This story is part of EBN's year-long BeneFIT Success series, which chronicles employers' and employees' wellness triumphs. Find the entire series online at ebn.benefitnews.com, keywords "benefit success series," and view the accompanying slideshow - featuring several of our profile subjects at various points in their wellness journeys - at ebn.benefitnews.com/slideshow. Learn how to submit your company's wellness story at the end of this article.

Connie Carrion's story of weight gain starts like that of many other women - with motherhood. Carrion was 21-years-old when she had her first child. It was 1988, she had a live-in boyfriend, was enrolled in college and was working part-time. That first pregnancy, she put on 80 pounds.

Her boyfriend didn't find a problem with it; she says he thought it meant other men wouldn't look at her. A year later, she was pregnant again, gaining more weight. Then, in 1990, she had her third son.

"I was working full time, going to college fulltime, raising three babies. There was no time," Carrion says, now 40. "I was always very comfortable with how I looked, even when I was overweight; it was never a pressing issue to take the weight off."

Even when she tipped the scales at 346 pounds, it wasn't until Carion met her now-husband, Jeremy - a fitness guru who drinks smoothies and eats oatmeal all day - and became pregnant with her fourth son, Andres, that she felt a need to change.

In addition to wanting to be a healthier mother, a diabetes diagnosis cemented Carrion's commitment to change. She put on 46 pounds while pregnant and was injecting insulin six times a day. It was painful and, she felt, unnecessary.

"Before the pregnancy, I was on pills for diabetes and during the pregnancy I had to shoot up, and I didn't wan to do that after. A year after he was born, I got ready to get off my butt and do something."

Carrion found that "something" through her employer, Becker Electric - an Ohio-based distributor of electrical, lighting and automation supplies - where she worked as a lighting designer and showroom administrator. In 2008, LuAnn Randall, Becker's HR administrator, was just launching the second year of the company's fitness regime for employees with the help of RIC Administrators, an insurance broker based out of Dublin, Ohio.

"I really talked it up. I'm a one-person HR team, but I'd call people up. We cheerleaded the heck out of this thing, and it worked," Randall recalls. "Connie on her own has found the motivation she needed and used Becker's, small, internal plan to lose her weight. She's a ghost of former self."

Becker's wellness program started with a 10,000 Points Challenge in September 2008, with employees forming two-person teams to support and challenge each other in meeting fitness milestones. Randall passed out "Team Becker" T-shirts, pedometers and a daily exercise journal donated by United Healthcare.

"Would I have [progressed this far]? Probably not," Carrion says, crediting the program for helping her to lose 100 pounds. "Having that competition has helped keep me on track, [and] make that next step easier in stepping up the routines."

In addition, Carrion is down to 500 mg a day of diabetes drugs Glipizide and Metformin, compared to the 800 mg she used to take. She's also stopped drinking caffeine, no longer suffers migraines and is down to a size 18 from size 32.

"I used to have serious knee problems. I'd have to use a cane because of the weight," Carrion says. Now at 241 pounds, she no longer uses the cane. "Because I'm exercising and using the muscles, it's made a big difference."

 

New lease on life

Buoyed by her new-found commitment and confidence, Carrion won an iPod for third place in Becker's 10,000 steps program and continues to exercise six days a week. She even found a secret workout spot.

"She carved out a space in the back stairwell, and she'd do her Tony Horton DVDs on her exercise mat," says Jennifer Engelbrink, showroom and office manager. "It was dedication on her part."

Not only is Carrion working out, she's implemented healthier foods into not only her own life, but her sons' as well.

"Looking back, I could have made better choices," she says about her early years as a mother. "The crap foods are the cheaper foods; it's expensive to buy organic and buy fresh. I'm being careful with Andres, I wasn't when they were growing up. If they were hungry, they would eat whatever was in the house."

She now cooks with organic or home-grown ingredients from her small backyard garden, including basil, cilantro, mint and habaneras.

And in addition to taking charge of her health, Carrion now is learning to take charge of her finances. Growing up, her parents divorced when she was young, so her mother worked 16-hour-days and didn't emphasize healthy eating. She also was never taught how to manage money and for most of her working life, struggled financially.

"Becker's had a financial planning program, and I learned how to take control of our finances," Carrion says. Her co-workers say it's no small feat to be as dedicated as she is. Vendors and clients frequently bring in cheesecake, donuts and cookies for workers.

"We do a lot of eating around here, [so] for her to accomplish this is huge," says Becker receptionist Lisa Sundin. "I can tell her whole appearance and personality is for the better. I wish I had her motivation to do it."

Randall says that when Becker's got its health insurance statement this year, their rates had decreased - proof that the wellness program is working, and not just for Carrion.

"We saw a reduction in the premium. It starts to show after a couple of years," Randall says. "With people like Connie, you see it with weight loss."

 

Submit your company's wellness story to EBN Editor-in-Chief Kelley M. Butler at kelley.butler@sourcemedia.com, subject line "BeneFIT Success series."

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