By Airman 1st Class Erica Crossen, 375th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs
/ Published January 28, 2015
SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. -- There are many things that keep one from going to the gym. It could be a busy schedule or a lack of enjoyment from exercise. But 26-year-old Jessi McNulty relishes the health improvements she sees in the gym. Despite having to work around her temporal lobe epilepsy, a condition she has lived with since her senior year of high school, she still comes to hit the machines at least three times a week.
Her willpower has helped her lose 90 pounds over the course of about 15 months, and she is now at 160 pounds. But she didn't accomplish it by being chained to the weigh scale she says.
Seizures have been something in her life that she's just had to accept, and recent medical care has given her some answers and the hope of being relatively seizure-free, but not without surgery first.
She has learned through her previous attempts at losing weight that the desire to be healthy couldn't just be a shallow wish. She had tried everything from supplements and counting her calories, including obsessing over the numbers on the weigh scale. She knew what didn't work, so at what point would she find what would?
That moment came when she found out she was pregnant with her son, Ryan, and she said it sparked something in her to start taking care of herself.
"I started trying to work on a healthier mental self through my pregnancy, and when my son was born, I started to slowly work on a healthy physical self by breaking one bad habit at a time."
She started incorporating healthier food during meals. When she would eat, she started measuring out her food until she could eyeball the right portions. She would get out and move more often and the pounds started to disappear.
She said she honestly didn't notice how much she had lost until about 50 pounds in. Her husband, Staff Sgt. Stephen McNulty, a 375th Civil Engineer Squadron Firefighter, pointed out that she had lost so much.
She felt the benefits of having more energy, and when she did occasionally revert back to her bad ways, her body gave her feedback and she listened.
"You know you feel it when you do the right things for your body, and when you do go back to bad habits, you feel how negatively it affects you."
She realized later that people noticed that what she looked like was a reflection of her self-esteem, and her previous wardrobe gave it away. When she wore a pair of jeans that showed how much she had lost, people really noticed the uplift in not just her physical appearance, but how she felt about herself.
"A couple times I almost fell for the sales pitches for supplements that promised increased weight loss, considering that it would be the easy way to my goal. But I remembered that what I was already doing was working, and I just kept making my protein shakes and heading to the gym."
She learned that as she got involved at the gym that her epilepsy was exercise-triggered.
"As I fell in love with fitness, the seizures became more frequent," she said, "When the epileptologist sat me down after an MRI, they weren't very hopeful. The medical advice was, 'you can work out, but you're asking for it in terms of triggering seizures.' But with how much success I had with the weight loss, I was far from quitting. I found a personal trainer and Zumba classes.
"At my gym, I'm definitely that girl who is known to have seizures and be noticed in class for it," she said.
She has episodes sometimes a few times a day, and during workouts or classes, she lets the instructors know about the potential she could "zombie out," as she calls it. She can temporarily lose control of her body and needs to sit out a section of the workout to recover. It's really helpful to have her trainer, her husband, or a friend around to pull her out of the activity when she has a seizure.
Her personal trainer, Nate Myers, said a consistent practice through her workouts is to check her heart rate and base the workout on how she is feeling.
"It's hard not to use the seizures as an excuse not to go to the gym and once I have one during a workout, it would be easy to quit and go home." But she doesn't.
Her gym has also become a supportive community for her, a place she goes to enjoy a dose of social time as well. She has met new friends and made connections with other athletes.
She said she knows that in the pursuit of successful weight loss and a healthy lifestyle, it's important to find an activity you love doing. For her, that's making the gym she's been going to for 1 1/2 years her go-to place for workouts and classes she gets pumped about going to.
When people ask her why she continues despite her condition, she tells them, "I know I have limits; I'm smart about the workouts and I always have someone close by."
While she is pursuing fitness as part of her new lifestyle, she is seeking the medical solution at the same time.
Learning more about how epilepsy affects her and how to fix it is made possible through the network of medical care that she has built up in the local area. It would be difficult to replicate the advances made with her doctors in her treatment plan if her husband got PCS orders, so she has enrolled in Exceptional Family Member Program to ensure she continues to receive that care.
In fact, her 2015 resolution is to seek out treatment to her epilepsy that prevents the condition from being an obstacle in her life. She would be able to continue to use fitness in her lifestyle without fear of having an episode in class or not being able to drive. She enjoys Zumba so much, that she wants to become certified to teach Zumba and eventually pursue personal training, noting its portability as a career and an activity she is passionate about.