“I got super upset but didn’t say anything,” she recalled, shaking her head. “I didn’t recognize how big I was. Now I can understand where she was coming from.”
Since then Duncan has lost 319 pounds, largely because she accepted Mary Duncan’s offer a few months later.
As a child Duncan said she’d turned to food for comfort in an abusive home where most of her relatives were obese. By age 5 she was obese as well and carried those eating habits into adulthood. But she didn’t think her weight was a problem, even when she passed the highest point on the doctor’s scale.
In July 2004, Duncan changed her mind when she saw a picture of herself holding her 3-year-old daughter Jacque and a friend’s child.
“It was like this switch went off in my head. I thought, ‘I’m huge.’ ” she said. That got her thinking about the daily inconveniences and indignities she faced from obesity.
She could barely buckle the driver’s side seat belt in her car and couldn’t ride shotgun in her mother’s vehicle because the belt wasn’t long enough. She had to special order clothes from a catalogue. She couldn’t sit in a restaurant booth or in an airplane seat.
She couldn’t do a lot of things but the one that weighed the heaviest on her heart was not being able to get down on the floor and play with her daughter.
So she called her mother-in-law, who accompanied her to Weight Watchers meetings for over a month as moral support. At the first weigh-in, the scale read 509.6 pounds.
“My biggest motivation was my daughter,” she said, describing how her desire to play with Jacque helped when it was hard to follow the diet plan and exercise through pain. “That was my motivation to keep going.”
At first Duncan said she could barely walk a block but she set small goals, getting to the fence post, to the tree, to the park a quarter mile away.
“People yelled at me out their car windows,” she recalled. Some even threw cans. But Duncan kept at it, adding steps, measuring portions and losing pounds.
Then she had a setback. In 2007, two weeks after losing a celebratory 200 pounds she found out she was pregnant and had to quit Weight Watchers. When she was diagnosed with placenta previa and put on bed rest Duncan said she turned to an old coping technique, food.
“I’d comfort myself with food, then feel guilty. It was a cycle,” she said, noting she gained 100 pounds during the pregnancy.
After recovering from her son’s birth in 2008, Duncan tried to diet again but said she didn’t follow the plan well as she struggled with postpartum depression.
“I wasn’t focused. A year and a half later I was five pounds heavier,” she said. So she quit the program and tried to go it alone, without success.
When her wedding anniversary rolled around in 2011, Duncan said she cried. “I was so upset I was that big on another anniversary,” she said. She weighed about 375 pounds.
“My husband said, ‘What can I do?’ ” she recalled, her eyes tearing again at the memory. “He’s my rock.”
With his support, Duncan rejoined Weight Watchers and started losing again. Since then she’s only missed two of the weekly meetings and today has only 21 pounds to lose before reaching her goal weight.
“I need that support,” she explained. “The group atmosphere and structure of a plan works for me.”
She also works out regularly with other people at The Body Shop, where owner Jamie Lee said Duncan inspires other participants.
“It’s motivating when you have other women around you encouraging each other and the person doing the most encouragement is Jenny, fighting for them to keep going,” said Lee, adding that when Jacque Duncan, now 12, accompanies her mom, the next week more kids show up to exercise.
“You can see that her daughter looks up to her mom and is so proud of her,” said Lee. “When you see them in class together, they have a light in their eyes. They’re having so much fun. It’s so inspiring to me to see a parent be able to set that example,” she said.
Not only can Duncan now wear a seat belt and sit in a restaurant booth comfortably, she said the weight loss has enabled an active lifestyle the whole family enjoys, from sledding and rafting to hiking and camping.
“I love the level of activity I can achieve with my family,” she said. “I’ve done 16-mile hikes carrying a 30-pound pack. The whole family loves to camp and hike. … I wanted to be a better wife and a better mom. I’ve achieved that. If I hadn’t lost the weight our lives would be different.”
Losing weight also helped Duncan gain a lot of confidence.
“I thought I was strong but I’m way stronger than I thought. It’s taken strength to do this,” she said, adding, “I learned how important it is to believe in myself. No matter what your struggles are, you’re capable of achieving your dreams if you just keep going.”