Lydia O’Connor, 45, has always struggled with her weight, and it started to cause life-threatening health issues over time.
“10 years ago, I was in a diabetic coma that nearly killed me," she tells TODAY.com. "It lasted nine days, and I had my last rites read to me, my funeral planned and my family called in. At the time, my daughter was 2 and a half years old."
O’Connor also has a rare lung disease that causes her body to retain fluid. She was on oxygen 24 hours a day, and after the coma, she needed to use a wheelchair for eight years.
In 2019, O’Connor weighed 600 pounds. “To step on the scale and for it to show you a 600-pound mark, it does something to you,” she says.
That year, she knew she had to make a change: “It was time. I couldn’t do this to my family anymore. I couldn’t do this to myself anymore. And I knew I had to be the one to take the first step. I couldn’t rely on anybody else but myself.”
Since then, she’s lost 300 pounds. Here’s how she’s done it.
She began with a little bit of movement
After years of being homebound in a wheelchair, O’Connor wasn’t able to exercise very much. So, she started with small steps. When she couldn’t sleep at night, she would sit on the side of her bed and shadowbox with her arms. And she pushed herself to get out of her wheelchair and walk up and down her hallway.
Over time, she was able to do more. Her lung doctor recommended physical therapy on a recumbent elliptical, and starting out, she could only do 400 steps in 20 minutes. Now, she’s on the recumbent elliptical for an hour, covering a mile. She also walks on the treadmill for one-quarter mile at a time.
She joined a gym in February 2023, and she goes there three times a week for one and a half hours minimum, and sometimes for three or four hours. A personal trainer works with her there.
Because of her health issues, O’Connor still can’t walk far without assistance. “A lot of the exercising I do is very limited,” she says. But the changes she’s been able to manage have made a huge impact.
“It’s amazing to go from being homebound to your bed to being able to go to the gym and to do things with your family. I’m able to go to church on Sundays and on Wednesday nights. I can go to the beach or the water park with my daughter and do so much that I’ve missed out on over the years,” she adds.
She changed what — and how much — she was eating
O’Connor overhauled her diet, focusing on eating lots of protein and cutting back on carbs. “It was hard in the beginning, especially when you have people around you who are big into sweets," she recalls. "They would want to pick up soda and candy bars at the convenience store."
O’Connor’s husband began to make changes with her, and she’s teaching her daughter about the importance of healthy eating.
Here are some of the diet changes she’s made:
- She doesn’t eat out as much.
- She cut out fried food and prepares food in her air fryer instead.
- She cooks a lot in her pressure cooker.
- She limits sodium.
- She watches her portion sizes. “If there are only 12 French fries in a serving, that’s what I stick with,” she says.
Here’s what she eats in a typical day:
- Breakfast: A scrambled egg or two with a piece of sausage, and possibly toast, depending on her blood sugar.
- Lunch: Leftovers from dinner, such as a baked pork chop or baked chicken.
- Dinner: A hamburger with the bottom bun only, or low-carb tortilla wraps.
- Snacks: Peanuts, pepperoni, bananas or apples.
She needs to intentionally eat carbs sometimes, if her blood sugar levels get too low. Usually, she’ll have a few grapes. She also brings Gatorade to the gym in case she needs more carbs to hold her over until she can have a small meal.
She connects with her faith and gets in-person and online support
“I couldn’t have done it without God. I’ve learned through this journey to trust a lot in my faith and rely on God. I lost that early on,” she recalls.
O’Connor also credits her husband with being by her side through her health struggles, as well as her weight-loss journey.
“He has been here with me throughout it all. There’s been so much on him as a caregiver. I depended on him for showering, going to the bathroom and helping me to the bathroom in public places. He doesn’t have to be in that role anymore, and that’s an adjustment,” she says.
She also finds support through the Start TODAY Facebook group. She came across a weight-loss success story that mentioned the group, and even though she was already 100 pounds into her journey at the time, reading about how other people were succeeding inspired her to join.
She turns to the group when she's lacking motivation: “It feels so great to know that I’m not the only one with these struggles, and to actually have people who understand and aren’t judgmental."
A post that O’Connor shared to the group about her progress had 175 comments and more than 1,000 likes.
“That was so overwhelming. I sat here and cried because I posted a picture of myself in a dress," she says. "We were going to donate it to our church’s yard sale, and my husband said, 'Babe, let’s see if it fits you, because you don’t have that many dresses.' And it fit. I was in utter shock. I went from wearing a 6 or 7X to a 2X. Seeing the transformation of myself, losing half of myself, has been a miracle and a blessing.”
Here’s how her health and her life have changed
Losing 300 pounds has made a big impact on O’Connor, and she would like to lose another 120. In addition to her weight loss, she's had these non-scale victories:
- She’s no longer confined to her bed or her home. When she needs to, she uses her roller walker or wheelchair.
- She doesn’t need oxygen all the time. She uses it when she’s sleeping and sometimes if she exercises too intensely.
- She’s taking her first-ever vacation, a cruise to Cozumel and Costa Maya in Mexico with her best friend of 30 years.
- She used to fall a lot would have to call 911 for help because she was too heavy for her husband to lift her. “They would send two fire trucks and an ambulance. It was embarrassing,” she says. Now, she’s steady on her feet.
- Her A1C (a marker for diabetes) has dropped from over 14 to 5.8.
She still faces challenges
O’Connor has seen a lot of success over the years, but she still has hurdles to overcome. For one, she has trouble seeing herself at her current weight.
“When I look at photos from one year to the next, I can see the difference in my face. But one struggle I have is that even at this weight, I still see myself at 600 pounds sometimes,” she says.
She also looks back and wishes she had been able to do more with her daughter. “I’ve lost so much with my child over the past 10 years,” she says. “It’s been an emotional journey looking back.”
And, like many people who lose a lot of weight, she’s had to deal with excess skin. In April 2023, she had plastic surgery to remove 20 pounds of skin from her stomach. “It was a hygiene and mobility issue for me — it got to where I could not walk. It was constantly in my way,” she says.
She couldn’t find any surgeons near her home in Gautier, Mississippi, who would do the surgery. They wanted her to wait until she finished losing weight. So she had to travel four or five hours to Jackson to see a plastic surgeon. Next year, she’ll have another operation to remove excess skin from her thighs.
She takes it one breath at a time
“Everybody tells me to take it one day at a time, and I’ve learned that’s not possible. ... You take it one breath at a time. A day’s too long, and if you set your goal too far, you’re not going to attain it,” she O'Connor advises.
She's used that same mindset to set weight-loss goals.
“When you sit there and think, 'I need to lose 400 pounds,' it just seems overwhelming. But if you think, ‘Let’s see if I can lose 1 pound,’ that one pound turns into 5 or 10, and the next thing you know, you’ve lost 300 pounds,” she says.