Chesley Gleason

The Billboard Girl

You know how difficult it is to lose 10 pounds. What if you had to lose twenty times that much? Just three years ago, Chesley Thompson Gleason entered the Hilton Head Health Institute, weighing 356 pounds. Today, her picture graces a billboard on I-95, demonstrating the dramatic results of the program that restored not only her figure, but her health.

Barely able to walk when she started, 212 pounds later, she is frequently seen dashing and dancing through the streets of her neighborhood. Known as "The Rock Star of Leamington," Chesley said, "Elvis and I have a date every day," referring to her iPod library, filled with 720 Elvis tunes, including multiple versions of her favorites.

Long before her fling with Elvis, Chesley had an illicit affair with food. It started in childhood and was exacerbated when she was tapped for modeling. The svelte 5-foot-eight-inch, 115-pound teen could never be thin enough. "Food became something that I thought I couldn't have. When I had the opportunity to eat, I would always overeat," said Chesley. "I thought about food all the time."

Marrying at age 33, she walked down the aisle at 250 pounds, vowing to herself to get serious about her weight. Instead, her health took a turn for the worse. Three months later, she began having severe headaches and vision problems. Diagnosed with tumors behind her eyes, she was prescribed massive doses of prednisone to save her sight, leading to another 100-pound weight gain. Her skin was so stretched it ripped. Because of the fat pads under her chin, she could not lie down. She slept sitting up for 11 months. "You feel like you're in this suit that is pressing all over your body. You just want to unzip it and step out," she said.
Meanwhile, Chesley became pre-diabetic, lost her hair and developed adrenal failure. Hospitalized at Duke, she contracted sepsis. Her body shut down, her husband walked out, and she was eventually sent home to die.

"I waited to die, and I didn't die," said Chesley. "I decided if I was not going to die, I didn't want to live in this ridiculously fat body." Her exercise program began with getting out of her chair and sitting back down. Gradually, she was able to walk around the house, to the mailbox, and eventually, three miles around the neighborhood. Then came cancer, a surgery and a setback.

"I prayed day and night for God to help me. I promised that I would learn from these terrible experiences and take responsibility for what I could control," said Chesley. Her prayers were answered when her father invited her to live with him and get help. Today, her fulltime job is to be well, but her ultimate goal is to give back.

"If sharing my experience helps others get through whatever they are going through, then I'm happy that God chose me," said Chesley. "I'm not saying I don't have bad days. I live with fear that I will go blind or gain my weight back or my cancer will come back. But the joy that God has put inside me is more powerful than any of those things."

A walking miracle, Chesley draws inspiration from the Bible: "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."-Phillipians 4:13.

Chesley's Guide to Healthy Living
Say no to diets: "Every day, I feed my body what it wants and needs. If I have a craving, I will eat it, but just a few bites. I don't see any bad food anymore. It's about portions and balance."
Say yes to exercise: "My advice on exercise is to have fun. You can do this at home without major equipment-just a good pair of shoes, a good sports bra and some great tunes."
Make the choice: "If you live healthy, the weight will follow. Making better (not perfect) choices every day is the answer."