Written by: Angela Mucci

Interest was piqued last month at the Haywood Worksite Wellness Council meeting, when attendee Nancy Warren highlighted the story of one woman’s incredible transformation. While participating in her worksite wellness program Donna Beaver changed her health, her state of mind and her day to day life. Here is her amazing journey!


Donna, right, before her weight loss journey began

Donna Beaver knew she needed to make a change. Still in her forties, she was diagnosed with high blood pressure, high cholesterol and morbid obesity. She was in the habit of starting the day with coffee and nothing else, then going all day without eating, until she got home. When she got home, starving, she did what most starving people do: eat unhealthy foods then repeat the pattern the following day, feeling tired throughout. “When the worksite wellness program started meeting at work, I was ready to dive in,” she said, “and I knew I couldn’t do it alone.”

Donna heard about the worksite wellness program at a wellness fair. She learned that the program was going to start a” weight loss challenge” in the next few weeks, at her place of work. “I work for Haywood Vocational Opportunities,” she said, “our mission is to work with people who have disabilities, to assist them in obtaining gainful employment opportunities–either at HVO, or with a longtime community partner.” She knew she wanted to have support from other people, along with information about nutrition, so she joined the group.

Donna after losing 60 pounds!

Nutritionist Lois Berry came to HVO and provided Donna’s wellness group with information about nutrition, exercise and diets. In that group Donna learned about the importance of eating protein, combining foods and adding fruits and vegetables. She also learned about portion sizes and the importance of hydration. She started integrating what she learned, slowly, one change at a time. “I started experimenting with drinking water instead of soda, looking at new foods at the grocery store and reorganizing the kitchen. I started doing just one thing at a time.”

Diet trends are often coming and going. One day it’s high carbs, the next day it’s no carbs, the next day it’s a diet of strictly bananas! Most fad diets are not sustainable though, and neither are starvation or deprivation mindsets. They can result in binging and undernourishment. Donna made small changes and continues to eat things she loves, but has integrated new foods and new habits. For example: “I used to skip breakfast, have only coffee in the morning. Then I learned about nutrition at the worksite wellness groups, so now I eat breakfast.” Donna broke her pattern of going hungry all day, and started planning meals and snacks in advance, always starting the day with a protein-packed meal.

Donna utilized the support of group members when she began her health transformation. In the beginning of the group, it was helpful to check in with group members, to do weigh-ins during the group, and to report progress. “Seeing numbers drop on the scale was huge. I could see that it was working.” This gave her confidence that her efforts were paying off. Then she got to know group members, colleagues she worked with yet had never met. “Passing a colleague in the hallway who is in the program, giving encouragement, noticing they bought a new shirt or perhaps the colors in the shirt they had on that day, those kinds of things give me joy and energy, everyone likes to be complimented now and again .” Group members were also likely to go for a short walk through local trails or walkways after work, motivating each other along the way.

Donna completely revamped her daily menu, adding new yummy foods, and continued to eat regularly all day. Eating all day kept her metabolism going and also provided vital nutrients and protein, which kept her energy up throughout the day. Here is one of her favorite new breakfast foods: “I like to take a soft tortilla and make a wrap with turkey and pepper jack cheese. Sometimes I will also add some egg or egg white. It is incredible in a tomato basil wrap, just delicious!” Donna added that eating healthy, small amounts all day is her key to avoiding after-work binges.

Through participation in the wellness programs, Donna lost over 60 pounds, going from a size 28 to a size 16. Buying a new wardrobe was fun, but the difference in how she feels is what really motivates her. “It’s like I have endorphin lightning bolts shooting out of my brain,” she said, explaining that her new energy level is “off the roof,” adding that now she is more outgoing, with a renewed passion for her job. She reaps rewards both big and small. “There are every day rewards, that keep me going,” she said. For example “Now when I get home from work I can get onto the floor, roll around, and play with my dog Sophie, instead of feeling confined to the chair. Also, my heart and arteries are in better shape,” she said. Incredibly, due to her new healthy lifestyle, her doctor advised that she was able to stop taking both her cholesterol and blood pressure medication! She is saving money and her life.

