Weight Loss Story
I’ve always been fairly active and believed I ate mostly healthy. Although I’ve never been seriously overweight, I still struggled with my weight for what felt like the majority of my life.
My weight hung out in 130’s in high school, creeping up to the 140’s by graduation and then into the 150’s for The College Years. I slimmed down to the low 140’s again before our wedding in 2001, but my weight made its way back up to the mid 150’s and 160’s in the years following babies and beyond. At 5’3″ with a medium frame, I knew my ideal weight was closer to 125 or 130 than 165 to be sure.
Looking back now, it seems like I was always trying to lose weight – or at the very least I was always thinking about it. Losing weight was something I wanted to do and knew I could do, but I always managed to put it off until some magical, future date and time down the road. Any weight loss efforts never extended much beyond trying to be more active and cutting out obvious junk food. I would manage to lose 5 pounds here or 10 pounds there – inevitably slipping back into old habits, which of course meant those lost pounds would find their way home again before long.
I don’t hold any of this against myself now – I was just plain old uninformed. I simply didn’t have the knowledge or sustainable habits in place needed for lasting, sustainable weight loss. Exercise and being active have always come easily, but what I would come to learn was that I needed to completely overhaul my approach to eating.
Baby #1 and a Running Start
I fell out of the exercise habit during my first pregnancy in 2003 and used having an infant as an excuse for being mostly inactive. I’d been hanging out at my post-partum weight of about 165 for nearly a year by the spring of 2005. Having just weaned my daughter, it was shortly after her 1st birthday that I knew it was time to get back into shape and start exercising more regularly again.
The university I was working for at the time was hosting a well promoted running race. With a friend, we decided to try and run the entire 3.5 mile race together. I was not a runner, but I knew running was a great way to lose weight. Having a race to train for was the perfect way get started and stay motivated to stick with it.
Our self-designed training program involved intervals of running and walking. We would meet at the school track after work to run and walk, slowly increasing the time spent running and decreasing the time spent walking as the days and weeks went on. People often ask me how I got my start with running, our approach was very similar to the popular Couch to 5K program that I later came to learn about and now recommend to anyone who is looking for some guidance with learning to run.
With about a month of training, we completely our goal to “run the whole time” and successfully ran the entire 3.5 mile race without having to walk. It was the furthest I’d ever run in my entire life and it felt like an awesome accomplishment. I was very happy that running was easier now and hoped it might help me continue to lose weight because I’d already lost some during our weeks of training leading up to the race.
And while I didn’t love running, I did love that my jeans were fitting better again and so I stuck with it. I spent the summer of 2005 entering any 5K within a 20 mile radius of my house. Having a race on the calendar kept me lacing up my sneakers and helped ensure I’d get out there and run a couple mornings a week. My weight made its back down to the 150’s without changing much else and I was finally feeling a lot better about my post-baby body.
Summer 2005, happy but still 20+ lbs heavier than I would have liked.
Baby #2 and a Running Stop
I stopped running in December 2005 when I got pregnant with our second child. I stayed active and walked through my entire pregnancy, but was secretly glad to have excuse to stop running. It simply was not my most favorite way to spend 40 minutes on any given day.
In August of 2006 left my job as a Computer Programmer to become a Stay at Home Mom, a month before we were to become a family of four.
September 2006, 4 days before Maxine was born. 195 lbs:
October 2006, one month post partum, 165 lbs:
Ready to lose the baby weight once again, I got back into running in the spring of 2007 at about 6 months postpartum. I already knew that running would help me lose weight, and I also knew that having a race to train for would make it easier to stick with it. I wanted something big this time – so I went BIG and decided to train for the marathon that was held in my city every year in the fall.
I found Hal Higdeon’s Marathon Training Program and got Hal’s book, Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide. I started following his 18 week training program, but as the mileage started to increase, I realized that I did not have enough running experience to do the high mileage required for marathon training and came to terms with the fact that running a marathon was simply not realistic or safe at this point in time. I went back to running 5K’s and 10K’s, riding my bike and walking to the park with the kids. I soon found myself back into the low 150’s without changing much else.
