Determined not to fail, retired teacher loses 250 pounds

(CNN) – There are workout horror stories and then there’s Kathleen Riser, who was mocked by the most unlikely of sources: a fitness trainer at the gym.

“There’s another one who will break our equipment,” she overheard one trainer say 2½ years ago, pointing at her 350-plus pound frame.

It was only a confirmation of her fears. Riser had spent years avoiding fitness establishments out of embarrassment.

“I hadn’t been to a gym since I was in college, and every time I try to get enrolled I would feel uncomfortable,” she said. “I would feel like people were watching.”

People now point to Riser as an inspiration. The 54-year-old has lost 200 pounds.

“When I first started this journey two and a half years ago, I was desperate. … I actually thought this was the end of my life,” she wrote in her CNN iReport.

“I was determined not to die like this.”

A downward spiral

Riser has dedicated her professional career to others.

As a middle school teacher, she helped children enter her classroom and leave as knowledgeable, well-rounded teenagers. After school, Riser spent long hours as a band director, including nights and weekends traveling to competitions.

Unfortunately, the teacher, who is now retired, was unable to apply the same dedication toward her personal life.

“Every morning it was a McDonald’s sausage biscuit or fast-food breakfast,” she said. “I ate a lot of French fries, and a bunch of white bread.

“Really I was just a constant eater.”

At 5 feet 4 inches tall, Riser realized her weight was destroying her knees. She needed four surgeries, and each seemed to take a bigger toll on her body than the last.

She knew she was robbing herself of a productive life.

“It was hard for me to stand up without rocking or without leaning or something,” she said. “I couldn’t fly without getting a (seat-belt) extension for myself. And all those little things, like not being able to go on amusement park rides, were starting to get to me.”

The breaking point: Riser struggled to climb the stairs to get to her school classroom.

She estimates her peak weight was 383 pounds.

“I was on a one-way street to dying.”

Riser decided to find a judgment-free gym, change her eating habits and give healthy living another shot. Thanks to a tough-loving accountability group, her personal trainer Shaun Lloyd and her own dedication, Riser has achieved what she calls her goal: proving that middle-aged women can lose weight.

“People say that when you get older, it’s harder to lose weight,” she said. “Or that I was always going to be large. It became one of my inspirations to prove people wrong.”

Lloyd credit’s Riser’s success to one simple fact: “She just doesn’t take no for an answer.”

The transformation

Lloyd knew he would have to gain Riser’s trust after she was scarred by the hurtful comments about her weight. But that was not especially difficult: Riser just needed someone to listen.

“She was a stress eater,” Lloyd said. “Things that were heavy on her heart translated to things that were heavy on the plate. I wanted to give her different avenues that could help her heart process.”

And so began the mental transformation, unlocking Riser’s determination and belief that she could lose weight.

Riser began to plan her meals with Lloyd: a supplement shake for breakfast, lean protein and veggies for lunch and the same for dinner. Snacks of junk food were replaced with raw almonds or hummus. And Riser completely eliminated processed foods, white flours, sodas and sweets from her diet.

Instantly, she began to see results.

“The treadmill was going at one of the slowest speeds, and I lost three pounds,” she said. “I knew if I could get myself moving, it was possible.”

Two years later, Riser is still moving, and the weight has continued to fall off. She’s exchanged her 42W clothing for size 18. Riser now weighs under 180 pounds and expects to hit her target weight by the end of the year.

She works out six days a week and plans healthy meals for herself and her parents — sometimes cooking a week’s worth of meals in one day.

“I believe in myself again,” she said. “Yes, there are of course days I get discouraged, but that is why it is so important to have someone around to help hold you accountable and love you.”

Riser’s parents are both fighting serious diseases. She said she believes her transformation has been critical in allowing her to be a good caregiver.

“My father has cancer, and my mother has dementia,” she said. “And now I have the energy and strength to help my father get up and down. That’s definitely been important.”

Riser credits her family, friends and personal trainers for helping spur her lifestyle changes.

“They saved my life,” she said.

Filed in: News

Suggest a correction


  • Garth

    Someone, please help me understand why people get so overweight, and what we can do to help them. My wife says they must have deep emotional issues possibly even from childhood, issues that won’t be resolved with a suggestion or encouraging word here and there. We have so many friends in this very overweight situation, or on such a collision course, or they’re letting their kids get that way, and it seems like there is no way to say anything. You try to help, yet it only offends them and possibly makes them eat all the more out of frustration or whatever. I know I could look like that myself; but I’m alarmed when I’m even five pounds above my ideal weight, not 50, let alone more. I’m a 6′ tall man in my 50’s, and weigh 170 pounds. If I slack off on the bike-riding, the unwanted stuff very quickly starts piling on around the middle.

    • David

      You’re right, Garth, there is nothing you could say. There are people who are like the successful trainer in the story, who are truly able not to judge and to help, just as gamblers and alcoholics are helped by determined, compassionate counselors. But for you to volunteer help would have the same result as if I said you sound like a judgmental, condescending type who could use some empathy: you are going to react emotionally when your flaws are pointed out. Only if you wanted help with your problem and were ready to reach out for it, could you change your views.

      • Garth

        Sadly, I’m sure you’re right, and we have friends killing themselves, or at least living a very poor quality of life, and it is frustrating to not be able to help them out of it. Two of them have not even been awakened by their heart attacks at very young ages. We have seen some lose the 250 pounds but then put it back on, because the mentality that got it there in the first place was not delt with. Another one couldn’t stop eating entire bowls of Cool-Whip at a time, so she got the surgery that makes your stomach too small to hold much. Many others have sold their health for career, ie, the income made from long work hours and heavy responsibility are more important to them than their health.


    There are many different reasons why people gain weight. It could be a medical issue or even medicine causing the gain. This, in turn, causes one to become self-conscious, which leads to depression and consoling themselves with food…which leads to weight gain. We honestly need more things in this world that make us feel good and stay happy to eliminate this issue. So many things in life nowdays are so troublesome, you can probably expect to see lots more of this unfortunately…

Comments are closed.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 5,007 other followers