“At my heaviest I was 315 pounds and I felt trapped.”
This is from an interview I did with Gabe, a friend who has not only lost 135 pounds, but has kept it off for three years. I haven’t personally experienced large weight changes, so I was really thankful to Gabe for very patiently explaining his experience. Here’s what he told me:
“I learned at a young age to eat really fast because I grew up in a poor family with five siblings. So overeating was pretty typical. I ended up overeating at every meal, eating until I couldn’t eat anymore, even after I moved out and started living on my own. I did that until I couldn’t recognize myself in pictures anymore.
I was always chubby growing up, so I didn’t like weighing myself. I finally did weigh myself after a couple years, thinking I’d weigh 275, and ended up being 315, which was shocking.
My biggest problem anytime I tried to lose weight before was that I didn’t know what was healthy. And even when I ate a healthy food, like almonds, I’d eat until it was gone.
At work I’d go to the vending machine to get a snack of a Honey Bun, soda, and a bag of chips without thinking much of it. I was totally unaware of the amount of calories in things—I’d say I was oblivious. Once I started paying attention to food labels I realized that this before lunch snack was 900 calories.”
Gabe and I did the math and figured out that he was eating more than 4500 calories a day.
“I thought eating healthy was having a footlong from Subway with all kinds of sauce.
Probably 5 different times I tried to go on a diet and failed because I thought you had to eat food you didn’t like; I didn’t try to find food I enjoyed. I thought you had to eat grilled chicken and brown rice. I’d pound huge salads, but they were drowning in ranch. When I ate a meal that I perceived was healthy, I’d reward myself with a whole frozen pizza.
I was 27 years old when I decided I couldn’t live keep living like this.
I couldn’t buy pants in regular stores anymore. I dreaded trying clothes on. I had a wedding around the corner at the time and I felt like I basically had to wear a bed sheet. My son was four at the time and I was so ashamed to go to the beach. I decided to take care of myself for one month because, I thought, one month seemed like a realistic goal to see what I could do. What was I doing a month ago that I couldn’t be doing right now?
I started by cutting out fast food and soda and lost zero pounds. I was still struggling with binging and feeling like I needed to eat way beyond fullness, so I started making these enormous salads. Tons of lettuce, lots of veggies, lean meat, and a lower calorie dressing. I had to eat to the point of feeling absolutely stuffed. I couldn’t believe that you could get the same sensation from eating 600 calories as I felt eating an entire pizza. I felt so good about myself. I didn’t feel guilty anymore and the more I did it, the less challenging it became. By the end of the first month, I lost 10 pounds; I couldn’t believe it! I was ecstatic. I felt like I hacked a vault. It worked!
I started at a 2x and my goal was to get down to an XL or less, now I wear a medium in shirts. And all of this was without working out. After a year, I lost 125 pounds. I thought convenient was normal, that eating out was how we should all eat. I realized that fast food might be convenient, but it’s worth spending an extra 30 minutes to bring my lunch. A rule I had for myself that was really helpful for me was that I could only eat what I brought to work. Having rules was really helpful for me at the time; I’ve since become way more flexible with myself. If someone now invites me out to dinner, I plan around it by eating a light breakfast and lunch so that I can socialize and order the same kinds of things my friends are eating off of the menu. I learned how to enjoy food without making my life revolve around food.
My advice to anyone needing to lose weight is to give it everything you can for one month. I reminded myself that didn’t gain 125 pounds in a month and I won’t lose it in a month, so be patient. Everyday I reminded myself when I had a craving that “if I can’t stick to it today, I can’t stick to it tomorrow” and that sometimes the hard choice is the right choice. Another important thing is to prepare yourself by knowing what foods are high in calories. I was constantly tricked by foods that are advertised as being healthy, like granola or no sugar added ice cream. I also would restrict way too much, which always leads to binge eating, I had zero balance. I wish I would’ve had a dietitian to help guide me through these changes. I spun my wheels for years not having good information on what I should eat. It’s really hard to do it alone with zero accountability and no knowledge. If I could go back I definitely would’ve used my insurance benefits to pay for nutrition therapy, it would’ve saved me a lot of struggle. It’s all worth it though! Maintaining a healthy weight is so easy now that I’ve learned how to eat and am not just following a diet. It’s worth it and if I can do it anyone can.”
-Jen Lyman, RDN, LD, CLT