How I Lost 86 Pounds and How You Can Learn From My Mistakes
Warning #1: This is the chatty, "welcome to my life" version of my weight loss story. If you are pressed for time (or don't care about all the details - it won't hurt my feelings) you can check out the Cliff's Note version here: Jacqui's Weight Loss Story
Or scroll to the bottom for all my best tips.
Or, you can hear me tell my story. I was interviewed on the Tips of the Scale podcast. You can listen HERE.
Warning #2: This is about the only time I'll share lots of pictures of myself. I HATE having my photo taken. So if you want embarrassing pics of me, now's the time to look.
If you want all the gory details, sit back, grab some air-popped popcorn, and read on.
Who the heck am I and why should you care?
I'm Jacqui, and it's nice to meet you! I live in Kansas City and am married with three sons. I love playing guitar, listening to music, reading about health & nutrition. I also enjoy a good trashy novel. I'm a runner when my knees cooperate and I've run over 20 half marathons, one full marathon, and lots of 5 and 10k's.
I'm also a former fattie, and that's probably why you're reading this.
Why should you care? I'm no one special. I'm just someone who has stuffed her problems down with food for too many years. I'm just a person who put others first and forgot to take care of herself. I'm someone who likes to eat. A lot. I'm also a binge eater so if you've ever dove headfirst into a half gallon of ice cream and finished it off in one sitting, I can relate. I've been normal weight, I've been chubby and I've been downright fat. You saw the picture above.
But despite all my many flaws, I decided seven years ago that I was done being fat.
I had to take action for my own health and, honestly, for my own sanity. I was tired of letting food control me. I lost a lot of weight (over 85 pounds on a good day, and slightly less than that when I'm struggling) and I've kept it off ever since. I don't have a secret diet or magic formula to share. Sorry. But I do have experience. And, by reading of my many, many failures, perhaps you can avoid the mistakes I've made.
Rather than just share my story (which is probably boring without a car chase, space aliens or zombies), I promise to include my snippets of wisdom. People ask me all the time how I lost weight and how they can too. If you read this, you will know EVERYTHING. I promise I have no other goodies to share ;-)
Jacqui's Tip:There is no secret to weight loss. It begins with your decision to become fit. Each and every choice you make will either lead you closer to your goal, or farther away from it. The key is to NEVER GIVE UP.
First I blamed society.
I started dieting as a teen, even though I wasn't overweight. I was a normal teenage girl, but I wasn't tiny like actresses or the models in my Cosmo magazine. I also wasn't 5'10, but that's beside the point. If I were thinner maybe I'd magically become more outgoing. Maybe I'd be more popular with the cute boys at school. Heck, maybe I'd have a higher GPA. So, for all the wrong reasons, I began a lifetime of dieting.
Then I blamed my kids.
After a few years of almost constant dieting, child #1 came along. I gained a whopping 60 pounds during that pregnancy. And much to my dismay, the weight did not disappear once I gave birth. I distinctly remember shopping for a whole new wardrobe in a size 14 when it was time to return to work six weeks later.
So I did what I had done for years - I started another diet.
And the weight came off. Temporarily. Because the endless, vicious cycle of yo yo dieting began in earnest.
Maybe THIS is the diet that will work!
I literally tried every diet known to man, starting with Ayds diet candy as a teenager, the cabbage soup diet, Weight Watcher's, the pilot's diet, Atkins, Southbeach, Fit for Life, paleo, low fat, low carb, low calorie. I have a diet book collection that rivals that of a library.
But with each new diet I lost less weight. And when I would slip into old habits or start binge eating, I gained everything back, plus interest. When I was stressed I turned to food. When I was happy I ate to celebrate. Then the guilt would start and I'd begin a new diet. Isn't that what society tells us to do? Isn't there a diet on the cover of every woman's magazine?
Despite being on a diet almost constantly, I steadily got heavier.
I not only hated dieting, I hated me.
