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A few years ago, Hannah Pewitt of Elkton was a loser, and today that makes her a winner in one of the oldest fights on record—the battle of the bulge.

Pewitt once tipped the scales at just over 286 pounds. For the past four years, she has maintained her goal weight of 175-180 pounds, ideal for her tall, 5’10” athletic frame.

Her story is that of many Kentuckians’. Raised in a family with eight children, Pewitt learned quickly to grab large portions as the bowl was passed because there wouldn’t be a second chance. When she took too much, she also ate too much, because this was the “clean-your-plate” era.

The food was Southern country, the rich, stick-to-your ribs and hips comfort food that chef and TV food celebrity Paula Deen has made more famous even today. Start with a stick of butter. Pass the beans and potatoes. Sweet tea. Fried chicken. Fried everything. Season it all with meat grease. Finish with homemade pie. Don’t forget the biscuits.

By seventh grade, Pewitt weighed 186 pounds. Basketball helped the teenager keep her weight from skyrocketing, but that ended with high school. Her weight crept up as Pewitt married and started a household. Then came a wonderful surprise—twins.

Somewhere amidst the happy, exhausting chaos in raising a family, food became a comfort and a friend. The young mother turned to food when she was frustrated or tired, celebrated with food when she was happy.

“Sick and tired of being sick and tired,” Pewitt says she went on every diet imaginable from her high school years on. “I lost 60 pounds on the tuna fish diet in high school,” she recalls. “The kids made fun of me because I stunk, but it worked. Of course, I gained it all back. That diet didn’t teach me anything.”

Any number of diets later, in 2002 Pewitt discovered Weight Watchers.

“It’s not so much about food,” says Pewitt of the program. “They teach you things about yourself, like why you eat when you’re not hungry.”

In two years and four months, Pewitt went from a size 24 to size 12. She lost 105 pounds on Weight Watchers, and 114 pounds total.

But she still craved country cooking. Pewitt began experimenting with recipes, substituting healthier ingredients for their artery-clogging and calorie-dense counterparts. “Sometimes it would take 10 recipes to get one right,” she recalls.

Ultimately, her experiments resulted in a cookbook, The Lighter Side of Southern Cooking, that provides recipes that taste like the food Kentuckians love without setting off health alarms. (Go to to find out more.) For example, Pewitt figured out a way to make strawberry pie that would rival a well-known restaurant chain’s, yet hers has no sugar.

Deprivation doesn’t have to be part of healthy living, Pewitt insists.

“For breakfast I usually have two egg whites fried in Pam butter spray, two pieces of toast (Nature’s Own Double Fiber), some sugar-free Amish jelly, and I always have a Weight Watchers yogurt,” she says. “I have fruit for a snack and a reasonable lunch, usually a very big salad with cottage cheese, grapes, and sunflower seeds (which contain healthy fat). I can even eat a McDonald’s salad—I love the Southwestern chicken salad with the low-fat dressing.”

For her evening meal, Pewitt will have meat such as a pork chop, with a baked potato and boiled squash or corn on the cob and green beans. She rewards herself for eating well that day with a snack before bed such as fat-free ice cream. Her favorite is Breyer’s Fat-Free French Chocolate Double Churn.

“I’m not deprived of anything,” she notes. “I eat very well.”

Pewitt also eats smart. She makes lower-fat substitutions for some of her favorites. For example, Pewitt went from full-fat salad dressing to a light version and then to a fat-free dressing. She figured out that sugar was the missing ingredient in the taste of the fat-free dressing. Now she eats fat-free dressing with a packet of Splenda mixed in. “It tastes just like regular salad dressing,” she says.

When a craving for chocolate hits, she chooses 3 Musketeers rather than a Snickers candy bar. She selects fat-free Pringles and Doritos Light chips when the munchies strike. White bread is replaced with high-fiber wheat bread, 4 percent milk-fat cottage cheese with lower-fat cottage cheese.

Nutritional experts applaud many of Pewitt’s suggestions and offer some additional ones.

Wendy Carlin, a program coordinator in the Wellness and Health Promotion branch of the Kentucky Department of Health, recommends beginning by changing what you drink.

“You can get a huge number of calories in what you drink, and it doesn’t take care of hunger,” Carlin says. “Look for calorie-free beverages. If you drink soda, choose diet. Beware of fruit juice, which has a lot of calories. Most people just need plain water. A lot of people can lose weight initially by just changing what they drink.”

Carlin also encourages people to start paying attention to when they are eating for some reason other than hunger—boredom, habit, because others are eating, etc.

