My StoryBecause I get asked so often how I lost 160 lbs (53% of my starting body weight) I decided to share my story in the amount of detail required to give justice to the reality of the weight loss process. I lost all the weight without any surgery. But I won't say I did it on my own, because I had lots of help from lots of people along the way.
“Rock bottom became the solid foundation I built the rest of my life on.” - J.K. Rowling
My rock bottom was when the scale changed from 299 to 300 pounds.
My weight was already preventing me from living a normal life. I avoided baseball games and concerts because I couldn’t fit in the seats. When flying, I was always worried about whether I would need to endure the embarrassment of requesting a seatbelt extension. Once, I stood in a long line with friends for the roller coaster at Six Flags only to discover I couldn’t ride it because the safety bar wouldn’t close. Getting off the roller coaster in front of my friends and the other people in line is, to this day, the most embarrassing moment in my life. My doctor also told me that at my weight of 300 pounds, I should not have children, as the extra weight from pregnancy could kill me.
Realizing that my weight was going to prevent me from living the life I wanted to, left me feeling depressed and angry at myself.
“The journey of a thousand miles starts with one step.”
I had tried various diets before and failed. I had tried Weight Watchers two different times and gained weight. In college I went to the gym frequently and ate as little as possible. I lost 70 pounds but gained it all back plus some. I was scared to fail again because it would mean my destiny was to be obese for life.
I also realized that each day that went by where I did not make a change was a day of my life lost – a day that I could never get back.
I was overwhelmed and did not know where to start but since I had been the most successful in my previous dieting experience with exercise, I decided to start going to the gym again.
I started by walking on the treadmill for about 45 minutes 3 times a week. I could only walk at a 2.4 mph pace. After each workout my feet were so sore that I could barely walk. I soon started alternating the treadmill with the elliptical. With a lot of support from my husband, I stuck with this for 3 months. According to current research, it takes at least 6 weeks to form a new habit.
During these 3 months I lost 10 pounds. I was encouraged, but wanted to lose weight at a faster pace.
Changing My Diet
“The foods you eat can either be the safest and most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison”.
I gained 150 pounds in 8 years -- that’s about 19 pounds year. For a large part of this period, I was working 50+ hours a week and going to grad school at night. I used food to cope with my stress. I used sugary Starbucks Frapuccinos and cookies to get through 3-hour grad school classes that went until 9pm. I used M&Ms to help get through writing papers. I used Domino’s pizza and chicken fingers with creamy dips as a quick meal when I got home from class, followed with ice cream to reward my exhausted self. In those minutes I was eating those comfort foods, I felt relief from all stress, relief from a life where I had allotted no time to take care of myself.
I never ate salad, fruit, or vegetables. Sometimes in an effort to be healthy I would buy fruit, but it would always rot in my refrigerator. I craved carbs and sugar. I always felt hungry. It was a battle to stop eating -- I always wanted more.
A typical day’s eating plan:
Bagel and cream cheese and/or muffin, yogurt
Candy or chips
Pizza or large tuna sub, chips, cookie
Large Vanilla Latte from Starbucks
Pizza, chicken fingers or other fast food
Cupcakes or ice cream
With the help of an experienced professional, I went cold turkey on my old diet. I was given a sheet that listed exactly what I could eat at each meal. My instructions where eat only what was listed on the sheet. If it wasn’t listed, I was not allowed to eat it. At this point it was very hard for me to fathom giving up pizza, but I went to the grocery store and bought what I needed to give the new eating plan a try.
My new eating plan:
2 packets of original oatmeal
Add in strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and any other fruit(s)
3 kinds of citrus
Coffee with non-fat milk
Add as many vegetables as possible
As much protein (chicken, beef, seafood) as you need to feel full
One piece of fruit
1 can of beef stew (first 2 weeks)
Protein, as much as desired (3rd week and thereafter)
3 colors of vegetables
Snack (whenever needed):Original Cheerios
This was obviously a huge change in diet but I liked that this strict plan took the decision making out of it for me. I soon realized it made sense to focus on enjoying what I COULD eat and not dwelling on what I couldn't eat. I learned that when you are really hungry, healthy food tastes great. Maybe not as great as pizza, but still great. The hardest part was getting used to eating salad and vegetables as those had never been a part of my diet before.
My coach checked in with me daily, and was very supportive --which is a good thing, because I went through some serious sugar and carbohydrate withdrawal symptoms. I was tired and on edge. I often contemplated giving into my strong cravings. Also, one day while driving in my car, I started crying for no reason.
During this period I lost about 3 pounds a week, almost as much as I had lost in the past 3 months. But best of all, after the three weeks, my out-of-control cravings for sugar and carbs were gone. I was actually enjoying the food I was eating. At this point I began introducing other foods such as eggs, Greek yogurt, cheese, nuts, and wheat bread back into my diet. A few weeks later I added in 2 treats per week. I stuck to this plan with these additions for months. There were some exceptions for holidays etc. but this plan became a structure of eating that my body became used to. I enjoyed this plan because I could eat as much protein as I needed to full. I learned that I was actually more satisfied on this plan then I had ever felt at any point in my life. I happily continue to follow this basic structure, with a bit more variation, at least 80% of the time.