Back Here Once Again
A fair weather runner, I had stopped running and exercising altogether by the winter of 2007 and that post-baby weight had crept back on. My wake up call came after Christmas that year when the scale said 165, my post partum weight following the delivery of each baby. When I realized I weighed as much as I did following the birth of each of my daughters and did not just have a baby – I knew it was time to get serious.
I used the start of the new year and the approach of my 29th birthday as motivation to lose the weight and get back into shape. The kids were getting older and I felt like I had room in my life to start taking better care of myself again. I had noticed that I was beginning to feel OLD and I didn’t like it. I was always achy. I couldn’t crouch down for more than a few seconds without my legs feeling like they were going to collapse underneath me. I would hear myself groan while rolling over just to get out of bed. I was always tired and had very little energy. I blamed it on two pregnancies and breastfeeding and the demands of caring for two small children – but the reality was I was carrying around a lot of extra weight and it was time to do something about it.
With the big 3-0 uncomfortably close, I remember thinking “ok, it really is all downhill from here if I don’t do something about this now.” This was not the kind of mother I wanted to be or the kind of example I wanted to set for my kids. I didn’t just want to lose weight – I wanted to be healthy and energetic and feel like my old (young) self again.
By February of 2008 and tipping the scales at 165 pounds, I started working out a few days a week. My routine included various cardio equipment at my local fitness center, swimming laps in their pool, doing Pilates DVD’s at home during nap time and running through my neighborhood streets as time allowed. In the spring I added cycling back into my fitness regime and was working out about 4 – 5 days a week. By May I was down to 152 pounds, the weight I’d always reach and plateau – and as usual, I plateaued here once again.
A Real Turning Point
Feeling frustrated and wanting to lose more weight, I made a comment to my mother about the stubborn scale. This is when she asked the question that changed my life forever:
Calories? I had no idea. I was almost annoyed at this question because I was eating better and exercising regularly, what did it matter how many calories I was eating? And I was a runner! Runners can eat as much as they want! (Right?) She suggested I count my calories for one day to see where I was at.
With nothing to lose except another 15 pounds, I spent one day eating normally but counting my calories to see what the tally was at the end of the day. It was then that I realized I had no idea how many calories I was supposed to be eating. I went looking for a calorie calculator online to determine what my caloric intake should be – only to discover that I was eating exactly the number of calories I needed to maintain my weight.
Until then, I really had no concept of the role that calories played in weight loss, maintenance or weight gain. I thought making healthy food choices and exercise was all I needed in order to lose weight. I think in therapy that’s the moment they call The Breakthrough.
It was at this point that I started keeping a daily food journal. Armed with a small notebook, calculator, measuring cups and measuring spoons I got to work. I used a calorie counting website for foods that didn’t come labels like like fruits and vegetables. I soon added a digital food scale to my calorie counting tool box to be sure I got the portion sizes exactly right. I actually enjoyed tracking each and every calorie that I ate, especially because the scale was finally starting to move in the right direction when I maintained a calorie deficit every day.
It wasn’t exactly easy at first though. It took me a little while to figure out that I could actually eat more, have more energy and feel more satisfied if I focused my diet on whole foods – that meant lots of fruits and vegetables, healthy fats and whole grains. I still ate some processed and packaged foods, but opted for the items found in the health food section instead of the center aisles of the grocery store.
I also realized that if I exercised every day, I could afford to eat more calories and continue to lose weight without feeling deprived. The fact that I enjoyed exercise also made it easy to stay active every day – either an early morning run before my husband left for work or just a walk to the playground with the kids; I made sure I did something active just about every day.
My effort paid off and I lost an additional 13 lbs in just a little over a month. I could not believe it when I got below 140. My “dream weight” was 135, but I don’t think I ever truly believed I could really get there.
