There's nothing like ultimatums from your doctor to force a hard choice between free-for-all meals and reclaiming your body and health. Matt and Denise Tucker ended up in this exact place at the exact same time: 2013, two years after they got married, when they each weighed 315 pounds.
If there was a silver lining, it was that they were in the same boat. They could work together. And they both received the same wakeup call, booting them out of a lifetime of emotional eating and childhoods filled with "carbs, a little bit of protein, and all the cupcakes," as Matt describes.
Matt, like many Americans, was raised on an unhealthy diet. Old habits die hard, and as an adult, he was still often reaching for candy or a honey bun as a quick meal. When he injured his back loading trucks at his factory job in 2005, his eating habits only worsened.
As a child, Denise used food as a coping mechanism. "Whether I was stressed, anxious, happy, sad, or bored, food took care of it," Denise says. "I was living life in survival mode just to get through the day."
As an adult, these habits continued. Like many people, she associated dieting with deprivation.
Even after getting married, any attempts to "get fit" as a team failed. More than anything else, they needed a nutrition upheaval. The couple enrolled in an online program that taught in-depth on better eating habits. This led to digging deeper through self-education and designing their own eating plans, supporting each other like teammates along the way.
"When I would have a weak moment at work with a potluck lunch, I would text Matt for support until we both developed a whole new level of discipline," Denise says. "Once we started to see real progress, it was almost addicting. We pushed each other harder and harder."
Push harder, they did. Denise lost 161 pounds. Matt shed 110.
But that's not all. After years of study, they both received their Certified Nutrition and Wellness Consultant certifications through the American Fitness Professionals & Associates (AFPA). They even started their own nutrition company called I Am Living Proof Nutrition, run out of Dalton's Fitness gym in Fayetteville, Tennessee. They also help teach two fitness classes there a week.
This is their story.
Snapshot: Matt Tucker
- Location: Fayetteville, Tennessee
- Occupation: Computer Tech
Snapshot: Denise Tucker
- Location: Fayetteville, Tennessee
- Occupation: Teacher
What did life look like for both of you before this transformation?
Matt: I was living in a fog of consuming fast food and any kind of junk food I could grab. It reached a point where I didn't want to get out of bed. I used my back injury as an excuse to be lazy and food as a crutch. The weight piled on for about eight more years. Even a walk to the mailbox would exhaust me. I met my wife and attempted to get fit, but I went right back to my old eating habits.
Denise: Growing up, I was always one of the biggest girls in my class. I accepted that this was just who I was. I would eat fast food two nights a week (when mom worked) or heat up some type of canned or frozen food. On weekends, I would go to my grandparents' house where I could eat whatever I wanted—mostly fast food and sweets. This type of eating made me "happy" without the judgment of my parents, since they weren't around. I remember taking food home from my grandparents' and hiding it in my nightstand to eat when my parents weren't paying attention. It was a coping mechanism to deal with being in an unhappy place, and this mentality continued into my adult years.
How did you accomplish your goals?
Matt: Building a nutritional foundation and meal prepping was essential to sticking with it—that, and always surrounding ourselves with a support group that held us accountable. And we would not have succeeded like we did without leaning on each other.
What supplements helped you through the transformation?
What did your training and cardio regimen look like?
Denise: For the first few years, we both did a lot of cardio. Matt did some light squats, bench presses, and deadlifts, while I did a combination of Zumba, P90X, and exercises focusing on my legs and glutes. Today, our workouts incorporate more strength training.
What was the most challenging aspect of your journey?
Matt: Pushing past the limits my mind set for me. I forced myself to reach for the next level of fitness until it seemed like I was hitting new PRs every week and lifting weight I hadn't been able to do since high school.
Denise: Disciplining my mind and changing my view of dieting. Most people have specific weight-loss numbers in mind and become anxious about them to the point where they do not follow through, get discouraged, or go to ridiculous unhealthy points that are not sustainable—and I've done all of this! I honestly believe that not having a concrete goal this time around made me more motivated. When I realized I was not depriving myself and found ways to deal with boredom or stress hunger, I saw that this lifestyle was something I could not only manage but enjoy!
Do you have future plans within fitness that you are tackling?
Matt: Future plans are to grow our nutrition company so that we can be a part of other people's journeys and help them get to a level physically that they never knew they could get to, just like we have.
Denise: My plans are to continue to build lean muscle—which is by far more difficult than simply losing the weight. I want to embrace the movement of strong women being culturally accepted as role models.