My story of weight-loss and my top two weight-loss tips.
Jamie Staley, NASM-CPT, Pn1
Why I Started
Have you ever heard the fable of putting a frog in boiling water? It’s incredibly inhumane, but it has a valuable lesson. The boiling frog fable states that if you put a frog into boiling water, it would jump out, but if the frog is put in tepid water, which is then brought to a boil, it wouldn’t notice and be cooked to death.
I think that is how most people, including myself, end up overweight or unhealthy. It’s not a decision to jump into boiling water. It is the slow turn of a dial, one little habit after the next until you realize the water is about to boil.
In 2012, I started my first job out of college as a Child Welfare Social Worker. The first order of business was nine weeks of training; five of which I would be out of town. Traveling for weeks at a time meant I was eating out for all meals, five days per week. Even the weeks I was in the office, I was not focused on nutrition. I would often grab fast food or whatever sounded good. At that time, I was not exercising at all.
This continued and I steadily packed on the pounds. I remember trying to exercise a few times and it being extremely difficult. In April of 2013, my coworkers and I were invited to a free spin class. I had never tried spin before, but thought I would be fine.
Spoiler alert: I was not fine. When the class was over, I stumbled to the bathroom trying to mask how much pain I was in and how nauseated I was. I remember my ears ringing and hoping I wouldn’t pass out, but praying I could throw up so that I might feel better. I didn’t feel good for a few days, but my pride took the biggest hit.
In 2014, my twin sister got married and I remember buying a size 14 dress and it not fitting. It needed alterations because I’m short, but it also needed to be taken out. I hated going in for fittings. Even with those alterations, it was still so tight I could hardly breathe. I was humiliated, but it wasn’t enough to change yet.
In 2015, it was my turn to walk down the aisle. I don’t remember trying to lose weight for my wedding. I didn’t like the way any dress fit me. Again, buying a size 14, but this time with a corset back so that there was give. I had at least learned that lesson.
The fall of 2015, ignoring my health started to catch up with me. One day I was in my office and I started feeling really weird. I was antsy and couldn’t sit still. I felt sick to my stomach and my heart was pounding. I was convinced I was having a heart attack. I shut the door to my office and sprawled across the carpet. My next move was to call my doctor. I knew something was really wrong. They said they would see me, so I called Robert and had him take me in, not trusting myself to drive the short distance safely.
My doctor did an EKG, said everything looked fine, and sent me home. She didn’t even venture a guess of what had happened. I was exhausted for the rest of the day and terrified that something was seriously wrong with me. (My educated guess now is that I had a panic attack.)
The Spring of 2016, things kept getting worse. I was sick for over two weeks with some sort of weird stomach flu. Now, I had been experiencing some…bathroom issues… on and off for 10 days. I went into the doctor and stepped on the scale. I thought it would be lower because I had not been able to keep much food in me and I was dehydrated. Wrong. The number was the highest I had ever been. 193 pounds. I can still see that in my mind.
Nothing ever came of that stomach flu. Some tests were ran. Everything came back fine.
A month or so later, I was back at the doctor. I had chest pain, tingling in my left arm, and I was terrified I was having a heart attack again. This marked my third visit in about six months and my doctor was visibly exasperated. She concluded I probably pulled a muscle in my shoulder.
Her diagnosis to the best of my recollection: “It seems odd to me that I haven’t seen you in a few years and now I’ve seen you more recently. Nothing ever seems to be wrong and I think you need to be on anti-anxiety medication.”
I knew my job was stressful, but I didn’t want to start taking medication if quitting my job would make all my issues go away. I was hesitant and left the office without a prescription and without any idea of what was wrong or how to fix it.
In June, I felt like I was ready to make a change. Robert and I agreed to get fitness trackers. During this time, I looked for a new doctor and found one that seemed promising.
I had my first visit with her on July 6, 2016 and it was one of the best decisions I ever made. I gave her my history and she asked about diet and exercise. She encouraged me to start exercising and to make some changes to my diet. I left actually feeling hopeful for the first time. It had never occurred to me that the answer to all of this could be daily exercise and proper nutrition.
How I Started
Our fitness trackers arrived two days after my 27th birthday on July 14, 2016. I downloaded MyFitnessPal, set my daily calories to 1,420 per day, and we committed to walking one lap around our subdivision every day (about 1.2 miles).
It wasn’t glamorous, but that’s all I needed. It was clear and concrete. We did our walk (rain or shine) and it did my best to hit that calorie goal. The weight started coming off before I really knew what was happening.
I should pause here and say that I had tried other exercise and diet “changes” in the past, and none of them were successful. Back when I thought I was fat and out-of-shape, but really wasn’t. Nothing had really worked when I tried so I was truly stumped when it came to diet and exercise. I had no clue how it was supposed to work and thought I had no control over how my body looked. That making it change was a superpower some people had and a power I didn’t get.