Fast forward to the summer of 2007. I had been hovering in the 180’s for about two years. By the fall of 2007 I began “zombie eating” – I just could not control myself around food. I was binging constantly and could not stop myself. This was one of the most frightening experiences I have ever had - the total loss of control around food. Daily I prayed, made new resolutions, but could not get the eating under control. Over the fall 2007/winter 2008 time period I gained weight steadily until I reached a high of 204 pounds.
I say 204 pounds because that was the number I saw on the scale at one point. I'm 5'5" and have a small frame. Obviously I was avoiding the scale since it was incredibly uncomfortable to face the fact that I was fat. Looking at pictures, I'll bet I weighed more than 204, but that's the number I use for reference. I was wearing a size 18/20 on a good day, and a size 22 on a chubby day.
It wasn't just the number on the scale that I despised. I hated my life.
I was tired of being the fat mom. I wouldn't take my kids to the pool because I didn't want to be seen in a swim suit. I skipped my husband's office parties because I didn't want to be judged. I missed out on a lot of life because I was embarrassed by my weight.
And the real tragedy? The judgment and hatred and disgust came from within ME.
No one ever said anything to my face. Well, there was the time the neighbor child across the street called me fat, but I was probably wearing a size 6 at the time so that doesn't count. People treat you differently when you're fat. They make assumptions that you eat like a pig and are lazy. But it doesn't matter what people think.
The messages you tell yourself are what's important.
And the self-talk in my head was vicious. I hated myself and was disgusted with what I saw in the mirror.
Jacqui's Tip: Please take a minute to think about the messages you are giving yourself. Often we are unaware of the thoughts that pass through our mind throughout the day. But this weight loss battle begins in your head. Learn to speak to yourself as you would to a cherished friend. When a negative thought crosses your mind, counter it with a loving message.
I hit rock bottom... and discovered my big WHY.
In June 2008 I went to the doctor for a routine visit and my blood work showed I was pre-diabetic. It shouldn't have shocked me since I was a poster child for a type II diabetic: overweight, no exercise, crappy diet, etc. My triglycerides were sky high too.
My doctor's visit was a HUGE wake up call. Before this time I knew I was overweight (okay OBESE) but did not have any health consequences. Finally the excess weight had caught up to me. I did some reading about diabetes and what I read scared me to death. I did not want to take the glucophage the doctor prescribed. I did not want to continue down the road to full blown diabetes.
Hitting rock bottom was actually a blessing because I discovered my big WHY.
Your big WHY is your real reason for losing weight. You (or I) can say we want to lose the chub to fit into our skinny jeans, but that is not a reason that will keep you going no matter what when it gets tough. For me, knowing my health was at stake was finally the turning point I needed.
I resolved to do everything in my power to lose weight NOW.
Jacqui's Tip: Do a little soul-searching to find your big WHY. Your WHY is unique to you and it must be compelling to get you through the tough times. Most importantly, write it down.
How I started (finally) losing weight for good.
First I eliminated sugar and flour and slowly the weight started coming off.
And I do mean SLOWLY. I was losing about a pound a week, so that became my goal. Every time in the past I had made grand resolutions and goals I could not achieve them. I decided to give myself a break and strive to lose one pound a week.
The biggest blessing I noticed was that, after the first week or so, I no longer had cravings for junk. Mind you I was not eating totally clean, but for the most part I did not eat processed foods. And while the thought of a cookie or slice of bread sounded good, I had no overwhelming desire to eat it.
I am thoroughly convinced that processed carbs creates a desire for more carbs. When they were cut from my diet I no longer had the scary “zombie eating” urge. This was the biggest blessing of all.
Jacqui's Tip: While it's nice to have the guidance of a well-balanced nutrition plan (like the PiYo plan), simply eliminating processed foods might be enough of a kickstart to get the scale dropping. No need to overcomplicate things in the beginning.
Get your body moving.
With my eating under control, the next thing to tackle was exercise.
At 200+ pounds I was pitifully out of shape. My knees ached going up and down the steps, and my ankles were weak. I made a real effort to find non-weight-bearing exercise to get myself started.
No gym for me - I'll work out at home, thank you very much.
I was fat and self-conscious and the last thing I wanted to do was to squeeze into shorts and a tank top and sweat in public. I ruled out classes at the gym immediately. In the past, I had done home exercise videos so that's where I began.
