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Kimberly Kalstrom’s struggle with her weight began in her early 20s, when she weighed too little rather than too much. She developed anorexia and bulimia after being the victim of a violent crime when she was in college. The attack left her with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and panic attacks. That same year, she lost everything that she owned in a house fire, had a grandparent die and faced some challenging relationships.

“The eating disorders caused my heart to beat irregularly. It was a serious situation. I was hospitalized repeatedly, and I only weighed about 90 pounds,” she tells “I learned that my eating disorders had more to do with feeling powerless over my life than they had to do with food.”

Over time, she overcame the disorders, but she became a yo-yo dieter. “I was having these really big swings where I’d lose weight and gain it back, plus more. I tried everything from Jenny Craig to Weight Watchers,” she says.

Her weight climbed to almost 300 pounds, and with it, she had a string of health problems — hypothyroidism, prediabetes, high blood pressure, arthritis, sleep apnea and gout. “I had a doctor tell me I wasn’t going to be able to see my grandkids grow up if I didn’t do something. It was a pretty serious situation,” she says.

She made a lifestyle change by counting calories and walking

Six years ago, with her two children grown and out of the house, she decided she needed to change her life. “My focus returned to myself after many years of being a single mom,” she says. “I knew I needed a long-term, permanent solution rather than the yo-yo dieting.”

She talked to her doctor and started counting calories and walking. And she saw her doctor monthly to stay accountable. “I was serious about it, and the walking played a huge part,” she says. “It really worked.”

She lost 100 pounds in 15 months. Over time, though, her weight started creeping up again even though she hadn’t changed anything, and she was walking all the time. She couldn’t figure out what was happening.

She saw a different doctor and discovered that menopause was behind her weight gain. And with it, her health issues started creeping back into her life. She also developed fibromyalgia and struggled with chronic fatigue syndrome.

Bariatric surgery helped her reverse menopause weight gain

Kalstrom talked to her doctor and made a tough decision — she had gastric bypass surgery in December 2021.

“I felt like I needed a little extra help. It was the tool for me. It’s definitely been very helpful, and I’ve maintained my weight since. What I’m doing seems to be working,” she says.

She no longer needs blood pressure or gout medication, she’s not prediabetic, and she doesn’t use a CPAP for sleep apnea anymore.

Since her stomach is smaller, she eats mainly protein and vegetables and mostly avoids sweets. “I don’t cut out things altogether. I just save them for special occasions,” she says.

Along with the weight loss, she discovered a new mindset when she was recovering from surgery, compared to previous operations: “In the past, when I had surgery, it would set me back in my walking and my weight because I had to recover. But this time, instead of dwelling on what I couldn’t do and being frustrated, I started looking at these challenges as opportunities to change and grow. I asked, ‘How could I look at something differently or improve on something?’”

She discovered a love of walking

At Kalstrom’s highest weight, she could barely walk across a room before she was out of breath. But she slowly, steadily built a walking habit. Now, she’s walking three to six miles on most days, and she finds it helps her cope with stress, anxiety and depression.

She still takes medication for those conditions, as well as vitamin B12 shots, since she has a vitamin deficiency that could be causing them. But she credits exercise with solid boosts to her mental health: “I think the walking actually helps more than the medication. It’s been a total game-changer in so many ways.”

She cherishes the discoveries she comes across on her walks. “I’ve had some incredible and magical moments with nature. I’ve found several rocks with inspirational messages. I found a rock that says, ‘You can move mountains,’ which was encouraging to me on a difficult day. Another rock said, ‘Make a wish.’ Hopefully, one day, my wish will come true,” she says.

Her walks also help her build the stamina she needs to support charities in races. Her doctor encouraged her to get her heart rate up, so she worked on her speed during some of her walks.

“I developed a pretty good pace and started doing races for charity. I’ve been in races as a power walker since 2018, and I want to complete a half marathon eventually,” she says.

Photography keeps her motivated to walk

Kalstrom likes to walk in a park near her home in Roanoke, Va., which is filled with squirrels, birds and other wildlife. “I go there every day. That’s part of the adventure. I never know what I’m going to come across,” she says.

“I picked up my camera along the way to motivate myself to keep walking,” she says. “It made things so much better. It brought a lot of joy to the journey. I had all these walking adventures out in nature. I’ve taken thousands of photos. I have gained so many unforgettable moments on my walks with my camera.”

She enjoyed photography so much that she got her degree in nature and landscape photography from the New York Institute of Photography.

She loves ladybugs, and she takes hikes specifically to look for them. “I found out where they lived and when they’d show up,” she says. “My professor told me ladybugs were my specialty.”

She discovered that photography also brings her another level of mental health benefits: “The photography helps even more with the stress. I still have trouble with anxiety and stress, but I have the coping mechanism that helps me.”

This article was originally published on

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