How Former Athlete Karen Jackson Lost 64 Lbs.—and Got Her Strong Body Back


Karen Jackson, 45, 5'11" from Roseville, California
Before: 224 lb., dress size 18
After: 160 lb., dress size 6/8
Total lost: 64 lb., 5/6 sizes

I can't remember a time when I wasn't into sports. By 2005, I had played Division I softball in college, competed on a pro team in my 20s, and opened a kids training facility. But a string of medical diagnoses turned my world upside down. I learned I had the BRCA2 gene mutation and later discovered I had rheumatoid arthritis. Five preventive surgeries made exercise impossible, and the steroids I took for my joints upped my weight. By 2015, I was 224 pounds, exhausted, depressed, and looking for a change.

Back in the game

In April 2016, I joined Jenny Craig. The program offered a weekly consultant, plus premade dishes for every meal. As a former athlete, I’m wired to do what coaches tell me, so I thrived on my consultant’s tips, like how to practice portion control. After three weeks, I had shed 15 pounds and was ready to get active again. I started walking for 30 minutes five days a week. I was mortified that I’d gone from pro ballplayer to someone who got breathless from a stroll. My stamina came back quickly, though, and within five months I was at my initial goal weight of 175 pounds and running 35 miles per week! Even better, I was finally starting to feel like myself again.

Me: 1, Scale: 0

I stayed on Jenny Craig for a year, getting down to 160 pounds by last winter. I still pick up their meals to help stay on track when life feels hectic. Despite my crazy schedule, I’ve added in new workouts, like yoga and strength training. It feels surreal to be fitter at 45 than I was as a Division I athlete. Yet it’s knowing that I now practice what I preach to the kids I coach that’s the greatest reward of all. I can confidently call myself a healthy role model, and that feels more empowering than anything.

Karen’s pro tips

Eat dinner earlier. I usually eat dinner around 5 p.m.—I find I tend to sleep better if I don’t go to bed stuffed. And I wake up more easily, since I’m hankering for breakfast!

Start the day strong. I try to do something that nurtures me at the start of each day, like go on a run or take a few minutes to stretch. Self-care in the a.m. sets me up for a healthier and happier day.

Experiment with exercise. Trying new activities (or old ones I’ve abandoned) reminds me I’m capable of anything. When I got on a paddleboard for the first time in years, I felt revived from the inside out.

My motto? Move! When I can’t do a standard workout, I still find a way to be active—even if that means I walk around my house doing air punches with two-pound weights. I may look crazy, but it works!

As told to Anthea Levi