I first tried yoga and, though I didn't love yoga, it felt good to be moving. Next, I turned to Pilates videos which I really enjoyed. My body started to get stronger. (If you're like I was and need to start very gently, PiYo may be a good place to begin.)
I soon realized that my knees and ankles were no longer hurting and I was ready for more strenuous exercise. I added new videos to my workout collection and began walking. Walking eventually turned into running....
Jacqui's Tip: You must move your body. Period. But, make an effort to find an activity you LOVE. It can be something simple like dancing, walking outdoors, biking, swimming. It can be rocking a kickboxing or weight training DVD. Maybe participating in sports. The key is to find your "soulmate workout."
After one year I was down 57 pounds.
After one year I weighed 147 pounds (down 57 pounds) and wore a size 10. I was THRILLED. In the right clothes I felt good about myself. I wasn't skinny by any means, but I was not ashamed of how I looked.
My thighs no longer rubbed together when I walked. I could cross my legs with ease – something that was impossible when I was fat! I had a newfound energy and enthusiasm for life. I didn't get out of breath walking up the stairs. I actually ENJOYED shopping for clothes.
Best of all, my blood glucose levels and triglycerides were completely normal. And, according to the height/weight charts I was now in the “normal" category.
Even though I was no longer overweight according to the charts, I had jiggly fat and was 33% body fat. So I set a new goal of 135 pounds.
Jacqui's Tip:Setting a big 'ol goal like losing 80 pounds is intimidating. I recommend setting mini goals. Losing 5 pounds is doable, right? Once you hit that goal then re-evaluate. Do you need to keep going? If so, set your next goal for another 5 pounds, etc.
At this point the weight loss really slowed down. I was now losing a pound only every two to three weeks.
I plateaued in the 140's for quite some time. For awhile I decided to stop dieting and try to be happy where I was. But ultimately I refocused and regrouped.
Jacqui's Tip: Most people will plateau at some point. It's frustrating, yes, but your body is simply getting used to what you're doing. You need to outsmart it! One super easy technique is simply to take a diet break for a week. I don't mean diving into junk food again, but just don't be too concerned about your portions and enjoy a treat here and there. Then jump back on your plan. This is what I did unintentionally, and it got the scale moving in the right direction again.
Find your inner athlete.
In October 2009 I started running which gave me a whole new outlook. I now saw myself as an athlete.
Never one to do things slowly (except lose weight!) I ran my first 5k in December 2009 and was hooked on running.
My biggest revelation was that we can all be athletes - it's a state of mind. Whether you are running half marathons (as I eventually did), or you're doing chair yoga in your living room, we can all be active according to what is appropriate for our age, fitness level, health and abilities.
You don't need to be on a team, or run races, or compete with anyone - other than yourself. Being an athlete is a powerful state of mind, and when I finally saw myself that way it was a huge turning point for me. That mindset affects everything you do, because you will want to be active, and you will want to fuel your body with wholesome foods so you can perform at your peak. (For more on finding your inner athlete, read this article.)
Down 75 pounds after 19 months.
By January 2010 I had lost 75 pounds and weighed 129 pounds. I was a size 6. I still had lots of belly fat and flabby thighs and upper arms. I jiggled when I ran, but as far as I was concerned it was a miracle. It was at this time that I started training for my first half marathon in April 2010.
Mind you, this was not effortless AT ALL.
I had added some trouble foods back into my diet and became a calorie counter. I told myself moderation was okay. And it was, so long as it didn't trigger binge eating.
Jacqui's Tip: People ask me all the time how to fight food cravings. I wish I could say there was an easy way, but I struggle with cravings to this day. One (sad) fact is the more processed foods in your diet, the harder it is to resist the cravings. I hate this because I like occasional treats. Sometimes I can add them in but, when I'm feeling weak it's better to just say NO. The habit of saying no to yourself is like a muscle. Flex your willpower muscle and it will strengthen over time. You have to make hard decisions every day about what you'll put in your mouth. Resist the ice cream today - yay! Resist it every day this week and it gets easier and easier to say no.
