Heavy on the Heart: Nancy Bowser’s Weight Loss Journey
Six months after having her second child, Nancy Bowser was beginning to learn the struggles of motherhood. As any new parent can relate, Boswer said getting out of the house without her kids was “like going to Disneyworld.”
It was one of the rare moments in 2001 when Bowser had two hours to go grocery shopping by herself; she said it was “the greatest gift in the world.” But Bowser left the store with so much more than a crossed off to-do list.
“I remember checking out [at the grocery store]. I was still happy as can be because I had all this time,” Bowser said. “Then the check out lady said to the bagger, ‘Help this young woman out - can’t you see she’s expecting?’”
Bowser didn’t have the heart to tell the cashier she had delivered her baby boy Hunter six months prior. She left the store feeling bothered and upset.
“I did a double take in the mirror, and I’m like ‘Oh my gosh, I look pregnant still,’” she said. “I was so big, I couldn’t believe it.”
Bursting into tears in the driver’s seat of her car, Bowser tilted the rearview mirror toward her face. The reflection Bowser saw was almost unrecognizable. Within 24 hours, she made an appointment with her doctor.
On that day, Bowser weighed 314 pounds.
Today, almost 14 years after the grocery store incident, 43-year-old Bowser is a slim 142 pounds. Upon meeting the svelte, bubbly blonde, one would never guess she used to weigh more than double her current body weight.
Bowser lives in a townhouse in Bellefonte, right down the street from her now ex-husband and two children. An administrative assistant for Penn State Justice and Safety Institute, she takes advantage of the fitness facilities available to her at Penn State. Bowser attends group fitness classes three to four days a week at the White Building on campus, with cycling, total muscle conditioning and Pilates being her favorites.
She was an active child, participating in cheerleading up until high school. It wasn’t until she met her now ex-husband at age 19 and had children that Bowser began to struggle with her weight.
“I think when you get married…you get more carefree about life and you don’t focus so much everything that you used to,” Bowser said. “We got married [when I was 23] and I got pregnant right away. From then on, it was a struggle. Every year I gained more weight. Every year I would gain 10 to 20 pounds.”
During her first pregnancy, Bowser gained 88 pounds. With the extra weight came some major health risks, including high cholesterol, high triglycerides and Insulin Resistance Syndrome, which increased the level of blood sugar in her body – making it even harder to keep weight off. During her pregnancy, Bowser was also diagnosed with Toxemia, a condition sparked by high blood pressure and in some cases, obesity.
Toxemia caused many complications for Bowser and her newborn, Bethany. Bowser’s blood pressure skyrocketed, and she had to be put under anesthesia. Bowser also had to have her gallbladder removed and contracted pancreatitis. The doctors told her she might die. It was two days before she could see her child. The mother and baby were transferred to Pittsburgh for further care.
“It wasn’t a good experience…I was thinking, ‘Is this how pregnancy is supposed to be? This bad?” she said. “After two weeks we could finally both go home. No gallbladder, C-section, new baby. And I’m still heavy. And miserable.”
Things only continued to spiral downhill for Bowser. Just three months after returning from her extended hospital stay, her husband fell ill. After a rushed hospital visit, tests confirmed that he had testicular cancer. 23-year-old Bowser was devastated to find that after months of radiation and treatment, her husband was sterile. Bowser quickly fell into a deep depression.
“I never really wanted to tell him that I was really sad I couldn’t have any more children with him,” she said. “I think for a good number of years I struggled with that, knowing I would only have one child. He [my ex-husband] wasn’t helpful on the emotional side of it. I definitely think that contributed to more weight gain and more emotional issues.”
But, three and a half years after her husband’s diagnosis, Bowser said a “miracle” occurred. She said the doctors don’t know how it happened, but Bowser was pregnant. Still battling depression throughout the second pregnancy, she gained another 80 pounds.
