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Like many people, Mel Fish, 36, found their weight-loss efforts derailed by COVID-19. Before the pandemic, they had been making good progress. Despite a lifelong struggle with their weight — Fish was at their highest weight and was diagnosed with prediabetes in high school — in 2019, they came in fifth in a company-wide weight loss contest, dropping 60 pounds to reach 155 pounds.
Fish admits that it was the prize money that motivated them to lose weight at first. But they liked how they felt when they were lighter and how losing weight helped alleviate symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, which they were diagnosed with after their son was born five years ago. 
They were making strong, steady progress when the pandemic hit. Working long, stressful hours as a certified nursing assistant (CNA), caring for COVID-19 patients, and getting COVID-19 themselves, ended that. “We had to work with families who couldn’t come in and see their loved ones. You had to be their significant other, their daughter, their son, their friend,” they said. “I just didn’t feel like eating healthy. I wanted to eat my comfort foods. I didn’t gain much weight early in the pandemic — I got up to maybe 160 — but I wasn’t losing any either. It was very hard.”
In 2021, Fish and their wife, Jen, noticed that they both were getting bigger, and their clothes were getting tighter. So, they started working out daily and eating better. And at the beginning of 2022, they ramped up their efforts.
Now Fish weighs 142 pounds — a weight they’re happy with. Plus, Fish has seen so many positive changes in their life beyond the weight loss, including:
Fish finds their workout routine is benefiting their mental health, too. They were on medication for postpartum depression after the birth of their son. “After I started working out again in 2019, I no longer needed that medication,” they said.
“I’m enjoying life. I enjoy being around people, where I didn’t want to talk to anybody before. I used to keep to myself, go to work, come home, and do what I had to do just to get by.”
Fish and their wife exercise together every morning before they go to work. They have a treadmill, yoga balls, free weights and home gym in their basement. They also recently got e-bikes, so they have been doing more cycling. “We get to see all the trails Wisconsin has to offer that you can’t do in a car,” they said.
In the evenings, they take a family walk or a bike ride. With morning exercise plus work, Fish hits 10,000 steps most days, and tries to add another 5,000 or 10,000 steps. To take care of their feet, they buy two pairs of new shoes every six months and alternate them. “I used to skimp on shoes, but my wife told me I have to have good shoes,” they said.
On the day of the interview for this story, Fish was so committed to getting their walk in that they walked along a trail near their Wisconsin home while sharing their story.
Fish and their wife follow a low-carb/keto diet, and three days a week, they practice intermittent fasting, where they fast for 16 hours and eat in an eight-hour window.
“My arthritis started getting bad, and I knew that other people with autoimmune diseases use a keto diet to help get rid of those symptoms. It helped me tremendously, especially in my hands and my knees. It’s so much better than just eating regularly,” they said.
 Here’s what they might eat in a typical day:
On the days they fast, they have breakfast and lunch and skip dinner. “So, we’re done eating by around 2 p.m. in the afternoon, and then we don’t eat until the next morning. I have breakfast around 10 a.m. because that’s my first break at work,” they said.
And on the weekends, Fish and their wife might go out and have a drink or two, or a dessert. “We know we need to do that for ourselves, even if it’s a keto treat. We like making peanut butter nut clusters with keto-friendly chocolate,” they said.
“Growing up, it was very hard for me to lose weight. I would starve myself and do crunches, but I would always fail. I think it was because I didn’t have that support system that I do now with my friends and my wife and the people I’ve encountered along the way encouraging me. Plus, my son loves to go for walks and ride his bike, so that helps,” they said.
Fish took a walk with their friend Sharel Nelson one day, and Nelson invited Fish to the Start TODAY Facebook group. Fish has been a member for a couple of months now, and they appreciate the motivation they get from it.
“I like seeing everybody’s story, from maybe not doing anything at all to getting up and walking and trying to better themselves. People are very encouraging of each other. They aren’t putting anybody down because of their size or their inability to do something. They share the foods they prepare and their exercises,” they said.
Stephanie Thurrott is a writer who covers mental health, personal growth, wellness, family, food and personal finance, and dabbles in just about any other topic that grabs her attention. When she’s not writing, look for her out walking her dog or riding her bike in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley. 
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