If you, or someone you know, has struggled with their weight their whole life you're familiar with the story: "I've been overweight for as long as I can remember. I've tried every diet and nothing has worked." In a nutshell, that was my story, too.
When I was 12 years old, my mom took me to Weight Watchers—and that was the first of many attempts to lose weight. I remember being teased by my peers at school. And although I was a competitive athlete, I let my weight hold me back from a lot of experiences. I hated going to pool parties and other social events.
Whenever there was an opportunity to make a wish, whether it was my birthday or the superstitious 11:11 on the clock, I always made the same wish: "to be thin." I'll spare you the rest of the details about my past, but the point is that I grew up looking at the world through the eyes of an overweight person. That's key to understanding the part of my story where it finally does work.
On September 1, 2006, I went to my doctor to get a physical. I stepped on the scale and the nurse shared that I was 206 pounds. I couldn't believe it. I felt completely blindsided because I had no clue that I was that overweight. I was shocked, ashamed, and upset. That day marked the last day that I would ever be that girl again.
This year, I am celebrating 10 years of losing the weight, keeping it off and living a healthy lifestyle. I'm so proud of this milestone.
It took me a year and a half to lose 60 pounds. That was the longest it had ever taken me to lose weight compared to all the other diets I had tried. I exercised consistently and ate healthfully. There is nothing earth-shattering or magical about it. Here is the difference, though; this time is the first time that I get to celebrate. Until now, I haven't ever been able to get to a point where I could say that I've kept the weight off. In the past, the weight always came back. I had always been the girl who had a weight problem.
The reason it worked this time is because I made a mindset shift. When I got away from quick weight loss and fast results, it allowed me to make the transformation not only in a physical way but also in a mental and psychological way. Over that time, my body and mind transformed at a similar pace. This is the gift that many people don't realize is a key part of the journey. It's the gift of a new, fully integrated identity.
Today, I am a healthy eater. I am an exerciser on the weekends, vacations, and all the days in between. I am a veggie lover. I am a fruit lover, and I am an athlete. These are all the new ways that I define myself. It worked because living a healthy lifestyle is just part of who I am now. When you give yourself time and make the shift slowly, with baby steps and progress over perfection, you get sustainable results.
Five years later, I recognized that I wanted to help other people transform their lives, too. I started at a weight-loss sleep-away camp for adolescents. I loved it and realized that was my gift and my passion. So when I got back, I sought out a role with Retrofit, a provider of weight-management and disease-prevention programs, which would enable me to help others lose weight and live a healthier lifestyle.
My background in social work and my own personal journey equipped me to better understand the keys to success from a mindset perspective. Here are the most significant things I learned along the way that I now share with my clients:
1. You need to identify as a healthy person.
I intentionally made a distinction between the "old" me and the "new" me because the language you use to define yourself influences the choices you make. For example, if you say "I am a mom," immediately associations of what a mom does pop in your head. With this identity, you know who you are and what you do. The same thing is true when you identify yourself as a healthy person.
One of my core values is my health. So, therefore, the choices I make are naturally filtered through that lens. It is just part of who I am now.
2. It's a marathon, not a sprint.
I purposefully highlighted that it took me a year and a half to lose weight because so many of us want fast results. We want to be there yesterday.
While that would be nice, the reason it doesn't work is because losing weight is more than just physically transforming your body. It is about changing your psychology and your relationship with food and navigating your environment differently. In order to make these changes stick, you have to give yourself time to alter the lens through which you see yourself and how you relate to the world and get comfortable with the way others will relate to you differently.
3. Do what makes you feel good.
One of the biggest lessons I learned that became a game-changer for me was to separate my behaviors from the outcome on the scale. I used to work out hard and push myself just to see results on the scale the next morning. Inevitably there were days when the scale wouldn't go down and days when it would. On the days it didn't go down after I had really pushed myself, I would feel frustrated.
But when I started to work out just because I enjoyed it and experienced the other benefits of exercise besides what can be seen on the scale, I was able to sustain that behavior. I learned to do what made me feel good regardless of what the scale said the next day. It's no longer a chore to exercise; it's something I want to do. I encourage you to take the "shoulds" out of your vocabulary because that will free you from seeing healthier choices as chores and instead open your eyes to what you want to do.
4. Every habit should be sustainable.
Often people think of the weight-loss phase and maintenance phase as two separate ways of living. The truth is that the tools you establish during the weight-loss phase are the same tools you will use to sustain your weight long term. The difference is just time and practice.
I weigh in, just like you. I focus on 50 percent produce, just like you. I monitor my steps, just like you. I look up menus in advance, just like you. I have indulgences every now and then, just like you.
As you develop your healthy lifestyle and achieve your weight-loss goals, make sure you are setting boundaries around food and exercise that you can live by. That's the key to success. If you are ever engaging in a behavior you don’t think you can sustain, take a step back and re-evaluate it. This will help you build a lifestyle that you love and that makes you feel good.
Don't be fooled by how easy it may sound. The truth is that it does require ongoing attention. That being said, it’s not painful—I like being healthy and I am proud of that identity. So the choices I make daily are congruent with who I am. Today, I have no fears or concerns that I will ever go back to who I was and how I lived before 2006.