An Abilene Mother’s Weight Loss Journey
It wasn’t a New Year’s resolution that drove Sarrah Barton to lose 100 pounds in a year. That kind of motivation, coupled with crash diets, had never worked.
It took something much more serious. That “something” came the day her son, Grayson, almost died in her arms from diabetic ketoacidosis, or DKA, as it’s commonly known. It was the wake-up call Sarrah needed. Grayson was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, which is incurable but manageable. Sarrah blamed herself and viewed Grayson’s diagnosis, and DKA crisis, as a “karma hit” from her unhealthy choices.
“I hadn’t just hit rock bottom, I had given up,” she said in a social media post in mid-October 2021. “On top of everything else going on in my life, I was drowning in a sea of extreme mom guilt.”
Sarrah, 34, acknowledges that in the past she didn’t respect herself enough to take care of her body, which led to obesity. In addition to the 100 pounds she’s already lost, Sarrah has a goal of another 75 pounds within the year.
Her journey began in the midst of an extreme depression, brought on by guilt over her son, trying to survive during a pandemic as the sole wage-earner, and embarrassment over her weight. Yet Sarrah found the courage to try out a gym a friend told her about, GritFit Abilene.
“I cried all the way to the gym,” she said. “I couldn’t even look at myself in the mirror.”
But she stuck with it and now, 100 pounds lighter, life is looking much better. She and Grayson, who is now nine, are doing well, with credit going to doctors, teachers, friends, and trainers. Sarrah reminds herself that she didn’t get to the point that she needed to lose 175 pounds overnight. And losing it doesn’t happen overnight, either.
“There’s not a magic pill–you can’t snap your fingers,” Sarrah said. “You just have to be willing to put in the work and stay consistent.”
More Than a Gym
She found help with the work and consistency part of the formula at GritFit, a crossfit gym that opened on Tannehill Drive in July 2020. Owners are Alex Adams, Logan Critz, and Roy Gamboa. It was from Alex that Sarrah learned a new way of approaching her weight loss and overall fitness.
“Progress happens when you do one more rep,” Alex told Sarrah. “Just do one more.”
Sarrah gives much of the credit for her success to Alex, but Alex tosses it right back to Sarrah. She tells all the gym members the same thing.
“They’re the ones putting in the work,” she said. “We just give them the tools.”
Sarrah has earned the respect of Alex and others at the gym. Her dramatic weight loss and outlook are admirable, Alex said. Sarrah gives 100 percent all the time and focuses on what she can do, not what she can’t do.
Like other GritFit members, Sarrah works out with a class. All class members do the same activity but at their own level. There is no competition, no judgment and no fear of embarrassment.
“The big thing is community,” Alex said.
A Mother’s Journey
As Sarrah said, she didn’t gain 175 unwanted pounds overnight. The process started when she was a child. Born in Abilene, Sarrah lived for a few of her young years in Baird with her father and stepmother. It was a bad environment and Sarrah found the only way she knew to deal with it.
“Food was just the only coping mechanism that I had,” she said. “I was pretty much overweight most of my life.”
Two sisters–one older and one younger–went through the same weight struggle. Most of it was due to poor eating habits. Sarrah wasn’t bullied at school but always felt socially awkward and lacked confidence. Things began to improve when Sarrah was in seventh grade and moved in with her mother in Abilene. She found new friends at Franklin Middle School who shared some of the same interests as Sarrah.
“I wasn’t the odd man out anymore,” she said.
Sarrah graduated from Abilene High School in 2005 and enrolled at Texas A&M University. She and Grayson’s father never married but both share child-raising responsibilities. Grayson lives with Sarrah but spends quality time with his dad, who happens to be Grayson’s den leader in Cub Scouts.
“We co-parent like you wouldn’t believe,” Sarrah said. “Buddy is a hands-on dad who has been involved in all of the day-to-day responsibilities of being parent. We realized early on that the only way it can really work in the best interest of Grayson was for us to be friends.”
For the past ten years, Sarrah has worked at Zachry Associates, including three years as data manager for circulation and production for Zachry Publications. Throughout all stages of Sarrah’s life, one constant has been dealing with obesity. As an adult, she tried multiple crash diets, “just to see if anything worked.”