On July 16, 2016, I was 190 pounds. By September 2nd, I had lost 10 pounds. I hit 20 pounds lost on November 12th.
In December of 2016, I had my first annual physical with my new doctor and she ordered blood work, which my old doctor never did. I was extremely confident because I had lost 20 pounds since my visit in July. What I was not prepared for was my A1C (blood sugar) to come back at 6.1 (normal range is 4.2-5.8).
After almost six months of hard work, I was crushed. Now what I am about to say is my opinion. Knowing what I know now about my A1C, there is a high likelihood that this number was even higher at some point. Probably when my old doctor was trying to throw me on medication without mentioning nutrition or exercise.
On January 30, 2017, I hit 30 pounds lost. I kept up with my at-home workouts and maintained my weight, with a slight loss overtime. My A1C was down to a 5.5 by the end of May, so I felt extreme relief that what I was doing was working.
I didn’t know things were about to be kicked up a notch and this new lifestyle was about to undergo a major test.
On August 2, 2017, I was on vacation with my husband and his family. Within minutes of arriving to the cabin, our dogs were playing with another dog and they came crashing into me. As I lay on the ground screaming in pain, I was very aware that something had happened to my right knee.
I was no stranger to knee injuries and had twisted both knees multiple times since I was a teenager. I thought it was a meniscus contusion (as I had been told before) and tried my best to put on a brave face for the rest of the vacation.
The truth was that I was in serious pain.
We got back from vacation and my knee wasn’t getting better. I could not squat down and it was still swollen. After an appointment with my doctor, she referred me for an MRI. We left again for another vacation, this time to Colorado, and my bum knee went with me.
When we got back, I had my MRI and it revealed a partial tear of a ligament and a dislocated knee cap. I felt justified that there was a reason for the pain, as I had been casually strolling around with my knee cap out of place for over 6 weeks.
On November 7th, 2017 I underwent my Medial Patellofemoral Ligament Reconstruction. What was described as “arthroscopic” surgery left me with three pretty gnarly incisions.
My biggest fear before surgery was that I leave behind all these habits and the new life I had build. I still didn’t grasp, even after losing 40 pounds at this point, that I was in control of my body. I thought it was dumb luck and one wrong move would bring back the pounds.
The Rest of the Story
If I had to pick one year that had the greatest impact on my life, it would be 2018 without a doubt. I’ll give you the cliff notes version:
In January, I started my coursework for my personal training certification and finished physical therapy for my knee.
In March, my brother passed away unexpectedly.
In April, I passed my exam and became a certified personal trainer.
In May, I was told the paid internship I had paid for through NASM was unavailable in my area. I started working toward my Fitness Nutrition Specialization.
In June, I started looking for a gym to take pity on me and get some experience.
In July, I started shadowing at a private gym a few hours per week. In August, I shadowed a trainer at the Y for a day.
In October, I applied for my first job at the Y. A week later, I was told I didn’t get it.
In November, I was contacted by the Y to come in for an interview. On the 26th, I completed that interview.
On December 4th, I was offered a split position at the Y for a Wellness Coach and a Personal Trainer, once I had more experience. I accepted, gave my current job three weeks notice, and never looked back.
As far as my weight through all of this madness, I stayed pretty much the same. After finding my routine working out in a gym for the first time after I was hired, I eventually hit 139 pounds on May 11, 2019 marking 50 pounds total.
Popular quotes like “every journey starts with a single step” sound extremely trite, but in my case, that is exactly what happened. I never dreamed I would end up here, but when you take just one step, you have no idea what the rest of the staircase looks like. That is terrifying and exhilarating isn’t it?
What About You?
So what helped me the most? How can my experience apply to you?
Tip #1: Commit to some form of movement everyday.
Walking is under-rated. It’s free, requires no equipment, is easy on your joints, easily scalable, and has many other benefits. However, chose what you enjoy and what you can do right now at your current fitness level. Most people take on too much in the beginning, which leads to discouragement. Start small.
Tip #2: Bring mindfulness to your nutrition.
Real talk: I’m a huge fan of calorie counting. Why? Because you can “eat healthy” and still be in a calorie surplus, thus leading you to wonder why in the world you can’t lose weight, feel defeated, and give up. There is more to the equation than calories in/calories out, but for most people it is a great place to start.
Weigh and measure your food, set a realistic calorie intake, and learn the value of your food. Take time to develop that skill and soon you won’t need to count and weigh everything because you already know what you’re doing.
If calorie-counting is too restrictive other ideas include: keeping a food journal, eating mostly unprocessed whole foods, hitting your protein goal each day, or using a hand-portioning method.
I am living proof that starting with small, simple steps has the power to transform your health and every other area of your life. What is the first small step of your journey?