Last month marked the fourth anniversary of losing around 35 pounds and keeping it off (well, most of it…keep reading). I haven’t talked much about my weight loss and maintenance on this blog, so I thought this would be a good time to tell you my story and what worked for me.
Note: Posting these photos and documenting my weight is difficult. Please do not re-post or reuse these photos. I am sharing them so that others might learn something from my weight loss and maintenance journey.
What Started It All
When my father died suddenly when I was 14 years old, I drowned my grief in food. For a few years, all I did was cry and eat. I remember Halloween the year after he died. We don’t get many trick-or-treaters and had bags of candy left over. I ate it ALL in two days. By the time I was 15 years old, I had stretch marks because I’d gained so much weight in such a short time. I don’t remember ever getting on a scale, so I have no idea what I weighed, but my guess would be close to 200 pounds.
My First Weight Loss
I never dieted or tried to lose weight and was heavy until I graduated college. Then, I bought Bob Greene’s Make the Connection book, which featured the program he used with Oprah Winfrey. It was pretty basic—exercise a lot and eat healthy—but I’d never tried to do either. Not surprisingly, I quickly and easily lost about 30 or so pounds. Again, I don’t have any of the numbers written down so don’t know how heavy I was or how much I lost.
Major Life Change #1
I easily got into the habit of exercising first thing in the morning five or six days a week. And I continued to eat light, healthy meals. Then I met my husband in 1999. Of course we wanted to be together all the time, which meant a different lifestyle than I’d been living—late nights up and mornings sleeping in, snacks late at night, less time for exercise, more eating out, that sort of thing.
Over the next few years, I gained the weight back. In December 2003 I joined Weight Watchers online and logged my weight as 180 pounds. By September 2004 I’d gotten down to 150 pounds but then just stopped following the program. I had no idea there was a maintenance phase! By January 2006 I’d gotten up to 184 pounds. I halfheartedly followed the program for the next few years, fluctuating between about 165 and 175 pounds. Finally, in January 2010, weighing 174, I decided to lose the weight once and for all. That was also when I started eating a plant-based diet. I did that for ethical reasons, not to lose weight, but it definitely helped as you’ll read in the Best Practices section.
|January 2010, 174 pounds|
Getting to My Lowest Weight
In January 2011 I weighed my lowest weight: 141.2 pounds. So, if you do the math, the difference between my highest weight and lowest weight is 43 pounds, but I never actually lost that much all at once.
|January 2012, 141 pounds (lowest weight)|
|January 2012, 141 pounds (lowest weight)|
Major Life Change #2
I did really well with maintaining that loss for about a year and a half…and then we adopted our greyhound in 2012. He needed a lot of help adjusting from the racetrack to his new home, and all the time I’d previously spent exercising and cooking went to him. By August 2013, I was up to 157 pounds. I decided to start going to Weight Watchers meetings, something I’d never done before. You cannot achieve Lifetime status as an online member, and I really wanted to be a Lifetime Member, which means the program is free as long as you maintain your loss. You have to weigh in at meetings, lose at least five pounds, and maintain that loss for six weeks to become a Lifetime Member.
|September 2012, about 143 pounds
First time in my life I wore a bikini in public!
Becoming a Lifetime Member
This time around, I set 145 as my goal weight. At 141 pounds, I was wearing a size 4 pants, and size XS tops were big on me. But I have a larger frame and am not a petite person, so it just didn’t feel right to me. (Note: I’m 5′ 7″.) Plus, the less you weigh the less you can eat, so maintaining 141 pounds was really hard. By December 2013, I was down to 144.8 pounds and reached my Lifetime status.
I maintained that weight successfully until just recently. Last fall, when I was really focused on training for my half marathon, I stopped following the program. I ate what I wanted, when I wanted, without thinking about it. I also stopped doing a lot of strength training, which I believe really helped me keep the weight off since muscle burns more calories than fat does. When I went to a Weight Watchers meeting in December, I weighed 154.6 and had to pay for the first time since becoming a Lifetime member.
Well, let me tell you that having to pay is huge motivation to lose. I managed to lose a bit of weight over the holidays and started January weighing 153.1. My current weight is 151.5. So, I am just 6.5 pounds over goal weight, and I’m confident I’ll get back down soon. Writing all this down reminds me how much I need to pay attention and keep with the program so that I don’t keep fluctuating. These photos are from this past weekend.
|January 2015, 151.5 pounds|
|January 2015, 151.5 pounds|
So let’s compare some of these photos. This is one of me at one of my heaviest times in 2008 and me right now, probably about a 40-pound difference.
This is a comparison of me at my lowest weight and right now. Even though I weigh 10 pounds more now than I did back then, it’s pretty hard to see the difference visually. My thighs are larger (that’s where I carry most of my weight), and I do wear size 6 pants now and wore size 4 at my lowest weight.
While my weight has fluctuated a bit, overall I feel I’ve been successful at maintaining my weight loss. I am mostly motivated to get back down to my goal weight so I don’t have to pay for Weight Watchers, but in general I’m pretty happy with my weight.
Best Practices for Success
I have no professional background or certification on weight management. These are just the things that worked for me.
