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'This can be done': Omaha woman drops more than 80 pounds after diet overhaul and exercise

'This can be done': Omaha woman drops more than 80 pounds after diet overhaul and exercise


Joanna Fastje knew she was overweight, but she considered herself pretty healthy otherwise. She didn’t have any issues with blood pressure, and the only pill she took was a vitamin.

The Omaha nurse joined a wellness program at work and took an initial screening. After she was done fasting for the test, she bought a box of doughnuts for herself.

When results of her initial screening came back, Fastje learned she had a high amount of fats in her bloodstream. She was at a higher risk for diabetes and cancer.

“Here it is in writing that I’m not as healthy as I think I am. I feel like a hypocrite,” she said.

Fastje overhauled her diet and picked up running. A year later, the 44-year-old is down more than 80 pounds.

Fastje was always thin, but when she got pregnant 22 years ago, she packed on about 50 pounds. She never shed the baby weight. At her heaviest, the 5-foot-5-inch woman weighed 220 pounds.

Fastje never cooked at home. Despite being a vegetarian, she rarely ate vegetables. Instead, she laced her food with cheese. She might eat Taco Bell three times a day or a full Casey’s pizza on her way home from work. She snacked on candy bars and diet soda.

“I was eating outrageous portions. I never counted my calories,” she said. “I didn’t really want to see the truth.”

In June 2017, Fastje started revamping her diet and exercise routine. A month later, she started the FAST Diet. The local program helps keep dieters accountable. Now she’s in the program to maintain her weight loss.

Fastje is vegan, eating only plant-based and whole foods. She cut soda and anything with artificial coloring or chemicals in it. Fastje swapped out her cookbooks and found some favorite recipes in a book by Isa Chandra Moskowitz.

For breakfast Fastje might eat steel-cut oatmeal with blueberries and a nondairy yogurt or vegan cereal with soy milk. Lunch options include whole-wheat peanut butter sandwiches with carrot chips and steamed veggies, and rice bowls made of brown rice, lentils and beans. Dinner might be a veggie burger.

Fastje also exercises daily. She joined the Omaha Running Club and has since tackled more than a dozen 5Ks. It’s a far cry from when she tried getting out of gym class growing up and served as track team manager to avoid running.

By the time Fastje had dropped 30 pounds, about three months into her new lifestyle, she knew she was making progress. When she dropped another 30 in another three months , she knew she could hit her goal. Now Fastje weighs 138 pounds.

Dr. David Harnisch, a family medicine specialist with Nebraska Medicine who treats Fastje, said he sees plenty of patients who want to start a weight-loss journey.

“They embark on it over and over and over again,” Harnisch said. “I see very few people who are successful like Joanna, who can drop all that weight.”

Harnisch wanted to be sure Fastje dropped the weight in a safe and sensible way. He learned she was following a balanced routine and applauded her for the work.

“It will pay huge dividends down the road,” Harnisch said. “Her next challenge will be maintaining it.”

Fastje went from wearing a 2X in scrubs to a small. In her regular clothes, she dropped from an 18-22 down to a 7 or 8.

With the weight loss, she’s gained confidence. Fastje goes to more family functions and attended a College World Series game. Before, she hid behind oversized clothes and felt uncomfortable with her size.

“I’m not trying to get into a bathing suit, but I want to be healthy and wear something cute and comfortable,” she said. “Now I can be comfortable. It makes a difference.”

Fastje has inspired some of her co-workers at the Nebraska Medical Center to adopt healthy habits, too. At work, Fastje said she tries to promote a healthy lifestyle. She’ll encourage her co-workers to drink more water or take the stairs instead of the elevator.

“It just reinforces the fact that small changes can happen and having a positive mindset, this can be done,” Fastje said.

Co-worker Francis Carter- Kaisi said it was encouraging to see Fastje stick to a diet and exercise routine.

“We were just in awe of how she’s lost so much and stuck to it,” Carter-Kaisi said.

It prompted Carter-Kaisi to drop about 45 pounds. She took notes on what Fastje’s routine was and modified it to fit her lifestyle.

“Her energy and the way she felt good about herself, it was very encouraging. It just kind of rolled off her,” Carter-Kaisi said. “You wanted to feel good about yourself like that, too.”

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