first time in her life, she walked into a gym. The owner remembers that day.
"She said, 'I just turned 40. I was heavy the first 40 years of my life. I am not going to be heavy the second 40.' And when I looked at her, I believe her," said Wes Cannon, owner of Anytime Fitness in Marrero.
Burke has lost 225 pounds. Mixon is down 135.
Both decided not to have stomach surgery and not to go on fad diets. Both figured out her own way to eat fewer calories and burn more.
Putting down the candy corn
For Burke, it was the structured Medifast program. Five small, prepackaged liquid replacement meals a day and one portion controlled regular meal that she can cook.
She liked that it was deemed medically safe and effective by health experts. And she liked that she got to learn portion control during her regular meal.
Burke also liked that there was a plan to transition her back to food after she reached her goal, since studies show when people go back to regular food they tend to gain weight back. She also found the online community crucial to supporting her through the tough times.
"You make friends with people. You get to know people, who get it. They understand the feeling of standing with a piece of candy corn in your hand and going, 'I really want this,' " said Burke.
And Burke depended on the professional trainers and nutrition experts a phone call away, especially when she quit smoking and gained eight pounds back.
"I called the company. I'm like, 'Oh my God, I'm gaining weight.' I'm freaking out. I mean, I called them in hysterics!" Burke said.
That's the phone call that really changed her. The experts at Medifast told her now that some of the weight was off, it was time to start moving. For the first time she walked. In just two months, she was up to running a mile.
"I'm really slow, but it doesn't matter because I'm doing it," Burke said.
Becoming a gym rat
Mixon became a convert to the gym, beginning with four-and-a-half hour workouts. She loved feeding off of the positive energy of people inside. A co-worker, who worked out regularly, teamed up with her giving her even more support. Other people in the gym were impressed.
"And she goes, "Gosh, what are you in training for?' And it just hit me. I said, 'I'm in training for the rest of my life.' And it hit me so hard I was just crying in the gym," Mixon said.
So what motivated both of these women to make such drastic changes, and why now around the age of 40? What switch flipped in their brains and what can we learn from them so we can do the same?
"I think when individuals make up their mind, that's called being ready. We even have scales to measure that," said Dr. Melinda Sothern of LSU Health Sciences Center's School of Public Health.
Sothern said there is a lot of science that shows if someone is not in the ready stage from within to move into action, there is not much that can happen on the outside to motivate him or her. Yes, outside professional support helps, but what makes you ready from the inside is very much an individual thought process.
"I've had clients tell me it was simple things like their children came to them and said, 'Mom you really need to lose weight. I'm really worried about you,' " said Sothern.
So the reason these two women are successful, is that the readiness stage came from within, pushing them to seek help and support from others in the gym or the pre-packaged food or the online community.
And there is something else that happens with regular exercise.
"It's an endorphin, it's an opiate response," explains East Jefferson General Hospital fitness expert Mackie Shilstone. "They start to feel so good because the brain produces endorphins which are 40 times more powerful than morphine. So all of a sudden they get this endorphin high and they don't want to lose it."
Mixon hits the gym daily at 5 a.m. and has cut back to only two and a half hours. Gone is the arthritis, sciatic and back pain. No more pain relievers either. Her boyfriend was inspired and lost 125 pounds. Friends are lending her clothes for her every changing body, and now she's working seven days a week at a furniture store to save for surgery to get rid of the excess skin.
"I'm not going to stop until I'm there, and I'd love to see myself at 130. If that's where I need to be, then I'll see myself to 120," said Mixon.
Burke’s not stopping either.
"Things like going to the store, going and walking around in Wal-Mart, this was like a new experience for me. It was so exciting," said Burke.
And the doctors say that a body that is in shape actually changes the way the metabolism works.
Studies also show that many people on pre-packaged meal plans will gain weight back when they get back on regular food.