It all started with a month-long challenge.
I’ve always been overweight and I grew up eating fast food. But when I took three years off between high school and college to live on my own, I gained 100 pounds in just one year—going from 220 to 320 pounds.
When I started college, I had a packed schedule—I was working full-time at a stressful desk job while also going to school full-time in the evenings. There were fast food joints all around and it was far too easy to live on the stuff.
I would normally skip breakfast and lunch, too busy with my course load and work schedule. By dinner, I’d be ravenous and would binge on fast food. I loved Chili’s, McDonald’s, and On the Border. My go-to meal at Chili’s was chips and queso, chicken crispers with fries, and a chocolate molten cake. If I was at McDonald’s, I’d have a Big Mac with fries and a large coke. I’d usually pass out at night in a food coma.
Over the next few years, my health only got worse. I developed early-onset arthritis in my knee and was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
Doctors tried prescribing medications to help me deal with my symptoms, but I knew that was just masking the underlying issue (even though the doctor didn’t say so): I needed to lose weight.
I had tried and failed to lose weight many times throughout my life. Every January, I would buy a fancy gym package and set unrealistic year-long weight-loss goals for myself, only to revert back to my old habits in a matter of weeks. When my health issues really started to amplify, I knew I had to do something—but the fear of trying and failing paralyzed me.
In January of 2016, I decided to take a semester off of school. In addition, I got a new position at work that was less stressful. I knew it was the perfect time to jumpstart a lifestyle change. Two co-workers and I decided to set New Year’s goals for ourselves that we would try to reach in just 31 days. Mine, of course, was to lose weight, eat healthier, and exercise—though I didn’t know how I was going to do that yet.
In the past, I had tried to make long-term changes and stick to them, but I would end up feeling defeated early-on, thinking about the end goal and how far I had to go in order to get there.
Setting a short-term goal triggered a complete mindset change. I was no longer daunted by a year-long unattainable vision I had for myself. Instead I looked at it on a smaller scope—this was my goal for the month.
At first, I had no idea what I was doing. I ate what I thought a healthy person would eat—oatmeal and berries for breakfast, salad for lunch, and some protein for dinner. The problem was that I hated it all. I figured the only way I was going to stick to a lifestyle change was if I found something healthy that I actually liked.
I wound up discovering a few meal-delivery companies in my area like Snap Kitchen and My Fit Foods, which were great for eating healthy lunches that I enjoyed while also saving me a ton of time.
A typical day of eating for me would be a banana and a KIND bar for breakfast. Lunch would be a pre-packaged meal from Snap Kitchen, My Fit Foods, or Simply Fit Meals. My favorite lunches were Snap Kitchen’s spaghetti bolognese, shrimp paella, and turkey chili.
Between meals, I’d have a snack, which would be either Greek yogurt or another granola bar. Dinner would generally be a protein shake, mixed with almond milk, chia seeds, PB2, spinach, banana, and ice.
I decided that I needed to start small and prove to myself that I was dedicated before trying out the gym. I began taking 30-minute walks around my apartment complex every day.
After a month of consistent walking workouts and healthy eating, I had lost 12 pounds. And that motivated me to keep going.
My mom told me about a new cycle studio called CycleBar that was opening nearby. I had never tried indoor cycling before, but figured it would be a fun workout that was easy on my joints. I went to the first class with my mom and we both loved it.
We signed up to go again the next weekend, but at the last minute, my mom bailed. Every ounce of me wanted to quit too, but I knew I couldn’t revert back to my old ways and needed to push myself. So push myself, I did.
CycleBar classes are 50-minutes long and include a series of intervals, heavy hills, and fast-paced sprints. They also feature a three- to five-minute arm workout with a weighted bar.
What made this workout different was that I had fun.
Lynn, the instructor, made the class inspirational and motivational. She called me out in the first class by encouraging me to keep going, and put the spotlight right on me. She saw something in myself that I didn’t see. Throughout my weight loss, she would hold me accountable by asking how I was doing, and she was also one of the few people who focused on aspects other than just my weight loss.
I started cycling five to six times per week after work and began to rapidly lose weight, about 10 to 14 pounds per month. Eventually, Lynn encouraged me to also incorporate some other exercises into my routine.
She introduced me to LifeTime Fitness, where I began taking Zumba and strength-training classes two times per week in addition to CycleBar classes two to three times per week.
STICKING WITH IT
By the end of March, 2016, just two months into my journey, I was down 25 pounds.
Around this time, I remember putting on my favorite shirt for work, only to notice it actually felt loose for the first time. I walked into work that day and before I could even sit down at my desk, my co-worker came up to me and told me how great I looked. Affirmations like these were so helpful in encouraging me throughout my weight-loss journey.
Three months in, I had lost 33 pounds—and my arthritis and PCOS symptoms vanished. After 10 months, I had lost 103 pounds, and am proud to say I’ve kept the weight off since then.
This time was different. Yes, losing weight and seeing results was immensely gratifying, but more importantly, the healthy lifestyle I adopted made me a happier person. I no longer have the health issues that I suffered from when I started this journey, and that has completely changed my quality of life
After I lost 100 pounds, I stopped relying on meals from Snap Kitchen and My Fit Foods, and started to learn how to cook by trial and error—incorporating the ingredients that I knew I liked and were healthy. I used websites like Pinterest for recipe ideas.
Today, I meal prep all of my lunches on Sundays, and still rely on protein shakes for dinner. My favorite go-to meal-prep dish is is turkey sausage, baked asparagus, and veggie pasta from Birds Eye. It’s so quick and easy.
I also plan out all of my workouts for the week so that there are no surprises. I like going to the gym and seeing my friends there, so it really doesn’t feel like a chore.
The biggest reward of losing the weight is that I was able to get my life back. When I started to really lose the weight, nearly all of my health problems began to fade away, including my PCOS symptoms. I felt free again and I didn’t have pains holding me back anymore. Now, I’m confident that I can keep up and perform with others in the gym, and I genuinely feel better both mentally and physically.
ANJA’S NUMBER-ONE TIP
Set small goals. Don’t look at the big picture, and think of it more as a lifestyle change, rather than an “end goal” or “finish line” so that it doesn’t seem so daunting and unrealistic. Also, don’t do things you don’t want to do. If you don’t like broccoli, don’t eat it because you think that’s what a healthy person eats. If you don’t like the treadmill, find another exercise that you will have fun doing. Adopting a healthy lifestyle should be something that makes you happy, not miserable.