Donna utilized the support and skills from a team of people while changing her life. For example, she consulted with her doctor when she started working out. Due to her health issues she was not able to start directly at the gym. Instead she started the Step Program at Haywood Regional Hospital, a modified movement program. Under doctor supervision she was able to slowly transition to working with a personal trainer at the gym.

As luck would have it, one of the Step Program trainers Donna worked with happened to become a health and fitness coordinator at the gym, so she was able to continue to work with him. “Fitness trainer Shawn Smathers, Health and Fitness Coordinator at Haywood Health and Fitness Center, was one of the people who has entered into my life, who is willing to aide & instruct me during my continuing journey! His knowledge & passion for fitness, enthusiasm and the daily reassurance from him & his team members was critical during my awesome journey to becoming happier and healthier.”

Working with Shawn, she started exercising regularly, exploring all different types of movements, from weight-lifting to treadmills to group exercise classes and walking. The respect and inspiration is mutual between Donna and Shawn. He had this to say about working with Donna: “Donna Beaver is a trainer’s-dream-client-come-true. She listens, she responds, she maintains momentum, she overcomes setbacks and redirects when needed. Her journey over the past year has been perhaps the most dramatic turnaround of an individual’s physical and emotional wellbeing that I’ve witnessed, in twenty years in the industry. [She] continues to surge forward with her own progress, and also motivates and brings up everyone around her. As her trainer and friend, it humbles me and honors me at the same time to even be mentioned as playing a part in her incredible transformation.”

Shawn guided Donna when she had setbacks, and it is because of the setbacks that Donna is passionate about telling people that “a lifestyle change is possible at any time.” Donna broke her foot several months after starting the program, but did not let that dissuade her from her goals. Rather than give up, she took Shawn’s suggestion to “do something different,” and started swimming instead of doing weight-bearing activities. “I started slow and built myself back up, after the injury,” she said. She wants people to have the same “endorphin lightning bolts” that she experiences, no matter the barriers.

Throughout Donna’s work with trainers and her doctor, the worksite wellness group was a constant and vital place to share her progress with others and to continue to learn about how to meet and maintain her goals. “It saved my life,” she said of her participation in the program. She continues her involvement with group members and will continue to participate in upcoming weight-loss challenges, inspiring others the same way she was inspired.

IT Director at HVO and HVO’s Wellness Committee member Nancy Warren said this about working with Donna and the wellness program: “Our program has been an exciting journey for us as we enter our third year of promoting wellness at HVO. We call it wellness because it is not only about healthy eating and exercise; it is also about mental wellness. This is very evident in Donna’s weight loss journey. The one thing that everyone has noticed is Donna’s enthusiasm, excitement and commitment along with the weight she has lost. In Donna’s case, you not only see that she physically has lost weight, you also see the energy she has gained by her beaming smile and her excitement about going to the gym. Seeing her transformation says you can do anything you set your mind to.”

Nancy’s tip for people who are starting a health program: “Be realistic in your goals. Set small, realistic, attainable goals so that you don’t overwhelm yourself. It is a journey, not a weekend trip and takes time. Small goals will ensure that you create a wellness lifestyle that is sustainable.”

Donna Beaver is one of many individuals who have accessed the information, skills and support of her worksite wellness program. The wellness programs improve quality of life for individuals and the community in general, while also reducing health care costs. Donna is thrilled to continue to participate in the program at her job, to share the knowledge and inspiration with others who want to reclaim their health.

To find out how to start a program at your place of work contact: Nan Kramer, nan@mountainwise.org, Regional Community Health Coordinator with MountainWise.

Stay tuned next week for another success profile, of an army veteran who used his love of numbers and data to change HIS life!