Husband and wife in their cap and gown.

Overcoming Challenges, Realizing Dreams Together

Husband and wife in their cap and gown.
Eric and Maleka Beal

By Melissa Parker

Eric and Maleka Beal have met their fair share of roadblocks over 22 years of marriage, but they’ve never been ones to let a challenge keep them from their goals.

“With a made up mind, you cannot be defeated,” said the New Orleans natives, who earned Bachelor of Science degrees in food and nutrition from UA last month. “We like to implement the three Cs: commitment, consistency and control. By doing this, there isn’t anything we can’t accomplish.”

The couple has used this mindset to overcome many obstacles over the years.

Fresh into their marriage, Hurricane Katrina devastated their home, their careers and the city they loved. The couple and their two young sons were displaced in Texas for two years. They spent the first three months in a hotel, eating fast food daily and packing on many unwanted pounds.

For the sake of their kids, the Beals began researching nutrition and embarked on a journey that led to a combined 300 pound weight loss. They moved back to New Orleans transformed, and brought with them a passion to help others live healthier lives as well.

At the time, social media was just starting to take hold, so they launched an online community to share their story and newfound knowledge about nutrition. The couple’s weight loss journey soon gained national attention.

“It was like a snowball effect,” Eric Beal said. “And before we knew it, we were on Oprah and the Dr. Oz show, and the phones didn’t stop ringing after that.”

The Beals left their jobs to start a personal health company called Better Choices. The national spotlight had opened many doors for expansion of the couple’s company, but each door quickly closed.

“We had many years of experience, but we lacked the credentials of a professional degree,” Maleka Beal said.

Husband and wife before and after 300 pound weightloss.
Together the Beals lost 300 pounds.

They turned their focus to earning bachelor’s degrees and entered UA’s food and nutrition program, available exclusively online through Bama By Distance.

As non-traditional students with kids to parent and a business to run, they were still able to succeed because of the flexibility of the online coursework.

They’d have one last hurdle to jump before finishing their degrees. While completing clinical practicum requirements as interns at New Orleans East Hospital last semester, the Beals came in contact with a COVID-19 patient. They spent 14 days in self-quarantine, managing their own symptoms. Fortunately, they both made full recoveries.

Although they’re eager to walk across the commencement stage later this summer, the Beals celebrated from home last month.

“Today, we celebrate what we’ve earned as individuals and as a unit,” Maleka Beal wrote on what would have been graduation day. “Today highlights the strength of a made up mind. Today confirms that no matter what you’ve been through, you can get through it and you can grow beyond it.”

The pair continue their journey together in the fall, thanks in part to UA’s quick admit program, when they begin work on a master’s degree in human nutrition through Bama By Distance, in preparation for pursuing licensure as registered dietitians.