Shaping up Shelby, an occasional series: A weight-loss inspiration

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Meet Mary Ellen Hulker. She has lost nearly 150 pounds, and she isn’t finished yet. Here’s how she did it.

By Lisa King

Mary Ellen Hulker is not the woman she once was.


And she’s glad.

Hulker, 37, a mother of two, has lost half her body weight within a year’s time, shrinking from 317 pounds to 168.

Her goal is to get to 130.

Hulker underwent a lap-band procedure in December 2010, and she says she still marvels at the way her life has changed in just one short year.

“I run a mile at five a.m., and I go Curves every morning, then at lunch I walk a mile or two,” she said. “Before, I couldn’t even dream about running or exercising. If somebody had told me a year ago that I would be running a mile at five a.m. in the morning, I would have laughed.”

Obesity – particularly among young people – is a significant problem in Kentucky, which has been judged by the Centers for Disease Control to be the fifth-most-overweight state in the country.

Hulker is simply a positive example of how lives can be changed and long-term health established – the sort that can trickle through generations and changes a culture.

Hulker, who lives near Graefenburg and works as a scheduler and a medical assistant at Jewish Physicians Group in Eminence, said the change agent n her life was a surgical procedure in which a rubber band is attached to the top of the stomach, and as the person loses weight, that band is tightened after 6 weeks.

She said she would highly recommend this procedure to very overweight people, but it is not available for everyone. A patient has to meet certain criteria to be considered.

“You must have a BMI [body mass index, a height-to-weight ratio] of at least forty to qualify; mine was fifty-five,” she said.

Hulker said that losing the weight was a physically liberating experience.

“Before I had this surgery, I had no life,” she said. “My children, Dylan and Leah, are 17 and 13, and I didn’t feel like doing anything with them. I couldn’t play with them.

“When I took them to amusement parks, I couldn’t ride any of the rides with them because I couldn’t fit into the seats.”

Being obese was not only difficult to handle physically but emotionally as well, Hulker said.

“People that big experience a lot of emotional distress, too,” she said. “People are so judgmental toward overweight people. They can be very rude.”


Getting her attention

Hulker was at her mother’s bedside when she died a few years ago at a young age because of complications from diabetes and other weigh-related issues.

“She had renal failure, high blood pressure, diabetes, you name it, and I was going right down that same path,” she said. “And I didn’t want my kids to have to go through that.”

Hulker, who was heavy as a child and has struggled with her weight all her life, tried diet after diet and experienced small successes but would always end up gaining the weight back – and then some.

“I literally tried everything, diet pills, Weight Watchers, you name it, I tried it, but nothing worked,” she said. “And I really didn’t eat all that much either. I think part of it was it was just hereditary.”

Her mother’s death shook her up so much that she started thinking of more drastic weight loss measures that she had not considered, Hulker said.
“After my mother died, I was pre-diabetic and had high blood pressure and high cholesterol, and I just decided I wasn’t going to live that way anymore,” she said.

So said she started doing some research on various weight-loss surgeries, and settled on the lap band, which involved a 6-month regiment of diet-related prerequisites before she could even be considered for the surgery.

“That’s because you have to show that you really are serious,” she said.

After the weight started coming off, Hulker said she began to exercise, which was very difficult at first.

“I thought, ‘I just can’t do this,’” she said.

But she persevered.

“Losing a hundred and fifty pounds has changed my life so significantly,” she said. “It not just huge accomplishments like running and working out, but I enjoy all the little things that other people of normal weight take for granted, too.

“Like I can actually cross my legs and bend down and tie my shoes, and I can even see my feet,” she said, laughing.

Now, with a body mass index of 29 and only 30 pounds or so from her goal weight and wearing a size 10, she reflects on how far she has come from wearing a tight size 28.

“It’s just a year later, and here I am,” she said, with a touch of awe creeping into her voice.


A new mom

She said she took her kids to an amusement park before school started in August.

“I  rode my first roller-coaster ride, and we ran around laughing, and we just had so much fun,” she said. “Now, my kids run with me in the morning, and it’s just awesome to them that I can do things with them now.”

Leah Hulker, an eighth-grader at Shelby County High School, where her brother, Dylan, is a junior, said she is so glad that her mother has turned her life around.

“It’s great to have a mom that is fun and can do things with us,” she said. “I am glad she has lost all this weight. I know it is better for her health,” she said.

Dylan Hulker said his mom has been an inspiration to him.

“She’s a very hard worker no matter what  ever happened. She has never given up,” he said. “She has taught me and Leah to never give up on something we believe in. She works very hard and is a very strong woman. “


Hulker’s before and after


§       Weight: 315 pounds

§       Height: 5 feet, 3 inches tall

§       Dress size: 28

§       Body Mass Index: 55


§       Weight: 168 pounds

§       Height: 5 feet, 3 inches

§       Dress size. 10

§       Body Mass Index. 29


Obese states

According to the most recent statistics complied by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2010, one-third of the adult population of the United States (33.8 percent) was obese. Also, 17 percent (12.5 million) of U.S. children ages 2 to 19 were obese.

The CDC reports that in 2010, no state had an obesity rate of less than 20 percent. Further, 36 states had a rate of 25 percent or higher. Kentucky, at 31.3 percent, has one of the highest obesity rates in the United States.

The Top 10

1. Mississippi (34)

2. West Virginia (32.5)

3. Alabama (32.2)

4. South Carolina (31.5)

5. Kentucky (31.3)

6. Louisiana (31.0)

(tie)Texas (31.0)

8. Michigan (30.9)

9. Tennessee (30.8)

10. Missouri (30.5)