November 25, 2013
Three years ago, Gernitria Ladson struggled to walk across the Indiana State University campus. She arrived out of breath and late to every class. It was a struggle to climb one flight of stairs. She always sat in the front seat of the car and at the tables in the back of classrooms because those were the only places she fit.
"I was not happy at all," Ladson said. "To be honest, I hated myself."
Today, more than 100 pounds lighter, the junior communication major from Evansville stands a little taller and a little prouder.
"I see myself and I respect myself," she said. "I love myself."
Diagnosed with chronic asthma as a child, Ladson spent much of her time indoors. The combination of steroids to help with her asthma, a high-calorie diet from sugary foods and inactivity caused Ladson to weigh in at more than 300 pounds before she started high school.
"I remember her telling me one time ‘Mom, I feel like a fish out of water,'" Ladson's mother Carmen Daniels said in regards to her daughter's health and respiratory problems.
When Ladson arrived at Indiana State, she felt as though the physical, emotional and mental issues stemming from her obesity were only magnified.
"The craziest thing about being obese is that you are so big but you are so invisible at the same time," she said. "People would literally slam doors in my face-they would literally not see me."
However, one game of pick-up basketball with two friends at the Student Recreation Center changed her life.
"September 16 , I will never forget the day," Ladson said. "I went over to the rec with two of my guy friends ... and I'm thinking ‘Why am I going to go? I've never worked out a day in my life."
But Ladson enjoyed it.
"We [played] basketball, nothing too serious," she said. "We worked out a little bit, we had fun and after that I loved it."
Ladson soon found herself at the Rec Center more frequently. She could no longer use the excuse of not having a workout facility nearby.
"The rec center was my success," she said. "In the past, I had lost five pounds in a month and I gained it right back, obviously, because I wasn't consistent.
For someone that had never exercised, Ladson found it difficult to start. The first time she stepped on the elliptical she lasted only three minutes at 2 mph before she ran out of breath. At first, she set a workout goal to just "stay active for a long time."
"They say even if you're going slow, you're lapping everyone on the couch," she said. "So in the beginning it was to be in [there] and just keep moving."
The self-proclaimed "cardio queen" recently added weight training to her workouts which has caused her to "[drop] weight like crazy."
"The more in shape I got, the more I would start doing and pushing myself," she said. "It just kept progressing."
Although Ladson knew nothing about exercise or diet, she adapted a plan that soon became her lifestyle. She started exercising three times a week and, after a year, began working out every day.
"I first started noticing results within a month," Ladson said. "I remember walking into classes or wherever and people whispering ‘Oh my gosh, she is losing weight.'"
Ladson also credits her weight loss success to a change in eating habits. She began seeking out healthier options in the dining hall and refused to make excuses for eating junk food.
"A lot of people blame their freshman 15 on eating cookies all day, but you don't have to eat those cookies," Ladson said. "[The dining hall] has plenty of healthy choices."
Now that she lives off campus, Ladson calls herself an "aspiring chef" with a love for finding new, healthy recipes such as her newly-discovered homemade protein bars. She has not touched a soda or fast food meal in two years. She eats "real food" including pasta and the occasional cookie.
"When a lot of people think of dieting they think of rice cakes," Ladson said. "Eating carrots all day, that's sad, no one wants to do that."
Daily meals consist of oatmeal with peanut butter and bananas for breakfast, a sandwich and fruit for lunch, fish or chicken for dinner and small snacks, such as almonds, between meals. She said she eats about every three hours to keep her metabolism going.
Ladson does allow herself to have a "cheat meal" once and a while, as long as she has worked out the "hardest [she] has ever gone" in the gym that day. Her meal of choice? Thin crust pineapple and cheese pizza.
"I am a pizza woman," she said. "I love pizza."
Ladson said that weight loss is 90 percent mental. The journey to where she is today has not been an easy one and has certainly had its dark moments. Two years ago, she suffered a bout of bulimia in an attempt to lose even more weight.
"Bulimia is a very sensitive issue because the first thing someone is going to do is deny it and the second thing is no one wants to talk about it," Ladson said.
Daniels noticed the problem during Christmas break and got help for her daughter.
"I am so thankful that I had the friends, my mom and family to support me because it's something that will not only destroy you, it will destroy the people around you," Ladson said. "It's so not worth it."
Ladson wrote about her struggles with strangers on her blog and spoke with strangers who reached out to her after reading her story.
Now that she is back on track with a healthy, normal lifestyle, she said she is no longer focused on a number on the scale, but rather her overall health.
"I don't have a goal, it's just when I get there I'll know," Ladson said. "I'm trying not to stay focused on numbers because that will just depress you."
Ladson wants to inspire and motivate others to make healthy lifestyle choices, including Daniels, who suffers from a muscular disease. With the help of her daughter, Daniels has started swimming to help her stay in shape.
"You can overcome adversity of having a weight problem and eating disorder, it all comes with a lifestyle change," Daniels said. "You have to be willing to change. Whatever it takes to do it you have to do it ... and she did it."
Ladson said her transformation brings Daniels to tears every time she comes home to visit.
Her doctor, a "manly of the manly" former Army general, also cried after he did not recognize her when she came in for her annual check-up.
"I used to be that fat chick in the gym ... I've literally transformed before people's eyes," she said.
Photo: http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/Other/Publications/Publications-People/Gernitria-Ladson/i-fpv3ZfF/0/D/November%2012%2C%202013%20Gernitria%20Ladson%202845-D.jpg - Gernitria Ladson lifts weights in the Student Recreation Center at Indiana State University. The junior communication major from Evansville credits working out at the Rec Center and healthier eating for a 100-pound weight loss. (ISU/Rachel Keyes)
Photo: http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/Other/Publications/Publications-People/Gernitria-Ladson/i-tppkDwR/0/D/November%2012%2C%202013%20Gernitria%20Ladson%202852-D.jpg - Gernitria Ladson, a junior communication major at Indiana State University, poses on the elevated track in the university's Student Recreation Center. She credits a workout routine made possible by the Rec Center and healthier eating for helping her lose 100 pounds during the past two years. (ISU/Rachel Keyes)
Writer: Emily Sturgess, media relations assistant, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3773 or firstname.lastname@example.org
A pickup basketball introduced Gernitria Ladson to what the Indiana State University Student Recreation Center has to offer. Two years later, thanks to working out and healthier eating, the junior from Evansville is 100 pounds lighter.