Josie from Arkansas (HAPPYDOES) has been on her weight-loss journey for nearly 40 years—but it's a journey that hasn't always headed in a healthy direction. It's taken some twists and turns, some ups and downs—and, at times, has come to a screeching halt. Now, at almost 58 years old, with the help of SparkPeople, Josie feels that she's finally found her way.
"I was a fat baby, a fat little girl and a fat teenager."
Josie can’t remember a time when she hasn’t struggled with her weight. When asked to define her "a-ha moment," she recalls one night during high school when all of her sisters, except the youngest, were asked out on dates. Josie wasn't asked, so she stayed home and played with her baby sister while all the others went out. "That night, I felt the full humiliation of being 'the fat one,'" she says.
In her twenties, Josie says she simply stopped eating. "I became anorexic with purging tendencies," she shared in a SparkPeople blog. "The eating disorder has been only in partial remission since I was 30 [when I] sought treatment in a hospital."
Over the years, Josie has lost hundreds of pounds, but always gained them back. One of her biggest barriers to healthy, sustained weight loss has been her battle with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which resulted from a sexual assault she experienced decades ago. Josie believes that her bouts of depression, anxiety, anorexia and compulsive behavior stem from her traumatic experience.
"Afterward, I reasoned that no guy would even notice me if I was fat, so therefore I would be safe when I went into the public eye," Josie blogged. "And it worked for a number of years, except that I have been miserable as a fat person."
Each time Josie would reach a weight-loss milestone, just as people began to notice her progress and offer compliments, the anxiety from the PTSD would begin to creep back, and she would return to her old habits and regain the weight.
This time, Josie has lost almost 30 pounds, and she's determined not to let those old doubts and insecurities take over. "In the past, I would begin to regain the weight, but this time I am determined to stand in my success, even if I have to endure a plateau for a few weeks while I find my footing to continue forward," she says.
Sparking Her Way to Success
Largely due to the anxiety from her PTSD, it's been a struggle for Josie to maintain friendships. When she found SparkPeople, she says it felt like a safe place where she could connect with others who shared her challenges.
"SparkPeople has been such a blessing to me," she says. "I have met true friends here. I have traveled to meet some of them in person—in fact, I am going to meet a new SparkFriend in person next week. I am slowly learning to reach out again and allow people into my life."
In addition to helping her interact with others, SparkPeople has also helped Josie repair her relationship with food and fitness. She has used the site's nutrition and exercise trackers and completed many of the weight-loss challenges. Recently, she bought a Fitbit and has started connecting with others on her SparkTeam for step challenges and support.
"I really owe much of the success of finding 'my groove' to SparkPeople for the ability to read and learn, track my food and fitness, and make real friends who are in the same boat as I am," she says.
Josie's Nutrition Plan
Josie spent years hopping between diets, fads, gimmicks, weight-loss pills and shakes, none of which ever achieved long-term results. "Sure, they helped me lose weight, but they were not something I could make a lifestyle out of," she says. "They were just another way for me to treat my body in a harsh manner—just another way to fail at weight loss and maintenance."
Today, Josie has finally embraced the only healthy, effective approach: eating a balanced, nutritious diet. She plans her meals so they contain a mix of protein, whole grains, veggies, fruits, dairy and fat—all important to maintaining satiety, energy and dietary health.
Josie tries to stick to a calorie range of 1,500 to 1,800 daily. Each of her meals is built from these components:
Originally, Josie's weight-loss therapist recommended completely eliminating sweets like cakes, cookies and ice cream, but she knew that wouldn’t be realistic for her. Instead, she makes sure she can "afford" the extra calories when she does indulge. "I plan to eat them beforehand rather than just grab them and munch because I am bored," she says. "I don't keep goodies in the house. If I am going to eat something sweet, I go and buy one serving at a store or restaurant."
Josie's Top 10 Weight-Loss Tips
1. Track your meals.
Josie calls this "the strongest tool in her weight-loss toolbox."
"Tracking food was such a drag at first—I remember feeling embarrassed to write down the things I was eating," she says. "But I finally came to realize that the process was about finding out what is in the food, rather than it being a commentary of how good or bad my behavior is. I found that the more I tracked my food, the better choices I could make in what I choose to eat."
