Taco Bell. Applebee’s. And doughnuts.
“That’s pretty much what I lived on,” said 40-year-old Laura Heath.
At her heaviest, the 5-foot-10 Heath reached 308 lb. After 17 years of being overweight, she was also prediabetic and on medications for high blood pressure and depression.
“I knew I had to do something about it. I wanted to be around longer for my little guy,” Heath said of her now-5-year-old son.
She wasn’t sure where to look for help, so she started with an online search. This led her to start commenting on fitness-related Facebook posts in hopes someone would see her plea for help. Nobody did.
One day Heath commented on a Facebook thread posted by CrossFit Wooster in Ohio. Her comment was a simple inquiry about CrossFit, but something compelled owner Craig Nolletti to send her a private message, something he hadn’t done much before.
“I rarely cold-call or text someone, but for some reason I felt the need to do so. Something about her comment caused me to reach out,” Nolletti remembered.
Heath replied and opened up to Nolletti about how badly she needed to lose weight. He assured her he had worked with many people who were once in her shoes and could help her make positive changes. The first step involved meeting in person, he told her.
Heath was moved by the fact that Nolletti bothered to reach out at all.
“I had commented on other things, but nobody else had reached out to me, so when (Craig) messaged me I said I’d come in,” she said.
Heath’s first day at CrossFit Wooster was Sept. 29, 2015. She weighed 270 lb. at the time. She immediately committed to the workouts but didn’t see the quick weight loss and health improvements she was hoping for. She did lose 10 lb. and managed to improve her fitness, but progress wasn’t remarkable, she explained.
“Every time I would leave the gym I’d still go out to eat. I was doing the workouts, but I was still kind of depressed because I wasn’t eating well,” she said. “I wasn’t taking it seriously. I was messing around and saying I was part of CrossFit, but I wasn’t doing the diet part. When you leave the gym and eat like crap, it defeats everything you just did.”
One year later, in October 2016, Nolletti hosted a challenge for his athletes to complete 40 workouts in 50 days. Something about the challenge convinced Heath to change her attitude and make a commitment.
“I don’t know what it was that clicked in my head, but I realized then that I was tired of being overweight and depressed and gross and getting out of breath so fast,” Heath said.
She immediately cut out all sugar, starch and processed foods and focused on consuming whole foods, mostly meats and vegetables, she explained. Breakfast now is often four eggs fried in lard with bacon, and dinner might be something such as a hamburger without the bun—“loaded up with toppings,” she said—and sweet potatoes.
She added: “Or I’ll have a big bowl of broccoli with butter and salt and pepper for lunch, and I eat a lot of chicken and fish, too.”
Her diet changes produced fast results.
“The moment I went all in, I started dropping weight so fast,” said Heath, who lost 80 lb. in the following nine months and another 45 lb. since then. Currently, Heath weighs 134 lb. Her bloodwork shows she is much healthier now, too.
“I was prediabetic and on metformin (diabetes medication) for about a year, and they would test my blood regularly by pricking my finger. I was right on the border for a very long time, and that all just went away,” she said of how her lifestyle changes restored her HbA1c—glycated hemoglobin—to healthy levels below the prediabetic range.
She added: “People see me and they don’t know who I am. I have to tell them, ‘It’s Laura,’ and they’re like, ‘Oh my God—I didn’t recognize you,’” she said. Then they always ask what she’s doing, what she’s on or what she’s taking to lose so much weight.
“Nothing. It’s all natural. It’s exercise and eating well,” Heath said she responds.
Nolletti has had the same experience when he shows other members Heath’s before and after pictures.
“Most people who see her progress pictures don’t believe it’s the same person. It has been awesome to watch her change. She’s a completely different person,” he said. “She is a real-life example of what changing your workout and nutrition plan can do.”
Today, Heath’s plan involves waking up most days at 4 a.m. and running for 2 or 3 miles on her treadmill as a way to warm up before the 5:30-a.m. class. Heath loves running because it wasn’t an option for her for so long.
“Before, if there was running in one of the gym WODs, I would literally cry because I was so heavy and there was so much weight for me to carry. But now I love to run,” she said.
She also loves body-weight movements now: toes-to-bars, push-ups and pull-ups.
“Never in my life would I ever have thought I’d be able to do a pull-up or a toes-to-bar. In fact, I remember saying, ‘That will never be me,’ when I saw other people doing them,” she said. “It’s still overwhelming to think of how far I have come.”
It’s also overwhelming for her to think about how much better she feels today than three years ago, and how much more functional she is in her day-to-day life, she explained. Part of this transformation has meant becoming less reliant on medication.
“I have gotten off everything. I always hated medication, yet I needed them before because I was destroying my body. But now, I have so much more energy than I’ve ever had in my whole life. Ask my husband: I’m just a different person now. My outlook on life, my mood, everything is so much better,” she said.
”I have no intention of ever turning back now that I see the results of how eating right and CrossFit have helped me. It’s part of me now.”