When patients see the photo on Michelle Williams' badge at North Memorial Medical Center, they wonder what happened to the nurse who's pictured.
Michelle Williams, a nurse in North Memorial hospital's cardiovascular unit, often stressed the importance of being fit to her patients.
Then she'd look in the mirror.
"I always felt hypocritical," Williams said. "I'm telling people to lose weight, watch their diet. And I weighed 270 pounds."
No longer. Williams, 35, literally worked her tail off to drop 95 pounds. Her dedication to lifestyle changes has not only changed her outlook, but has also served as an inspiration to patients and colleagues alike.
She's being recognized nationally by Nestle Health Science as one of the winners of the third annual Optifast "New You" weight-loss contest. Williams, who lives in Elk River, is one of three contestants who lost a combined 410 pounds using the Optifast program. Their reward: a weekend in New York City that includes a complete makeover and shopping spree.
Williams has never been to New York and its temptations.
"I do love pastas and bread," she admitted. "It's hard for me to pass up."
Williams' identification badges at the hospital still bear the photo from before her weight loss. She wears them like badges of honor -- to show patients that she's putting diet where her mouth is.
Optifast is a medically supervised weight management plan that closely monitors a patient's progress. The program usually lasts 26 weeks and includes a change in diet, exercise, other lifestyle changes, counseling and ongoing support.
"I begged to stay on the Optifast program longer than I had to," Williams said. "I was really scared. I had to learn what I can do and how I can go through life happily without denying myself."
Williams said she tried other diet programs, to little avail. But, for years, she didn't realize she had a problem.
Long before she decided that her ideal meal was a cup of garden vegetable soup with pesto and a half sandwich at Panera, she pretty much ate whatever she wanted, whenever she wanted. Her parents were overweight. Williams was big as a child. For her, this was normal.
And she's a good cook.
Obesity brought Williams awkward moments as a child. But when she reached 33, she was in crisis mode. She was diagnosed with hypertension. As a cardiology specialist, she didn't have to read any health charts to predict what her future might be like unless she drastically changed her lifestyle.
North Memorial offered the Optifast program. Williams, who is single, began 14 months ago. She has lost 34 percent -- or one-third -- of her total body fat.
It hasn't been a piece of cake.
"I'd go hours and hours without eating," she recalled. "And then I'd eat a ton."
When she started the program in May of last year, she immediately gave up soda, which she loved. She reduced her carbohydrate intake, a difficult task for someone who loves bread. But the hardest part was the exercise.
"I'm not crazy about running or some of the machines," she said. "But I do what I need to do. At first, I forced myself. Eventually, it became part of my routine."
Doctors at North Memorial now point to Williams as an example of what can be.
She's not sure how far her journey will take her. But on Labor Day weekend, she will be in New York, where half of one of those 2-inch-thick deli sandwiches could last the entire three days.
"I'm excited," she said. "This is a dream come true."
The trip to New York is just the cherry on the cake. Her greatest reward is what she no longer sees in the mirror.
Paul Levy • 612-673-4419