In an industry known for being competitive, actress Kate Chapman managed to build a successful career on Broadway playing weighty characters.
Literally weighty — she landed gigs such as Mrs. Claus in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. But while Chapman’s dreams of being on the stage were coming true, her health was falling apart.
“By the time I was 34, I was very sick. I was 100 pounds overweight and yet very successful in my career,” Chapman recalls. “Kind of the heavier I got, the more successful I got, which was kind of a weird conundrum…It was an interesting thing. I was afraid to lose weight because I didn’t know what it would do for my career.”
Chapman eventually put her health first, shedding those 100 pounds by eating healthy food and becoming more physically active. Now she’s aiming to use her theater experience to become a public advocate for healthy living.
The Turning Point
Although Chapman faced a number of health woes due to her obesity, she did not find herself motivated to lose weight until she and her stepson took a routine trip to the playground.
Noticing that the 6-year-old had gained a little weight, Chapman decided to show him how to be physically active. She took him to the monkey bars — Chapman’s favorite place on the playground as a child — but the little boy struggled to make it across. Seeking support, he asked her to show him how to do it.
She made it to the third bar before falling off, too out-of-shape to finish. “I just thought, ‘Oh my gosh. I can’t help him. I can’t teach him,’” she says.
Embarrassed, Chapman told the story to a good friend, who happened to be preparing to put on a production of the musical Evita. He told Chapman that if she managed to lose enough weight, he would cast her in her dream role of Eva Peron.
The monkey bars experience, combined with the chance to land such a prestigious gig, motivated Chapman to eat healthier and become more active.
“I didn’t go on a crash diet,” she says. “I just knew I needed to do it.”
Chapman finally had the motivation she needed to lose weight, but there was a complication. She’d just been cast in the musical Les Miserables, and there was a clause in her contract that she must maintain the same weight from the start to finish of the show.
The reason? Costumes cost a lot of money, and must be tailored to fit each cast member.
“That clause is really strictly followed,” Chapman says. “I had to get permission to lose weight, and also do it in a slow enough manner so costumes weren’t in dire straits.”
That turned out to be a blessing, because it forced Chapman to change her lifestyle slowly instead of trying to conquer her weight all at once. She began by reading labels, removing items from her diet that contained ingredients such as high fructose corn syrup. She also opted to “make a rainbow out of every single meal” by incorporating healthy fresh fruit and vegetables and other fresh ingredients.
Meanwhile, being part of the Les Miserables cast meant she was running up and down stairs on and off the stage during each performance.
“I think I counted, I think I did 26 flights of stairs by the end of the night,” Chapman recalls. “What that taught me was I didn’t need to ‘work out’ to lose weight.”
Six months after she changed her lifestyle, she landed the role of Eva Peron.
After losing weight, Chapman continued to act. But the parts she was offered didn’t appeal that much to her.
During one audition, she ran into a colleague who also lost weight. The two got to talking, and the colleague explained that she had become a certified health coach.
Thinking about their conversation — and whether going into the health field might be an option for her, too — Chapman went home and began looking through some of her old journals.
“I read a childhood journal that said, ‘When I grow up, I want to be a healer,’” Chapman says. “I thought, ‘You know, I can do [this]. Why not?”
Chapman is now a certified health coach, working to help others eat healthy and be active. She even unveiled her weight loss on as part of the Today Show’s “Joy Fit Club,” and is launching a health-focused show on YouTube in the fall.
But Chapman also is aiming to become a public health advocate, using her 25 years on the stage to spread the message about the importance of improving environments and public policy to help people lead healthier lives.