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From couch potato to WellNS Champion

January 2017

A slimmed-down Bill King, right, helps load a van in December as part of the Juniata Locomotive Shop safety and service committee’s Toys for Tots drive in Altoona, Pa.

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.

Juniata locomotive machinist set small goals to achieve big health gains

Photos from a family beach trip in June contributed to Bill King’s transformation.

“I was looking through the pictures, and I was extremely unhappy with how I looked in them,” said King, who then weighed 343 pounds.

“I was at the park trying to have fun with my kids, but I was so out of breath that I couldn’t enjoy it … That’s when it really snapped into my head that I couldn’t live like this.”

- Bill King, machinist

The final straw for the Juniata Locomotive Shop machinist team leader came at a play park near his home in Altoona, Pa.

“I was at the park trying to have fun with my kids, but I was so out of breath that I couldn’t enjoy it – my body wouldn’t let me,” said King, 36, whose three children range in age from 3 to 15 years old. “That’s when it really snapped into my head that I couldn’t live like this.” 

With inspiration from co-workers, his wife and children, and WellNS – Norfolk Southern’s voluntary wellness program – King has transformed himself from couch potato to a WellNS Champion.  Since July, he has shed more than 100 pounds, dropped 10 waist sizes, and improved his health to the point that his doctor removed him from medication he had used for more than a decade to control his blood pressure and other vital health numbers.

“I look better, feel better, and have had a huge increase in energy and endurance,” said King, who chairs the Juniata shop’s safety and service committee.

King’s advice to co-workers who want to lose weight and get fit: Don’t obsess over a specific number of pounds to drop.

“How you feel and look compared to yourself and what you’re doing are more important than hitting a number,” he said. “I focused more on the changes I was making in my eating habits and exercise than on a specific weight I wanted to be.”

His continuing journey involves diet, exercise, and determination.

Diet: King played football in high school, and he ate a lot during the season to beef up as a lineman. He stopped playing sports and working out when he graduated but continued to overeat into his 20s and 30s. A big challenge was to change those eating habits, which added more than 140 pounds.

Counting calories didn’t work for him, so he took a simpler approach. He continued eating whatever he liked, but he cut the portions by half or more.

“Instead of eating four pieces of pizza, I had one,” King said. “Instead of half a cake, I had one piece. Because I didn’t deprive myself of things I enjoyed, I didn’t have big cravings where I’d go out and binge.”

Eating smaller portions meant he sometimes felt hungry between meals. He satisfied the hunger pangs by experimenting with healthy snacks. He discovered a low-calorie yogurt that he liked, for example, and microwave popcorn, pretzels, and fruit became snack staples. In addition, instead of eating fast food several times a week for lunch, he packed healthier lunches from home. He found healthy eating tips on the company's WellNS website.

Exercise: While King cut calories by eating less, he burned off more by exercising. This is where co-workers helped. King lost his first 35 pounds in a friendly weight-loss competition at work, and he continues to challenge co-workers in these friendly peer-to-peer contests. He also captains a WellNS PowerTrain team that he and co-workers formed to participate in a community basketball tournament to raise money for autism research and advocacy.

King dived into WellNS’ Virgin Pulse Health Miles program, purchasing a FitBit Blaze pedometer and issuing step challenges to co-workers.

“I was walking on my lunch break, on my regular break, and when I got home,” King said. “I started going to the gym and doing treadmills.”

When he began in July, King was out of breath after jogging one block. Now, he runs five to six miles on a treadmill before work, and he plans to run a 5K, 10K, and half-marathon at Run Disney in November. King said the weight-loss competitions at work help keep him motivated.

“I definitely think that a healthier lifestyle can improve safety. I know personally that when you’re out of shape, you get tired more easily and your mind is not as focused.”

- Bill King

Determination: At Juniata, King leads a team of employees who repair and maintain locomotive traction motors. As leader of the safety and service committee, King promotes WellNS to enhance employee safety. 

 “I definitely think that a healthier lifestyle can improve safety,” he said. “I know personally that when you’re out of shape, you get tired more easily and your mind is not as focused.  Also, being healthier, you’re functioning at a higher level and probably sick less often. If you’re in a good workout routine, you’re more in tune with your body and less likely to overexert yourself.”

King tells co-workers to not get discouraged if the pounds don’t come off as fast as they hope or if they backslide and regain weight. Over Thanksgiving, King said he added 10 pounds that he aims to lose in a shop weight-loss competition he organized for the New Year.

“I still have a good ways to go on my journey for losing weight,” King said. “I’m focusing it on the small goals and trying to hit those. That’s how you get to the overall goal at the end.”

King speaks at the locomotive shop Christmas party in 2015.
King, left, is seen during a shop Toys for Tots event in December 2015, when he weighed in at more than 300 pounds.
King, after losing more than 80 pounds, is pictured in October 2016 with his son, Konner, 6, at a Boy Scout event in Altoona.