At an annual check-up six years ago, my doctor handed me a piece of paper with a few life-changing numbers written on it. It revealed that my cholesterol level was 240 (read: high) and my weight was at its highest: 205. I was only 36-years-old.
Before that point, I’d spent over two decades dieting, exercising, binging, gaining weight, temporarily losing weight, and feeling defeated. Then, I’d repeat the whole cycle again. My weight fluctuated a lot—I’d weighed 125 to 205 and everything in between. You name the diet, I probably tried it.
Every single time I had success, failure was always right around the corner. And that’s because I was going for quick fixes, not long-term solutions. Because I couldn’t get a grasp on my health, depression and anxiety followed me everywhere I went.
Staring at those numbers, all I could think was how could I have let myself get to this place? I was young, I had a six-month-old and a two-year-old, and my doctor was talking to me about death.
If I didn’t die early, I would face a lifetime of medication, she said.
Every single time I had success, failure was always right around the corner. And that’s because I was going for quick fixes, not long-term solutions.
At that point in my life, my eating habits were a real problem. I’d regularly binge on sugary treats and eat tons of food with high levels of saturated fat. I definitely skipped out on exercise. I suffered from extreme fatigue and chronic pain from lower back issues, and, more intangibly, I suffered from sheer embarrassment.
To top it off, I was already genetically predisposed to high cholesterol. My dad—who was the most important man in my life—died suddenly from a heart attack when I was eight weeks pregnant with my first child. Sadly, he realized far too late in life that physical exercise and healthier choices can and do make a difference.
His death (and my predisposition to high cholesterol) should have been enough for me to keep my health in check. But it wasn’t. At least not before that doctor’s visit.
Something truly clicked when I realized I could die, too. I needed to make a lifestyle change right away, and not resign myself to taking medicine for the rest of my life.
So I did make a change, immediately. And over the course of one year, I lost 75 pounds.
I got up every morning and made a choice to put my health first.
It was a year of endless sweat, tears, and perseverance. I also greatly reduced my cholesterol levels. To say this process was difficult would be an understatement, but I did it. I got up every morning and made a choice to put my health first.
And I’ve made that same choice for the past six years of my life.
As excited as I was to have dropped the pounds, I soon realized that the hardest part of the journey was not actually in the weight loss but in keeping it off. I was 75 pounds thinner, sure, but at that point it was time to make sure the changes I made stayed with me forever.
Looking back, there were four key ingredients to my lasting weight loss:
1. A Mindset Shift
As soon as I realized that I was in this for the long haul, my mindset changed and I ditched the diet mentality. My new life wasn’t a diet— there was no beginning and no end. It was bigger than that, and it impacted more than just me.
I realized that if I was going to save my life (and possibly change the course of my children’s lives) I had to make this permanent. I had to nurture that in order to succeed.
My children run the risk of inheriting high cholesterol too, so teaching them about making healthy food choices and getting some form of daily exercise is part of my lifestyle now. My kids and I often walk the trail that my dad and I used to walk. When we do, we talk about how we are honoring his memory by taking care of our health.
2. The 80/20 Method
About 80 percent of my meals consist of whole foods with lots of protein (I include protein at each meal), complex carbohydrates, fruits, and vegetables. The other 20 percent allows for freedom and flexibility to choose and indulge in what I want.
It’s important to note that getting enough protein has been essential to my weight loss and energy levels—and it has done wonders to help balance my moods. Hitting my protein goals helps me satisfy my hunger and stave off my intense cravings for sugar (something I definitely still struggle with daily).
3. Staying In Motion
Over the last six years, the one constant in my life has been exercise. No matter how much I veer off my nutrition course, I always have exercise. Making this a habit took time, and it certainly wasn’t easy! At first, I broke my exercise up into three 10-minute segments spread throughout the day (a great idea for busy people trying to fit exercise in).
Once this got easier, I started going to the gym in the morning for 45-60 minutes. My workouts now consist of four-six days of cardiovascular exercise, strength training, and core work or Pilates.
4. Meal Prep
I plan a week’s worth of meals and prep or cook most of it on Sundays. I learned to invest in some good food storage containers so I could grab pre-prepped healthy meals on the go and I always keep sandwich bags individually packed with carrots, pea pods, strawberries, and grapes. This makes my week go so much smoother!
A few weeks ago, the results from my annual cholesterol check came back and they were some of the best numbers I’ve seen yet. I was reminded of that defining moment six years ago—the one that finally made me realize change was a necessity and that I could no longer continue to travel down the path I was on.
Over time, I’ve learned something important: staying healthy isn’t about vanity or looking fit. For me, it’s about creating a positive lifestyle and keeping the promise I made to myself, my kids, and my father: I will always put my health first.