About 7 years ago, I weighed 40lbs more than I do now. I thought I’d share my story of how I got there, how I lost the weight, and what I do now to keep it off.
How I got there
“You’ll never be thin,” said my family doctor to me when I was a pre-teen and asked about being bigger than the other girls. “You can be athletic, but you’ll never be thin. You’ve got too big of a bone structure,” he added. For most of high school, I believed him and kept an athletic, but not thin frame, which seemed to be ok.
But, there was one problem, I kept blacking out and was very moody all of the time. No one knew what to make of it and the doctors couldn’t find anything wrong. While attending a community college, I interned at a Fortune 100 company. At an employee health fair they held, they pricked my finger and took my blood sugar. The blood sugar monitors back then took a few minutes to register, so I continued to make my way around the fair. Suddenly, the Wellness Coach ran up and grabbed me “You are about to pass out!” he said. He immediately made me sit down while someone got me some orange juice. Afterwards, he told me I was hypoglycemic and that it was low blood sugar that was causing my mood swings and tendencies to pass out.
So off to a doctor I went and I got officially diagnosed with the condition. There’s no pill I can take, so they gave me the only advice they could; not matter what, eat every three hours. Sounds simple enough, right? But the problem was, I didn’t know WHAT to eat. So, I ate crap all of the time. No really, Papa Johns was on speed dial.
I ballooned up 40 lbs. I didn’t even realize it until my first black belt test when a blunt family member said to me “Gee honey, you’ve really lost your hourglass figure.” Harsh, but it was the slap in the face I needed and I knew I had to change.
How I lost the weight
Knowing that weight loss and gain is usually a combination of diet and exercise, I decided to attack both fronts.
For diet, I got a recommendation from my doctor (not the same one I mentioned before) for a good dietician. My appointment was two weeks out, so I kept a food log. When I went in to see the dietician, I brought the food log for her to look at. By reviewing my food log and getting a short medical history from me, she:
– Reworked my diet so I was still eating every 3 hours, but I was eating the right things. This meant a combination of healthy carbohydrates (fruit, whole grains, etc.) and protein every three hours. The carbs would keep my blood sugar level and the protein will keep me full.
– Showed me places in my diet where there were “hidden” calories and fat in what I was eating. For example, I’ll never eat salad dressing again! From now on, it’s vinegar, olive oil, or nothing on my salads.
– Reduced my calorie intake, partially by getting rid of the hidden calories above and, in general.
– Coached me on portion control.
– Coached me on limitations, but not complete abstinence. She said I could have the pizza I love, just a small portion of it, once a month.
– Insisted that I carry food with me everywhere I go so I could eat a healthy snack every three hours instead of getting in a situation where I HAD to eat and the only option was McDonalds.
– Showed me the hidden problems with eating so much processed food. For example, the calories in the granola bars I was eating were an ok amount, but they didn’t have the 7 grams of protein I needed to stay full and they were FULL of sodium, which was preventing me from losing weight.
I also talked with a friend of mine who always stays very trim and asked her how she does it. She told me, “I view my food just like I do my money. I have a food ‘budget’ every day and I can’t go over that just like I can’t spend more money than I have. So, if I know I’m going to have pizza for dinner, I will eat fruits and vegetables all day. That way, I don’t go over my budget.” Armed with the information from my dietician and my friend, I cleaned all of the bad foods out of my house and began following all of their advice.
For exercise, I got a personal trainer and talked to him about my goals. He:
– Told me to start working out 6 days a week.
– Told me that three days per week would be 45-69 minutes of cardio, moving between 2-3 machines during the workout. I’ll admit, this wasn’t fun at all. “I’m so bored!” I yelled at him while on the elliptical one day. “You’ve got to do it if you want to lose the weight,” he yelled back.
– Told me that three days a week I would do weights. I argued with him that I didn’t want to get bigger and that lifting weights would INCREASE the size of my arms and legs, but he explained to me that, although it might a little bit at first, they would go down as the fat melted off. He also explained to me that lifting weights is critical to losing weight because, unlike cardio, the muscle gained by weight training would cause me to burn more calories all day long.
– Dramatically changed up my workouts every 4-6 weeks. Even though I thought I was getting some variety by doing karate and exercise videos, I was doing the SAME karate training and 3-5 videos all of the time. This caused my body to adapt to these activities and so I wasn’t burning very many calories doing them.
By doing all of the above, I started losing weight pretty rapidly. But, every once in a while, I would plateau. In one very long plateau, I went back to the dietician for another round of counseling and also worked with my trainer to increase the intensity of my workouts. It worked and, after about a year and half, I’d lost 40 lbs and went from a size 10 to a 6.
The best moment came when I went to see my doctor again. She walked in the room, took one look at me, looked back at her chart, looked at me, and then looked at the chart again. In total shock, she said “How much weight have you lost? I barely recognize you!” After I told her 40 lbs, she asked me how I did it. “You know how I did it,” I replied, “diet and exercise.” “I was hoping for a magic pill,” she said. “I know, but there isn’t a magic pill,” I said while smiling. Apparently even doctors want a magic pill.
Over the next year, I stayed the same weight, but my size 6 clothes were getting too big. I wasn’t losing weight anymore, but I was replacing the fat with lean muscle. After another 6 months, I was down to a size 2-4. The funny part is, when I looked in the mirror, I didn’t see much of a difference. In fact, it wasn’t until a co-worker offered me some clothes after my apartment fire did it really click. “How on Earth am I going to fit into your clothes?” I asked her. She gave me a puzzled look. “They will fit you,” she said. And they did.
How I keep it off
Five years later, I still wear a size 2-4 and have kept all of the 40 lbs off of me. I get to eat a little bit more of the foods I love (hamburgers, pizza, and tortilla chips). But, in small portions, only when I’m out. and I NEVER buy them to keep at my house (too much temptation). Taking healthy food with me to work and carrying at least 3 snacks with me at all times has been probably the most inconvenient part, but having a kitchenette at work helps a lot and I just view it as something I have to do not matter what. I also still work out 6 days a week and vary my workouts all of the time. And, my family and friends laugh at me when I ask for a “deck of cards” of turkey and a “baseball” of stuffing at Thanksgiving.
Now that I’ve lost the weight and don’t eat as many of the foods I used to, I’ve found it’s actually a lot easier to avoid and not eat the foods that are bad for me. Because I’m not used to it, I really can’t tolerate really sugary stuff and I’ve done a lot of reading about how sugar and fat are addictive, and how once you have them, you’ll want more. So, I remind myself of that every time I’m tempted. I also remind myself of a quote by financial guru Dave Ramsey when asked about how he keeps the weight off. “No food tastes as good as being skinny,” he said.
The other thing that I do now is weigh myself almost every day. I know this goes against conventional wisdom, but I have a 4lb range I like to keep within and weighing myself everyday helps keep me within that range. If I see myself going above it, I immediately take action and adjust back to my original diet until the scale goes back down. I also think it helps me to see the cause and effect of my actions. If I completely binge and eat a lot of unhealthy things, that will show up on the scale 1-2 days later. So, it’s easy for me to see the connection between my bad actions and the consequences of those.
Maintaining my weight takes effort, especially in our fast-paced, poor food society, but I’m glad I lost the weight. I feel so much better and feel comfortable wearing whatever I want. Too bad that doctor that told me I’d never be skinny isn’t around anymore. If he was, I’d definitely pay him a visit.