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'I wanted to feel OK': Woman loses 85 pounds, cuts rheumatoid arthritis flares

TODAY logo TODAY 10/18/2021 Meghan Holohan

In late 2016, Jenn Langerfeld felt stressed and sluggish. Her father had his leg amputated because of diabetes and then she became sick with pneumonia. But she was in so much pain that she couldn’t get out of bed, which seemed odd. Soon after she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and learned a flare up caused her pain.

“I was depressed and sad and all the things so that permeated into more weight gain. Life took over, with extenuating circumstances,” the 42-year-old from Pelham, New York, told TODAY. “I had a lot of things going on.”

Having two autoimmune disorders made Jenn Langerfeld feel exhausted and in pain very often. She wondered if she lost weight if she might feel better and started by changing her diet. (Courtesy Monique Berarducci) © Courtesy Monique Berarducci Having two autoimmune disorders made Jenn Langerfeld feel exhausted and in pain very often. She wondered if she lost weight if she might feel better and started by changing her diet. (Courtesy Monique Berarducci)

When she was 7 she was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s syndrome, a type of hypothyroidism. Growing up, she ate very little sugar, junk or fast foods to help maintain a healthy weight. When she was pregnant she gained weight and lost some of it. But wasn't sure how much she actually weighed. The family didn't own a scale. In 2019, she bought a scale and was surprised by what she saw.

“I was 203 pounds. I broke down,” she said. “It was a wake-up call.”

A few months earlier, Langerfeld’s father sought guidance from a nutritionist for a low-glycemic diet to better control his diabetes. She wondered if that could work for her. She stopped eating red meat, flour, sugar and alcohol.

“I used it,” she said. “From September 2019 to Decenter 2019, I lost almost 40 pounds.”

After reducing alcohol, red meat, white flour and sugar from her diet, Jenn Langerfeld started going to the gym and lifting weights. That helped her to lose weight and reduce some of the symptoms of her autoimmune disorders. (Courtesy Jenn Langerfeld) © Courtesy Jenn Langerfeld After reducing alcohol, red meat, white flour and sugar from her diet, Jenn Langerfeld started going to the gym and lifting weights. That helped her to lose weight and reduce some of the symptoms of her autoimmune disorders. (Courtesy Jenn Langerfeld)

While Langerfeld had always been active and a member of a running club, she mostly enjoyed it for socialization, not the workout.

“I did it more for my mental (health) to have an outlet, to be a part of something,” she said.

But in 2019, she joined a gym and started lifting weights, which in part helped her lose some weight.

“I never really did it before to this extent,” she said. “That really helped me.”

Right before the pandemic hit, she knew she wanted to continue to improve her strength and fitness so she hired a personal trainer. They continued their sessions on Zoom during lockdown.

“He was my mentor at that point,” Langerfeld said. “I wound up losing another 20 pounds.”

During the pandemic, Jenn Langerfeld decided to train for a half-marathon. She's now planning to run the full New York City Marathon. (Courtesy Jenn Langerfeld) © Courtesy Jenn Langerfeld During the pandemic, Jenn Langerfeld decided to train for a half-marathon. She's now planning to run the full New York City Marathon. (Courtesy Jenn Langerfeld)

By June 2020, she had lost 60 pounds.

“I felt amazing,” she said. “I was really committed to feeling better. At that point, it was a bonus to be losing weight. But I wanted to not be in pain. I wanted to feel OK working out and not fatigued.”


Video: How one woman lost over 200 pounds in 15 months (TODAY)

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In September she worked with a nutritionist to change how she ate again. She still eats a low-glycemic diet and enjoys lots of fruits, vegetables, fish, chicken and some red meat. While she still tries to avoid white flour and sugar, she has a piece of cake or a cookie on special occasions “because there’s always going to be celebrations.”

“That nutritionist worked with me to fuel my performance,” Langerfeld said. “I’m in the mindset that I’m like an athlete. It’s a totally different ballgame. Now you’re eating to lift the weights and run the miles.”

Since she started, she has lost about 85 pounds and she feels satisfied with her loss. What’s more, she reduced the flare ups of her RA.

“You have to not eat things that are going to cause inflammation and these are all things that matter in terms of having an autoimmune disorder,” she said. “I do wholeheartedly believe that nutrition is No. 1 and then your workouts will basically complement that.”

Running and weight lifting along with healthy eating habits helped Jenn Langerfeld lose almost 85 pounds. (Courtesy Jenn Langerfeld) © Courtesy Jenn Langerfeld Running and weight lifting along with healthy eating habits helped Jenn Langerfeld lose almost 85 pounds. (Courtesy Jenn Langerfeld)

During the pandemic, she often pushed herself in new ways, such as running a half-marathon.

“I never ran more than like 6 to 8 miles in my life. I said, ‘Let me try to do this,’” she said. “I trained for a half-marathon. But I looked at that in small bits.”

That meant she started slowly, building up her endurance, and taking every day at a time. If she had a bad day, she tried to forget about it and start again the next day. Recently, a friend reached out and asked her if she would run the New York City Marathon to raise money for the Silver Shield Foundation, which provides educational support for children of police officers and firefighters killed in the line of duty. She couldn’t say no.

“I feel pretty good about it. I’m scared. I’m nervous. I have all the emotions. I don’t know what to expect,” she said. “But I’m as prepared and ready as I’ll ever be.”

Changing her diet and exercise habits helped Jenn Langerfeld lose weight. But it also reduced her rheumatoid arthritis flares, which has transformed her life. (Courtesy Jenn Langerfeld) © Courtesy Jenn Langerfeld Changing her diet and exercise habits helped Jenn Langerfeld lose weight. But it also reduced her rheumatoid arthritis flares, which has transformed her life. (Courtesy Jenn Langerfeld)

Feeling stronger and healthier has greatly improved Langerfeld’s life.

“Your age is not your defining moment. You can do anything you put your heart to,” she said. “Your body’s amazing. If you take care of your body it could do anything.”

She shares advice for others hoping to adopt healthier habits.

1. Find ‘someone to believe in you.'

Having support helped Langerfeld succeed at her goals.

“I wanted some hand holding, but I also needed the tough love — and someone to believe in you,” she said. “We need one person to just believe in you to say, ‘You can do this. You’ve got this. You’re good. Keep going.’”

2. There will be bad days.

“You’re going to have bad days and you’re going to have amazing days. But you have to take those bad days in stride and say, ‘You know what? Tomorrow is going to be better,’” she said. “When you have those amazing days, you really can reflect on … the days that you felt lousy and didn’t want to get up.”

3. Self-care is important.

Getting enough sleep, drinking enough water and eating healthy foods boosts Langerfeld’s performance and helps her feel better. And she also discovered that recovery takes a little longer. But investing in these behaviors makes a huge difference in how she feels.

When Jenn Langerfeld had a bad day, she'd just start the next day fresh. That mentality helped her lose 85 pounds and reduce her rheumatoid arthritis flares. (Courtesy Jenn Langerfeld) © Courtesy Jenn Langerfeld When Jenn Langerfeld had a bad day, she'd just start the next day fresh. That mentality helped her lose 85 pounds and reduce her rheumatoid arthritis flares. (Courtesy Jenn Langerfeld)

“I need to recover more now that I’m older, like go get a massage, take a rest,” she said. “Things I probably would have never done 20 years ago.”

CORRECTION (Oct. 18, 2021, 5:35 p.m.): An earlier version of this article misstated the identification of Langerfeld's trainer. The trainer is a he, not a she.

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