It was Thanksgiving 2017. My friends and I decided to take a pre-dinner walk to a park down the street. I couldn’t breathe and was getting red-faced and panting. My husband patiently and kindly waited for me because I literally couldn’t keep up with our friends, and my heart was pounding from the exertion. I was only 32 years old at the time.
It would be a year later before I tried a whole food plant-based diet to lose weight, but it was at that moment that I knew something had to change.
In September of 2018, after attending a McDougall 3-Day Intensive weekend retreat, I decided to commit seriously to make the lifestyle changes I needed to lose weight and see the results I was longing for.
My goal was to bring my weight into a healthy BMI range by losing 100 pounds. I wanted to share some of the factors that helped me reach my first goal of losing 50 pounds. I’m also sharing some progress pictures, the specifics of how much weight I lost, how long it took me, where I’m at now, and what the future holds.
I Made My Health a Priority
Before adopting a whole food plant-based diet for health, I struggled with my weight for a good ten years. I was so focused on the vague goal of “being thin” that I tried almost every diet. They were usually unsustainable, and I’d always go back to former habits, and in the process, regain any of the weight I had lost.
After so much dieting trial and error, I realized I needed to make this about more than just “getting thin.” Yes, losing the weight was the result I wanted, but there was a lot more to it than just a number on a scale.
More than anything else, I wanted my health back. I missed the way I used to feel in my body. I missed not having headaches or getting winded going up a flight of stairs. I missed being able to get up and down from the floor without a struggle. I missed being able to bend over and tie my shoes!
I understand that aging is a natural part of life, but the symptoms I was experiencing were not something I was ready to accept in my thirties! If I felt this way now, goodness knows how I would feel as I continued to age.
Focusing on these aspects was more motivating to me than just getting thin. Thin would be a positive side effect of getting healthy.
I Told My Friends (& Strangers on the Internet!)
My journey started by creating an Instagram account to log my food to keep myself accountable.
While thankfully, I have incredibly supportive friends, not many of them are currently following the same dietary guidelines as I am. So finding and creating a community online was an essential part of staying motivated for me.
I also found that talking to others (whether online or in real life) about my health and weight loss goals had a couple of benefits:
First is that it created accountability. People would follow up with me and ask how it was going, which kept me motivated to work hard to have a positive response to share with them. And second, talking regularly about my goals helped me keep them in focus and remind me of what I was working towards.
I Set Myself Up for Success
Two of my favorite authors, both Tim Ferriss and James Clear, talk about the importance of getting in small wins early on. These initial victories encourage us to keep going. So I knew I had to do the same to keep myself on the path to success.
To reach my goals, I needed to identify my triggers and change ingrained patterns. I work outside of the home on Thursdays, and when I get home, I’m always exhausted. I never feel like cooking and almost always end up ordering in. To change this pattern, I needed to plan ahead. That meant cooking a larger portion of dinner on Wednesday nights to make sure there were always leftovers available on Thursdays.
Setting yourself up for success also means reducing barriers and making it easy to make the right choices. When I go grocery shopping, I like to get mini cucumbers, carrots, bell peppers, and hummus for snacking. But I find that if they’re not prepared (i.e., pre-chopped), I won’t eat them.
Rather than berating myself for being lazy or getting to the end of the week and having to throw my soggy cucumbers away, now I chop up all my snack veggies ahead of time, so they’re ready for me at a moments notice.
Planning ahead can be as simple as making extra at dinner time, so you have leftovers for lunch the next day, or batch cooking on a Sunday, so you have healthy food to pull from all week. Your future self will thank you for any work you do in advance.
Stop making healthy choices difficult. Design your environment (like having pre-chopped healthy snacks readily available) to make it easy to do the right thing.
I Focused On Movement
I asked myself the question, “How can I move my body more?” And I made a point to move it daily, not just with exercise, but by doing small things like parking farther away and walking or taking the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator and making a point of getting up from my desk during breaks and walking a lap around the building.
I started viewing movement as a privilege and enjoyment, rather than a punishment or a “have-to.” Even though I felt physically limited at my heaviest weight, reframing my views allowed me to begin to feel grateful for the things my body was capable of doing.
I Drank More Water
I started my day by drinking about 16 ounces of water as soon as I woke up. I also made a point of drinking two cups of water about 15 minutes before each meal.
As I was preparing or heating my food, I’d drink my water, so it had some time to process before I began eating.
Because dehydration symptoms can be similar to hunger, it’s easy to reach for a snack first. But if you want to avoid consuming too many calories, try drinking water first. If you’re still hungry after drinking a few cups, then enjoy a healthy snack.
