Three days after my 39th birthday, I set a goal to lose 40 pounds by my 40th birthday. Then I announced it publicly. On Facebook. I thought by doing so, I would have some accountability to follow through on that goal. Because if I didn’t, my 987 friends would think I’m a failure.
Thing is, I set that goal because it sounded good. #40by40. Not because I actually thought it was a realistic or achievable goal for me. Someone who has never lost 40 pounds in a year ever. And has struggled to lose even 10 for the last oh I don’t know, 9 years?
So looking back, I was perhaps setting myself up to fail. However, I knew it was doable if I completely changed my lifestyle. Something I wasn’t actually willing to do…
You see, I’ve struggled with my weight my entire adult life. And looking back, my body image issues probably truly started in middle school. Middle school is when I first remember comparing myself to others. My friends were thinner than me. I was “big boned”. Or “husky”.
That evened out, of course, in high school, when many of us lost that middle-school awkwardness. I became a cheerleader freshman year. And while I had thinned out a bit, I was still chosen to be a base, because I was bigger than the other girls. So my distorted body image continued. I weighed 135 pounds. And I thought I was fat.
In college, I gained the standard freshman 15. But then another 30 on top of that. By my senior year, I had managed to climb to 205. I attribute that to too much drinking, late night eating, macaroni and Tuna Helper.
After I graduated and moved away from campus, I started walking the trails in my neighborhood on a daily basis. A friend lived up the road with her son, and started inviting me over for dinner, because it was easier for her to cook for a few than two. So, I started eating a little better, in addition to moving more. My weight leveled back out at 185.
When my brother announced that he was getting married in Florida, in March 2006, my mom and I took the opportunity to go dress shopping in the Twin Cities that fall, while I was there on a work trip. I bought a lovely dress at the Marshall Fields in downtown Minneapolis (man I miss Marshall Fields) six months before the wedding. Because I knew finding something warm weather appropriate in Madison, WI in the middle of winter was going to be tough.
A week before the wedding my mother called and suggested I try the dress on before we left for Florida. Just to be sure it still fit. I never imagined it wouldn’t over the course of 6 months and didn’t think my weight had really changed at all. But when I tried the dress on, per her advice, it wouldn’t zip. I was horrified.
What was I going to do?
My friends rallied around me, bless their hearts. Bringing me dresses to try on to see if they would work. My friend Amy wound up loaning me a dress that still had the tags on and fit like a dream. And my friend Summer made me a pair of earrings to match. I was all set for the wedding. And I actually liked the emergency outfit better than the original.
Nevertheless, when I got back from Florida, I knew something had to change. I didn’t want to let my weight creep up any further. But I had to do something differently this time.
So, I joined Weight Watchers. And at the same time signed up for a free trial at Curves (remember them?). That first month, I lost 7 lbs. By month three, I was down 17. In total, I lost just over 30 pounds that first year and hit Lifetime status. (Which means your membership is free for life if you stay within 2 pounds of your goal). My goal weight was 160. Which put me at a size 8. My happy weight.
I was able to maintain that weight for about four years. While I continued to go to Weight Watchers meetings, I didn’t track the same way I did when I was losing. I loosened the reigns a bit. And loosened them even more when I met my husband. We enjoyed going out to eat. And having a drink or two with friends. With this lifestyle becoming my new norm, before I even knew it, I put 15 of those pounds I had lost right back on.
By the time we married in 2015, my weight had again plateaued around 185. Despite my feeble attempts to lose weight for our wedding, the scale wouldn’t budge. My heart wasn’t really in it though. I had resigned myself to the fact that 185 was probably the weight my body was most comfortable at. Why fight it?
I’d be thrilled to get back to 185 at this point. In fact, when I set my #40by40 goal last year, that would have been within 5 pounds of my target. My new happy weight.
I gained 25 pounds the year after we got married. 25! They came on so quickly and so easily I barely even noticed. We were still in the habit of eating out most days and cooking very little. And going to parties with friends and indulging too much, too often.
I didn’t even really bother trying to lose weight then though because we started trying to get pregnant later that year. I went off the pill and got pregnant that month. But sadly, lost the baby. We tried again and six months later had another positive pregnancy test. But sadly, I lost that one as well. (You can read more about my experience with miscarriage here).
At that point, losing weight was the farthest thing from my mind. Losing babies was what was weighing on me.
When I finally had a successful and viable pregnancy and gave birth to a healthy baby boy, I came away with another 15 pounds of baby weight to boot. My weight topped off at 230 lbs. The heaviest I have ever been in my entire life.
The thing is, even at my heaviest ever, it was probably the closest I’ve ever gotten to full body acceptance. To loving my body as is. Because it gave me my son.
