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A WellNS challenge produces results

February 2016

Lynn Otis before, at left, and after she eliminated sugar and saturated fats from her diet.

WellNS, Norfolk Southern’s voluntary wellness program, promotes employee health and fitness. During 2017, BizNS is featuring some of the company's WellNS Champions, employees who are getting active, eating healthier, or shedding pounds – and inspiring co-workers.

So long sugars and fats: Atlanta employee sees healthy results from diet change

With retirement on the horizon, Lynn Otis decided that she could no longer delay losing weight and improving her health numbers.

Otis, a Norfolk Southern customer care team lead in information technology, had been taking cholesterol medication for at least a decade, and her parents had died of heart disease – another motivator.

“My cholesterol and triglyceride numbers were always borderline high or in the high range,” she said. “I wanted to be off the medications if possible.”

A novel change pays off

Otis began exercising relentlessly, lifting weights and taking spin and step classes at a local gym four times a week. Despite the workout regimen, she did not see any weight or cholesterol changes. Then a friend recommended that she cut sugars and fats from her diet.

Making that novel change paid off. Within a month of eliminating sugars and fats, Otis noticed her clothes felt looser. Since last summer, she has shed 55 pounds and dropped five sizes. Her cholesterol and triglycerides now are within normal ranges without medication, and she sleeps better.

Otis, who turns 60 in 2017, said she feels better and has more energy than she did 20 years ago.

“It’s wonderful,” she said. “I’ve gotten to go shopping in my closet and wear things I haven’t been able to wear in years.” Some friends and co-workers she hadn’t seen in a while didn’t immediately recognize her because of her weight loss. “They really have been surprised at the change,” she said.

Healthy food choices

Otis now cooks with vegetable or low-sodium broths instead of oils and fats. She eats lean meats, but gradually has added back foods with natural fats, such as avocado, olive oil, and salmon. She eats fresh vegetables, keeps her carbohydrate intake in check, and steers clear of processed foods and most sugars. For flavoring, she uses Stevia in the Raw, a zero-calorie sweetener from stevia plant extract, instead of artificial sweeteners.

“I thought I was eating healthy before, but I really wasn’t,” she said. “I realized what an addict I was to processed sugars. It was difficult to give up, but once I got that under control, I started losing weight.”

One tough challenge was giving up her favorite diet soft drink, which had been a “go-to” remedy for everything. She sees benefits since switching to water, now drinking nearly a gallon every day. “Even my skin feels better,” she said. 

When her weight loss hit a temporary plateau – a common experience – Otis did not become discouraged.

“My energy level was so much better, and I knew that I was seeing results and losing inches,” she said. “The scale might not have been moving, but my clothes were fitting better.”

Sticking to a plan

Eliminating fats and sugars takes planning and is not easy, Otis said. “I am a sweet nut. Every once in a while, I’ll have something with sugar as a special treat.” During the winter holiday season, she stuck to her healthy diet by ensuring that high-calorie foods brought into her house went home with guests.  

Regular exercise remains an important part of her regimen. Along with gym workouts, Otis uses resistance bands and kettle balls twice a week before work. She stays motivated by participating with co-workers in community walks as a member of NS’ Atlanta PowerTrain team, a company WellNS challenge program. “They challenged us to do this, and that got me going,” Otis said.

Otis encourages co-workers considering similar dietary modifications to go for it. “Don’t hesitate and keep putting it off,” she said. “The problems are going to continue to exist until you make the change.”