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Social media influencer shares secrets to weight loss, why she supports LOWVELO

images of KJ Luther weighing close to 400 pounds and then after her weight loss

Once weighing 387 pounds, Karen “KJ” Luther now helps other people try to get the same weight loss results she achieved through exercise and healthy lifestyle choices.

Everyone hits crossroads in life at times.

For wellness blogger Karen “KJ” Luther, it was when she returned home from Target, where she had gone to buy a scale after dropping her son off at school. She got home, stripped down and stepped on the scale. She got on and off, on and off — what felt like 30 times.

“It said 387. There’s no nice way to say it. I was gigantic. I was in a 5X men’s shirt, and I’m a short, little thing — 5 feet, 5 inches and one eighth of an inch. At that moment, I just can’t even describe everything that went through my head all at once. I went and got back in my car, and I was headed back to buy bottles of sleeping pills.”

As fate would have it, she passed a utility truck blocking the right-hand side of the road, the lane she needed to get to the drugstore. An impatient driver, she went straight instead along a road that went past a community recreation center. She decided to stop and join.

Thirteen years later, Luther, 42, wears a size 10, has fitness certifications and has begun to amass a social media following, advising others on what to do when they hit crossroads in their lives. It’s one reason she’s an ambassador for MUSC Hollings Cancer Center’s LOWVELO fundraising event to be held Nov. 6. The St. Louis, Missouri, mom joined the virtual Home Team.

Luther, a friend of LOWVELO rider recruiter Shannon Rice, said she liked what the event stood for and that all participants’ funds — 100% — go to cancer research.

Cancer has hit Luther’s family hard and she knows obesity is linked to certain cancers. Research shows that excess body fat may increase the risk for several cancers, including colorectal, post-menopausal breast, uterine, esophageal, kidney and pancreatic.

It’s one thing to know it. But it’s a different story to do something about it.

That day in the gym, she only lasted five minutes, but she kept going back. She decided to learn all she could about wellness and fitness and to understand more about what she was eating and its effects on her body. She committed to making lifestyle changes based on what she was learning about the science of nutrition, instead of trying out fads.

Gradually, in waves, the pounds began to drop. When she eventually posted before and after photos on her Facebook page, it went viral. “I went to work and thought nothing of it. I’m not a big fan of social media, and when I came home, I checked Facebook, and I had several thousand messages from women around the world. At first, I thought my account was hacked, but I was looking through the messages and these were real people asking for help.”

Newly married, Luther’s husband was amazed. “He looked at me and said, ‘When are you going to quit your job and help people? And I looked at him, and I remember we were standing in the bathroom, and I said, ‘I guess today.’”

Luther went on to get fitness certifications and become a lifeline to others. Part of her success is her transparency and willingness to discuss anything, like how she’s a survivor of domestic violence and how she suffered from morbid obesity even as a child. “I’ve been a big kid my whole life. I was chubby. I remember going to my seventh grade dance and having to shop in the women’s department. I’ve always been big — not just a few extra pounds but morbidly obese.”

Knowing the dismal statistics of how many morbidly obese people are unable to lose the weight, Luther said she knows firsthand how hard it seems to some people to even step a foot out the door to exercise. It’s often a friend, an event, a story that touches people and gives them the hope and determination to do what needs to be done.

In her case, the weight loss wasn’t the hardest part of the journey. It was the inner work. “It’s those thoughts that I should have done better or that self-loathing. That weight is heavier than any pounds that you could pack on your body, so you start removing those things and taking care of yourself, one choice at a time.”

One thing she likes about LOWVELO is that it’s a lot of people making healthy choices together. Not only does the event raise money to support lifesaving research, it also encourages people to get active and bond in social groups with other people invested in the same cause, she said.

Events like this can really be gamechangers for people, whether by inspiring them to be active or in forging friendships that can develop when people join in a cause greater than themselves. Having come so close to the edge, Luther has learned that there is power in numbers.

“I think it’s all a tsunami of awesome, right? Like you start moving, and you start participating in an active lifestyle. That right there, that one choice might lead to another good choice. You’re moving your body. You’re being active. You’re being aware,” she said.

“Food is a big part of the equation. I’m not going to waste all that good activity and go shovel fast food and candy down my throat, so you know, I might as well make a good choice and eat something my body can recognize and use. When I do that, then I feel even better so there’s even more energy to move again to continue making these awesome choices.”

It can get tough to sustain making those choices, particularly when going through trauma in life. The friendships she’s found in her online support groups help her to stay focused on getting through the tough times without relapsing to unhealthy habits. Luther said people come to her thinking she has a magic formula or that she has become a fitness fanatic. “In the beginning, I mean, I think we have this idea that we need to be able to go out and run a marathon, which I will never do — ever. I don’t run — not even if I’m being chased. I’m just going to stop. You can catch me. I don’t run.”

Unfortunately, there’s no magic formula, she said. It’s waking up each day and vowing not to quit. It’s making the next right choice. Luther walks, does light cardio sessions and lifts weights four times a week. She focuses on healthy, unprocessed foods and steers clear of deprivation diets.

She likes to sign up for events that inspire her and others to be healthy and meet others with similar goals. It’s knowing you’re not alone in your struggles, whether battling cancer or the weight on the scales, she said.

“I know I probably fall in that weird bracket of people who feel there is a moral obligation we have to love and serve our community, and that means making a difference. And even if it’s that you come out for one day, this one event, you know you’re not alone. You’re not by yourself, and that right there can affect your life. I truly believe that one moment can affect a person’s entire life.”

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