Giving birth made me appreciate my body in a whole new way. It had done this truly amazing thing. My body had housed and birthed a human. And nourished him and kept him healthy while inside me. Then nourished and fed him after he was born as well. I was in awe of it. I respected it. My body was a fucking temple. Yep. Even at 230 pounds.
Those first two years, I wasn’t even close to ready to lose weight. I was focused on my child. And adapting to our new life as parents. While also adjusting to a new job I had started when I was 7 months pregnant. I didn’t need to add the stress of trying to lose weight on top of all of that.
As I approached the last year of my 30’s and realized I would soon be embarking on a new decade, that was when I decided I was ready. I wanted to start my 40’s in a healthier place. Not just for me, but for my son.
I started by evaluating my habits and really looking within to see where things may have gone wrong. I knew that we had been eating out too much – a key theme in my weight struggles throughout the past two decades. Instead of packing my lunch and taking it to work, I ate lunch out nearly every day. And had for years. Rather than making dinners at home, we often got carry out or went out for dinner, even with the kiddo. Because we both worked full-time and came home tired and rarely had a plan. Eating out was just so much easier.
So, I decided to start there. I joined the Healthy Habits Club through the Madison Moms Blog which put us in small groups of women in our area to work on developing habits to achieve a healthier lifestyle.
The habit I decided to work on was bringing my lunch to work, starting with just twice a week. That was a big adjustment for me, but twice seemed doable. After I had established that habit for six weeks, I layered on another day. And repeated the process, until I was bringing my lunch most days, most weeks. Eating out became a rare occasion. Bringing my lunch became the new norm.
Next I looked at my latte a day habit. And I knew I needed to scale back. I decided first to set some limits around sweet drinks like mochas, stating that I could only have them once a week. After adjusting to that, and also noticing how my tastes buds had changed, I chose to limit all lattes to just once a week, whether they were sweet or not. I realized I didn’t want to spend my precious calories on a drink, so I switched to regular coffee or Americanos with a small splash of cream. They gave me the taste I was looking for, but at a much smaller cost.
By January, about four months after I had established some new and healthier eating habits, I knew it was time to tackle my fitness. I hadn’t really done much besides walking periodically over the past few years. However, walking around outside in the middle of our harsh Wisconsin winters wasn’t super appealing to me.
Instead, I joined Daily Burn so I could work out at home. And decided to incorporate yoga into my weekly routine, starting with just once a week. I also recalibrated my Fitbit so that my daily step goal was 8,500 steps, since I was rarely hitting 10,000 during the weekday at my sedentary job. My average was around 4,500 steps. 7,000 on a good day. So, 8,500 seemed like a more realistic goal. Which was more motivating than striving for something I knew I wasn’t going to hit.
I also set reminders to get up and move every hour. Even if it was just a quick walk to the bathroom and back. Then a coworker told me she often “snakes” the building once or twice a day in the winter, to help get her steps in. So I started weaving the four floors of our building at lunch, because some steps were better than none.
All and all, these small adjustments paid off. I lost 20 pounds by my 40th birthday. Which got me back to my “pre-pregnancy” weight. While that was only half of my original #40by40 goal, I am really happy with that. I did it through small sustainable habit changes that have led to a healthier lifestyle. Which should make it easier to maintain.
Could I have lost the full 40? Sure. Had I been willing to drastically reduce my calories and work out 4-5 a week, I probably would have gotten there. But I didn’t want to do that. Instead, I wanted to focus on establishing healthier habits that fit my current lifestyle. And to truly reflect on what I felt would work for me based on past experiences. How could I set myself up for success this time?
I knew that joining a boot camp would feel too extreme for me. And I’ve never regularly gone to a gym. Though I’ve joined several times, only to find they aren’t really for me. I’ve signed up for yoga classes in the past as well and tend to stop going about half way through. Something else always came up that sounded more attractive. Or I would have to work late one night and couldn’t make it to class and just never went back. Doing yoga in my basement once a week while the kiddo was asleep seemed like a more realistic plan at this point in my life.
I also wasn’t really interested in doing a Whole 30 or the 21 Day Sugar Detox or something similar. Because again, I just didn’t want to put that pressure on myself. Making one thing for me and something else for my husband and child seemed like a lot of work for someone who wasn’t even used to cooking meals at home in the first place.
Yes, I would have been glad to lose that additional 20 pounds I had hoped to lose last year. However, I’m glad I lost 20. And that I lost them in a way that didn’t feel hard. Because of the positive changes I made, I know I’ll get there eventually. I don’t think the amount of time I do it in matters as much as how.
Slow and steady wins the race, right?
Have you successfully lost weight in the past? If so, how did you do it? Please share in the comments below.