“Pay attention to how your body feels when you eat certain foods,” she says. “Which foods make you feel better? Do you always have heartburn if you go to bed after eating? Does your day go differently if you eat breakfast versus grabbing a donut? Do you feel better or worse if you eat out in a restaurant or eat a meal you fix at home?”

Most importantly, don’t yell at yourself.

“If yelling at ourselves made us skinny, we’d all be skinny,” says Carlin. “The more you yell at yourself, the more you are going to eat. Just start to notice it. Ask yourself, am I physically hungry? If not, why do I want to eat right now?”

Carbohydrates can be a cause of this confusion, particularly for women, she says.

“We like carbohydrates,” Carlin says of women, “but carbs don’t regulate our hunger very well. It’s hard to tell if we are really full. Women need to include a protein source every time they eat—meat, fish, seafood, eggs, peanut butter, or nuts. Protein helps you define your hunger more clearly.”

One of the biggest mistakes most of us make when trying to lose weight is not to eat enough, Carlin says. Instead, we should eat early and eat often.

“Eat within one hour of getting up,” she says. “It really does increase your metabolism and prevents snacking on whatever is available. Also, small, frequent meals are best. If you go from hunger to starving, you won’t care what you eat. The increased frequency also helps keep the metabolism going.”

The other secret is no secret: you must get some physical activity. But Carlin has a different approach.

“Forget about the shoulds when it comes to exercise,” she says. “Find something you are willing to do, is fun for you, and provides stress relief. Instead of centering social events on food, incorporate physical activity. Walking works. So do bowling, ice skating, and swimming. It really doesn’t matter. For men, team sports work well, as well as activities like noncompetitive hiking and bicycling.” (Go online to for links to bicycling groups around the state.)

“Don’t make too many rules about it. That ruins the whole thing. Just have fun. Make it enjoyable so you want to do it.”

Carlin also has a suggestion for children that we should all embrace.

“Teach kids to base their self-worth on their qualities as a human being rather than their appearance,” she suggests. “Are they a good friend? Smart? Honest? Loyal? Emphasize those qualities.”

If you are really serious about losing weight and have tried many of these suggestions, start journaling, Carlin suggests.

“Look at how often you eat because you are hungry or for other reasons. You want to get to the feelings behind eating. You are going to have to delve. If you find out most of your eating is not about hunger, you are going to have to get in touch with your feelings however you might choose to do that.”

Back at the Pewitt household, Hannah is not the only one who eats healthier. Husband, Joe, has lost 40 pounds. Twins Austin and Adrianna (Westerman), now 13, were 7 years old when Pewitt changed her eating. Today, she buys very little different for them except for the occasional frozen pizza. “They don’t say a word because the food tastes good,” says Pewitt.

It’s hard to decide which benefit of their new eating habits is the best, but Pewitt sums up the difference for many who are able to win this complex, ongoing battle of the bulge.

“I feel so much different,” she says. “I have so much energy, am excited about life, and firmly believe that I can accomplish anything I set my mind to. I am much more confident about myself and more at peace with myself than I have ever been in my life.”


• Get your five fruits and vegetables in every day. If you do this, you’ll be snacking on healthy, low-calorie fruits and vegetables rather than calorie-laden snack foods. (You’ll also get some of the approximately 64 ounces of water you need every day.)

• Never skip breakfast. It jump-starts your body in the morning. And don’t forget the protein at breakfast. (She likes eggs and egg whites.)

• Make small changes you can live with. “We set ourselves up for failure,” she says, “because we try to do it all at once. We want to do it all right now, but we are not going to meet the expectations we are setting for ourselves. For example, I went from 2 percent milk to skim milk, but I didn’t do it overnight. I went to 1 percent first and stayed there a long time. Take small steps.”

• Mix high fat with low fat. “If you have a high-fat meat such as steak, combine it with low-fat or no-fat vegetables,” she says. “I used to have a baked potato, macaroni and cheese, and a roll with my steak. There was no color and nothing with a lot of nutritional value. Now when I have a steak, I have a baked potato, squash, and green beans.”

• Move more. “I hate the word exercise, but it’s easy to get more active. Don’t use the remote when you want to change channels. Get up and change the channel. Do 10 sit-ups every commercial. Make a goal for yourself, but keep it small.”

For more tips from Hannah Pewitt, go to and type “healthy weight” in the Keyword Search box.


