Kat Carney is a self-proclaimed former heavyweight, both literally and figuratively. As a veteran broadcast journalist, she has worked for an impressive nine television networks including CNN, where she served as a consumer health anchor. She has a knack for connecting with her viewers, and this was never more true than when she spoke out about her own experience of losing 90 pounds after a lifetime of obesity. Today she is healthier than ever, and sharing her own success story – as well as the weight loss stories of other Atlantans – in her new GPB series, “The Weigh We Were.”
A Lifelong Struggle
As the daughter of an army colonel, Carney spent much of her childhood moving from place to place. “I was born in Alaska, but we moved every couple of years,” she explains. “I lived in Germany for six years, but my weight problem really started when we moved back to Georgia in first grade. By then I was the poster child for childhood obesity.”
Her sedentary lifestyle didn’t help matters either. “When we came back from Germany, I became fascinated with TV commercials, variety shows and Sesame Street,” she says. “I watched a lot of television, which contributed to my weight issue. But I always had a love for it (television). My dad’s father said I should be in news because I love telling stories.”
All Roads Lead to Atlanta
While Carney attended Georgia State University as a Music Industry major, she took an internship at Motown Records. It was during this time that she also began taking acting classes. “Because I worked in marketing at the label, I was able to market myself,” she says. “I specialized in TV commercials. I was in my twenties when I decided I really liked TV more than any other medium.”
While her acting career would eventually take her to New York and Los Angeles, Carney always felt a connection to the Peach State. “For some reason I’m always drawn to Atlanta when I need to regroup,” she says. “In terms of career, I’m an Atlanta-made career girl. I learned the ropes here, and got all the tools I needed to go to New York and LA to work in television.”
A Wake Up Call
Carney set out for New York to pursue more roles in TV commercials, but her weight continued to spiral out of control. “If you’d have asked me what I weighed at an audition, I’d say 150 pounds because in my head, I did,” she says. “I knew I was big boned, but I never believed I was obese.”
But slowly, the reality began to set it for the young actress. “At one point, I was getting sent home from jobs because I couldn’t fit in the clothes since I lied on my size card,” she says. “Then I started having back problems – when I stood up, my back hurt.”
Carney was back in LA when she finally went to see a doctor. “When the nurse weighed me, I expected it to say 160 because I was wearing socks,” she says with a laugh. “Then it went to 240. I thought something was wrong with the scale. Then I had a moment of whoa, isn’t that what heavyweight boxers weigh? Why don’t I know I weigh 240 pounds?”
The Aha Moment
In addition to her weight gain, Carney had noticed some other alarming symptoms that she couldn’t explain. “I was losing too much hair, my cycle was erratic, my skin wasn’t like it used to be and I was putting on more weight in my midsection,” she says. “I wasn’t putting the symptoms together, but the doctor diagnosed me with PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome).”
After performing an ultrasound, that doctor determined that Carney had 30 to 40 cysts on each ovary. He promptly put her on medication to control her PCOS, but Carney would also need to get a handle on her weight if she had any hope of regaining control of her health.
“On my way home I stopped at a gas station and had an ‘aha’ moment,” she says. “I was debating over which gas type to use, and then I asked myself, ‘How do I spend more time debating over the fuel I put in my car than the fuel I put in my body?'”
A New Focus
Carney packed up her life, got a studio apartment in Atlanta and decided to focus on her health full time. “I realized that it doesn’t matter how much work I get if I can’t be the best version of myself.” But first she would need to break some old habits. “Growing up, we ate out four to five times a week,” she says.
“I grew up as a convenience eater, and I didn’t know how to prepare meals. When I was hungry, I just ordered food.”
So she armed herself with diet books to educate herself on healthy eating. Then a friend gave her a copy of “Make the Connection” by Bob Greene, and it was this message that really resonated with her. “He had Oprah work out twice a day, and I thought, if she can do it, I can do it.” (In a fun twist of fate, Carney met Greene years later when he was promoting a new book at CNN. She shared her story with Greene, who shared it with producers at Oprah. In 2004, Carney was invited to appear on The Oprah Winfrey Show to tell her story).
Instead of setting a lofty goal that would just overwhelm her, Carney began small. “I wanted to hit one goal every day, so at first I just committed to going to the gym twice a day. That’s it. I would walk through the front doors, be in the space for a minute, and leave. But I’d met my goal.”
