The numbers on the scale read 280-something. I couldn’t tell if the last number was a 4 or a 6 — I didn’t stay on long enough to find out. It was November 2010 and I was 32 years old.
At 5 feet 4 inches tall, I had weighed 208 pounds when my husband, David, and I got married in 1999. That was after losing 20 pounds, and even then I felt very self-conscious about how I looked. My weight had gone up and up since then, but because I still felt like myself on the inside, I didn’t feel like I needed to take action.
But seeing that number creep toward 300 changed everything for me. I remember standing in the shower, asking God to let me wake up 20 pounds lighter. I finally realized that even though I was always pushing myself, there were certain things I already couldn’t do with my boys, including teaching them how to ride a bike. This was no longer about how I looked. It was about the very real fact that I wasn’t living the way I wanted, and that I could die if I didn’t make some very real changes.
I didn’t need to pray. I needed to do.
Feelings for Food
I’ve been an emotional eater since I was a teenager. I wasn’t overweight then, but I had self-image issues that I coped with by eating. Since then, all the emotions of a normal day triggered a desire to put food in my mouth. This was especially true in the evenings. I wouldn’t take time for myself during the day, so after my boys went to bed, I would reward myself by eating junk food.
In the past, my attitude had always been all-or-nothing, and I’d get frustrated if I didn’t quickly achieve the results I desired. Now I understood that achieving my goal wasn’t going to be a quick fix. And because I wanted the changes to be permanent, I knew I would have to commit myself to a lifelong journey. I was finally ready to take the process seriously and slowly.
For two months, I simply worked on my emotional relationship with eating. I knew my boys would be little for only a few years, and I needed to overcome my issues so the joyful memories we were making would involve a healthy mom who fully participated in family activities.
During this time, I realized that completely eliminating certain foods, such as soda or potato chips, from my diet (which I’d tried unsuccessfully in the past) would make me feel deprived. And the pounds would always come back because I hadn’t addressed the reasons why I was eating. This time I started out by just reducing the amount of soda and junk food I ate.
At the same time, I began looking more closely at why I was drawn to certain foods. I loved candy, I realized, primarily because it was sweet. So when those cravings hit, instead of reaching for a chocolate bar, I experimented with having some fruit instead. Similarly, I replaced ice cream with frozen yogurt, and pie with cottage cheese and fruit.
Gradually, I found my cravings became less powerful, and I started feeling healthier and more energetic.
By January 2011, I weighed 270 pounds and was inspired to take the next step. I started walking three miles a day on my treadmill (I was too embarrassed to do it outside). I lifted weights three times a week for 40 minutes.
Since I was now able to recognize and appreciate small results, I felt motivated to get unhealthy foods completely out of my system. I finally said no to the soda and chips and decided not to go near the stuff until I felt I could consume it in moderation.
Finding support was tough. I live in a rural area in New Brunswick, Canada, with no nearby gyms, and money was extremely tight at the time. I needed to become my own personal coach, so I came up with little tricks that would help me maintain focus. To this day, working out in the morning helps me resist junk food later because I don’t want to jeopardize the effort I’ve already made. I also don’t rely on being “in the mood” to stick with my regimen because, let’s face it, that won’t always happen.
Along with my family’s support, it’s that sort of intense determination that has made the difference for me: I’m committed to achieving my goals every day.
As a busy mom who doesn’t like to write things down, I was having a hard time keeping track of what I was eating. I found a free app called Lose It! that allowed me to type and scan meal information quickly and easily, and monitor my intake of salt and sugar. After two months, once I got a feel for what healthy eating looked like, I didn’t need the app anymore.
Another support system that’s revolutionized my commitment to a healthy lifestyle is Facebook. By June 2011, I constantly wanted to talk about my big changes, and I was updating my status every time I exercised. I worried I was being annoying, but after looking at other Facebook pages devoted to fitness, I discovered that people actually want to hear each other’s stories.
I decided to start my own fan page (facebook.com/SaraUseIt2LoseIt). I wanted people to know that if I could change my life and be healthy, so could they. It’s important that I’m 100 percent honest about my journey, so I use photos to show what I look like and that I am really, truly committing to my plan. I share my goals, my frustrations and my successes, like running my first 5K race in August 2011.
Today, to my surprise and delight, I have more than 8,700 “likes” on my page, and it’s turned into a virtual community for people who want to live healthier. People share stories and post photos of themselves. I also hold regular challenges encouraging healthy habits, like drinking more water, committing to a certain amount of exercise or posting nutrition goals.
Paying It Forward
I now weigh 206 pounds. I’ve had some setbacks, including gaining 5 pounds in September 2012 when my grandmother passed away.
Still, I’ve made progress: The old me would have eaten through the emotions and gained even more. But I knew it was more important to be at the hospital with my family than obsess about my diet, and I trusted myself enough to know I would get the weight off when I returned to my routine.
In October 2012 I ran a marathon in tribute to my grandmother, and as a way of telling myself that I was back on track.
Interacting with people and encouraging them has been such a fulfilling experience that I decided to become a life and wellness coach. I was certified in February 2013 and have been working with clients ever since. Today I’m living my dream. I’m hopeful, excited, and on the personal and professional path I know I was meant to follow.
Meet: Sara Bown, 35, certified life coach, married to David and mother to sons Matthew, 11, and Joshua, 7.
Big Achievements: Losing more than 80 pounds, and helping others meet their own goals.
Big Inspiration: Being a good role model for her sons. “When they face adversity, I can tell them my story.”
What Worked: Investing time and energy in deconstructing her emotional eating patterns.
What Didn’t Work: Completely eliminating foods she enjoyed, and then feeling deprived.
Words of Wisdom: “Believe and achieve. Commit to your goals with hard work and dedication.”