Staying sufficiently hydrated is essential because it keeps your digestion moving and, in turn, helps to remove waste and toxins from the body.
I Cut Out Toxic People From My Life
Removing toxic people from your life may not seem like it would help you lose weight, but boy, howdy, let me tell you! When you stop focusing on other people and their 3-ring circus, you can use all that freed up time, energy, and mental power to focus on YOU and making your own life better.
The corresponding stress from maintaining toxic relationships can lead to poor eating habits too. If it’s not bringing you joy, or worse, actively bringing you down, you need to find a way to get it out of your life or severely limit the effect it has on you.
I Practiced Self-Love
Our negative self-talk can make self-care seem selfish, but as someone that struggles with negative self-talk, I want to tell you that this couldn’t be further from the truth. We can’t be the best versions of ourselves if we are always criticizing ourselves.
Realizing that I would never talk to anyone I loved the way I spoke to myself was an eye-opening moment for me. And if I continued that kind of self-talk, how did I ever expect myself to flourish?
When I began to view my body as a partner in meeting my goals rather than my enemy, things shifted. When we stop coming from a place of self-hatred, we can make changes out of respect and love for ourselves, our bodies, and our health.
The negative self-talk won’t go away overnight, but the shift to a self-love mindset can begin as simply noticing when you say unkind things about yourself (out loud or internally) and gently and lovingly correcting yourself.
Let me share with you more of the specific details of my weight loss journey so far.
How Much Did I Lose?
My heaviest recorded weight was 225 pounds, although it may have gotten higher I wasn’t measuring it. I lost 55 pounds in total, which brought my weight down to 170 pounds by July of 2019.
How Long Did It Take?
I started my weight loss journey in earnest in mid-September 2018, and I reached 50 pounds lost in June of 2019. Around that time, I lost a parent to lung cancer and underwent a big house move. So from then until now has just been maintaining and focusing on getting through 2020 alive. 😉
What Did I Eat?
I focused on simplicity. I tried to eat my meals as whole-food as possible. I filled my plate with half starchy vegetables like beans, rice, or potatoes, and the other half non-starchy options like broccoli, zucchini, or asparagus. Often dinner was a baked potato or sweet potato with a mix of my favorite green vegetables and a mustard sauce.
Because I usually crave sweets throughout the day, I focused on savory choices for breakfast, like hashbrowns and green vegetables, to help reset my tastebuds. I also focused on getting enough greens by eating one salad a day, either as the main meal or side.
How Much Did I Exercise?
As I mentioned above, I focused on getting more movement in general, but I also made a point to walk (either on the treadmill or outside) for about 30 to 45 minutes most days. If I missed a day, I tried to avoid letting no more than one day go between missed sessions.
Where I’m at Now, and Things I’m Still Struggling With
I’m proud of the progress and the lasting changes I’ve made. I feel so much better than when I began. So many of my health issues have lessened or gone away entirely. I no longer get migraines regularly, and I can walk longer distances without feeling like I’m going to pass out.
While I’ve made a lot of progress, I’m still not done, though. During the pandemic, I’ve gained about 10 pounds back, and while I’m no longer classified as obese, my BMI is still in the overweight category. When I started this journey, it was not just to lose weight but because of my overall health, and there are still lingering health issues I’d like to resolve.
One of my intentions is to have children in the next few years, and while I’ve never been officially diagnosed with Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome, it is a condition that runs in my family. I have noticed some of the symptoms, like fluctuations between irregular and then very heavy and painful periods, excessive hair growth, and acne. Since switching to a plant-based diet, my menstrual cycle has gotten better (more regularity and less heavy and painful), but it hasn’t been corrected completely. Getting into a healthy BMI range may help to fix these lingering symptoms finally.
I also continue to struggle with binge eating. While I think I have done a pretty good job designing my environment to help support my goals, certain emotional triggers still tend to set off a binge. I believe that continuing to set healthy boundaries with others and making sure I have designed my environment to make healthy choices easier will be vital in keeping this under control. I also would like to start a journaling practice to examine my feelings more deeply.
I know I’ve come this far, and I can reach my goals. I’m going to continue working towards shedding the next 50 pounds. Starting this blog to share my progress and to encourage others on the same path is another form of accountability for me. By sharing my own story, I hope to help others who may be struggling or looking for support.
Now I’d love to hear from you: Do any of these tips sound like they might work for you? What do you do to work toward better health? Leave a comment below and let me know!
Your journey to health begins with a strong foundation. For more tips, ideas, and some of my favorite pantry recipes make sure to download my free Guide to Stocking Your Plant-Based Pantry below: