I did it – I lost 75 lbs in a year. On the morning of May 9th, I weighed in and registered a 75.5-pound weight loss from where I started on May 13, 2017. It certainly wasn’t easy and took a lot of work, but the results have been so worth it. I’ve been asked a lot of questions about what my weight originally was, where I ended, my change in clothing size, changes in eating habits, etc. and so this post will highlight my personal experience and outcomes along with some of the tips I would follow if I were to do this all over again.
- Age: 40 at start of challenge
- Height: 5′ 9.5″
- Starting Weight at challenge beginning: 226 lbs (note: largest I have ever been was 237 in early 2012)
- Starting BMI: 32.9 – Obese
- Original Clothing Size(s): Size 16/18 for jeans, 18 for dress pants, Women’s XL for all tops/sweatshirts
- Ending Weight: 151 lbs
- Ending BMI: 22 – Normal
- Resulting Clothing Size(s): Size 4 for jeans and dresses, size 6 for dress pants, Women’s S or M for all tops depending on fit
Taking on the Challenge
There were four keys things driving my desire to take on my weight loss challenge:
- My boss took a photo during an outing and when I saw the resulting picture, I realized people I respected and worked with saw this obese person I had been ignoring when I looked in the mirror. Frankly, I was mortified.
- I read a comment about how successful people are different and it mentioned they work out and make their health a priority. This was not a news flash, but the commentary by the author was — “How can you ask organizations / employees / clients / board members / investors to have confidence in you to run your company when you can’t even demonstrate you can take care of yourself?” For those of you that know me well, you know I am married to my job and the image I was projecting to others shook me to my core. I know we all wish everyone didn’t judge one another, but it is a reality and I had to face mine.
- I can’t recall who exactly it was at the time, but a friend or family member was telling a story of a loved one who not only was in ill health, but they also needed additional outside help because the spouse couldn’t help take care of them due to their size. Knowing ill health and being overweight are tied closely together, it registered for me the burden I would be on my husband if I was not only ill, but also overweight too. I didn’t want to do that to him. I knew I would prefer to get healthy and have as many years of adventures with him of the positive kind than build memories of sickness and requiring a caregiver. The healthier I could get myself, the better it would be for us both in the long run.
- This last one may sound a little odd, but I need to add it to the list. I finally figured out I was worth it. I deserved to make myself a priority and be able to enjoy how great I would feel and how good I would look. Why didn’t I deserve it? The only one stopping me from doing this sooner than now was me. This was probably one of the tougher pills to figure out how to swallow, but once I did, it certainly made this a bit easier.
With these four reasons firmly implanted in my mind, I came across a website called Healthy Wage. It gave me an opportunity to create a defined framework for my weight loss plan while putting my money where my mouth was. I was going to gamble on my own ability to meet my goal over a 12-month period. Being fed up with how I looked and felt, I looked up what the “Normal” BMI range was for my height and weight and signed up for a goal to put me in the middle of the range. Not 20 pounds or 50 pounds, but 75 pounds. When I told my husband, he initially thought I was crazy. Thankfully, he didn’t tell me this little detail until several months later after I had lost 40 lbs and he knew I was truly committed to meeting my goal. As many have asked why I didn’t go for “just” 50 lbs, 50 lbs wouldn’t have gotten me far enough – I would have still been considered “Overweight” for my BMI and if I was going to take this on, I wanted to stay focused on getting me to a healthy level.
In my last post, I mentioned about how I started by working on my eating first and then working on my exercise. For this post, I will highlight the things I would suggest out of the gate if I was going to do this all over again and then some of the key tips most helpful to me in making healthier choices.
Tips To Get Yourself on Track and in the Right Mindset
Disclaimer: I am not a licensed medical professional, a certified trainer, or dietician. These tips are from my own personal experience and may or may not work for you. Please consult with your physician before starting any lifestyle changes involving dietary changes and an increase in physical activity.
