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Edna Mason and Zak Stephenson

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Edna Mason’s young adult life revolved around working overnight shifts as a registered nurse and raising two kids with her husband. Life was full, and life was busy. “I was constantly on the go, and I wasn’t really thinking much about my health,” Mason recalls. “I knew the healthy way — it’s not that I didn’t know what I was supposed to do. It was actually a matter of taking the time to do it.”

That inattention to her health eventually caught up with her. In 2006, at 50, Mason was already on medication for hypertension  — and at almost 350 pounds, she began having issues with her heart. She became determined to get healthy. 

“I lost 131 pounds through regular exercise by following a popular weight-loss protocol and working out at two gyms,” says Mason. “I felt great, looked great, and was active. I participated in walk-run events, and did kickboxing and yoga — I just did everything.”

A few years later, however, Mason’s husband, who was older, was diagnosed with emphysema, and she devoted her time to helping him battle his illness. “I was trying to take care of him, and I let myself go,” says Mason.

Her husband passed away in July 2013, and Mason retired from full-time nursing in 2014. “By that time, I had gained most of the weight back, and I was not as active as I used to be. I was also not able to get around like I used to.”

Turning the Corner

Over the next several years, a few mishaps — falling down the stairs and not being able to stand from a low couch, for instance — made Mason realize her body was not in a healthy state. “Before I knew it, I was over 300 pounds again. I was miserable,” she recalls.

In December 2018, she saw an advertisement for Life Time and was inspired to check it out. Snow was falling in Pickerington, Ohio, on the December day when Mason drove herself to the health club for the first time. “I met with a nice gentleman who said, ‘We’re going to help get you in shape. And if you want to lose weight, we can help with that, too.’ He set me up with my personal trainer, Zak Stephenson.”

When Mason started working with Stephenson, she had several health issues, including diabetes, hypertension, and arthritis in her hips, ankles, knees, and back. They talked, strategized, and initially focused on incorporating regular movement and exercise, and using a food journal, to jump start her weight loss. 

“Zak was really encouraging,” says Mason. “Sometimes I’d come in and be the same weight, or only a half a pound less than last week, and he kept encouraging me. I’ve even cried a few times because I was so frustrated, and Zak told me to keep going.”

Real Progress

Measurable results came when Mason shifted more of her focus to nutrition. At first, she kept a food journal and simply wrote down what she ate. It wasn’t until she began tracking macronutrients, however, that she started seeing results. “I had the notion that to lose weight, you had to work out really hard, so my initial emphasis was on that. But that’s not the case,” says Mason. “Zak really helped me understand that I was eating all wrong.”

Thanks to Mason’s background as a registered nurse, she understood certain aspects of nutrition — but she still was not eating healthily. Stephenson guided her to pay attention to the amount of protein, carbohydrates, and calories she was consuming, and she was blown away. “When I started writing this stuff down and adding it up, I couldn’t believe it,” says Mason.

For the first time in her life, she began making most of her meals at home — though she did not relish the task in the beginning. “I found out that if you really want to lose some weight, you have to cook your own food so that you know what’s in it,” says Mason. “I’m at the point now where I do enjoy cooking. I find myself trying different recipes or making things that I have never cooked before.”

Mason still believes in the importance of keeping a food journal, too. “I have been writing down my meals since 2019 — breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks,” she says. “You have to be aware and accountable of everything that you put in your mouth.” 

In addition to prioritizing her nutrition, Mason exercises with Stephenson at Life Time on a consistent basis. “Sometimes I do have to perk myself up because I get frustrated,” says Mason. “For instance, if Zak has me trying a new exercise, all I can do is try, and tell myself that I can do it.”

Life, Here and Now

Mason’s transformation is the result of an ongoing commitment to the fundamentals — and her efforts are paying off. “When I went to see Zak recently, I realized I have lost a total of 88 pounds,” says Mason. “I try to live a healthier life by improving my diet, focusing on my water intake, and trying to increase my activity.”

Stopping along the way to celebrate her achievements, big and small, is crucial for Mason. Sometimes she’ll mark a physical victory by going to the grocery store and picking out a few new spices to try — it’s one way she makes cooking more fun. Other times she’ll treat herself to a new nail polish color, a new lip stick, or a new pair of earrings. She wants to find healthy ways to reward herself for the progress she has made.

And even when something could be made easier or performed with a little help, she’s choosing to accomplish tasks on her own. When Mason’s children ask if they can help her pick up an item or reach for something on a top shelf, she firmly says no. She challenges herself every day to move and accomplish tasks, even when it’s hard. 

“There might come a day that I will need someone to help me — and that’s OK,” says Mason. “But before I get to that point, I’ll keep doing everything while I still can.”

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