2. Eat enough.
"Eating far too few calories when trying to lose weight will cause a person to go into a bipolar way of eating because the body requires a certain number of calories to function," Josie shared in a blog. "When it doesn't get the required amount for a few days, the hunger signal will be so strong that it will drive a person to eat just about anything in order to feel satisfied. Over time, this swinging back and forth will cause a person's weight to creep up the scale until they finally learn to accept the fact that their body needs a certain amount of fuel while losing weight, and in the maintenance phase of weight loss."
3. Find a fitness routine you enjoy.
It doesn't have to be strenuous or complicated—just look for a simple physical activity that you like to do. "The real key here is just to move one's body for about 10 or 15 minutes at a time, like taking a short walk after every meal, or putting on your favorite music and just walking in place or dancing," Josie suggests. She also stresses the importance of mixing in some strength training, as more muscle leads to more fat burning.
4. Track your fitness…
Once you've found an activity you enjoy, get into the habit of tracking it. Not only does this help you calculate your calorie burn, it also gives you a steady motivation boost. "As you start small and work your way up, your confidence builds, and so does a desire to challenge yourself to do bigger and better things," says Josie.
5. …but don't overdo it.
In the past, Josie exercised for several hours each day. Yes, she lost weight—but she also injured herself repeatedly, because she would push her body past its limits and compromise her form. The excess exercise also caused terrible muscle cramps.
"The bottom line is that I simply could not maintain such extreme amount of exercise for the rest of my life," she says. "I would sometimes work out for more than 600 minutes per day. It was practically a full-time job for me. But I have found that I can lose just as much weight by only doing 300 to 600 minutes per week, so why kill myself with excessive exercise and waste my time?"
6. Practice relaxation.
Josie has learned to find time for daily relaxation to complement her exercise and nutrition plan. She suggests trying new ways of relaxing, such as guided imagery, meditation, deep breathing or even relaxing music and candlelight. Sleep is also an essential ingredient in rest and relaxation; Josie always tries to get at least seven to eight hours of shuteye each night.
7. Drink water through the workday.
"If you drink just one cup of water during every work hour, you have gotten in at least your eight cups for the day," Josie points out. "Keep a filled water glass with you at all times. Flavor it if you need to, and if it must be sweet, try a tiny amount of Stevia."
8. Don't rush it.
"I didn't gain all this weight overnight, nor will I lose it overnight," Josie says. "If I only lose one pound per week, I will be over 50 pounds lighter by this time next year! And if I lose only 1/2 pound every week, I will be 26 pounds lighter. That's at least one whole clothes size, and maybe two."
9. Don't fall into the "helpless" trap.
"Helplessness is a lie," Josie says. "For years, I made excuses for why I couldn't eat right, and the biggest excuse was that my husband doesn't like the same foods as I do. I thought that I had no right to cook what I need to be healthy, or expect him to eat what I cook for myself. All of these were lies. None of us here are completely helpless. Motivation is about making choices and stepping up to the plate every day to carry out those choices."
10. Have a maintenance plan.
Like so many of our members, for Josie, the hardest part hasn't been shedding the pounds but preventing them from creeping back on. Over the years, she's noticed a pattern: She loses weight, gets to a point where she feels good about her accomplishment and then slides back into her old behaviors, which ultimately creates a cycle of losing and gaining that left her feeling discouraged and defeated.
To keep the weight off, Josie believes it's necessary to have a comprehensive plan that is practiced until it becomes second nature—indeed, a lifestyle. "As I maintain my weight through lowering my fitness minutes or eating some higher-calorie foods, I am also keeping a close eye on the scale and the way my clothes fit to make certain I am not losing ground," she says. "Over time, doing the right thing actually becomes the preferred thing."
One of the biggest advantages of having a plan, Josie says, is that if you get off track and begin to regain weight, you'll have a framework to guide you back into your "sweet spot," making it easier to reorient yourself in the right direction.
Learning to Love Her Body
To those who are sitting on the couch right now, feeling hopeless and helpless and overweight, Josie's advice would be think about the faithfulness of their bodies.
"I hated my body for so long because I was fat—then one day, I realized just how faithful my body had been to me throughout my life," she says. "I realized that everything I had asked my body to do, it had done instantly and to the best of its ability. That day, I fell in love with my body and wanted to treat it the way it deserved to be treated because of its consistent, loyal service to me from birth until now. Gratitude for my body's abilities and service has probably been the key to fueling my desire to reach my goals of good health, fitness, strength and agility. I am finding more ways to fuel that desire and determination as I go along."