- Figure out your “Why” — Why do you want to do this? Ask yourself “Why” three times to get to the meaningful reason. Example – Why do I want to do this? To lose weight. Why do I want to lose weight? To look and feel better. Why do you want to look and feel better? I don’t want to be tired and lack energy anymore so I can play with my kids and enjoy time with my spouse. The last answer would be considered your “Why.”
- Commit to you – Oftentimes we put others before ourselves, but this needs to be about you and taking care of yourself. If you are going to commit to something, shouldn’t it be you?
- Determine what you should weigh – This one is difficult and can be hard to accept and acknowledge. We have to admit collectively as a society in the US we have gotten more and more overweight, with many people we know and love being obese. I was one of them. I also know looking around at my friends and family, I would muse from time to time I needed to lose 20 lbs or maybe 40 lbs, but this isn’t about how you compare to anyone else. This is about you. To eliminate the comments up front, I am aware BMI is not a perfect measure and with some rare examples, you can certainly make a case. I’m going with 99% of the population in mind and BMI is an accepted place to start. Here is a great website to look up the range of what you should weigh based on your current height and weight from the CDC – Adult BMI Calculator. They also have a link for calculating BMI for Children and Teens if you want to check those as well.
- Sign up for MyFitnessPal (free for Android and iPhone) – For your age, gender, height, current weight, and activity level, you have a caloric intake you need each day to maintain your current weight. They use 2,000 calories as the default for demonstration purposes, but it doesn’t mean that is your requirement. By signing up for the free app, you can see what your intake should be to maintain your current weight and then what it would be to align with your personal weight loss goal on a weekly basis.
- Say out loud (and often), “This is Not a Diet. I am committed to making healthier choices for myself” – I can’t emphasize this point enough. Making healthier eating choices is not a diet. No one is saying you can’t have anything and a bite of a brownie or enjoying Thanksgiving with your family are both feasible. Many people would try to cut me off when they asked me what I was doing for myself when it came to eating and would tell me “Oh, you are doing low-carb or…” No. I can (and could) eat anything I wanted to and so can you, with a little help.
- Start simple and track your food intake – I am not suggesting changing what you eat of any type. Get acclimated to adding entries into MyFitnessPal (if you choose to use it) or another app of your choosing. We all need to acknowledge how much or how little we eat during various times of the day. MyFitnessPal also helps to educate you on what is the calorie count of your food choices and if you pay for the premium app, the breakdown of micronutrients (carbs, fats, proteins). The goal of this tip is all about educating yourself. You can’t fix how and what you eat if you don’t know what you are truly eating and how much of it.
- Make sure to eat three meals a day – If you don’t eat breakfast now or you eat at irregular meal times, this is about building a meal routine for yourself. Structuring when your body will be taking in calories helps your mindset of when you should and shouldn’t be eating. Eating irregularly can make “grazing” behavior more acceptable and increase the likelihood of overeating.
- Minimize caffeine intake after noon – Sleep is a critical part of taking care of yourself and impacts your weight. By minimizing caffeine to the morning, you are giving your body an opportunity to find its natural sleep needs. For me, I went from thinking I was fine with only 4-5 hours of sleep. Modifying my caffeine intake to be only in the morning, I now average naturally 7-8 hours of sleep a night and find I fall asleep quicker, sleep more soundly and feel more rested when I wake. Who can’t want that?
- Know Your Vices – Identify the eating habits for yourself you think are going to be the most difficult to modify. For me, it was my every other week “date” trip with my husband for Mexican including a fully loaded chicken burrito smothered in cheese sauce with sour cream, double serving of Mexican rice, and of course, chips and salsa and the occasional adult beverage. Partner this vice, wih an addiction to Diet Coke, and I thought making healthy choices would be next to impossible. Awareness of the worst offenders is a great start.