And it wasn’t long before one goal led to another. “By the fourth day, I set a new goal of one minute on treadmill,” she says. “That was a minute more than I did the day before, which meant I’d hit a new goal. On day eight, I added two minutes, then four. Soon my body became acclimated to it, and it wasn’t as overwhelming as going from zero to 60.”
A New Game Plan
“I wasn’t tracking my weight closely at that time, but I’m guessing I lost 30 to 40 pounds,” she says. “Once I’d lost 50 pounds, I went back to New York, thinking I would work even more. But when I walked into my agents’ office, all of their faces fell.” Carney was typically cast in the “chubby girl” parts, and now that she was 190 pounds, they said she wasn’t going to get roles anymore.
But Carney was feeling better, and she knew intuitively that she was doing the right thing. “By the time I was down 90 pounds, I went to a new doctor who looked at my PCOS,” she says. “All of my tests – cholesterol, blood pressure, cycle – looked better. That attention to health wasn’t as hard as I would have ever thought it was.” So instead of continuing with her acting pursuits, Carney switched gears and took her career in another direction.
Paying it Forward
“After I reached my goal, I thought maybe I could help someone else, so I bought the domain www.theweighwewere.com and shared my story there,” she says. “Then I started getting emails from women from all over the world who also had PCOS. So I built another site, www.soulcysters.com, to encourage more women to tell their stories.” The site started growing, and Carney knew she was on to something.
During this time, she went back to LA where she would write for six TV shows in three years, including one show for Discovery Health. As she built a reputation as a health reporter, Carney caught the attention of producers at CNN. They offered her the position of medical anchor, and once again, she was back in Atlanta.
A Life In Balance
After losing 90 pounds, Carney quickly learned that keeping the weight off would be just as challenging as taking it off. “It’s not fair to say I hit my goal weight and stayed there,” she says. “Once I got to CNN, I put 50 pounds on again because my life was out of balance. But this time I knew how to take it off.”
Today a big challenge is maintaining healthy habits around her long workdays at GPB. “In TV, I don’t have a nine to five day, so the challenge is not letting my lifestyle throw me off balance,” she says. “I’ll travel with a jump rope and get in four minutes at the hotel, or I’ll do some push-ups and squats. And I’ve started wearing a pedometer. It’s little things like that.”
She’s also learned to make healthier food choices. “I used to love an iced venti latte at Starbucks, but when I saw how many calories were in it, I switched to black coffee with half and half,” she says. “A lot of that is connected to how much physical activity I’m getting. When I exercise, I naturally want to eat healthier.”
But ultimately, Carney says it all comes down to balance. “The biggest challenge was wrapping my head around the fact that it was a combination of diet, exercise, and stress management,” she says. “If one of those things is out of balance, my PCOS comes back. I need all three to be healthy.”
The Weigh We Were
“I’ve always been obsessed with weight loss success stories,” she says. “When I was losing my weight, I had files and files full of them, and every day I would read one. Just seeing the before and after pictures and knowing someone had done it helped me keep going.”
Carney knew she could help other people with their weight loss journeys, and she wanted to do it in the way she knew best: storytelling.
The result is a series on GPB called “The Weigh We Were.” In each of six 30-minute episodes, viewers see 12 to 15 guests reveal, step by step, how they lost up to 200 pounds. “There are 34 people on the show counting me,” Carney says. “They’re just average people, so viewers can see themselves reflected. It’s about getting into that mental space where you believe you can do it.”
The show’s website, www.theweighwewere.com, also features detailed information of each person’s weight loss story, including lifestyle changes, meal plans, exercise regimes and even recipes. “There is a mental switch that happens before the physical switch,” Carney says. “You have to look at what you’re saying to yourself about your ability to lose weight. I realized it takes the exact same amount of energy to say ‘I like this’ as it does to say ‘I hate this.’ So I would tell myself that working out is great, or veggies are yummy, and over time I started to believe it.”
The Best Version of Herself
Today Carney has found balance in her life, and she couldn’t be happier with where her experiences have taken her. “Having lost the weight, I feel like I’ve dialed the clock back several years,” she says. “My skin looks better now at 43 than it did at 23. I just feel like I’m now coming in to my prime. After losing 90 pounds, I feel like I did it. There is a sense of accomplishment, like I can do anything.”