Down 86 pounds! The end??
With my increased running, I started averaging 118-122 pounds. I was a size 2. Yes a 2!! I still had stubborn flabby areas, but the summer of 2010 was the first summer I felt comfortable wearing shorts and tank tops. By summer of 2010 I had run three half marathons and was training for my first full marathon. My blood work was completely normal. My body fat was approximately 20% which, according to some charts, is in the athlete's range. Yay!
Jacqui's Tip: I'm so sorry to tell you that there is no END. You don't hit goal weight and live happily ever after. Aren't I full of happy truths today? Maintaining my weight was (and still is) a daily struggle. Sometimes multiple times a day I will have to curb the urge to binge eat. But each struggle is also a learning experience and makes me a stronger person. When I mess up (which I do often), I forgive myself and move on. I'm convinced that I (and probably you) do the best we can at the time.
When life throws you a curveball...
Part of the reason I was able to maintain my new lower (118-122) weight was running. I ran lots of miles per week which made up for all sorts of dietary indiscretions. Honestly, some really bad habits started creeping back in, like sweets on a daily basis. I justified them because I was burning off the calories but it was a dangerous place to be. Especially when I had to stop running.
In May 2012 I had knee surgery and when I tried to return to running after a month, promptly hurt my other knee. Thus began a vicious cycle of injury. Long story short, I wasn't able to return to running until spring 2014. Suddenly the pounds started packing on and the battle of the bulge heated up. Again.
Jacqui's Tip: Please, please don't do what I did and focus on one form of exercise only. When I began running it became almost an addiction. It wasn't the act of running I enjoyed, but I loved my running groups, running friends, and races. It was a huge part of my social life and, sadly, my identity. I wasn't a fat girl, I was a runner - yay! When I was no longer able to run it almost killed me. This is no joke. I was extremely depressed for about two years after my surgery. If I saw you running in the streets, I would hate you on sight. This is not a good place to be emotionally.
After my surgery I had to turn to other forms of exercise to burn calories and keep me in shape. That's when I started collecting Beachbody workout programs. I could modify them to accommodate my bad knees, and they were fun. And, I was back to working out at home which I had always enjoyed.
When you backslide, it's time for a challenge.
During the spring of 2012 I started backsliding in a serious way. I was depressed that I couldn't run and turned to food once again. Old habits really do die hard. Food was how I handled stress in the past so I automatically started eating.
Ten pounds later I knew I had to do something.
I felt out-of-control for the first time since beginning my weight loss journey. I saw a post on Facebook for someone running a Beachbody Challenge Group. I wasn't sure exactly what that was, but I wanted in. I needed to up my game and take action fast. What I was doing wasn't working. At that point I was so miserable I just wanted someone to tell me what to do. I needed a coach.
Jacqui's Tip: The critical piece of the puzzle that was missing from the very beginning was support. I didn't tell anyone close to me that I was dieting because I had failed so many times in the past. For the first time I had a coach to help guide me, and the support of a group of people who were just like me - trying to be healthier. My challenge group gave me the motivation and inspiration to get back on track.
That challenge group turned things around and I wish I could say this time I lived happily ever after. But how boring would that be??
Truth is, I still struggle with food. Every day I am tempted to eat more than my body needs. I'm tempted to eat processed junk. I am tempted to turn to food when I'm stressed.
Sometimes I overcome those urges, but often I don't. I am not "cured." But I'm not sure I even like the word "cured." I'm not an addict. I have control over what goes into my mouth. Every day I make a series of decisions. Some bring me closer to goal, and some move me away from my goal.
I constantly gain and lose that last ten (sometimes 15) pounds. Sometimes I'm quite thin, and other times I'm a normal weight. That's what you'll notice in some of these "after" pictures I'm sharing. There are really various stages of "after."
Jacqui's Tip: I am embarrassed to say I haven't practiced what I'm about to preach very well, but have a SCREAM WEIGHT. That is a number that, when you see it on the scale, means you will take immediate action (i.e., diet!) to get back down to your goal. 122 used to be my scream weight and, as of today, I weigh more than 122. Let's just say I'm perfectly imperfect!
