Jackie Mouser can now fit herself into one of the pant-legs of her old 5X-sized jeans.
But that's not the only thing she can do.
After losing 216 pounds total over the last three years, the 39-year-old Soldotna resident breathes easier, sleeps better and has more energy during the day.
Those are just some of the rewards from her monumental weight loss which she attributes to portion control, exercise and being a member of the international weight-loss support group program TOPS, meaning "taking off pounds sensibly."
One of Mouser's biggest awards from her weight loss was being crowned the International Queen Runner-Up last month at the TOPS International Recognition Days conference in Nova Scotia, where she was recognized for losing 177 pounds while being a part of the organization.
"Just to stand in front of all those people knowing I inspired them was such an amazing feeling," Mouser said.
And she has high hopes to share her weight loss story.
Recently, Mouser was included as part of a TOPS weight loss documentary.
"I would like to eventually get on 'The Today Show,'" she said.
A long journey
Mouser carried more than 357 pounds on her 5-foot-3 frame before she hit rock bottom.
"Doctors basically said I wasn't going to live to be 50," said Mouser, who works as a caregiver at Sunrise Mountain Assisted Living in Sterling. She was diagnosed with sleep apnea and was tired constantly.
That was the end of 2006, after Mouser found out she could not have children because of polycystic ovarian syndrome and an adoption arranged by her and her husband, Roger, had fallen through. Mouser said she was devastated and depressed and wanted to do something about her weight problem.
"You're in your own mind, your own world. You don't really want to believe you're that big," Mouser said.
She tried to get gastric bypass surgery to help her lose weight but she was denied that too.
"It seemed like nothing was going for me," she said.
Mouser then began seeing a dietician at the hospital and with cardio activity and eating right she was able to take off some weight on her own.
"I lost 30 pounds with my dietician before I joined TOPS," she said.
When she joined TOPS in September 2007 she was enticed by the rewards the program provides members as well as the emotional support from the weekly meetings.
"There's lots of hugs and encouragement," she said. "That's what we're there for. To help each other in losing weight."
And that's when the pounds started to come off. Mouser began working out with Soldotna couple and fellow TOPS members Peggy and Don Edwards doing a six-day a week cardio and weight training boot camp.
"Exercise was the biggest key for me," she said,
After three months in TOPS she lost 48 pounds. And then by the end of the next year she had lost nearly 100 pounds all together, and gained recognition from the state TOPS organization for her accomplishments.
At the end of 2009, after losing enough weight to constitute another person, Mouser was named Alaska State Queen for TOPS, allowing her to be in the running for International TOPS royalty.
"I'm amazed the last few years looking at my transformation," she said.
Mouser even trained for a marathon last year with the Edwards.
"I never thought in my life I would do that," she said.
A big support group
Mouser is not alone in her weight struggle.
According to data from the state Department of Health and Social Services, 65 percent of Alaskans are above a normal weight, with some 39 percent classified as "overweight" and 23 percent considered "obese."
In the United States, according to the Center for Disease Control, 26.7 percent of the population is reported to be obese.
Her transformation, she said, is something she attributes to having the support from TOPS as well as her husband.
"We all know how each other feel about losing or having a bad week. We've all had our bad weeks," Mouser said. "It's the support that you get from other people going through the same problems."
Vivian Swanson, Mouser's TOPS chapter leader, said members in their TOPS club really admire Mouser.
"She's an inspiration to everyone because, you know what? She did it right," Swanson said. "She did not go on any kind of a diet. She didn't have any surgery. Just a good balanced diet and she exercised almost everyday for an hour."
Also, Swanson said, Mouser is "just one of the nicest people you'd ever want to know."
Now she is working to maintain her goal weight at around 145 pounds in the KOPS, or "keeping of pounds sensibly," part of TOPS.
"This is a new journey for me to learn to maintain now," she said.
She's currently maintaining by continuing to exercise and watch her meal portions.
"I just set small goals and when I make that goal I reward myself," Mouser said.
Like on Thursday morning, her TOPS group went for Mexican at lunch and while she usually gets a salad she treated herself that day.
"I went ahead and got a chimichanga," she said. "You learn to not punish yourself to get through."
And while Mouser occasionally indulges, she now wears pants size 8 to 10 -- a long way from the 5X size she used to.
Brielle Schaeffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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