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Success Story: Aileen Lost 79 lbs!

Aileen S. Age: 45
Starting Weight: 234
Weight now: 155

What was the turning point that motivated your lifestyle change?

In 2008, I lost about 70 pounds, but I never actually reached my target weight. Over the next few years, I steadily put back on more than half of that weight. I was unhappy with myself and my ability to do things with my children and friends, like jump on a trampoline or go clothes shopping. In the summer of 2012, we went on vacation and I hated seeing myself in pictures. I had a now-or-never moment and decided that if I wanted to be happy, I needed to start doing things for myself and create my own happiness.

People want to know how I did it, and the answer is I believed. I believed in me. If I was going to be happy in my life and with my body, I had to do it myself. Between August 16, 2012 and January 16, 2013, I lost 44 pounds and hit my target weight. I had lost 79 pounds from my all-time, non-pregnant high. Why? Because I started to believe and insist that I could reach my goal.

How did MyFoodDiary help in your weight loss journey?

Writing down what I eat is a critical and non-negotiable part of achieving and maintaining a healthy weight for me. I know some experts say not to write it down because “calories are not all created equally.” There may be some truth in that, but I know that for me, mindless emotional eating is probably my number one cause of weight gain. I also believe that at the end of the day, it is the simple math of “calories in vs. calories out” that rules my body. But I don’t always have a “journal” with me, nor my computer. To have an online journal that is always available and updated with all of the information I need, that is doing the math for me and keeping track of exercise, nutritional values, and water intake, is just essential.

Now that I have been at my goal weight for over two years, I sometimes get away from daily journaling. But as soon as I start to feel myself creeping away from my target weight, the first thing I go back to is MyFoodDiary and daily journaling. It’s not just about being accountable. I like to look at trends and be aware of things like, what average daily calorie intake helps me maintain my weight? Lose weight? And what does my average nutritional profile REALLY look like? MyFoodDiary is my infrastructure for a healthy lifestyle and my security blanket.

Describe your new, healthy lifestyle?

Even though I have maintained my goal weight for over two years, I still need to prove to myself every day that I can do this, that this is real. This is my thought cycle: I believe that I am a strong and healthy person, therefore I behave that way. It has become my reality. I drink water instead of other beverages. I try to incorporate vegetables into my diet wherever I can, especially into smoothies. In general, I try to reduce refined carbohydrates and processed foods and chemicals. I’m also aware that bites, licks and tastes have calories and add up fast! I sometimes get away from daily journaling but MyFoodDiary is always the first thing I come back to if I feel like I have not been paying attention to my nutrition and daily calories. There is no arguing with the numbers in front of me in black and white.

I incorporate some form of movement into every day. Some days I do cardio, strength, and stretching exercise at the gym. Some days I’m exercising on a pole, hammock or hoop in the aerial studio where I teach and train. Some days I just do cartwheels or yoga challenges, or park at the far end of the lot. But every single day I think about moving my body. It is not a chore, it is a privilege.

What has been your biggest challenge along the way, and how have you overcome it?

There are two obstacles that I have always allowed to dictate my level of activity and ability to be healthy: my five children and my bad joints.

It is easy to let my children’s needs and busy schedules come before my own, and for many years I did just that. I was showing them that my needs come last, including my health and happiness. Now they see a mom who moves and enjoys it. I have decided, no matter how busy my day is, I FIT exercise into it. A critical part of raising my kids is showing them that I matter too, as they will when they become adults and parents.

Also, I do not have good joints, most notably my back and knees. I’ve had several knee and back surgeries since I was 12 years old. My last orthopedist, seeing my x-rays for the first time, looked at me warily and said, “You do realize that you have severely advanced osteoarthritis, right?” I assured him I knew that. He explained that there was nothing left to be done for my knee except to wait for things to deteriorate to the point of replacement. What causes me the most joint pain are poor diet, lack of movement, and carrying extra weight, so I am simply done with those things. I respect the limitations of my joints, and train carefully. But I continue to train, move, and dance. Because when I stop moving, I’m done. And I’m not done.

What is one new healthy food, habit, or activity you didn’t expect to like, but once you tried it, you were hooked?

In February of 2013, having just reached my goal weight, I went to a pole fitness class at Vertical Addiction in Stamford CT, thinking I'd spin around looking graceful. Instead, it was hard, as in beyond-my-abilities hard.

Most of my childhood I was a competitive gymnast, and most of my life I have been a dancer. What I saw in that class inspired me: women of every age, body shape and background, who looked strong and graceful. I felt completely clumsy and incapable, but the other women seemed genuinely certain that I could do it too. I went back to try again. Today, I am a certified pole fitness and FlyGym instructor and I teach 3 to 6 classes per week. I also compete in regional competitions and have received bronze, silver, and gold medals in my age group in levels 1 and 2. Pole and aerial arts are my trifecta of fitness: a challenging full-body workout of strength and cardio, beautiful and graceful and never the same, and amazing women of every age and ability coming together to support and cheer for each other.

weight loss success

What has been the greatest reward of your weight loss success?

It is so much fun to go shopping, wear fun clothes, and even wear swimsuits with confidence. It feels good every day to move my body and feel strong and healthy. But by far my biggest reward is connecting with other women and helping to show them that they can achieve their health goals too.

For years I told myself “I can’t” and I believed it. I saw other women experience success and I had a list of reasons why she could do it – no kids, under 40, had less to lose, full-time athlete or celebrity – and I could not. I am done with that mentality, and with excuses. Women draw inspiration from me because I don’t have any magic bullet or easy excuses. I decided to do the work, and so can other women. Hearing that I helped inspire someone else’s success, no matter how small, is by far my favorite part of this journey.

