This Mom Hit 290 Lbs. Eating Cheap Food so Her Daughter Could Be Healthy — and Then Lost 155 Lbs.
As a new mom in 2010, Marsha Parker was on her own — her daughter Kumari’s father was not involved, and she had to quit her job as a financial advisor for a lower-paying job with more flexible hours so she could take care of her baby.
“I had to start from the bottom,” Parker, 41, tells PEOPLE for the 2020 Half Their Size issue. “There wasn’t a lot of money.”
That meant that the money she did have for groceries went to Kumari first.
“I made a choice,” she says. “If either of us was going to eat healthy, it was going to be her. I gave her the green smoothies while I was eating $1.25 fried chicken.”
The Bronx, N.Y.-based Parker had hit 210 lbs. after giving birth to Kumari, and on her diet of inexpensive fast foods, her weight continued to go up.
“I was stressed and I think I was going through a bit of postpartum depression without realizing it,” she says. “Kumari would be asleep and I would be crying, eating chocolate pudding and drinking Pepsi. I would buy foods that I knew were bad, but they gave me comfort at the time.”
That continued for Kumari’s first five years of life, and Parker hit 290 lbs. She also developed high-blood pressure and was pre-diabetic.
“Kumari started worrying about me,” she says. “She’s very smart, and smart kids will keep you on your toes.”
“I would have headaches from the food and she would say, ‘I need you to be healthy, I’m really, really worried about you. Please eat healthy.’ I realized that my health was connected to her wellbeing.”
For more on Marsha and five other women who changed their life to get healthy, pick up a copy of PEOPLE, on newsstands now
Parker started taking kickboxing classes, even though it was tough on her budget, because she knew that spending the money would get her to stick with it. She also swapped out her foods, drinking green smoothies with Kumari and prioritizing clean proteins like fish, chicken and eggs.
“I was so determined, I didn’t miss the foods I used to eat,” she says. “I knew that it was do or die, so I was on board.”
And Kumari was a huge help.
“She would set the alarm for me to get up early and help me read food labels,” Parker says.
After seven months, Parker had lost 70 lbs, and by a year she was down 100. In July 2018, she had hit a bit of a plateau, and decided to try weightlifting.
“That was a gamechanger,” she says. “I was losing weight and gaining muscle.”
Parker is now down 155 lbs., and balances five-day-a-week workouts with her job as an online teacher, Ph.D. classes and homeschooling Kumari.
“I know that I have to do certain things and all of them are priority and they all must be done. So I do them,” she says.
Parker says that her “whole narrative has changed.”
“Kumari saved my life.”