High school sweethearts lose 220 pounds together
PITTSBURGH, Penn. — Caroline Mickey was sure of several things. She knew she was going to marry Jon Balajthy. She knew she wanted to be a nurse. And she knew she and Balajthy were seriously overweight.
Mickey, 22, and Balajthy, 23, met in middle school band class. She played the clarinet, he the tenor saxophone.
“He got pretty overweight in the fourth grade, and I got chubby in the seventh,” Mickey recalled.
But the real weight gain began after high school. The couple started a long-distance relationship when Mickey went to Lock Haven University in their home state of Pennsylvania and Balajthy attended the University of Maryland.
“It sucked,” Mickey said. “I was lonely in college, and I missed him. So there was a lot of emotional eating.”
Having a college meal plan also didn’t help. Mickey feasted on buffet-style meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner. “It was very much a serve-yourself pasta bar, make-your-own pizza dining hall, and breakfasts were always make-your-own waffles, topped off with everything terrible.”
At his campus, Balajthy also developed bad eating habits such as finishing off a box of Entenmann’s pastries in one sitting. He periodically ate calorie-dense dishes such as his favorite meal: pasta with vodka sauce.
“I was on track to some serious health issues,” Balajthy said. “First, being heavy takes a toll on your body. My back always hurt, and I couldn’t do much because I was always hurting. It doesn’t take much to get diabetes and heart disease.”
From freshman year to the end of college, Mickey’s pant size stretched from a size 12 to 18, her largest fit. At graduation, she weighed 235 pounds, standing at 5 feet 7 inches; Balajthy was 325 pounds at 5 feet 8 inches.
The couple got a place together shortly after graduation. They didn’t fully acknowledge how big they had gotten, but their families started giving them subtle hints to lose weight.
“Weight is a touchy subject to address,” Mickey said. “Jon’s mom sent him a care package with an exercise ball in it. She didn’t tell me to lose weight because I am not her daughter, but I know she wanted me to be healthy.”
Once Mickey enrolled in nursing school at Marymount University in Arlington, Virginia, she couldn’t ignore their weight any longer, especially after learning about diabetes, heart disease and obesity the first semester.
She practiced measuring blood pressure at home and tested Balajthy, only to discover he had hypertension.
That’s when the eating out, snack foods and indulgent meals stopped, and the couple of eight years seriously looked into getting fit.
Mickey dumped all the calorie-rich food in their kitchen in a trash bag. “I threw out the full-fat ice cream, chips, cookies, just everything in the house. Even the old Halloween candy,” she said.
Deciding to work out together, the two went jogging for one mile around a lake near their home. “We were so out of shape at first that we usually had to walk around it,” Mickey recalled.
But the exhaustion only inspired them to stick with their goals. They enrolled at Planet Fitness, a gym near home. For the first three months, all they did was cardio, exercising on machines such as the elliptical and treadmill for half an hour. They also started calorie counting.
In the first month, Mickey dropped 10 pounds — an instant boost of confidence.
“I never tried to run or go to the gym until we started losing weight together,” she said.
Balajthy agreed. “It’s amazing how easy it was after we started. I realized I liked going to the gym, and there was never a time that I thought, ‘I’m having a miserable time.’ ”
Within three months, the duo had lost enough weight to make a big impression at a family reunion in Pennsylvania. Some relatives hadn’t seen them since college graduation.
“We didn’t tell anyone that we started to work out,” Mickey said. “So the reactions were intense and funny because we saw our family with 50 pounds less on us.”
For the first time, Mickey dared to wear a bikini. “Even when I was little I had to wear tankinis,” she said. Now people called her the “ever-shrinking woman.”
After eight months, Mickey and Balajthy are down to 145 and 195 pounds, respectively. Their workouts have changed, too; they do 30 minutes of cardio and 30 minutes of weight training four to five times a week. They’re working on toning up and being active, which means fitness doesn’t stop at the gym.
Balajthy bikes to the University of Maryland, where he is a doctoral candidate in physics. The couple take their dog on runs or play tennis in the evenings. On the weekends, they go on hiking trips, excursions Mickey always dreamed of doing when she was heavier. Now they’re hiking 20 miles while carrying 40-pound packs.
Staying active has been a plus for Balajthy, who said he’s always been a boredom eater. “I would watch TV with a bag of chips and finish it off.”
There are no chips at home anymore. Besides counting calories, the pair started cooking more. Their dinners usually consist of skinless chicken breasts or fish with a veggie side such as broccoli or green beans and a salad.
“We even use yogurt dressing and don’t have a lot of carbohydrates for dinner,” Mickey said. “Jon’s mother used to serve dinner rolls, but we don’t eat bread and butter anymore because there are a million little things you can do to keep the weight off.”
They enjoy eating out though and occasionally treat themselves to Thai, a favorite for Balajthy.
In the end, the couple said there were no hidden secrets to losing weight. “If you just go outside and do little things, like exercise and eating healthy, it works,” Mickey said.
But they said the key was working out together.
“Working out with Caroline has kept me on track. I wasn’t driven to lose weight and didn’t think I could,” Balajthy said.
Now they are happy with their weight, Mickey said she is looking forward to trying on wedding dresses and starting their life together as a married couple.
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