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A New Lifestyle on the Farm

Tami Nelson slides through a small gap between the barn and fence to stroke the head of her favorite “pet” cow.

“Before, I never could do this,” says the slim 50-year-old Ruthton, Minn. woman, slipping through the small space with ease. “I can climb over the fence so easily. It’s so different, it’s unreal.”

She reaches behind the fence to rub the head of “Mini,” a massive Holstein cow that she has raised as a pet since giving it round-the-clock care as a prematurely born calf.

Living on a dairy farm, where the days start with milking before sunrise, Tami has put in a full day’s work before even sitting down for lunch.

Just a few years ago, as she struggled with a weight that reached 272 pounds, her mornings were miserable. She was exhausted as she struggled to keep up with the highly physical demands of her chores. Dairy farming required walking up and down steep steps in the milking parlor, climbing into haylofts and bending her body to feed tiny newborn calves.

Life on the farm

Tami, who also works as a certified public accountant, married into a farming family that goes back at least five generations. She and her husband and son work together to run an operation that includes milking 60 cows daily and farming 400 acres of corn, alfalfa and beans.

Although she did her best to help her husband run the dairy operation, her weight made it difficult to do the basic things that needed to be done. She’d be out of breath just walking across the farmyard and dreaded having to squeeze into tight spaces every morning during milking or to climb a ladder to the upper level of the barn.

“I’d tried everything there was to try to lose the weight,” Tami says. “I did Weight Watchers, support groups, anything magic, but with everything it always came right back.”

Tami had gone to some seminars at Sanford on weight loss surgery, but she was worried that once again it would be only a temporary fix. She continued to live with the situation until 2006, when her doctor told her that her cholesterol levels were dangerously high and she’d need to start taking prescription medicine.

“My doctor wanted to put me on pills for the cholesterol and I said, ‘no way,’” Tami says emphatically. “I knew it was time for something else.”

Opting for surgery

On August 31, 2006, Tami went to Sanford for the laparoscopic adjustable gastric banding, also known as lap band surgery. The procedure, which is one of the least invasive bariatric surgery methods, involves the surgeon placing an adjustable band around the upper or top part of the stomach. The band divides the stomach into two portions – one small and one larger portion, which helps most patients feel full faster and eat less.

Quite quickly after the surgery, Tami found herself dropping weight. She went from eating a “super sized” fast-food lunch of French fries and a hamburger to healthier small meals, with more chicken, fish and vegetables. She was shocked to discover how much more energy she had during her three-hour milking sessions in the morning.

Gradually, over the past five years, Tami has lost a total of 90 pounds. She’s had her lap band adjusted several times over the years, but generally finds that by keeping to a healthy diet and plenty of exercise she can keep on track.

A new lifestyle

As Tami lost weight and felt better, she started running -- at first, just across the yard, moving her way up to ridge poles a mile away. Today, she runs a whole four-mile section in good weather and even has run a 10K race. She and her son Jacob are now even training for their first half marathon. Year round, as soon as her chores are completed in the morning, she hits her inside gym, doing strength training and a circuit workout that was designed for her by a personal trainer.

“Everybody knows that it’s just time I need to take,” Tami says. “I love the adrenaline from running. I never would have believed that I could do this.”

When her family vacationed in Brainerd, Minn., last year, they rented a four-seater bicycle and took turns riding the family around bike trails for a whole hour. Just a few years ago, she wouldn’t have dreamed of taking the vacation, much less pulling her husband behind her on a bicycle.

Walking along the fence line, pitching hay to a row of hungry cows, Tami says she loves her new lifestyle and knows that she no longer needs to fear gaining back her weight. In fact, she’s hoping to continue her progress, maybe gradually dropping another 10 pounds or so.

“I can now say that I’m a success story,” says Tami. “It’s not a miracle, and it’s not easy, but I’ve done it and the weight loss is going to stay.”

Posted Date: April 2011