One other important item to note is that with this change in diet, I also gave up artificial sweeteners. This includes diet soda and diet ice tea. I had never liked water or seltzer before, but after a few weeks I found that my taste buds adapted and that I loved water. I also found that natural foods like fruit taste sweeter when you aren’t overwhelming your taste buds with sugar and artificial chemicals. In fact, when I tasted an applesauce recently, I rejected it because I could taste the high fructose corn syrup (it was the #2 ingredient). I have also switched to more natural versions of products such as ketchup. Leading ketchup brands contain high fructose corn syrup as well. I learned that over time, your taste buds will learn to prefer more natural food
Finding Community“Simply being with other people who are also seekers and who are involved in the same quest you are is very meaningful.”
One thing I never expected was that the gym community would be so supportive. People were constantly telling me I looked great, and that they could notice I had lost weight. After I lost 50 pounds I gained the courage to start taking group fitness classes.
After going to the same class for a few weeks I started to get to know the regulars. Many of these regulars became great workout buddies, and great encouragers. Through the gym I made friends that I would go hiking and kayaking with. Having a community of friends waiting for me at the gym was very motivating and kept me on track. It even turned working out into a fun activity that I looked forward to, rather than a chore.
Conquering the Emotional Aspects of Weight Loss“You gain strength, experience and confidence by every experience where you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing you cannot do.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
About 3 or 4 months into my weight loss journey, I began seeing a counselor. I discussed my fear of gaining back all of the weight I had lost and my fear of failure.
Losing weight made me so incredibly happy. I was able to fit into smaller size clothes. I was able to travel to my dream destination and actively hike. I was making new friends and going out more often. I was starting to get my life back. Yet, for some reason I believed I was destined to be fat. I believed I would gain the weight back. It was a fear. This fear could have become a self-fulfilling prophecy, but the counselor helped me verbalize what was different about my weight loss efforts this time around. We talked about how I had changed and how I was still changing.
Through school I felt like an outcast because of my weight. I was very down on myself. I talked about what it felt like to have no friends in school and what it felt like for the school gym teacher to tell me I was “pathetic”. These were very raw and emotional topics for me, but going through the process of discussing them and getting my feelings out in the open was very healing and empowering. Through counseling, I stopped blaming myself for my weight problems and as a result my self-esteem increased dramatically.
The counselor also helped me realize my destructive behaviors, which often resulted in weight gain. These behaviors included taking on too much (like work and grad school) or putting the needs of others above my own. I learned new methods to say "no" to work and family demands that would jeopardize the time I needed to invest in myself and my health. The counselor helped me realize all of the situations where I turned to food for comfort and we discussed other methods for coping with stress. This process even involved looking back into my childhood where a lot of my emotional dependence on food began.
Long Term Fitness
“It never gets easier, you just get better.”
After a year and 80lbs lost, I hit a 2 month plateau, and knew it was time to make a change. I began training with Cody Harter two times a week. I was referred to Cody because of his reputation for being the toughest trainer in the gym.
Immediately I was impressed with Cody’s attention to detail and precision. On the first day Cody tested my current fitness level using a heart rate monitor. Cody then came up with a few cardio assignments, targeted to push me to my maximum, such as walking on the treadmill at 3.5mph with the incline set to 12. At this point, this was extremely hard and I could barely get through Cody’s assignments. I realized that as I had become more in shape, I had failed to increase the intensity of my workouts enough. Cody pointed out that there had been no structure or progression to my workouts. Previously my workouts had been a random combination of spin classes, yoga classes, strength classes, and time on the cardio machines.
It took some time to get used to training with Cody. I barely could finish each workout and I often felt sick during the workouts. But I enjoyed how tough each workout was and I enjoyed the challenge. Many of Cody’s workouts were outside. The workouts included sprinting up a big hill, running backwards up the same hill, running up stairs, as well as many other drills. Cody always mixes up the workouts so I don't get bored.
I quickly began to lose more weight, and I noticed my running endurance and speed was improving.
I found the workouts with Cody to be so valuable in helping reach my goals that I began training with him 3 times a week. After I adjusted to this, I began taking his boot camp class on the other two days of the week. I currently work out with Cody a total of 5 times a week now.
I love that I continuously see improvement in so many ways. My running time went from a 14:30 mile to a 9:00 mile in one year. I have seen increases all around in my strength. And of course, I have continued to lose weight. But the weight loss is more of a side effect of focusing on continuously improving in the various aspects of my training program.
Cody has also helped motivate me in times when I have lost some of my motivation. When he noticed that the scale was not dropping very quickly he asked me why and I realized I had let too many refined carbohydrates slip back into my diet. Cody reminded me of my goal weight and the date I had set to reach it. Other times, Cody would make me run with the amount of weight I had left to lose. Running with an extra 25 pounds is not fun! I have always felt that Cody is extremely invested in my success and knowing this has helped to me to work even harder.