“I don’t think I realized what I was going to have to do after I had my son,” Bowser said. “But I was realizing that I was feeling unhealthy, like my joints were hurting me and I felt much older than I really was...I’m thinking I’m only 28 years old and I feel like I’m 50.”
Physically, Bowser felt like she was falling apart. But emotionally, she was beaten down.
“People look at you different when you’re overweight,” she said. “They don’t know your whole story, they don’t know you have a medical condition. They just see you, not having any control.”
Bowser expressed her concerns about her weight to a neighbor, who told her that the number on the scale wasn’t the issue: it was how Bowser looked at herself.
“She said, ‘You know what? You should always want to look good, no matter what your weight is,’” Bowser said. “’Fix yourself up, make sure you feel good about yourself and everything else will follow.’”
Bowser followed the advice and went to Fashion Bug.
“I bought the latest fashions. Even though they were a size 26, the largest size they had, I bought them,” she said. “I always made sure I looked good and felt good.”
As her confidence grew, the number on the scale grew smaller. Through changing her eating habits and adding exercise into her daily routine, Bowser lost 172 pounds over the course of 13 years.
“Right now I’m at the weight I desire,” she said. “I had my ups and downs throughout all of those years. But I never came back to 314 pounds.”
Bowser said that focusing on smaller goals helped her stay in control of her long-term plan. Setting goals of only five to 10 pounds at a time motivated her to keep working.
The first 13 pounds fell off as soon as Bowser cut soda out of her diet. Then, she began cutting her portion sizes and walking around her block a few days a week. One day, Bowser walked past a neighbor’s yard sale where she saw a NordicTrack ski machine and bought it. Over the next year, Bowser would wear out two more machines.
Once her home gym began to weather down, Bowser joined the State College YMCA and began working with a personal trainer. She attended cycling classes and soon became an instructor. Bowser recalled spending anywhere from four to five hours a day at the gym during her weight loss journey.
Now, Bowser takes cycling classes three to four days a week and regularly enjoys strength training and Pilates.
Even though she has gone below her original goal weight of 152 pounds, Bowser said she still has days of struggle. One thing Bowser concerns herself with is her 18-year-old daughter’s weight. Her daughter Bethany currently weighs over 300 pounds and is also insulin resistant. Bowser said that it’s “heartbreaking” to see her daughter fight the same battle at a much younger age.
“Sometimes I would blame myself because I’m thinking, ‘Oh what could I have done differently?” Bowser said. “I was told that I couldn’t have done anything differently. At this point, it’s her putting all of the hard work in until she makes up her mind that she wants to do that…it’s such slow progress in the beginning. It’s hard to see the end, and I understand that.”
Despite watching her daughter attempt to shed her excess weight, Bowser continues to keep her mind on the end goal. Recently divorced and living in a brand-new townhouse, Bowser is ready to tackle whatever comes her way. Everything she does is for the sake of her children.
“I think everybody has those moments, where you just think you can’t go on anymore,” Bowser said. “A lot of my inspiration was my children. When I would see them, and I didn’t think I could do anything anymore, I would just keep thinking, ‘You know, one day they’re going to grow up and they’re going to need me to be an example to them,’ and I just wanted to make sure I was around for them.”
The Journals of the Journey
Beginning in 1995 Nancy Bowser began keeping a diary of her progress as she worked to lose weight. Bowser reads selected entries from the journals in the timeline below.
About the Contributors
Senior / Print Journalism
Leah Polakoff is a senior majoring in print journalism. She is the editor-in-chief of Valley Magazine, Penn State’s life and style magazine, where she directs an 80-person staff to produce a bi-annual print magazine and daily web content. Leah has completed internships at The Patriot News/PennLive.com, The Baltimore Sun Media Group and State College Magazine.
Leah comes to Happy Valley from a small rural town in Maryland. As a fitness fanatic, Leah also teaches indoor cycling classes through Penn State Fitness. She hopes to combine her love of journalism and healthy living after college.