Loss of 212 pounds brings joy, notoriety
LAND O' LAKES - When Jenny Hodges tipped the scale at 369 pounds in 2008, life wasn't pretty. Hodges never imagined how different her figure — and outlook — would be four years later. Sporting a slim, fit body, the 40-year-old wife and mother in recent months has appeared on television with the likes of pop diva Jennifer Hudson and cooking maven Rachael Ray. In 32 months, Hodges melted 212 pounds from her 5-foot-8 inch frame. She now weighs 157 pounds, which is seven pounds less than her goal weight."It's been a life-changing experience, but it's not over yet," Hodges said. Hodges doesn't plan to lose more weight. Now she focuses on toning her muscles. The Land O' Lakes resident, who works as a private school librarian, wants to become an ambassador for healthy living and eating. "There are a lot of moms that need a little push," Hodges said. "I hope they will say, 'If she did it, I can do it.'" * * * * * Hodges exercises daily and runs road races, including half-marathons. She takes advantage of opportunities to receive national exposure for her efforts to adopt a healthy lifestyle. She appears in a national television advertising campaign for Weight Watchers, featuring Hudson. In the commercial both women showcase trim bodies they attribute in part to the weight loss company's food points plan. Appearing on screen together as part of a montage of successful weight-loss clients, Hodges says "I finally lost weight," as Hudson belts out the Weight Watchers' "Believe" theme song. Based on published reports, Hudson has lost 80 pounds on Weight Watchers. Last year, Hodges also appeared in a makeover segment on Ray's nationally syndicated cooking and talk show. But her journey didn't begin so glamorously. At 37, Hodges was a full-time graduate student and a stay-at-home mother struggling with obesity. "My kids were 2-, 3- and 4-years-old," she said. "My cholesterol numbers were through the roof. I was pre-diabetic and approaching 400 pounds. "I wanted to see my kids graduate from school. I wanted to live." Hodges reached her goal by exercising, eating a healthy diet and becoming a member of Weight Watchers, she said. Hodges went to weekly meetings and enjoyed earning tokens for milestones. Hodges's children, who now are 5, 6 and 8, are growing up with a much healthier mom, she said. Hodges and her kids ride bikes together and share a passion for road racing. How did the Venice native land opportunities to appear on national TV? She responded to open casting calls on Facebook. The social media outlet allows people to connect with friends and network with others who share similar interests, including jobs. As for Weight Watchers, "They were looking for success stories and I had one," Hodges said. Hodges weighed 285 pounds when she joined Weight Watchers in April 2009, she said. She already had dropped 84 pounds attending in-step aerobics, body combat and spinning classes at Lifestyle Family Fitness at State Road 54 and Collier Parkway. "I joined the gym first, but I didn't know how to eat," Hodges said. "I didn't know healthy food choices, serving sizes or about processed white flour and how it can affect your body and mood. Weight Watchers taught me all that." * * * * * A few days after applying for the commercial, Hodges received an email from a Weight Watchers representative seeking to arrange an interview, she said. Hodges was interviewed twice in downtown Tampa before she was selected for the advertising campaign. In October, Hodges flew to Los Angeles, where she joined seven other Weight Watchers' clients picked to appear in the commercial. They met Hudson the first day. "We were more there with her the first day; it was her shoot," Hodges said, referring to Hudson. "We heard her sing a cappella. We got to take pictures with her and talk with her." Hodges, who was aware Hudson had a Tampa Bay area connection, said the entertainer told her she no longer owned a home in Tampa. Hodges and the other weight loss clients took center stage the remaining two days on set. "I was the oldest woman, and I had lost the most weight," she said. Hodges got to bring home the European cut, size 6, Yves Saint Laurent dress; Prada shoes; and Michael Kors jewelry she wore in the commercial. Weight Watchers' Florida spokeswoman Lisa Craig described Hodges as a "true success story." In November Hodges was chosen to receive a makeover on the Rachael Ray Show in New York City. Hodges said she and her sister, Lori Stroer of Venice, enjoyed an all-expense paid trip to attend the taping. "It was our first trip together as adults," Hodges said. LuAnn Burak, a group fitness instructor at Lifestyle Family Fitness, recalled when Hodges became a gym member in 2008. It was tough for Hodges to keep up at times. "But she would never quit, even if she just moved side to side," Burak said. Burak applauded Hodges for losing weight the "old fashioned way," through exercise and eating well. "She is eating right and moving more," Burak said. "She is an inspiration for others and for me as a fitness instructor." Now it's time to give back, Hodges said. "I have started my leader training to pay it forward," Hodges said of her plans to assist other Weight Watchers' clients.
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