Starting to Make Better Choices
- Plan Your Meals for the Week – We all live on the go and it is easy to make unhealthy decisions when we are in a hurry or tired. By taking a few minutes on Sunday and looking at what is on your calendar for the week, you can quickly determine the meals you will be able to eat at home and the ones you may need to plan for more thoughtfully or in advance to pack something. Mentally preparing for meals early, and before the time of stress and being in a hurry, can help you feel like you have better control over the upcoming meal and give you a chance to make the healthiest choices at the time. They don’t always go perfectly, but having a plan certainly improves their chances.
- Begin with items of no significance to you – Don’t try to take on your biggest vices the first day. Start with the things that don’t matter or you have no emotional attachment. What do I mean? For example, I wasn’t committed to a particular type of pasta so swapping it for whole grain pasta in my meals was an easy switch. Going from whole wheat bread when making a sandwich and replacing it with a whole wheat sandwich thin, I still got the taste I was looking for, but reduced my calorie intake by half for my bread choice.
- Introduce More Water into Your Diet – A lot of people think of healthy changes as taking things away from what you eat. Instead of trying to take anything away, add drinking more water each day. Start simple with a single glass and see how it starts to change what you eat and drink and build from there. Many times we eat when we are actually thirsty and a bit of extra water can help hold off some of those cravings. If you aren’t a big fan of “plain water,” I will keep lemon or cucumber slices in my fridge and throw a slice in to a large glass of water with ice. It is refreshing and easy to add without it being overly difficult to do.
- Weigh Your Food When Cooking at Home – I created a weight loss starter kit for myself. It includes a digital food scale, a set of measuring cups and spoons, an easy-to-clean Correlle bowl for weighing food in, and a Correlle pasta bowl. It wasn’t so much to make pasta, but to be able to find a large enough bowls for filling with various mixed greens for a huge salad. The most important point though is we don’t understand serving sizes in comparison to our portion sizes. By going through the motions of measuring out a single serving and seeing what that means for a portion for yourself, you can better educate yourself on the impact of what you are about to eat.
- Redefine a Salad – This one may not apply to many of you, but it was a significant thing for me and so I’m sharing it. I grew up with my idea of a salad being the traditional side salad you get in many restaurants — iceburg lettuce, a cherry tomato or two, maybe some shredded carrots and a couple of cucumber slices and if you were lucky, a pinch of shredded cheese and a tiny crouton or two. Smother this with your favorite dressing – ranch typically for me. When I took on this challenge, I knew I would have to eat more greens and a lot of people have heard me say salads are for rabbits so I knew this was going to be a big hurdle to overcome. My new definition of a salad has evolved to be much more robust – a large bowl overflowing with greens (keep in mind – the darker the greens the better they are for you). On top of it, I now place 2-4 ounces of my protein of choice (warmed up in the microwave if I prefer). This could be cubed chicken, turkey, steak, or even prepared taco meat in my case. The big thing is the seasonings you use on your proteins. It could be a marinade or a grill sauce or even cajun seasoning used during grilling. Be creative! Many of the marinades and grill sauces when applied to your salad add enough moisture you don’t need to add extra dressing. I also would add in a pinch of low calorie cheese – low fat mozzarella or crumbled feta are both pretty good. Check calories per serving size if you want to include cheese on your salad. I would then top it off with something for crunch — slivered almonds, a few wonton strips or a couple of tablespoons of tortilla strips. Salads can be very simple with only a few ingredients or they can be fully loaded with every fresh vegetable you have on hand with the protein of choice. The big thing is to know there are a lot of options and if you want me to (and you remind me), I will write a separate post on some of my favorite salad recipes. Any way you can get the greens into your diet with a controlled calorie count, the better.
- Don’t limit food to only being eaten at certain times of day – On days when I was going to be traveling or have to eat out for work, I would eat my salads for breakfast to make sure I got enough healthy greens. If there are certain foods you like a lot and they are a healthy choice for you, fit them into your meal plan wherever you need to. Be flexible with the time of day and know any food can be eaten at any time. It can really help you set a healthy tone for the day if you need to make it your breakfast.