It didn’t. Then, in March 2020, Grayson was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes and came close to dying because of an episode with diabetic ketoacidosis. He spent a week in the intensive care unit at Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth. No one on either side of the family had had diabetes, so the diagnosis came as a surprise. It also brought a life change for both Grayson and Sarrah.
Both of them went through a six-month “pity party,” Sarrah said. For her, that meant reverting to the coping mechanism she had always used–uncontrollable eating. Within six months of Grayson’s diagnosis, Sarrah had gained 75 pounds. Then reality kicked in. When friends approached her because they were worried for her health and mental well-being, Sarrah finally got the motivation she needed to make a drastic life change. She owes it all to Grayson.
“I could do it for him, but I couldn’t do it for myself,” she said. “I nailed it with him. I was able to change everything about how he ate and brought his A1C down from 12.7 to 6.1 in a year.”
One Step at a Time
Grayson turned out to be a good little soldier in dealing with his life change. He has to inject himself with insulin several times a day, depending on what he eats. He has to be aware of changes in the way he feels. He has learned to read his blood sugar levels and he’s mastered food labels.
He’s even learned to categorize snacks as “poke” and “no poke,” meaning some snacks require an insulin injection afterward and some don’t. The “no poke snacks” are low on carbs, like pork rinds, string cheese, and lunch meat. All of that is a lot for a nine-year-old, but Grayson has adjusted and understands these aren’t temporary inconveniences.
“This will be his life for the rest of his life,” Sarrah said.
As a way to cope, Sarrah taught Grayson–and herself–to think in terms of moderation, not elimination. For Grayson, that means a piece of cake at a friend’s birthday party is OK. For Sarrah, that means a beer is OK, but not “a beer and a whole cheesecake. It’s not about giving up everything, but learning how to incorporate what you want without going overboard.”
The monumental changes that Grayson and Sarrah had to make have become almost routine. Sarrah adopted a moderate to low carbohydrate diet that is high in protein and healthy fats. The key to eating properly, Sarrah said, is a lot of meal preparation and planning ahead.
That was especially true when Grayson went on a three-day camping trip with his Cub Scout Pack. The outing was held at Camp Tonkawa, a Boy Scout camp located near Abilene State Park. Sarrah went, too, and Grayson’s dad was there as a den leader. Before the trip, Sarrah did meal preparation, including plenty of low carb snacks. The campout was a huge success, and Grayson was in his element.
His goal is to be an Eagle Scout, en route to becoming a game warden. Grayson is crazy about all animals, especially a family dog and the dogs that he and his mom are fostering.
Both Sarrah and Grayson are thriving in their new lifestyle. Grayson has adapted to being mindful of what he eats and understanding that his condition is permanent. Sarrah has adapted to her new way of eating and living.
Accountability is Key
Support from co-workers, teachers, friends, trainers, gym partners, and others made it possible, Sarrah said. She goes to GritFit Abilene three to four times a week, and if she misses too many days, someone will call to check on her.
“That kind of accountability is huge, and it feels good knowing that people are invested and believe in you,” she said.
Grayson, too, is a big part of Sarrah’s support system. He never said anything to his mom about her weight. But he did give her a boost when she started losing weight.
“Mom,” he said, “you look like you’re getting healthy.”
Sarrah told him she wanted to be healthy so that she would be around to watch Grayson become a game warden and live a long, good life. Grayson is a healthy, easy-going, thoughtful boy who has overcome a lot in his young life.
“He can take a hit and just kind of dust himself off,” Sarrah said. “He has this ability to just roll with whatever comes his way. I think that’s why he never seemed to get down about his diagnosis.”
Grayson accepted the diagnosis, Sarrah said, and has always been vocal about taking the lead in his own care. He tells his mother not to be a “smother” and to let him do things for himself.
Sarrah and Grayson both have been through a lot, but both have come out on the other side better off for the struggle. Today, Sarrah focuses on finding one thing a day to be grateful for. She pays attention to what she eats and is faithful to her gym routine.
Sarrah still is 75 pounds away from her goal, but no one doubts she will make it. Certainly not Grayson and certainly not Alex Adams and other coaches at GritFit. Most importantly, Sarrah doesn’t doubt herself. She just keeps in mind what she tells others about achieving a goal.
“You eventually make it to the finish line,” she said “but it’s not always a straight path.”
By Loretta Fulton
Photos By Shayli Anne Photography