The right moves: Zumba, Paleo diet helped local attorney Jennifer Hammond drop 100 pounds

Jennifer Hammond, center, works on her moves during a recent Zumba class with her daughter, Mary, who is behind her on the right. Hammond has lost 100 pounds in the past year by attending Zumba classes and following a Paleo diet.
Jennifer Hammond, center, works on her moves during a recent Zumba class with her daughter, Mary, who is behind her on the right. Hammond has lost 100 pounds in the past year by attending Zumba classes and following a Paleo diet.

A series of unfortunate events prompted Jennifer Hammond’s decision to lose weight.

“My liver had these stones that blocked my duct; part of that comes from unhealthy eating and living,” she said. “I had a gallbladder attack and that had to be taken out.

“I started thinking ‘Clearly, I’m not doing something right,’ so I decided to resolve to eat better.”

At the suggestion of her sister-in-law, Andrea Davis, Hammond joined an online Weight Watchers program.

“They don’t say you can’t eating anything,” Hammond said. “You can have that slice of cake, but it may be 20 points and you may be drinking water the rest of the day.

“Mentally, you don’t have to say this is off limits, that’s off limits, which is wonderful.”

About a year later, she’s down 100 pounds. By losing the weight, she’s gained more energy, stamina and confidence – all things she’s lacked in recent history.

“This is not a diet, it’s a lifestyle,” she said.

In order to tone up as she was dropping pounds, Hammond started working out with Tracey McKenzie, a local trainer and Zumba teacher.

Her sessions take place at 5:45 a.m. Fridays before many have even thought about getting out of bed.

“Listen, I am not a workout person and I am not an athlete – I’m anything but that,” she said. “If I can do it, it just kind of proves that anybody can do it.”

Going Paleo

Hammond said she ended up taking up the philosophies of the Paleo diet almost by accident.

“A lot of the food choices are lower points on the Weight Watchers plans,” she said. “I have to save my points because I’m not going without food.”

When Davis discovered Diane Sanfilippo’s book “Practical Paleo” she shared it with Hammond and the women became hooked on the practice, which eliminates grains, legumes, dairy products, potatoes, salt, refined sugar and processed oils.

“It’s all about starting from the inside and getting healthy from the inside out,” Davis said. “I like that the book is not strict, the author understands that you may not be able to follow the diet all the time, but you can get close.”

Davis said she’s purchased and distributed a total of 22 of the books to family, friends and coworkers at Davis Law Firm, where she and Hammond work as attorneys.

“The difference in how you feel is truly amazing,” she said. “I’ve always thought I was doing the right things because I’ve read all the magazines and I’m on all the Facebook pages with the healthy people, but I feel completely different now that I’ve taken out all the processed food.”

Hammond said the good thing about going Paleo is you don’t have to starve yourself.

“There is plenty of food you can eat,” she said. “The old saying ‘You are what you eat,’ it’s true.”

Hammond admits it hasn’t always been easy.

“Probably the hardest part for me was the realization that I was going to have to start cooking instead of picking up food somewhere,” she said. “But once I started doing it, I realized it was a gateway to more family time.”

Now, Hammond said she often visits the Salisbury Farmers Market with at least one of her three children to pick out fresh, locally-sourced ingredients.

“We’ll figure out together what we’re going to cook,” she said. “Immediately, we were having so much fun doing these things as a family.”

Hammond said before switching to a healthier lifestyle she was a self-proclaimed bread addict.

“Now, it doesn’t have the desire that it used to,” she said. “The more you eat something the more addictive it becomes.”

As she weaned herself off bread, Hammond said she found she no longer craved it.

Davis said her cravings started to subside after steering clear of processed foods for about a month.

“It really is sort of breaking up with the convenience of what you think you need,” she said. “If you would go two weeks without eating any bread, cereal or pasta and then sit down and eat those things you’re going to have tremendous discomfort and realize it isn’t good for your body.”

Davis said the good thing about the diet is the fact that it’s acceptable to change habits gradually instead of going cold turkey.

“If you can’t give up all bread or all pasta, find a substitute at least once a week,” she said. “You’ve got to decide your health is important and just make it happen. The excuse of work and kids are really just excuses.”

Davis said some people will be surprised to learn the food on the Paleo diet actually tastes better.

“It’s a lot more flavorful than a Poptart,” she said. “You’re satisfied and you’re full.”

Trying Zumba

Both Davis and Hammond are avid fans of Zumba. The women attend McKenzie’s class almost every Monday and Wednesday evening at the Salisbury Civic Center.

“The fun thing about Zumba is it’s kid friendly, but you’ve also got 70 plus year old women out there,” Davis said. “It also runs the gamut of fitness levels.

“It got me back on track after having three kids.”

Hammond started training with McKenzie before she took up Zumba. Her daughter, Mary, tags along to offer support.

“It’s been the most wonderful extra bonding experience that we would have never had,” she said.

McKenzie said she looks forward to starting her Fridays with the Hammonds.

“Jennifer has been up for every challenge I have thrown her way and continues to reach each new goal,” she said. “She is a hard worker and always has a smile on her face.”

McKenzie said she’s seen Hammond’s body change in “amazing ways.”

“I think she would agree she is more comfortable in her own skin and stronger both mentally and physically,” she said. “I do not like to focus on weight, but I believe Jennifer has made huge leaps toward the goals she has set for herself.”

McKenzie said the biggest change she’s seen in Hammond is her confidence levels.

“The rest of the world can see how beautiful she is inside and out and I believe that she is starting to realize just how special she is,” McKenzie said. “She has come such a long way in her ability to perform new exercises and her stamina to make it through harder and harder workouts and higher intensity Zumba classes continues to get better each week.

“In my opinion, she is on a path for lifelong wellness and happiness.”

Hammond said it took a while to build up her confidence to take on Zumba.

“Tracey just encouraged me right along, she said you can take a break, you can stop and get some water,” she said. “It turns out the class is really fun and I look forward to seeing the people there.”

Hammond even used some of her Zumba moves on the dance floor at her niece’s wedding last year.

“Two years ago, she would have never even thought about stepping foot on that dance floor,” Davis said.

The benefits

Hammond has more energy now thanks to a combination of clean eating and working out.

“I feel so much better,” she said.

Hammond has also noticed an improvement in her digestive health and a reduction in swelling.

“If I eat sodium now I can immediately tell a difference because my eyes and fingers swell and feel puffy,” she said.

Increased stamina is another big benefit.

“I used to feel much more tired throughout the day,” she said. “I didn’t have nearly the stamina or the ability to continuously get up and go that I do now.”

Her memory has also improved.

“I can think more clearly,” shes aid. “My retention is much better.”

Davis said it took her about a year to lose to reach her ideal weight. During that time, her blood pressure dropped.

“Being 39 and on blood pressure medicine was not ideal,” she said. “I’ve lost 25 pounds, but it took me 11 months to do. It’s a slow process, but it’s the right process.”

The women said they’ve used “Practical Paleo” to find solutions to everyday problems such as aches and pains.

“You learn how to use food to heal yourself from the inside,” Hammond said. “There are issues that I had learned to live with, but I found out I don’t have to. All I had to do was change my diet; it’s amazing.”

Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.

Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of stories that will feature local residents’ experience with weight loss and fitness. The stories will appear on the People page each Sunday.

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