What does a typical day of eating look like?
My diet is far from perfect. Ideally it would consist of only real, whole, unprocessed foods. But, that's not exactly how it looks in real life.
My breakfast is usually a Quest Bar and coffee. Lunch is an Amy's meal, an apple and one square of dark (85%) chocolate. Or, I bring leftovers for lunch. Dinner is meat, fish or chicken, a veggie and a starch like sweet potato, white potato or rice. I always end my dinner with another square of dark chocolate. I typically workout after dinner, so I'll drink my Shakeology mixed with almond milk, frozen banana or frozen berries as my snack.
Eating this way helps me maintain my weight loss. When I'm gaining weight it's because I'm doing more snacking or eating at night. I control myself for most of the day - evening is my danger zone.
Here's how I prepare for a successful week:
Planning and preparation is KEY. Each week I spend a little time planning for the upcoming week. I put my workouts on the calendar. I decide exactly what those workouts will be.
I roughly plan my meals for the week and make a shopping list. I shop on the weekend and then prep some of my food, like precooking proteins, chopping veggies, washing fruit and, most importantly, cutting my chocolate bar into squares!
More tips to keep me on track:
1. I like to start my day reading something positive. Whether it's nutrition and fitness oriented or not, I fill my brain with positive messages first thing, before I open my email or facebook.
2. I track my food. I use MyFitnessPal to log my food every day and and I've been doing that for years.
3. I work out 5-6 days per week.
4. I hold myself accountable. One way is through this blog. Another way is with my Beachbody accountability groups. I became a Beachbody coach not only so I can help others lose weight, but for selfish reasons. As I guide my groups I need to practice what I preach! I am constantly in awe of and inspired by my challengers.
5. I set new goals for myself. Usually they are not weight related, but it might be something like training for a 10k race, aspiring to do a real pull-up, or upping the weights in one of my workouts.
6. I journal. Not necessarily daily, but I do journal often about my weight loss struggles. Sometimes "talking" out your problem on paper (or the computer) will give you a new perspective or help you solve your own problem.
7. I allow myself to be imperfect. Perfection is impossible. I try not to stress when I mess up. I forgive myself, learn from the experience, and move on.
8. I take responsibility for my decisions. I don't blame my weight problem on my parents, spouse or children. I didn't get fat because I had a stressful job or problems at home. I got fat because I ate too much. Period.
9. I strive to know myself. Journaling helps with this, but what I mean is that I don't jump on the latest diet bandwagon. I don't do well with restriction - it gives me the urge to binge. I include chocolate daily because two squares is only 100 calories, it has antioxidants (gotta justify!), and it makes me happy.
10. I plan, prepare, anticipate obstacles, and set rewards. How? I organize myself and track my progress with one of the printable planners I've designed. You can download a free planner HERE.
My parting words of wisdom...
If you've read this far, you are officially my favorite reader EVER.
The most important message I can share with you is that YOU CAN DO THIS.
If I, a person who has failed countless times, can lose 80+ pounds and maintain that loss, then anyone can. I have no magical secret, special diet or pill. I just do the best I can each and every day. I follow the tips up above - imperfectly - and those are my golden rules for weight loss.
Decide you’re done being overweight.
Choose to take good care of yourself. Find a plan and follow it. There are plenty of resources on this blog. Don’t get sidetracked by trying to find the perfect diet plan or perfect exercise program and don’t put your hopes on miracle cures. You don’t need to be cured. You just need to be smart.
Eat a little less, eat more wholesome, nourishing foods, and move a little more.
Set small action goals and monitor your progress. Find an accountability buddy or join one of my challenge groups. I’ll help you because I understand the hell that is being overweight and I also have experienced just how wonderful it is to be thin. (And shopping for clothes is now fun!)
So that is my story, and I hope it inspires you. Now get off the computer and go write your own success story! And then share it with me. I can't wait to read it.
See? The struggle never ends...
If you can relate to my story, please comment below. I seriously feel vulnerable here and I hope my discomfort is not in vain!