NEW ORLEANS -- A New Orleans woman who moved to Ponchatoula after Hurricane Katrina says she weighed somewhere in the 360 pound range at her heaviest.
Now, at 33 years old, she has a new body and a new life.
What motivated Tanee Janusz to lose 200 pounds and then become manager of a new workout studio in Amite, called All About Aerobics Fitness Studio, a certified personal trainer, and fitness class instructor who teaches, at times, five classes a day?
She remembers high school at Abramson when her weight first climbed to 200 pounds.
'My mom put me on everything. I remember the Mayo Clinic (diet). I remember the grapefruit diet, just everything, and it was on and off Weight Watchers a lot too. My mom would take me. You go on a diet and it only lasts, you know, a little bit or you get discouraged. I never want to eat a grapefruit again,' Janusz said, laughing. 'Or from it or the cabbage soup diet.'
At times she was picked on by a sibling.
'He would call me fatty and it hurt my feelings a lot. A lot of the times it hurt,' she said.
She married a fit, former Marine who was a best friend in high school and is very supportive to this day. They had three children.
But then, there were two life-changing moments.
'I went into a deep depression after I had my third one and I lost my way. I didn't know who I was at all and it's just, you know, it's hard to think about because it was really scary,' Janusz said, fighting back tears.
One day while running errands with her three young children, the oldest one, who has a type of high functioning autism called Asperger's Syndrome, broke free and took off across a busy parking lot.
'Logically I knew I wouldn't be able to catch him because I had my baby and I had my other one, and just the feeling of helplessness that I wouldn't even had a chance to catch him,' Janusz said as she recalls the anxiety and fear of that moment.
He was almost hit by a car before a Good Samaritan caught him. She realized at her size, she could not do the most basic part of motherhood: protect her children.
'It wasn't only myself that I was depriving, you know, my health. It was my kids too. I started looking at the little things. I couldn't even get down on the floor and play with them. My back was killing me. There was nothing that I could really do. I was limited to everything,' she said.
Too embarrassed to be seen in public, she joined Weight Watchers online for calorie cutting meal plans. When 80 pounds came off, she got the confidence to go to the club meetings. And she also began to exercise.
'It was one of those little stair stepper things that you buy at Walmart for $30. I did that and then I went swimming and then walking, and I didn't feel confident about going out in public and walking, so my husband bought me a treadmill,' said Janusz.
The exercise made her more and more fit to do more. Three years later, at 5'8' inches tall, she weighed 160. Her career in the fitness industry was born, and life changed.
'It has totally changed. I don't have to worry about getting on roller coasters. We flew to Amsterdam. I didn't have to worry about the little bitty seats or anything. Didn't have, not even thinking about seatbelt extenders. I can run around with my kids, play tag, get on the trampoline with them, everything. I coach t-ball,' said Janusz.
'If you can motivate mothers to change their behavior for their children, it probably has a more, has more impact initially and probably has a more sustainable effect,' said Dr. Melinda Sothern of LSU Health Sciences Center's School of Public Health.
Dr. Sothern said Weight Watchers is proven to work because it is very structured with peer support and meal plans.
Janusz also studied every book and plan and found strength from women worldwide on www.3fatchicks.com. Instead of a diet, she changed her entire approach to life, with her exercise now built into her day through work.
'She's going to have an intervention for life,' said Dr. Sothern about teaching exercise classes for a living. 'Exercise, even if it's moderate, especially if they're completely sedentary, has tremendous impacts on their ability to burn fat and lose fat.'
But over the last three months Janusz gained 15 pounds and is now at 175 pounds.
'It's very complicated because there's so many genes associated with obesity, some specific to exercise and some specific to diet,' Dr. Sothern said about keeping weight off. 'I wouldn't say everyone who was her size who now has lost 200 pounds is at risk for regaining, but the science says that people who do go on these types of plans and do lose extreme amounts of weight, most of them do gain it back unless they adapt a regular exercise program.'
Of course Janusz does a lot of regular exercise, but with all she has accomplished on her own, Dr. Sothern says Janusz won't reach her full genetic potential because many women don't understand that along with aerobic conditioning, something else is crucial for getting and staying lean for life.
'Strength training is essential,' Dr. Sothern said. 'It's an essential part of any exercise program.
'She's not going to ever reach her genetic potential unless she adds strength training to her routine and there are other tremendous benefits to strength training. It prevents osteoporosis. It improves insulin sensitivity and thus helps to prevent or delay type 2 diabetes. It improves fat oxidation, so it allows the body to preferentially burn fat over carbohydrate, and that's because when you strength train you have an alteration of the muscle cell itself and the energy with the muscle cell itself, and it's a different type of outcome from aerobic training. If anyone out there is only doing aerobic training, they are training in an incomplete fashion,' she continued.
Since we lose muscle with age starting in our 20's, weight lifting saves as well as builds muscle. So you burn more calories even at rest, and it helps tighten loose skin.
'Strength training will absolutely help this process because strength training delivers more blood to the connective tissue and the skin is attached to the muscles, and when the muscles are firm it pushes up against the skin and it gives the skin a more toned and firm appearance,' said Dr. Sothern.
Janusz will still have to manage her weight forever. Obesity is a chronic disease. Through genetics, physiology and even childhood lifestyles, it influences metabolism for life.
She eats 1500 calories a day and started a Facebook page to help others get motivated.
'It's not really a diet. You're changing, I changed everything, my entire lifestyle. But you know, just focus on loving yourself and then just kind of take a step back and evaluate what you want to do,' Janusz said.
Dr. Sothern is an expert on weight and exercise and has published many scientific articles. She recommends that people get professional advice from a registered dietitian and exercise trainer before they start so they can get the maximum benefit.
You can reach All About Aerobics Fitness Studio in Amite at 985-956-2136, 985-748-7747 or at their website, www.allaboutaerobicsfitnessstudio.com.