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Megan Larsen with her horse

On January 3, 2020, I made the decision to work out every day. I was 44 years old, and at 5 feet 4 inches and 318 pounds, I was uncomfortable in my body. My husband and I had just celebrated our eighth wedding anniversary in December, and we dreamed of going to Scotland. But the thought of getting on a plane for such a long trip gave me a sense of dread.

Having lost (and gained) more than a hundred pounds twice in my life already, I worried about setting unsustainable aspirations. While weight loss was my goal, I needed a different approach, so I turned to movement.

I started with a 30-minute ride on my stationary bike every day. Knowing that putting off exercise until tomorrow was a slippery slope for me, I eliminated the ability to tell myself “I’ll work out tomorrow.” Then I wouldn’t have to think about what days I would work out or what days I would have to make up for not working out.

I also decided to exercise in the morning — waiting until after work to do it was too risky.

My husband and I knew we wanted to reevaluate our diet, too, so we committed to eating healthy and not sabotaging each other by buying processed foods or bringing home pizza. It was huge not having a house full of food that would distract me. I used an app to keep track of what I ate, and though I didn’t log meals every day, it helped me get a better sense of how I was eating and when I needed more variety.

Once I got into this rhythm the weight started dropping. Although it was reassuring that such small changes were having an impact, I was fearful: What would help me sustain my plan this time?

Emotional Eating

My dad left when I was 7 years old, which was devastating. He was a horse trainer, so I also lost my everyday connection to the horses we both loved. That’s when I began using food to soothe my emotions. By the time I graduated from high school I weighed 300 pounds.

In college I began to change my lifestyle. I took more walks and went to the gym. I lost weight but my restrictive diet triggered crazy binges. The shame of ­doing that led me to eat even less, and the cycle continued until my weight-loss ambitions fell apart completely.

By age 21 I’d gained back the 130 pounds I’d lost. I repeated this process again four years later.

Although I never lost my love for horses, I stopped riding when they couldn’t bear my weight. When I was 30, I watched the birth of the horse I still own today and started working at the barn where he boarded. Feeding the horses was my only exercise, though I didn’t think of it that way at the time, I just wanted to be near my horse. All I could do was pet him.

These past failed attempts hovered over the progress I made in the first two months of 2020. By then I had dropped about 30 pounds. I already knew I had the ability to lose the weight — but for how long? This time I needed to learn how to enjoy healthy foods and build in healthier habits.

The start of the pandemic brought a sense of both urgency and anxiety to my health goals and, in some ways, additional support. During the early part of the shutdown, we couldn’t go out to eat; I also found ways to keep myself busy and active, such as painting five rooms in our house.

Knowing I was sticking to my plan through a pandemic without turning to food as an emotional crutch was huge. But what really stopped me from going off the rails was anticipating my summer garden.

Gardener’s Delights

When my dad died in 2015, I inherited half of his farm. Three years later, money from its sale allowed my husband and me to buy the hobby farm we’d always wanted: 18 acres in rural New Prague, Minn.

We planted our first garden in the spring of 2019, but we were too out of shape and tired to maintain it. We were disappointed that first year because we couldn’t enjoy life the way we wanted.

But by May 2020 I had the energy and mobility to work the garden. We listened to music and weeded for hours. That summer the garden created this cycle: movement to grow nutri­tious food, which fueled our bodies in healthy ways, which gave us the energy to be in the garden longer, which brought us more vegetables.

I hated to cook, but I knew that’s what I needed to do to get healthy. Two years prior, I didn’t eat a vegetable that wasn’t on a pizza. Now I eat vegetables in abundance, as well as eggs from chickens we raise.

I started watching food shows and learning how to cook. Now I love cooking and get extra joy from preparing the food I grow.

I work as a dog groomer, and in the past I rarely stopped to take time to eat lunch, but would overeat when I came home. Because I don’t like having to think about what I should eat for lunch, I’ve eliminated the decision altogether. It works best for me to bring the same thing to work every day.

A New Life Gained

Six months into my plan to ride my stationary bike every morning, I still struggled physically and mentally. I wanted it to be easy and it wasn’t. I’d distract myself by playing video games on Xbox or watching TV to get through.

By October I noticed a shift. With a regular exercise routine, nourishing foods, and substantial weight-loss results, I felt a change in my attitude. I started feeling good while I was riding.

I increased my time on the bike to 45 minutes and began using free weights to work on the muscle I was beginning to see. I now look forward to my morning workouts and know I’m in it for the long haul.

But it was all that work in the garden over the summer that kicked my weight loss into high gear. I’ve discovered how purposeful movement can have an impact on your health and fitness. It’s a bonus activity for your body and soul that is fun and good for you.

Having more mobility after my weight loss is so rewarding. I feel like I can do anything I want, which includes expanding our garden, planning that trip to Scotland next year, and riding my horse, Gus. I wouldn’t have thought to set such audacious goals for myself, but that’s where I am now. I love myself enough to fight for myself.

Megan’s Top 3 Success Strategies

  1. Have a plan. “Coming home exhausted without a plan or meal already prepared can lead to unhealthy habits. As much as possible, cook meals yourself because when you eat at home you eat healthier,” Megan says.
  2. Avoid pitfalls. “Knowing your weaknesses can help you deal with them and find healthier outlets without turning to food,” she says. “Life is full of ups and downs, and knowing what you’ll need will help you pick yourself back up when you do stumble.”
  3. Don’t Give Up. “I don’t have a personal trainer,” Megan says. “There’s nothing fancy going on. I didn’t need the stars and moon to align, I just stuck with my plan.”

Tell Us Your Story! Have a transformational healthy-living tale of your own? Share it with us!

This article originally appeared as “A Haven for Health” in the September 2021 issue of Experience Life.

Photography by: Lydia Anderson
Megan Larsen

Megan Larsen

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  1. Thank you for sharing your story! Very inspiring — so happy for you & Gus and your garden. Such good things. I am on my own path to more mobility/FUN. All the best to you and your husband!

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