How one woman overcame rheumatoid arthritis and asthma to drop 35 pounds



Related Articles

When it comes to weight loss, half the battle is getting started and sticking with a routine through the ups and downs. And there will be ups and downs. To help keep you motivated, we found real people who are in the process of accomplishing their fitness goals.

This is Tanya Veverka. Although she wasn't exercising portion control, she ate a healthy diet. So when she decided it was time to lose weight, diet didn't pose too much of an obstacle. Unfortunately, soda did. And with her office offering free soda, it's been one of the greatest dietary obstacles she's had to overcome.

To accomplish her goals, Tanya has made adjustments to her portions and cut back dramatically on the soda she drinks. She's also become far more active. Because she has rheumatoid arthritis and asthma, she simply couldn't do high-impact workouts. Instead, she's added walking to her routine and relied on strength training and yoga moves that she can adapt to her needs and schedule. 

Before and after: Photo courtesy of Tanya Veverka

Has it worked? Well, to date, Tanya has dropped 35 pounds. She's done it by being honest with herself about how she views exercise, being more mindful of what she eats and tracking not just what she consumes but also how active she is every day. Check out how her success story can help you stay on track with your fitness goals. You can do it.


How much weight have you lost and how long has it taken you?

I've lost 35 pounds since January, mainly between January and June.


What motivated you to lose weight?

It was a combination of the new year and a weight-loss group meeting starting up at work, which made the whole thing much more convenient for me.


Did you start with diet, exercise or both?

Both. More adding exercise, but also watching what I ate as well.


How difficult was it to start a routine and stick with it?

The initial rush of enthusiasm made most changes pretty easily. Some of those changes have been relatively easy to maintain. Others have been more difficult.


Did you make changes to your diet? If so, what were they?

My diet itself wasn't unhealthy, and in that, I had an easier time than most people. I already ate mostly healthy food. I just had to eat less of it, and make a few Photo courtesy of Tanya Veverkaminor adjustments. Mainly it was tracking my food intake to be aware of what I was putting in my body. Some were small changes, like exchanging my morning glass of orange juice for an orange or other fresh fruit instead, making my own yogurt snack using plain yogurt and fruit and watching my portion sizes.


Have you given up any specific food? How challenging has that been?

I love the taste of food too much to try and deprive myself. I just enjoy what I love in limited quantities. But the toughest hurdle for me was giving up soda. They say that a sugar addiction can be as bad as many illegal drugs, and I don't disagree. It's particularly difficult because I get free soda at work, and diet soda has never appealed to me. Instead, I just cut down. I give myself permission to have one every day.


What type of exercise do you do now? How is your current routine different from what you've done in the past?

I have had rheumatoid arthritis (RA) since I was two years old. RA is an autoimmune condition that causes joint pain, stiffness, inflammation and chronic fatigue. I also have asthma. So "working out" isn't something I can do with any intensity. I can't do high-intensity anything. I can only do exercise that won't put a lot of pressure on my joints and doesn't require high amounts of energy that I don't have.


How do you stay active?

The biggest change I made was to add more walking to my day. I'd read that advice before, and I'd scoffed at it. After all, how much difference does parking a little further really make? Well, a lot. Because, once you start looking, those little bits of exercise can really add up! For example, I used to "save up" chores that involved going up and down the stairs. Now I just go up and down whenever something has to get done. I park farther away at work and walk around to the main entrance. And if a number of errands happen in the same strip mall, I walk between the stores whenever possible. I also started walking around the office after work for 15 to 30 minutes. Looking for these opportunities whenever possible can really add a lot of activity to your day!


Do you do any workout videos at home?

I found some exercise videos that really work for me. Many series like Leslie Sansone's "Walk at Home" have a few teaser videos online that you can do to see if you like them, and you can access Youtube through most Blu-ray players and other systems (such as Roku, TiVo) these days and try them out on your own. There are also quite a few basic strength training series on Youtube that I use — all I had to do was buy some exercise bands! And I learned a yoga routine for those with arthritis that I can do while I'm watching TV. I know that defeats one of the purposes of yoga, but this way I actually do it, and doing yoga with the "whole concentrating on mind body ooooom" meditation thing discouraged me.


How tough has it been to fit exercising into your schedule?

I had to find a schedule that worked for me. I'm a night owl, and that whole "get up and get your exercise in the morning" advice doesn't work for me at all. I wake up in pain, exhausted, barely able to move. People telling me to "get up a bit earlier" was one reason I never exercised. However, if I exercise at night, an hour or Photo courtesy of Tanya Veverkatwo after dinner but far enough ahead of bedtime, I can stick to my routine much more easily. 

I'm not going to lie. I don't enjoy exercise. I'm not one of those people who thinks it's fun, who gets euphoric when doing it. I find it boring and annoying. But, you know, I don't enjoy many other things that I have to do every day, like cleaning up the dishes and scooping up the cat litter. I just had to start viewing exercise like a necessary chore that has to get done, and it became easier for me to do it.


Do you keep a diary or use a fitness app, step counter or anything of the sort to track calories/activity?

I use the Weight Watchers points system to track my food (there are free alternatives available). I have both the WW activity tracker and a Jawbone Up Move. Both can be put into a clip or a wristband, making them more flexible to use.

Tracking my activity has been a huge part of this, for me. I wasn't aware, before I started, exactly how inactive I was some days, and tracking my activity really helps me motivate myself to move more.


What would you recommend to someone with a very busy schedule who is trying to get into shape again?


  • One important trick is to pay attention to what you eat and drink. People often eat unthinkingly, not noticing what they're putting in their mouths. We really enjoy those first few bites, get distracted by conversation or a book or the TV, and then we continue to eat without paying attention. If you eat without noticing the food you're eating, you're apt to eat more than you should without deriving any real enjoyment from it. And what's a lot of calories you're not really enjoying at all!
  • Weigh and measure your food. Use a calorie or points tracker to find the hidden "gotchas" in your diet.
  • Look for ways to enjoy healthier foods. For example, roasting veggies in a bit of olive oil gives flavor to a lot of vegetables that you may not have experienced if you've only ever eaten bland steamed or boiled vegetables. If you stick greens like baby spinach and kale in your smoothies in small portions, you really won't taste them (and neither will the kids) — trust me! Throw spinach or kale into your soup, or fold them into casseroles or lasagna. Substitute ground turkey and turkey sausage wherever you can. Add some vegetarian meals to your repertoire, if you haven't already done so.
  • Plan meals in advance. In fact, plan ahead whenever possible. Planning makes everything easier.
  • Get an activity tracker. Track your normal activity level for a week, and then look for opportunities to start adding more movement to your life.
  • And find an additional exercise that works for you. You don't have to view it like Weight Loss Boot Camp or something extreme. It can be 15 minutes of walking with Leslie Sansone at home, or doing some strength training or yoga. Preferably a combination of all of the above!