Losing Weight, Gaining Wellness: How I Lost 75 Pounds and Turned Healthy Choices into a Lifestyle
Growing up, I was always overweight.
Each year at my physical, my pediatrician would show my Body Mass Index graph. I was always over the 95th percentile for my age and height.
My physician would always encourage me to make healthier food choices and to try to be more physically active, and I was always eager to do just that. Trust me: I was dying to lose the extra weight. For some reason, I just didn’t have the self-motivation or determination to actually do it.
I would follow their advice. I’d start a diet. But it would only be a few weeks before I’d be back to my unhealthy eating habits. This cycle seemed to repeat itself all the way through high school. When I graduated, I finally came to a realization: this body is mine for life, and I needed to start taking care of it. After all, nobody else is going to do it for me.
Over the next year I lost 75 pounds.
Today, I’m proud to say that I’ve kept it off for over seven years.
It was not easy and there were many ups and downs along the way, but the feeling of accomplishment and health made every struggle worth it.
I've decided to share a system of actions -- which I call "OVERCOME" -- which helped me to not only lose the weight, but served as a foundation for maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
1. Observable Progress: Don't Weigh Yourself Every Day
Numbers seem to help put things into perspective — especially when it comes to tracking weight loss progress — but weight can vary hour to hour based on many somewhat misleading factors, including hydration status and the amount of salt you’ve consumed. By weighing yourself daily, you often end up with an unrealistic representation of your own progress.
Additionally, there is very little to gain by constantly tracking your own weight. If it’s higher than expected, it is easy to become discouraged and get off track. On the flip side, if the scale shows unprecedented weight loss, you may think it is okay to cheat as a reward.
I found it helpful to weigh myself once a week, at the same time, wearing the same clothes. This helped with consistency and gave me an easier and honest way to watch my weight over time.
2. Victory: Celebrate your accomplishments, big or small
Losing weight is not easy. You’ve got to give yourself credit for all your accomplishments.
These could be scale victories, such as a prize or reward for every 5 pounds lost, or they could be behavior victories. For example if you work out for 5 days in a row you reward yourself.
Rewards should not be food related. Instead, I liked to reward myself with a new magazine, manicure, new workout clothes, or some other little trinket I’ve had my eye on. It helped me to associate healthy choices with positive outcomes which, in turn, helped turn my healthy choices into lifestyle habits.
3. Explore: Discover exciting new recipes
Diets can be extremely boring if you eat the same meals every single day. I liked to have several “go-to” meals that are easy to prepare and diet approved, but I also love to try out new recipes.
It’s so much fun to go shopping for ingredients and spend time fleshing out a new dish. There are endless blogs online with thousands of healthy recipes to test out, and the possibility of finding a new favorite makes the process exciting and enjoyable.
4. Record: Track Everything
This is key. I would not have lost the weight without being accountable to tracking all my food.
It is SO easy for small, seemingly meaningless bites of food here and there to add up and sabotage a healthy eating plan. By using a phone app, website, or paper journal to record every bite you eat, you create self-accountability.
Normally, a box of doughnuts in the break-room at work would be enticing, and having a little piece would seem inconsequential. However, if you have to write it down, you find yourself considering whether it’s really worth it. As I imagined myself writing such things in my tracking notes, I was often met with hesitation. “Do I really want to use my calories on this (likely stale and unsatisfying) doughnut,” I found myself thinking, “or would I rather save them to use later on a treat I will really savor and enjoy?
5. Camraderie: Find a Support System
Simply put: it’s hard to do it alone.
Having a community of others going through similar struggles will give a feeling of camaraderie. I was a WeightWatchers member and attended weekly meetings. Sitting in a room full of other men and women who were also trying to lose weight helped keep me motivated. We would share what went well in each other’s weeks as well as what we could improve on the next week. We shared recipes, tips, encouragement, and support. When a fellow member made a five-pound goal, we would celebrate and cheer them on.
6. Objectives: try cognitive behavioral therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy helps re-frame diet sabotaging mindsets into positive, goal-achieving thoughts. This can be done through a therapist, or reading a book (The Beck Diet Solution is a personal favorite).
One of the first recommendations the book makes is to write down, on a 3x5 index card, all the reasons you want to lose weight, and carry that card around with you wherever you go. This was so helpful to me when dealing with tough situations like wanting to skip a workout or wanting to cheat on my diet. Having that list of my personal reasons gave me strength in those situations by helping me to see the big picture.
7. Moderation: don't have "off-limits" foods
I found that by making certain foods off limits, I only craved them more. When I decided that I could have any food I wanted IN MODERATION, the temptation to eat an entire pint of cookie dough ice-cream was no longer as strong. Instead I discovered — through lots of trial and error — that I could stay on track by having a single serving of ice-cream when the craving struck, then tracking it in my food journal.
8. exercise: find a physical activity that you enjoy
Working out will not be sustainable if you despise doing it. The key is finding something you will look forward to doing. For me, that thing was training for triathlons.
I found that, by having a race date to circle on the calendar, the workouts were more fulfilling and fun.
You may prefer to go on walks with friends, play tennis with a spouse, try out water aerobics, start lifting weights, going on bike rides, enjoying a hike or even just spend some time outside gardening. Whatever it is, make it something you can look froward to in some way.
By following these simple steps, I was able to "overcome" the overwhelming challenges of losing weight and, in the end, turn healthy choices into a lifestyle. As so many of us begin this year with fresh outlooks and healthy resolutions, I am hopeful that I can help someone else struggling to lose weight and live a healthier life.
I am not a weight-loss expert by any means, and this list may not serve as a blueprint toward maximizing your own health, but I can say for a fact that it helped me on my journey.
Osteopathic Medical Student - 2nd Year (OMS II)
College of Osteopathic Medicine
Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences