By Cathy Taylor
Lake of the Pines resident Theresa Barowski has never been to the big city. She has never taken a taxicab ride anywhere. She has never even had a professional manicure in her entire lifetime.
But all of that is about to change. Theresa has been summoned by the producers of the morning television production The Today Show to tell the incredible story behind her 273-pound weight loss.
Theresa will be flying to New York on March 1st to meet with the show’s stars Kathie Lee Gifford and HodaKotb. Her 4 minute segment will be taped as part of the program’s Joy Bauer’s Fit Club. It is set to air nationally March 4th.
“I have been heavy all of my life,” stated Barowski. “I weighed 194 pounds in the 8th grade and I stayed right around the 200 pound mark through high school.”
As an emotional eater, Barowski continued to gain weight as the result of the many losses she endured during her life. She experienced the loss of her mother and father at a young age as well as the loss of the job of her dreams. It was also during this time that she was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis.
“At the absolute lowest point in my life, I was dependent on potent pain killers for the arthritis,” Theresa related. “I was in constant physical and emotional pain. I could barely function on my own. I was at the point where I was going to have to sell my house and move into assisted living because I could hardly take care of myself.”
Barowski continued, “I had a chair in front of the kitchen and bathroom sinks because I couldn’t stand up long enough to do anything. I had actually lived in my house for two years before I walked out to my mailbox. I used to lay in my bed thinking that I probably wouldn’t live to see 50.”
But according to Barowski, “Now I can’t wait to turn 50! People usually cry about turning 50, but 50 is my jubilee year! I am rediscovering life—I am doing something that I should have been doing in my 20’s and 30’s.”
Theresa had attempted several times during her younger days to lose the weight without much success. She admitted that she had a sugar addiction without even realizing it. She consumed 2-liter bottles of Faygo soda at home and always had bottles of Mt. Dew at her work desk every day.
It wasn’t until a series of events that began in January of 2011 that Theresa decided she needed to save herself. It all began with the death of her beloved grandmother.
“All my family knew that my grandmother used to pray for me every day,” she began. “I was 428 pounds, wheelchair-bound and barely able to function. At my grandmother’s funeral, one of my cousins made the remark ‘Well Ms. Barowksi, who’s going to pray for you now?’ Just out of nowhere, I looked at him and said ‘I’ll tell you what I’m going to do—I’m going to walk again!’ He laughed and told me ‘yeah, fat chance.’ That just snapped me into reality.”
Barowski continued, “A couple of weeks later, I woke up one morning to find that two of my teeth had fallen out during the night. I ended up having several teeth pulled. They were decayed from all of the sugared soda I had been drinking. I was horrified!”
Falling deeper into pain and depression, Theresa visited her rheumatologist. He explained to her that there wasn’t much else that could be done for her. She had been given every kind of medication available for pain and had many different injections for the condition, but nothing seemed to make a difference.
Theresa told her doctor, “I just can’t live like this anymore.”
Her doctor replied, “If I were you, I’d be more concerned about living—period!”
Coupled with the insults she endured at her grandmother’s funeral and the loss of her teeth, her doctor’s statement ended up being just the wake-up call she need to spring into action. She began by drastically cutting the portion sizes of her daily meals and by going cold turkey with the soda pop.
“I would set small goals for myself,” explained Barowski. “My first goal was to be under 400 pounds. I would reach my goals and then set another one. I stayed on a 1,000 calorie-per-day eating pattern and lost weight fast and steady during the first year. During the second year, I added a few more calories to my daily allowance so the weight started coming off slower.”
At the start of her incredible weight loss journey, Barowski remembers lying in bed and looking at the mail-order catalogs from companies that specialized in plus-sized fashions like Lane Bryant and wishing for the day that she could actually order from these catalogs. Most of these catalogs only carried up to size 28 or 30 in women’s fashions. Theresa was size 40. Losing enough weight to be able to fit into these fashions was one of the loftiest goals set during her weight loss journey.
Today, Barowski continues to stay on a 1200 to 1400 calorie-per-day eating regime and drinks up to two gallons of water daily. She always takes the time to eat breakfast, usually has soup for lunch, and eats lean meats and lots of veggies for her evening meals. She no longer craves sugar, but she will occasionally treat herself to a piece of fruit or a fiber bar.
Due to her severe Rheumatoid Arthritis, Barowski was not able to incorporate exercise with her weight loss until recently.
“This past summer, I began walking. First I walked out to my mailbox and back. A while later I was able to walk to my neighbor’s mailbox and back. A while after that I pushed myself to walk to the end of the road and back. By November of last year, I was able to walk about three-quarters of a mile.”
Barowski admits that she’s still not committed to a regular routine when it comes to exercise. She does however visit the gym at her place of employment to use the treadmill and she has started lifting weights at home.
“I am able to walk around a store now for about an hour and a half at a time,” smiled Barowski. “I can’t do aerobics or Zumba yet, but someday I will.”
Unfortunately, Theresa has recently realized that losing 273 was actually the easiest part of her journey. Even though she shed 273 pounds of physical weight, she must now struggle with losing all of the psychological and emotional weight that controls her way of thinking every single moment of the day.
“I still can’t be in a room without thinking I’m the biggest person there,” said Barowski. “I still don’t feel good about how I look. I can’t look in the mirror and focus on my accomplishments. I only see more weight to be lost. I see all of the excess skin I’m left with. I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to wear shorts again because of all the loose skin.”
Theresa is fully aware of the challenges that she will now face for the rest of her life. She admits that she lives in fear of slipping up and returning to old habits. She is currently dealing with the death of her stepfather. Realizing that a series of deaths was the catalyst behind her previous problem with weight, she is terrified at the prospect of reacting the same way.
Barowski has the admiration and support of her family, friends and co-workers. But sometimes it is these very same people that unwittingly try to sabotage her progress.
“People are basically well-meaning, but they don’t understand that ‘just one cookie’ could very well be the trigger that puts all the weight back on. It’s like telling an ex-smoker that one cigarette won’t hurt them,” said Barowski.
Barowski admitted that she is at a point in her weight loss success where she should be dancing on rooftops. Instead, she lives in fear that she will wake up one day and find all of her efforts were for nothing. She now worries that she will go too far and lose too much weight. She constantly worries about how she will react when she actually has to add more food to her daily diet to keep from losing too much weight.
At the end of the day however, Theresa realizes she has truly been the recipient of a miracle. She realizes she has been given the gift of life and she is now taking the opportunity to share it with others. Her story had previously been published in The Morning Sun where it was noticed by the Associated Press and published nation-wide. When the producers of the Today Show called Theresa, she could hardly believe it.
“I’m honored,” she stated, “but at the same time reluctant to go. I’ve been reluctant to talk about the weight loss because I’m embarrassed and ashamed for being that big in the first place. But even if it helps just one person to change their life, it’s worth all the embarrassment.”