As I started to lose more weight and improved the quality of my diet, I noticed that running was starting to feel easier. I was running my usual routes in less time and with less perceived effort. I decided to attempt to train for the marathon again that summer. I was thrilled to get past the point in my training schedule where I had to stop the year before and started to believe I really might be able to do it. I knew it was easier this time because I was smaller, healthier and was in the best shape I’d ever been in.
I continued calorie counting, food journaling through the early summer. I was running and exercising regularly, taking rest days when I felt I needed it. By July of 2008, I was down to 129 lbs.
I never, ever dreamed I would get into the 120’s. I now weighed less and was smaller than I was in high school. Once in a size 10-12, I was now wearing size 4. Shopping for clothes was actually fun! I no longer dreaded looking into the mirror in fitting rooms, I actually enjoyed clothes shopping! I had more energy and really did feel like myself again – in fact, I felt better than I ever remembered feeling before. I was sleeping better, had lots of energy and just plain old felt good. People were constantly commenting on my changed figure and asking me how I did it. All these things helped me stay motivated to stick with my new found eating habits.
It was at this point that I stopped food journaling – I knew now what a healthy diet and proper portions really looked like. This was how I had to eat for the rest of my life. I was never on a diet; I had learned how to eat.
I spent that summer of 2008 continuing to train for the marathon. The day before my youngest daughter’s 2nd birthday, I completed my first marathon in 4:14:59. It was a HOT, humid day and a tough race for every runner due to the weather conditions – but I crossed the finish line with a smile on my face and placed 179 out of 566, 27th among 210 females, 7th place in my age group, females aged 25 – 29.
It was a great day and so incredible to cross the finish line with my family there to support me and cheer me on. It was definitely a high point in my journey to better health – I’d worked so hard to get there.
Part of my story featured in Runner’s World, October 2009
The Moral of the Story
Food journaling and calorie counting were a real turning point in my personal journey to a healthier weight and inevitably, a healthier life. It helped me see that even though I was exercising regularly and eating fairly well, my portion sizes were too big. I was an unconscious eater and food journaling was the what helped me figure that out.
I learned that I needed to stop going back for seconds and thirds. It started paying attention to little ways I was getting additional calories I didn’t need – like eating the crust I cut off the girls’ sandwiches, munching on extra ingredients while I prepared dinner or finishing something because I didn’t want to “waste it”. I was getting tons of extra, empty calories from soda, juice and “fat free” candy and snacks. All of these calories added up and it’s no wonder to me now that I struggled with my weight for so long.
Sticking with three meals a day (and an intentional snack if I need it) helped me become more a more conscious eater. No more mindless eating and just digging for something in fridge or cupboard because I’m bored. Eat breakfast, eat lunch, eat dinner, that’s it. I came to realize that I got a bigger “bang for my caloric buck” if I focused every meal and snack around REAL food instead of processed junk – including a lot of the processed foods found in the health food section too. Carbs come from fruits and vegetables, greens especially. Combined with some form protein and a helping of healthy fats at each meal or snack, I’m totally satisfied with tons of energy to boot.
I no longer keep a food journal, but it was instrumental in reaching weight loss goal. I learned how to eat and finally figured out what had kept me from losing weight so many times before. It taught me what proper portion sizes were supposed to look like. I still eat the foods I enjoy and nothing is off limits. I absolutely enjoy the occasional dessert or treat, just in moderation.
As I’ve worked to maintain my weight, I’ve continued to learn about health, fitness and nutrition. I hope to never stop learning, this is my life now. You don’t have to train for a marathon or even run in order to lose weight. Take a closer look at your diet and find some way to enjoy being active. If you don’t enjoy it, it won’t be sustainable. Let exercise complement your weight loss efforts – both will get easier as you get smaller and healthier. Healthy eating is the biggest part of the weight loss picture – regular exercise or activity is of course important, but a smaller part of what it takes to see real change. Figure out how to love them both and your healthy weight will fall in to place.