In two years, the Sikeston couple have collectively dropped over 230 pounds. Their secret? Using the buddy system, eating sensibly and working out regularly at the local YMCA.
"When we started, we had no goals of losing this much weight," Gary Tangen said. "We had no goals of where we wanted to get."
It all began because Jo Ann Tangen was having trouble sleeping. She thought if she quit drinking her usual four or five sodas a day, it might help. And it did.
"I started to lose weight, and I thought, 'There might be something to this,'" Jo Ann Tangen said.
The couple's son, Dylan, who was 13 at the time, had taken at weight lifting class at the YMCA of Southeast Missouri in Sikeston and suggested they start working out there.
The couple agreed and set out one night to the YMCA. Their first workout session lasted about 20 minutes.
"That's all we could do," Jo Ann Tangen recalled.
But the couple persevered.
"One of the biggest things that hooked us was with other workout places, you feel like you have to already be in shape before you go, but at the YMCA we didn't feel like that. We felt comfortable starting like we were," Gary Tangen said.
The couple eventually worked up to walking three or four miles a day. "It was a slow process. It took about 9 months to get to that," Gary Tangen said.
During the peak of their progress, the couple were exercising six or seven days a week for two to three hours.
"We were obsessed, really," Gary Tangen said.
While their son gave them the initial push to exercise at the YMCA, eventually his parents motivated him, too.
"He started working out, too. He wanted to play baseball in high school and started getting in shape," the couple recalled.
In addition to exercise, the couple made other lifestyle changes, such as eliminating their intake of soda, fried food and fast food, cutting down on sugar, eating more whole grain foods and drinking lots of water.
There are certain things the couple refuse to give up completely, such as pizza, chocolate and soda, they said.
"I can't imagine going through life without eating pizza," Jo Ann Tangen said. "You have to allow yourself to splurge and know you have to do a couple of extra miles to burn it off."
Today the couple's teamwork is paying off. Gary Tangen's total weight loss is at 117 pounds while his wife's is 110 pounds.
"It feels great," Jo Ann Tangen said. "If one of us wouldn't be committed to it, then the other would. We feed off each other."
While the Tangens were the first to notice the immediate benefits of exercising, it wasn't until about 25 to 40 pounds into their weight loss that co-workers and friends noticed their physical changes.
When they learn the Tangens' method for weight loss, people are often surprised, the couple said.
"They say, 'That's all?!'" Gary Tangen said. "They're expecting us to say Atkins or some fad diet. Everybody wants a quick fix."
But there's been nothing simple or quick about the Tangens' weight loss.
It really was a lifestyle change, Jo Ann Tangen said.
"You can't go into it halfheartedly. Either you do it or you don't," Gary Tangen said. "It's like any habit. You've got to want it."
The couple also gives credit for their success to the YMCA and its staff.
"They have all the tools and equipment," Gary Tangen said. "And 90 percent of the members are very friendly and will help with anything. It really is like a family."
Other YMCA-goers have also approached the Tangens about their weight loss, the couple said.
"Take it slow. Set small goals and stick with it," Gary Tangen advised for those who want to lose weight.
Jo Ann Tangen said little setbacks should be expected but don't throw it all away. Just get back into the routine, she advised.
"Hard work will get you there -- you just have to do it. It takes time and hard effort -- just like anything else in life," Gary Tangen said.
By losing weight the couple admitted they've gained in other ways. They've lowered their cholesterol, blood pressure and risk of diabetes, which runs in the family.
"We don't have to worry about finding clothes to fit or fitting in the seat at a movie theater," Jo Ann Tangen said.
Their confidence has also been boosted, the Tangens said.
Jo Ann Tangen said she no longer has to wonder when she walks past a group of snickering teenagers whether it's her they're laughing at, she said. The couple's relationship has also improved.
"We talk about this and that and the other and discuss problems -- we still fight like married couples do," Jo Ann Tangen said. "But we've achieved this together."
These days the Tangens said they exercise about four to five days a week, lifting weights and using treadmills or elliptical machines at the YMCA.
"I can't imagine going back," Jo Ann Tangen said a few minutes before heading off to exercise with her husband on Saturday.
And the only loss throughout the two-year process has been weight, the couple has determined.
Gary Tangen said: "The only thing we gave up was three hours of sitting in front of the TV."