- If you think something isn’t healthy enough for you to eat, don’t buy it! – You can’t eat what you don’t buy. Initially, I would tell myself I was buying certain snacks for my husband to eat. However, if it isn’t something healthy for me to eat, why would I want my husband to eat it? Don’t give yourself the excuse of having “bad” food in the house for others. If you want to stay away from it, don’t buy it in the first place. Please note, this is not saying you can’t have something you want to eat. I’m suggesting you get creative in how you get the taste you may crave from time to time instead of buying a whole bag of chips, carton of ice cream, etc. and use the excuse of your spouse/kids for why you purchased it in the first place. For example, there is the single-serving small grab bags of chips you can buy one at a time or a single ice cream treat. These are much better alternatives to satisfy a craving than eating an entire carton of ice cream simply because it is in the house.
- Have Healthy Snacks at Hand – We all need to snack from time to time, but what we choose to snack on is more important. In the fridge, keep washed grapes, chunks of fresh fruit, single servings of prepared veggies, etc. The more you can do to be prepared for the times you want to snack with healthy options, the better.
- Empty Calories – Are They Worth It? – This is a tough one, but needs to be addressed. Alcohol. If you are committing to your health and well-being, do you want to be drinking? There is a special occasion where you would like to partake in a glass of wine with friends and family to celebrate. To have that glass, you can certainly do it. To have alcohol on a semi-regular basis to de-stress, unwind from a long week, or whatever the reason may be, I will tell you the calories aren’t worth it. As you begin to lose the weight and start to feel better, my energy and coping mechanisms started to change. My desire to have a drink on a Friday night dimished as I had more energy to do things I wanted to and my focus was on other things. I can’t tell everyone to quit drinking as I haven’t quit completely, but I can tell you, making significant cuts to your alcohol intake will help you feel better — plus no hangover the next day!
- Make Plans to Mitigate for Big Calorie Events and Eat with a Plan – Oftentimes we eat mindlessly and when it is a holiday or at a party, it can be even worse as we feel we have an excuse to eat more. Make plans for how you are going to handle your eating for the entire day of the event/occasion as soon as you know about it. Do your other meals need to be lower in calories than a normal day? Can you drink more water or eat a small snack before to minimize your hunger while you are at the party? You can still partake in the food of the event, but you need to do so thoughtfully and with preparation, you can have a taste of everything.
- Work on Your Major Vices Last – People hear someone is eating healthier and they instantly assume they are now eating “tofu and bean sprouts” and have given up every food they love. When we take this approach, to me, it sounds like all we are doing is depriving ourselves. The approach I took was not about a diet; it is about making healthier changes. By working on changes slowly and introducing in new healthy habits, you can building a healthier life. As you get more confident in your choices and start to see the positive results from your life changes, you will know when you are ready to take on your big vices. For me, I mentioned my Mexican food date with my husband. We still go out for Mexican, but I have changed my order to enchiladas in red sauce and no rice and no extra fixings. I still have a few chips with salsa though! It is about reasonable transitions to something a bit healthier than where you might have been, when you are ready.
That wraps up my 20 suggestions for someone else wanting to tackle their own weight loss challenge. Food is such a big part of getting ourselves healthy and if you can build positive habits here, I think you will find it easier to have the energy and the motivation to get moving and work on the exercise piece we all need in our lives. I can only suggest you take this slowly and don’t expect to lose 20 lbs in a week. This isn’t meant to be a drastic diet you follow verbatim, but a few of the key tips that worked for me and have helped me to develop some sustainable habits to eat better and get my weight under control. I hope you find this helpful and if there is anything unclear or you want additional information, post a comment and I will be happy to help explain.
Thanks for reading and I look forward to hearing about your individual successes!