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Life Saved: Kathe Yamagata’s Success Story

Sitting in my doctor’s examination room, I couldn’t believe what I heard the nurse say: “Ma’am, you might want to wear this paper gown for larger people.” I didn’t even know paper gowns came in different sizes. Sure enough, there they were, hidden in one of the secret drawers — or as I will forever call it, “the fat-person drawer.”

The humiliation continued as my doctor revealed my lab results. Cholesterol: over 300. Blood sugar: borderline diabetic. Body fat: 46 percent.

Yes, almost half of my body was pure fat.

I blacked in and out of the conversation until I finally heard him say, “You are going to die if you don’t do something about your health.”

Die? I was only 41 years old. And sure, I enjoyed eating eight cupcakes at a time, but come on — die?

He suggested lap-band surgery. But inside, the voice of my courageous girl — the version of myself that I had forced into invisibility and silence while I gained the weight — screamed “Enough!” at the top of her lungs and took control. I ditched the fat-person paper gown in a fit of violence and responded, “Surgery? No way. I ate my way here and I am going to do this the hard way.”

In the past, I would have driven straight to the fast-food drive-through and ordered 10 chicken biscuits to soothe my feelings. Instead, I drove to the gym with tears streaming down my face. I had been a member of Life Time Fitness since 2009, but I could count on one hand the number of times I had actually worked out.

I set up a meeting with personal trainer Japheth Brubaker. I thought our first talk would be filled with me spewing all the excuses about why I was fat. “I have Hashimoto’s disease,” an autoimmune disease that affects my thyroid. “I have a high-stress job.” “I’m a single parent.” I have this, I have that. But Japheth was good at not buying excuses. He stopped me and said, “Well, let’s get started working out.”

Work out? You mean, right now?

Defeating My Demons

My relationship with food has always been complex — and destructive. Food is meant for survival, fuel, and healing. My food choices were poisonous and toxic; my every thought was consumed with what I was going to eat next to comfort myself. One doughnut couldn’t possibly fill the black hole inside my soul, the emptiness of unresolved pain from my childhood. The blissful moments when I consumed my poison were fleeting and harder to come by each passing day.

I would not be ready to face these demons for months to come. For now, Japheth had me focus on reconnecting with my body.

He started me on a solid workout program: four days weekly with him and two days on my own. For those of us good at math, yes, that’s six days per week. I knew that if I was going to commit to losing weight, I needed to be all in, so I urged him to push me. In my heart I’m a fighter, and I had two choices: I was either going to give up and die, or I was going to push to survive.

During the first few months, I came home and took a nap after my workouts. I was constantly tired. I lost a few pounds, but nothing significant. Japheth was confused, considering my dedication and hard work, so he suggested I undergo metabolic and fitness testing offered through Life Time.

I cried as I listened to the results — things like “Your fitness level is that of a 68-year-old.” It was hard to hear, but it motivated me to focus on the program Japheth designed. And he pushed me to celebrate my daily successes, something I had never really done in my life. At the end of our workouts, he included a meditation to acknowledge what I accomplished that hour, day, or week, and reminded me to be patient and at peace with the path I had chosen — a path that would prove successful if I didn’t give up on myself.

Changing My Diet

One day, Japheth started probing me on what I was eating. Talk about getting personal. Is nothing sacred? I shared the details of my eating habits, and he suggested I cut out processed carbohydrates. Oh no! Not my beloved processed carbs. My one true love! They had stuck with me (in more ways than one) for all these years.

He also advised that I keep a food journal. I figured if I was working out, I could eat anything I wanted, right? But once the food I ate was listed on paper, it became real. As much as I didn’t want to cut out processed carbs, I now felt like I must or risk embarrassment when revealing my log. So I started to record my new eating habits with zeal.

For two weeks I walked around in a fog, forgetting where I was going while driving, feeling like I was going to pass out during workouts. Most pronounced was the fact that my mood swings were nearly intolerable.

During this time, I read an article that said our brains react the same when we withdraw from either sugar or cocaine. That statement made me weep, because that’s exactly how I felt — like an addict withdrawing from a drug.

Then one day I started to feel like the sun had finally come out and I was going to be OK.

Smart Testing

The weight started coming off faster once I eliminated processed carbs and sugar, but not as quickly as it should have with my six-days-per-week workouts, according to Japheth. He recommended I speak with a Life Time nutritionist. After reviewing my tests, Jaime Martinez, RD, said my cortisol levels had been so high for so long that I was in adrenal fatigue. I had never heard of this. I knew I was stressed out, but how does cortisol affect weight loss?

I learned that cortisol is the “stress hormone” and has several important functions, including regulating blood pressure and metabolism, and maintaining blood sugar and the immune system.

My body was so confused by these elevated cortisol levels that it wasn’t producing the hormone at the right times anymore. So, in an effort to work smarter, Japheth and I adjusted my workout times to midday, when my cortisol was highest. No wonder my morning workouts were so taxing: I was running purely on mind over matter.

Armed with this knowledge, I also tried to reduce my stress and keep my cortisol levels lower. Japheth suggested yoga, meditation, and making sure I cooled down after workouts.

The scale was still moving slowly, but I was feeling healthier.

Japheth next advised that I meet with Andrew Heyman, MD, MHSA, an integrative doctor associated with Life Time Weight Loss. Sure! I will eat dirt if you think it will help me.

Heyman discovered that I was deficient in minerals and vitamins, specifically magnesium and chromium, so we incorporated those supplements into my diet. He also suggested we delve deeper into potential issues by checking for food allergies.

That food-allergy blood test proved life changing. I found I was allergic to 35 of the 100 foods tested, including lettuce, asparagus, broccoli, sweet potatoes, barley (no more beer!), onions, and eggs. I thought I was eating healthy, but I was actually eating foods that contributed to body-wide inflammation, extreme fatigue, and my weight.

Since cutting out these foods, the weight has been coming off much more rapidly. I don’t feel the constant need to nap. I also started following the Paleo way of eating and have found it is the right lifestyle for me. Basically, if it doesn’t come from an animal, the earth, a plant, or a tree, I don’t eat it.

I know I don’t need all that sugar and processed carbs. I want them, but I don’t need them. Exercise continues to play a huge role in my routine, and I still work out five to six days weekly, varying between high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and weightlifting in cross-training workouts.

Dancing Time

Today, I am 70 pounds lighter and a lot more muscular. My cholesterol is now 125, my blood sugar is 83, and my body-fat percentage has dropped from 46 to 21.8 percent. And it makes me proud that I know how to deadlift weights. Dance around! Dance around!

I can’t believe how far I have come. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but these changes have saved my life.

By facing my physical challenges, I also rebuilt my emotional and mental well-being, and the stress, sadness, despair, and lack of purpose I felt has dissipated. I am a success story. I’ve learned to honor my body with unique and special care. When I work out, I remember that I have to keep it varied. When stressed, I meditate.

For, as I learned, a one-size paper gown does not fit all.

Success Summary








Meet: Kathe Yamagata, 42, an entrepreneur who lives in Ashburn, Va., with her daughter, Peyton.

Big Achievements: Losing 70 pounds, dropping her cholesterol from over 300 to 125, blood sugar from borderline diabetic to 83, and body fat from 46 to 21.8 percent.

What Worked: A customized approach, including cross-training workouts, lifestyle changes, consistent healthy eating, and lots of deep breaths.

What Didn’t: Dieting and eating processed foods.

Words of Wisdom: “Be kind to yourself and have patience. Realize it takes time to undo years of damage and the cycle of unhealthy behaviors. And, every day, simply put one foot in front of the other and keep going.”

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