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Program Kick-Starts 85-Pound Weight Loss, But the Kudos Go to Her

Woman credits wellness center, coach, mother for fueling her ‘hard work’ required for success

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Written by Chris Casey on January 3, 2024

When her mother died in November 2021, Stephanie Manley spiraled away from her passions of cycling, walking with friends, hiking. In their place came ice cream, fast food and a sedentary lifestyle.

Overwhelmed with grief, having watched her mom suffer through acute myeloid leukemia and type 2 diabetes, Manley turned to food and seclusion for comfort. “Life changed dramatically after losing Mom. I changed,” she said. “I gained a ridiculous amount of weight during my grief.”

The scale climbed to over 200 pounds before Manley in September 2022 took what was supposed to be her “dream trip of a lifetime” – a biking adventure in British Columbia that was a last gift from her mother. She hit a low point during a group sea kayaking excursion. The regular-sized life vest didn’t fit, leaving the outfitters looking for a larger size for Manley. “And then I get in the kayak, and I literally was like, ‘What if I can’t get out? What if I get stuck in here?’”

Getting unstuck

Getting out from under her gloom and poor health habits became a priority upon returning to Colorado. She signed up for My New Weigh at the CU Anschutz Health and Wellness Center, having lost 40 pounds on the program in 2016. Going through bloodwork to enroll, she learned she had type 2 diabetes – a disease that had struck her mother, her maternal grandfather and aunt. “I watched what my mom went through living with diabetes, and it was horrible. I was terrified.”

Stephanie_Canada_INS1Stephanie Manley weighed over 200 pounds during a trip to British Columbia in 2022.

She began a diabetes medicine regimen, and in October 2022, Manley started another session of My New Weigh, a 20-week program with a coach and group of participants who collectively tackle the nutritional, fitness and mental health aspects of weight loss.

Having struggled with fluctuating weight for most of her life, Manley knew she needed somebody to hold her accountable. Enter My New Weigh coach Marsha Miller, who “walked side-by-side with us” with unwavering expertise and encouragement.

“For those of us who have really struggled with weight, I knew there was an emotional component, a physical component and a spiritual component,” Manley said. “You have to address all of those during your journey, or you’re going to end up right back where you were.

“And as the weight comes off, people say, ‘What are you doing?’ and my answer is, ‘Hard work.’ I knew what people wanted was, ‘Well, just tell me a pill to take.’ They wanted the easy answer.”

Creating a new identity

Miller said “lifestyle manager” best describes her job. She helps people change their lifestyle through micro habits. “Little things add up to big changes so that, eventually, it’s just who you are and what you do. What really happens is that a new identity is created.”

Sticking to the program regimen, including the powdered-shake meal replacements that Manley loved, the 53-year-old watched the weight fall off. By spring of this year, she had dropped about 50 pounds.

Noticing she had a visible waist, Manley splurged on a new dress. But when she built up the courage to wear it, her new identity didn’t know how to handle the reactions. “People were so positive, but I didn’t like the attention,” Manley said. “A wonderful woman said to me, ‘Just say, thank you.’ I had to learn how to accept a compliment. It had been a long time.”

Post-program support, momentum

After the weekly program ended, Manley kept replaying in her mind “Coach Marsha’s” supportive post-program messages – “eat healthy meals with real food,” “keep your body moving,” “don’t stop; you’re not done” – as she went about her days working in a senior living facility.

My New Weigh

My New Weigh is a 16- to 20-week, virtual, group-based weight loss program designed for those needing to lose significant weight and anyone with weight-related health issues. Other weight-loss programs are also available through the CU Anschutz Health and Wellness Center.

My New Weigh uses scientifically proven weight-loss strategies for people who want to lose at least 30 pounds, Miller said. They are encouraged and coached to decrease meal replacements and transition to a healthy food plan during the program.

Dropping weight is only part of the equation; participants learn to shed negative self-talk and replace it with positive talk and affirmations, Miller said.

“Self-care is a huge piece of this process,” she said. “We are all so busy going from point A to point B each day that we forget to pause and think, ‘What do I need right now? What helps me feel relaxed and brings me joy? I need to do more of that.’ Remember to fill our cup so that we’re not on empty. If we’re on empty, we don’t have energy for ourselves or anyone else.”

‘I did this; I got myself here’

Manley knew where to go to rediscover her joy – back out on the bike and the open road. On Aug. 5, she climbed on her bike to conquer the Copper Triangle ride and its three mountain passes across 80 miles.

Stephanie_Copper_INS2It was an emotional finish for Manley at the Copper Triangle ride in August 2023.

Manley had shed 85 pounds in less than a year and before she knew it, she was cruising over Tennessee – pass number two – and on her way to the last big one, Vail pass. That’s when a movie started playing through her mind.

“I could see taking care of my mom, lying in bed with her as she was taking her last breath, and then taking care of my dad,” she said. “But then I thought about all the Zoom classes and the spinning classes and how much I’d sweated over the last number of months. And literally, it just played through my head like this movie of ‘I did this; I got myself here.’

Cresting the Vail summit at last, Manley burst into tears, saying aloud, “This is for you, Mom!”

Permanent lifestyle changes = nonstop work

She had learned that she wasn’t on a weight-loss program but rather on a journey that doesn’t have a finish line. The catch-phrase should be “Mission: getting healthy,” according to Manley. “It’s about making lasting changes because fighting for your body takes courage and strength every day.”

On a recent unseasonably warm late-November day, Manley met Miller in person for the first time (classes last fall/winter had taken place over Zoom). They hugged and laughed in the lobby of the CU Anschutz Health and Wellness Center.

“Eight-five (pounds lost),” Manley said with a big smile. “I’ve held it since August.”

Miller beamed while Manley, looking trim in a black outfit upon her 152-pound frame, shared her story. After a joyful 45-minute reunion, the coach, wearing a baseball cap that helped shield the afternoon sunlight, fell right back into her natural role – sprinkling her lifestyle management wisdom upon one of her star pupils.

“One thing I would like you to remember is the more you can put yourself in a position to be a mentor, a teacher, a coach in your world – helping people in your life who are on their own health journey – that ends up strengthening your journey; the energy and inspiration comes right back to you,” Miller said.

Manley said her goodbyes and headed south to the spinning class that she never misses.

Photo at top: Stephanie Manley and lifestyle management coach Marsha Miller outside the CU Anschutz Health and Wellness Center. 

Topics: Community, Diabetes,