How this woman lost 90 pounds: 'My doctor told me my weight was going to kill me'

Gastric bypass surgery helped Dana Curtiss drop 90 pounds, but it was the lifestyle changes that helped her keep it off for more than a decade.
Image: Weight Loss, Before After
Curtiss credits being mindful about what she's eating — whether it's a healthy meal or a splurge — as key to her success.
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By Stephanie Thurrott

Name: Dana Curtiss

Age: 54

Residence: Sunrise, FL

Job: Director of nursing

Family status: Married with a 29-year-old son and a 24-year-old daughter

Peak weight: 255 pounds

Current weight: 165 pounds

Height: 5 feet 6 inches

Dana Curtiss remembers the moment that she decided she needed to find a different path for weight loss. “My doctor told me, ‘The way you’re headed, your weight is going to kill you’,” she says.

My doctor told me, ‘The way you’re headed, your weight is going to kill you.'

Curtiss had battled excess weight all her life. “I was always the chunky girl. In eighth grade I weighed 155 pounds,” she says. Why did that particular weight stick in her memory? “I remember that because the teacher had us weighing ourselves in front of each other, and the teacher said she weighed less than I did,” Curtiss says. She never forgot it.

Growing up, healthy eating wasn’t a priority for her family. “We were not into good nutrition. We didn’t know any better. We had bad eating habits that were passed along the generations,” she says. She lists her top foods back then: pancakes and syrup, biscuits, bacon or sausage and eggs, and anything fried.

She hid under oversized clothes, but once she married and had two children she got serious about losing weight. Her weight contributed to health issues — high blood pressure and diabetes — and she didn’t want to cut short the years she could spend with her family.

Over the years she would lose weight, and gain it back, plus more. “I would lose 15 pounds and gain 20, or lose 25 and gain 32,” she says. She tried dieting and exercising on her own, joining gyms, Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers, meal plans, apple cider vinegar challenges and waist trainers. For her, nothing worked for good. Her weight peaked at 255 pounds.

“This is such a common scenario, and it can be really discouraging,” says Samantha Cassetty, RD, a New York City-based nutritionist. “But many of these strategies are quick-fix or restrictive approaches, so they don’t produce sustainable weight loss. When people create healthier eating and lifestyle habits, weight loss can be an achievable outcome.”

Surgery was the first step, but maintenance required a lifestyle change

“I started hearing about weight loss surgery,” Curtiss says. She met with a weight-loss doctor, who walked her through the steps she would need to take to succeed. She learned that the surgery could help, but she would need to make lifestyle changes to see lasting results. She decided to go ahead with gastric bypass surgery.

That was back in 2007. She says after surgery, she started losing weight right away. Now, her weight holds steady between 160 and 165 pounds. “That’s great for me and my body type. I don’t think I could be any smaller,” she says.

“I appreciate the mindset here. Some bodies are smaller and some bodies are larger and that’s totally normal and healthy,” Cassetty says. “When someone tries to achieve a body size that’s too small, it can lead to over-restriction and emotional distress, and that’s neither healthy nor sustainable.”

“I try to get on the scale every so often to make sure, maybe once every two weeks," says Curtiss. "I try not to let the numbers affect me mentally, so I don’t want to do it every day.”

Multiple studies show the scale can be a helpful tool. “But If the scale makes you nuts, don’t weigh yourself. There are other tools you can use,” Cassetty says.

The scale can give you a sense of your trends — if you notice your weight trending upward you can assess it without judgment. “Maybe you’ve been under a lot of stress and you aren’t cooking as much, or maybe you’ve been traveling a lot for work. How can you address this to take care of yourself in a self-loving and respectful way?” Cassetty says.

It’s about finding the healthiest weight that you can happily maintain.

Samantha Cassetty, RD

An upward trend could also mean the lower weight was too hard to maintain while enjoying a full life. “It’s important to take all of this in context. If you’re nourishing your body with healthy food and movement, your blood pressure, cholesterol levels and blood sugar are good, and you’re emotionally well, it’s not necessary to strive for a lower body weight. It’s about finding the healthiest weight that you can happily maintain,” Cassetty says.

Support is the key to success

Curtiss says her weight loss has been a lot of hard work. “After surgery, your body absorbs less but you still have to learn to eat correctly in order to maintain your weight or you will gain it back,” she says.

Joining a support group after surgery helped. So did education — she learned how to judge portion sizes. “I eat more slowly, and more often. I eat smaller portions; if I go out to dinner, half my meal will be for lunch the next day,” she says.

Family support was also crucial. “My husband encouraged me. Even to this day, he’ll be the one to say, ‘Let’s go on a bike ride.’ He joined the gym I joined, and got me a personal trainer,” she says.

Along with changing her eating habits, she joined a gym and she pushes herself to get to spin class three times a week, even on days when she’s tired from a long workday. “I tell myself, 'It’s 45 minutes, you can do it’,” she says. “I keep as toned as possible.”

Cassetty says, “I love this attitude, but I also think it’s important to find activities you enjoy. Challenging yourself is great, but if spin feels like torture, find another activity. The more you move, the better, and it’s much easier to move more when you feel good about it.”

Mindful eating helps keep her on track

Curtiss acknowledges that after all these years, she still works hard to maintain a healthy weight. “It’s a struggle every day for anybody who likes food. Food is always around us. You have to eat,” she says.

“Since I’ve had surgery, I’m more mindful of everything. Even when I think I’m eating the wrong thing, when I know I shouldn’t be doing this, I’m still mindful. I think that’s where success comes into play,” she says. “I’m more tuned in over time.”

Cassetty points out that it’s okay to eat for pure pleasure sometimes. “Having a good relationship with food means sometimes enjoying French fries or pizza, but it also means discovering enjoyable ways to nourish your body with foods that make you feel good,” she says.

A boost in health came with a boost in confidence

Curtiss no longer needs medication to control her diabetes, and she went from two pills to one to bring her blood pressure down. She can easily keep up with her young-adult children.

Along with the health benefits, she feels better. It’s easier for her to buy clothes and she no longer has to shop in the plus-size department. “I feel more confident. My self-esteem is higher. When you think you look better, you feel better. It all goes hand in hand — the psychological and the physical,” she says.

Cassetty often sees a boost in well-being in people who make healthy lifestyle changes. “When you eat better and incorporate movement into your day, you often sleep better and feel better,” she says. “You might experience more energy, creativity, patience and focus, and that might open up new possibilities in work and life.”

Curtiss' typical meals

Breakfast: Coffee and a fruit cup

Lunch: Half of her dinner from the previous night

Dinner: Baked chicken, stir-fried vegetable and greens. “I do eat starch, but I try to control that as much as I can,” she says.

“I typically do my own cooking. I rarely eat anything fried, and I definitely incorporate vegetables,” she says.

Cassetty would like to see a little more protein with breakfast, such as an egg or Greek yogurt. She loves Curtiss’ focus on veggies, though. “I think a good rule of thumb is to aim for two cups of veggies at lunch and dinner, and you can even slip them into breakfast in a smoothie or scrambled eggs.”

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