One town. One woman. Both located in one of the nation's fattest and poorest states. In an exclusive interview, Linda Fondren told us how she succeeded in helping the citizens of that town lose 15,000 pounds in 17 weeks. She's documented the journey in "Shape Up Sisters!: What It Took for My Town in One of America's Fattest and Poorest States to Lose 15,000 Pounds."
"After having transformed my life from poverty and disempowerment to success, I went back to my hometown of Vicksburg, Mississippi. It was after the death of my sister that I discovered my true passion," recalls Linda.
"My sister was obese when she passed away from cancer at the age of 54. Cancer took her life, but obesity restricted her from living it. Before she died, she confessed to me that she wished she had lived her life more for herself," added Linda.
To help others live their lives to the fullest, Linda opened a gym called "Shape Up Sisters." Its slogan: "Positively Reshaping Women." The gym was designed specifically "for women like my sister, who suffer low self esteem, and because no woman should take to her grave the regret my sister took to hers."
Linda's Shape Up Vicksburg organization involved several steps:
- Our first step with Shape Up Vicksburg was to share accountability with the community -to build awareness and educate people about healthy living from the ground up - get people moving who otherwise felt stuck.
- Through our outreach, we've created partnerships with elected officials, hospitals, schools, and our Military Park. We've seen notable commitments from parents, business leaders and churches through encouraging weight management activities, joining our walking club and community support for a farmer's market and community garden.
- Our goal is to help recreate the "norm" of what healthy living looks like.
And Vicksburg is symptomatic of many other towns across the nation.
Twenty years ago no state had an obesity rate above 15%. Now there are thirteen states that have obesity rates over 30% and 41 states have rates above 25%. Obesity is a widespread issue and stems from a lack of physical activity and poor nutrition. Cost, conveniences, competing requirements and habits are factors that affect how healthy we are no matter what city you live in. We know what the problems are, and we have got to break the habits that we have formed.
No time or money? Take responsibility for overcoming obstacles, says Linda.
"We have a responsibility to be honest with ourselves about why this is so. Being honest about what we've been up to is the first step to know what actions we need to take to overcome our perceived limitations. If you don't make time to be healthy, you'd better schedule in time to be sick. You must make your health a priority and schedule it in like you do everything else in your life that is important."
For those who are overweight, "money or time likely has little to do with it. It is the result of choices you've made year after year. Don't get locked in the illusion of not having time. Practice letting go of the clock and just do what is at hand at this very moment, and a magical thing will happen - There will be more time and you will feel less confusion. The goal is to grow past where you are. In my book I've included many tips on how to squeeze a workout into your day, and how to shop for healthy foods at the grocery store on a limited budget."
And the organization goes beyond numbers on a scale, she adds.
Shape Up Vicksburg is no longer about numbers on a scale. It's about turning skepticism into motivation, citizens encouraging each other. It is about a community-wide movement to weave fitness and healthy eating into our culture. The weight lost among the 2,500 participants at the time of the Shape Up Vicksburg challenge amounted to 15,000 pounds. By writing Shape Up Sisters my hope is that this kind of transformation will spread to other communities across the country.