Making Smarter Food Choices
These days, Denise Leitz's living room is littered with exercise machines, her refrigerator is stocked with healthy foods and she no longer wakes up every morning feeling defeated before her day has even begun.
The 55-year-old mother of three has lost at least 40 pounds and is looking forward to keeping up with her 12 grandchildren for many years to come. And she said it’s all thanks to the support and motivation she’s received through the LOSE IT to WIN IT Community Health Challenge, part of the Heart of New Ulm Project.
“Most people have furniture in their living room; I have a ski machine and one of those trampolines you can jump on,” quipped Leitz. “I have to warn people walking into the house to not walk into my bike!”
All jokes aside, embarking on this journey to make healthy lifestyle changes wasn’t easy for Leitz. In fact, she admitted to being afraid to sign up for the challenge.
A native of New Ulm, Leitz moved to Wisconsin in 1976. A year later, she gave birth to her first child. That, said Leitz, is when her weight struggle began. Three years ago, however, she moved back to New Ulm and started a job with the Kwik Trip convenience store. Since then, at the urging of her children, she has made the bold decision to lose weight.
“There is nothing worse than sitting on a bench because you can’t play with your grandchildren. I couldn’t sleep at night or even walk from the car to my apartment,” admitted Leitz. “I decided to settle down and get my health back. So, in June, I signed up for the LOSE IT to WIN IT Challenge.”
Today, Leitz is continuing to make progress. Making smarter food choices — including creating healthier meals using Heart of New Ulm recipes — has been a big part of her success.
After signing up for the challenge, Leitz also cut back on junk food and sweets. Instead of snacking on candy, she takes advantage of the free piece of fruit offered daily by her employer. She also stocks her refrigerator with healthier foods, like yogurt and vegetables.
“Right now, I don’t have potato chips, cookies or any sweets in the house,” she said.
Leitz also drinks plenty of water and stays active, often biking the local trails near her home. “I don't put off exercise anymore. It’s at the top of my list for the day,” she said.
Through the program, Leitz also realized she often ate to ease her stress. “I can’t turn to food every time I get upset,”Leitz explained. “Exercise helps me handle my feelings better.” Leitz added that the Heart of New Ulm staff also took the time to explain the program to her and give her the confidence she needed to get started.
“You can call them, ask questions and they don’t ever put you off. They have your back,” Leitz said. She was particularly touched by her interaction with Cindy Winters, community programs and public policy specialist at the Heart of New Ulm Project. “Cindy told me I was going to be a success story,” Leitz recalled. “That meant so much to me.”
Leitz is also a big fan of the motivational messages the program sends to its participants. “They don't let you quit,” she said. “You can’t fail when you get text messages at 8 a.m., noon and 4 p.m., telling you that you can succeed!”
With the confidence she has gained from her healthier lifestyle, Leitz said she plans to lose 100 more pounds. She also is making new plans for her future.
“I want to be able to jump rope again,” she said. “When I was in grade school, I loved jumping rope. A hundred pounds is a long way off, but I’m just taking it one pound at a time, one day at a time and one meal at a time.”