Most children establish their eating habits in the first five years of life, and typically model their parents’ habits, according to Wendy Carlin, a program coordinator in the Wellness and Health Promotion branch of the Kentucky Department of Health.

Here are some ways Carlin recommends to help your children stay fit and healthy:

• Don’t bribe kids with food.

• Eat together as a family. It’s a really big deal.

• Have healthy foods on hand to snack on: fruits and veggies, nuts, peanut butter, milk, leftovers, half a sandwich, cheese, yogurt, and fruit bars.

• Go for plain cereal. Unsweetened oatmeal is the best. Look at the ingredients to see how high up fructose, corn syrup, and/or sugar are in the list. The farther down the list the better.

• Get kids into noncompetitive physical activities. Try to find activities that promote self-esteem.

• Forget the advice about not putting kids on a diet because they are still growing. That was true once, but not necessarily true today. The best way to help them lose weight is to get them into activities they enjoy. They will lose weight because they are having fun. Check with your child’s pediatrician for advice.

• Talk to relatives about treats. Explain that you know they are trying to show their love, but ask them to show their love by doing something active with the child, or buying him or her something nonfood related such as a music CD.

• Check into these resources: Real Kids Come in All Sizes: 10 Essential Lessons to Build Your Child’s Self Esteem by Kathy Kater; the Weight Watchers Family Power Book. It contains five simple rules for a healthy weight home. Also, any of the books by Ellyn Satter, including How to Get Your Kid to Eat but Not Too Much and Your Child’s Weight: Helping Without Harming.


Why should Kentuckians be concerned about obesity? Because it is costing us plenty, from medical costs to the emotional toll it extracts. Kentucky is among the unhealthiest states in the nation.

Kentucky still has a long way to go to meet each state’s Healthy People of 2010 goal of reducing obesity rates to 15 percent or less of its population.

Obesity is linked to chronic diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes, and orthopedic diseases, such as arthritis due to the increased pressure on joints caused by extra weight.

In August, Kentucky was named the 7th most obese state in America according to the fifth annual F as in Fat: How Obesity Policies Are Failing in America, a 2008 report from the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The state’s adult obesity rate is 28.4 percent, an increase for the third year in a row.

Here are our state’s national standings in some of the most important health indicators, according to the Trust for America’s Health (

KY ranks 7th in Obesity Rates, % Adults (2005-07 average) 28.4%

KY ranks 9th in Hypertension Rates, % Adults (2003-07 average) 30.1%

KY ranks 7th in Diabetes Rates, % Adults (2005-07 average) 9.6%

KY ranks 4th in Adult Physical Inactivity: (2005-07 average) 30.7%

KY ranks (N/A) in Overweight: High School Students (2007) 15.6%

KY ranks 3rd in Children, Age 10-17, Overweight (2004) 20.6%

KY ranks 15th in Medical Costs of Obesity, Per Capita (2003) $282

Ranking of 1 = worst health outcomes by state ranking.


Data from the Kentucky Department for Public Health show that barely one-third of Kentucky adults engage in moderate-intensity physical activity five or more days per week. The news is even worse for Kentucky youth.

The University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service and the Health Education through Extension Leadership program (HEEL) are continuing to strive for lower obesity rates through various programs of physical fitness and improved nutrition and diets.

Between 2001 and 2007, Cooperative Extension agents positively impacted 542,530 Kentuckians, who reported a change in knowledge, skills, aspirations, and opinions about lifestyle changes to improve health. HEEL has helped county Extension agents implement programs such as Get Moving Kentucky! and Weight—The Reality Series.

Extension agents have reached 230,694 people across the state through Get Moving Kentucky! alone since 2004. Currently there are 84 Kentucky counties using Get Moving Kentucky! and 55 counties using Weight—The Reality Series.

Contact your local Cooperative Extension office to see if they host these programs in your area. You can go online to to find the phone number of the office in your county.

A new Cooperative Extension service program is Second Sunday. On October 12, the Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service is inaugurating an event with the Kentucky Department of Transportation and other agencies to close at least one road in each county to vehicles so citizens can use them to walk, bike, wheel, or even skateboard their way to health. They hope it will become common practice for communities to close a road on the second Sunday of each month, year-round.

For more information about road closings in your county, contact your local County Extension office or Hollie Anderson with Family and Consumer Sciences at the University of Kentucky. Anderson can be reached at (859) 257-1812 or by e-mail at .


For a listing of more than 20 Web sites on healthy living and reducing obesity for children and adults, as well as additional weight-loss tips from Hannah Pewitt, go to healthy weight.

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