I grew up in a New Orleans household where food was celebrated and diets were nonexistent. And, while I grew up overweight, I was never ashamed (or made to feel ashamed) of my size.
My diet was basically anything with carbs (bread, rice, and pasta), and tons of cajun spices—and I always helped myself to multiple servings. But it wasn't until I gained weight in high school (about 10 to 15 pounds each year, for four years), that I realized I was heavier than most. Still, I was happy and loved my body.
When I gave birth to my son at 22, I stopped taking care of myself to take care of him.
My activity levels slowed significantly after giving birth. Once my son was old enough for childcare, I started a desk job where I remained for 10 years. My weight during that time kept increasing while my self-esteem and body image took a dive. I was starting a new diet every Sunday and quitting by Wednesday, and I couldn’t figure out how to stop. Before I knew it, I weighed 311 pounds.
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In 2013, I stuck to a strict diet for three months that isolated me from my family and mentally burned me out. I was desperate to see results, so I restricted myself to 1,200 calories per day by eating only vegetables with baked chicken and fish, and I was working out twice a day for two-hour sessions. But this unsustainable diet ultimately failed, too, and I gained what little weight I lost back, while still feeling depressed.
My turning point happened on a family trip when I was too heavy to go down the waterslide at an amusement park.
During that trip, I was also too big to fit into a chair at dinner. As soon as I returned home, I started looking into alternative weight-loss options—ones that weren't diets.
I learned about a weight-loss procedure called a vertical sleeve gastrectomy from people at work, and after a ton of research (and talks with my doctor), I elected to go under the knife in February 2018.
The surgery reduced my stomach to about 15 percent of its original size and completely changed my relationship with food. Since the amount of food my stomach could now hold was restricted and second helpings weren’t an option, food eventually went from something to which I was addicted, to fuel. I used the surgery as a tool to become more mindful about food and control my impulses to overeat.
I soon learned my new the surgery wouldn't work unless I did, too.
For the first year of my journey, I limited my carb intake and did intermittent fasting—that's it. Since then, I've started to slowly incorporate breads and rice back into my diet, but I’m still fasting and sticking to meals like these:
- Breakfast: none, I fast until 12 p.m.
- Lunch: salad with turkey breast, cheese, egg, sunflower seeds, and strawberries with balsamic vinaigrette
- Snack: honey roasted nut mixes, cheese sticks, berries, or watermelon
- Dinner: baked fish or sautéed shrimp with vegetables
These eating habits, in combination with my surgery, led to a 126-pound weight loss. While it’s possible for my stomach to stretch back out over time, the limit on the amount of food I can currently eat has given me time to work on my overeating, so I’m not worried about a relapse.
Losing weight has also allowed me to work on incorporating more exercise into my routine—this time, because I want to.
I no longer work out because I feel like I have to, but because I love it. I started off doing a lot of cardio, but as I've lost weight, I’ve started to focus more on strengthening exercises.
Five to six times per week, I run, spin, kick box, and lift weights. I've even started my own jump-rope challenges on Instagram. (Tip: Get a jump rope with a digital counter—it really helps to see how much you can do.)
In addition to those jump-rope challenges, I've also started organizing events (like fitness brunches!) for people who have—or hope to—make the same lifestyle changes that once felt so impossible to me.
My number-one tip for anyone out there who feels like weight loss is impossible: Surround yourself with a great support system. Feeling loved has been the most important part of this process, and I try to pay it forward every day by documenting my own weight-loss journey on social media to let others know they can do it, too.