Katrina Rigden knew her weight was a problem. But with her days consumed by studying — first for two bachelor’s degrees as an undergraduate, and then her master’s degree to become a physician assistant — she put her health “on the back burner.”
“I was the one who just studied, studied, studied,” the 29-year-old tells PEOPLE for the 2019 Half Their Size issue. “I kept saying that I’ll deal with my health later.”
But Rigden, who “was always the chubby kid” growing up, continued her poor eating habits after she graduated and started long, busy days as a physician assistant in the emergency room.
“When I first started out I worked so much, because I just wanted to pay off my student loan debt,” she says. “I had 16 hour days, so I didn’t want to meal prep and I didn’t want to even go to the gym just because I was so tired when I got home. All I could do was eat and maybe watch TV and then go to bed.”
And almost all of her meals came from the drive-thru. Rigden would pick up a croissant with fried chicken, bacon and cheese for breakfast each morning, and then eat more fried chicken with fries for lunch. At dinner, the fried chicken addiction continued — she would grab a sub sandwich with fried chicken tenders with mayonnaise, bacon and cheese.
“I started by ordering the 6-inch one,” she says. “Then it got to the point where I would order the 12-inch one because it was more economical, and I would say that I would eat the other half later. But I totally didn’t. I literally ate the entire thing.”
At that point Rigden weighed 345 lbs., and struggled to perform her job.
“You’ve got to be on your feet and ready to go,” she says. “If someone starts coding or if they stop breathing, you have to be able to briskly get to them, and your cardiovascular health has to be up. And you have to be able to fit into small places. When you’re 345 lbs. and you’re sweating, you’re not able to do it.”
Plus, Rigden felt like she had no authority as a health care provider.
“It’s hard to be in that position and tell people what they should do, and you’re not doing it yourself,” she says. “You’re telling people that they’re having a heart attack because of bad cholesterol and weight issues, while I myself was not healthy.”
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Rigden’s mom had been pushing her to start a diet program, but she was resistant. Then one day at work, she fainted while helping a patient.
“I was just checking someone’s pulses in their feet, and I remember that day feeling really sweaty, and just kind of huffing and puffing,” she says. “I went to stand back up and I felt like I was hoisting so many bricks on my back, and then I just fell over. That was a big turning point for me. I became the patient.”
Upset, Rigden went into the bathroom and immediately ordered a starter kit from Jenny Craig.
“That was basically the moment that changed everything,” she says. The program was the perfect fit for Rigden’s hectic days at the hospital, because the meals were sent right to her front door, and she could pack up everything to eat at work.
From there, “the weight started pouring off because I went from eating something like 5000 calories a day to half that,” she says.
Her weight loss steadied from there, and Rigden is now down 178 lbs. thanks to her Jenny Craig meals and a newfound love of exercise.
“My whole mindset switched from being lazy to wanting to be active all the time,” she says.
And Rigden feels like she’s a better health care provider now. She has patients coming up to her all the time remarking about her weight loss, and one was even inspired to start dieting too. And during a recent patient evaluation, Rigden realized she was down on her knees and moving around without a second thought.
“I really came full circle from the beginning where I literally passed out and fell over,” she says.
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