Weight-Loss Win is an original Yahoo series that shares the inspiring stories of people who have shed pounds healthfully.
Heather Wright is 31, 5’9” tall, and currently weighs 150 pounds. In 2016, after gaining a significant amount of weight in college, she decided she needed to adopt a healthier lifestyle. This is the story of her weight-loss journey.
The turning point
I was an active kid, and it wasn’t until I got to college that I began packing on pounds. A lot of poor food choices, a low budget, and a sedentary lifestyle caught me off-guard. One day, I was looking at photos from high school and it just hit me that I had become obese. Everything hurt, and I didn’t feel good in my body.
I tried to lose weight several times after college with un-researched ideas like, “No carbs anymore! Cutting out all carbs!” Sure, I lost 20 pounds in a summer, but I gained it all back during the holidays. I needed a real lifestyle change. It wasn’t until I developed a crush on an athletic friend that I finally found the motivation to do the research, make the big changes, and stick to it. I felt like I couldn’t flirt with a man who had completed two triathlons without putting some effort into myself. I gave myself a goal — I’d lose 20 pounds that year so that I could reach him. I ended up losing twice that in the first year.
I started with research. I wanted something I could enjoy and live with forever. I ended up loosely adopting the paleo diet, avoiding processed foods and getting most carbs from fruit rather than breads. I didn’t stick to it strictly, but it made a great framework to develop healthy eating. I ate a lot of chicken, some beef and pork, veggies with every meal, and daily fruit. I began cooking a lot, trying to find new ways to eat the same five foods. It was fun in a way.
I learned a few things immediately. The saying goes that weight loss happens in the kitchen and fitness happens in the gym, and I couldn’t agree more. Calories in/calories out is the first rule of weight loss. No foods are really off limits as long as you’re getting adequate nutrients and eating at a caloric deficit. At 210 pounds, I was eating 2,300 calories per day. To maintain a healthy weight, I needed to get down to 1,500 calories. So I cut 300 calories per day every month until I was eating 1,200 calories per day.
On a typical day, I would have one serving of oatmeal for breakfast; a morning snack of fruit, hummus, or peanut butter; a 400 calorie lunch of meat, veggies, and eggs; an apple an hour before the gym; then a 400 calorie dinner. I got so used to it that even though I don’t have to eat at a deficit anymore, my eating habits have barely changed. I just get to have slightly larger meals or snacks.
As for exercise, I began at home with body weight exercises. Once I adjusted to the routine, I added small dumbbells in. I was lazy, tired, sore, and not very disciplined about sticking to it. After a couple months, I finally joined a gym. Lifting weights while surrounded by other people also bettering themselves was a great motivator. I found that I really enjoyed it. I get bored with cardio, but lifting makes me feel strong and confident. I think most people can find an exercise type that they enjoy if they try different things.
Once I lost about 10 pounds, I had more energy and my joints ached less. After 20 pounds, my skin and hair improved and became clear and sleek. I couldn’t believe it. Each improvement was more motivation. I was doing it right. I didn’t hate what I was eating, I didn’t hate the mirror.
My crush was a great resource. He gave me training ideas and traded clean eating recipes with me, and we kept each other working harder. Having someone to hold me accountable helped me not to slip backward. We did end up getting together. We just celebrated our first anniversary and it’s been more amazing than I imagined.
Everything about my life changed for the better by the time I reached a healthy weight. An obvious example is that I don’t get tired doing normal activities anymore. And then there are more subtle things like the self-confidence that comes from knowing I set goals and reached them. Further, reaching benefits like great sleep turned me into a morning person. Even on weekends, I’m awake by 8 a.m. without an alarm, and I fall asleep quickly when it’s bedtime. I also became proactive about socializing, though it took practice to feel confident in social settings.
There were a few surprises along the way. After I lost half the weight I remember being sad that I still clearly had a long way to go. My goals had been way off and had to be adjusted. I was also surprised by all the health benefits. I used to have regular back pain. Deadlifts cured that. My hair went from dull to shiny, my skin and pores cleared up. It’s amazing what eating right and exercise can do for your whole body, even with small changes like mine.
I’m maintaining my weight at 1,500 calories a day now, but it’s still mostly all the same foods I ate while losing weight. Lots of fruit, meat, veggies, eggs, grains, and high fiber breads. I substitute Greek yogurt for sour cream, and I use almond milk instead of whole milk, even in cooking. I allow myself alcohol on the weekends, and cake once in a while without feeling guilty. The gym is where I can clear my head after work four days a week. I still love lifting weights, and my goals now are all fitness-related. I want to look and feel fit, so that’s my new journey.
Sustainable habits are the backbone of being healthy. You have to enjoy your food and exercise at least a little if you want to be at it for the long term. I eat at the same time every day, which keeps me from getting so hungry that I go for the graham crackers instead of the apple. I also don’t buy snacks that I can’t resist at home. I like Triscuits and hummus, but not so much that I’ll kill the whole box in one sitting. But I can’t resist Doritos, so I don’t buy them. If I want to splurge, I make sure to buy a smaller serving of whatever I’m splurging on, no leftovers. It really helps keep me on track without taking the fun out of food.
As for the gym, I just don’t allow myself to not go. It’s as much a natural part of my day as working at my job, even when I really just don’t feel like going. I always feel better after I knock out some reps.
Other fit women at the gym help motivate me. I want to be like them and challenge myself to see how far I can go. I don’t have any real interest in powerlifting or competitions, but I enjoy pushing myself to my next personal best.
I’ve struggled with sweets my whole life. I always have room for dessert and I can easily eat an entire cake. I can eat frosting with a spoon, and it used to be a real problem. I get sugar cravings almost daily still, although they’re much more manageable than they used to be. I keep fruit and low-calorie popsicles stocked so I can munch on them when the mood strikes. I get pretty miserable if I ignore the cravings for a long time, so fruit is a nice compromise.
My best advice for weight loss is to count your calories. Use a food scale so you don’t estimate wrong. Be consistent for weeks until you can look at a plate of food and tell exactly what you’re about to put in your body. Research everything and try to develop eating habits that work for you. If you eat fewer calories than your body uses to maintain your weight, you will lose weight. And once you get used to it, it’s a part of you.
Need more inspiration? Read about our other weight-loss winners!
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