1. Don’t diet. You’ve probably heard the statistic that 95% of people who lose weight gain it all back. A quick search to confirm that pointed to lots of articles stating no one really knows how many people gain it back. But it’s pretty common, and you probably know someone it’s happened to. What has been proven is that diets don’t work because people alter their eating for a short while to lose weight and then go back to eating like they did before dieting.
In addition, research published in 2011 showed that maintaining a certain weight is harder for people who have lost 30 pounds or above than it is for people who have never gained and then lost a lot of weight.
So what’s the answer? Make changes to your diet and lifestyle that you can maintain for the rest of your life. That’s why I like the Weight Watchers program. Yes, it is a diet in that it gives you a formula for how much to eat to lose weight. But it’s also about learning a new lifestyle—how to make smart choices when eating out, how to best manage social situations like happy hours and birthday lunches, how to set up your kitchen for success, how to make good food portions that will keep you full and satisfied, how to say no to food pushers. If you saw their Super Bowl commercial, it’s a pretty accurate view of the program—there are a lot of temptations in the world, and Weight Watchers helps you deal with them. And after you lose weight, it helps you manage how to maintain that loss.
I’m not being paid by Weight Watchers to say this; the program just works for me. For others, it may not work for. The point is to not do anything while trying to lose weight that you can’t do for the long term.
2. Don’t deprive yourself. I wrote an article on my old cooking blog about how chocolate helped me lose weight. I’m serious. In all the time that I have lost weight and maintained it, I treated myself every single day. I lost 1.6 pounds last month, and in that month I had at least one, if not more, of the cookies I made for the holidays that were still in my freezer. In that blog post, I said, “Because I keep my sweet tooth happy, I never feel deprived. Feeling deprived can make you miserable, and there’s only so much of that most people can take before their unsatisfied cravings take over and lead to binging.”
The key, of course, is moderation. I don’t eat everything I want all the time, but I eat enough that I am satisfied and happy.
3. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables. When I was vegetarian, my focus was on not eating meat. My diet included a lot of pizza, mac and cheese, and grilled cheese sandwiches. In other words, it wasn’t very healthy. When I adopted a plant-based vegan diet in 2010, my focus changed to eating all the foods I should be eating for optimal health. My husband jokes that I eat more fruit and vegetables in a day than he eats in a year. Fruits and veggies are not only nutrient dense but also high in fiber and very filling. Weight Watchers recommends filling half your plate with fruits and veggies at every meal (with ¼ lean protein and ¼ whole grains). I usually have more than that.
4. Eat a combination of lean protein, whole grains, and vegetables/fruit at every meal. This combination is great nutritionally and keeps me full and satisfied. I am rarely ever hungry because my breakfasts fill me up until lunch, and my lunches fill me up until dinner. If I overeat, it’s because of mindless eating and grazing, not true hunger. An example of a typical lunch that fills me us is a big bowl of steamed kale (kale is a super hunger buster), chickpeas, brown rice, and a fat or fat-free gravy or dressing.
5. Cook most of your meals and make most of your own snacks. In some ways, being vegan makes it easier to lose and maintain weight. Coworkers bring donuts into a meeting? Can’t eat them. Relatives pushing that cheesy broccoli casserole that they made just for you? Can’t have it. But that doesn’t mean I can’t ever have those things. Instead, I make my own. When I became vegan, I started cooking when I couldn’t find much to eat in restaurants (though that’s changed a lot in the past five years) or when I wanted to make vegan versions of snacks and treats. When you cook or bake, you control what goes into your food, so it’s usually much healthier. Plus, for me at least, seeing all the bad things like white flour and sugar that go into baked goods is enough for me to only want to eat them in moderation.
6. Strength train. When I got to my goal weight in January 2011, I credited three things: being vegan, following Weight Watchers, and strength training. Muscle burns more calories than fat, so strength training helped me both lose weight and maintain that loss. In fact, the personal trainer I worked with after I lost weight suggested I do more strength training than cardio because it would be more helpful in maintaining my weight loss. The times I gained since January 2011 were when I stopped doing a lot of strength training and didn’t focus on my eating. Plus, if you look at my comparison photos from January 2011 to January 2015, you’ll see that I don’t like a whole lot different even though I’m 10 pounds heavier. I believe that’s because I ramped up strength training in January, getting in 140-150 minutes a week. While I lost fat (only 1.6 pounds), I built muscle, which not only makes me leaner but will help me continue to lose and then maintain.
7. Be vigilant. If you read the findings from the National Weight Control Registry, comprising people who have successfully lost weight and maintained that loss, the average person is vigilant about monitoring their eating, exercise, and weight. I like tracking what I eat, but sometimes, like on vacation or if I’m just really busy or even on weekends, I forget about it or just don’t want to do it. That’s when my weight goes up. This past month when I lost 1.6 pounds, the only thing I did differently is track what I ate. You read above that I still had cookies every day! Logging what I eat is critical for me to lose and maintain weight. Successful maintainers also weigh themselves regularly. A gain of two pounds can easily become five, which can easily become eight, which can easily become 10 if you aren’t vigilant. I weigh myself once a week. Being vigilant is the behavior that’s the hardest for me and where I need to improve.
This has been a long post, so if you got to the end you deserve a gold star! I hope some of this is helpful to some of you.