What’s next? Any upcoming plans that were influenced by your weight loss?

My big plans are to keep going! I will continue competing, sharing, and teaching pole fitness and dance, and aerial arts. I look forward to summer and spending time in the water and sun with my family and friends. I hope to get busy on my blog and making more entries that will share my trials and successes. I want to get people talking about connecting their health and happiness and achieving their goals. I have one son leaving for college and 4 kids still at home, so the biggest part of my life is raising them and helping them create happy, healthy lives that include finding exercise that they love.

What is your best advice for others trying to lose weight?

I say start NOW. Do at least one thing today that you will be proud of tonight. How often do we fall asleep recounting our failures and bad choices? I know there is a long list of good, even amazing, things you do every day and never think about. Surely there are also habits and behaviors that make you feel badly, but you never really think about them, you just engage in them. So go through the day seeking opportunities to make a choice you will be proud of!

It doesn't matter if these opportunities are small. Because if you are anything like me, it is the accumulation of these small, mindless behaviors that are making you feel defeated. If instead you go to bed reminding yourself how you purposefully made one better choice for yourself, then you are going to bed with a positive thought. That will change everything, because the things you tell yourself are the most powerful things you hear. Feeling badly about yourself is hard work. Making positive changes on a daily basis is hard work. Choose your hard work.

5 Reasons to Hire a Personal Trainer

Reasons to Hire a Personal Trainer

A personal trainer is a certified fitness expert that can help you tailor your exercise to meet your fitness goals. While having a trainer is not a requirement to start exercising, a trained professional can help you exercise more safely and efficiently. If you’ve been on the fence about whether to seek out the help of a trainer, here are five ways you can benefit from this relationship.

You feel unsure of yourself at the gym.

The gym can be an overwhelming place. Unfamiliar machines, a lack of experience, and a room of fit people can be enough to make you want to turn around and go home. A trainer can help you overcome these discouraging feelings. He or she will show you how to navigate equipment and use it correctly to build the confidence you need to step up and grab a set of weights.

You have a long-term fitness goal.

When you sign up for a distance race or a fitness challenge, it can be difficult to know where to begin with your training. A personal trainer can help you evaluate your goals and create a timely program that will prepare you for your event.

You’re recovering from an injury.

When you return to exercise after an injury, safety is the number one priority. It’s important to ease back into exercise to gradually increase your strength and reduce your risk for injuring yourself again. A trainer will evaluate your current fitness level to find the best place to start. He or she can also provide alternative exercise ideas to help you avoid aggravating an old injury.

You skip workouts.

Hiring the assistance of a fitness professional means a commitment to exercise. If you often skip workouts, the financial investment and scheduled meetings involved in working with a trainer will help hold you more accountable.

You’re bored.

Repeating the same workout over and over can cause you to lose interest in exercise. Your workouts need to be exciting and challenging to keep you motivated. A trainer can provide new ideas for exercises and a creative program that changes as your fitness improves.

How to Control Hunger

How to Control Hunger

Understanding what causes hunger, how to stay full longer, and how to reduce cravings are important steps for weight loss. It allows you to make the changes necessary to take control of hunger before it takes control of you.

Eat a balanced meal.

A balanced meal offsets changes in the body that can trigger hunger. If you sit down to a meal full of simple sugars and lacking protein or fiber, you will likely be hungry again soon after eating. Refined carbohydrates spike blood sugar, which is then followed by a crash that will have your stomach grumbling. Protein helps to stabilize your blood sugar, reducing this spike and crash reaction. Research shows that increasing fiber intake also increases fullness. By balancing your meal to include a lean protein source like poultry or beans with complex carbohydrates and fiber from whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, you will feel full longer.

Fill up on fewer calories.

If the meal ends and you still feel like you haven’t had enough to eat, take a closer look at the foods on your plate. Eating nutrient-dense foods that provide fewer calories allows you to eat more while still reaching your weight loss goals. Fruits and vegetables are loaded with fiber, vitamins and minerals, and most have few calories. Add a salad to your meal or fruit for dessert. Filling up on these foods will keep you feeling satisfied.

Don’t drink your calories.

Sodas, alcohol, and juices supply the body with calories, but they won’t fill you up. When research subjects eat the same number of calories of solid food versus beverages, they report feeling fuller with food.

Recognize true hunger.

Years of food restriction and fad diets can result in a numbing of hunger signals and an inability to recognize fullness. This causes you to confuse when your body needs fuel and when you are hungry out of stress or boredom. When hunger strikes, stop and assess the situation. How long has it been since you last ate? It’s normal to feel hunger about 3 to 5 hours after eating. Do you have a physical feeling of hunger like a grumbling stomach? If so, chances are your body needs some healthy fuel. If not, you might be turning to food for reasons other than hunger. The more you stop to evaluate your cravings for food, the better you will become at recognizing true hunger.

Identify your triggers.

We all have triggers that make us crave foods even when we are not truly hungry. It’s essential to identify these triggers so that you can eliminate them and reduce eating when you are not truly hungry. Do you browse a food blog or restaurant website and find you are suddenly hungry? Do you sit in front of the television and want a snack? Seeing food can trigger cravings. When you recognize how these triggers affect you, you can learn to ignore the cravings and monitor your activities to steer clear of situations that make you hungry.

How Often to Weigh

How Often to Weigh

Body weight is an important health indicator, but it is also one of the most complex. Weight fluctuates and often depends on exercise and food intake. A good weigh-in can fill you with motivation, but one that shows a slight gain could also ruin your day. It’s important not to become obsessed with the numbers on the scale.

How often you should weigh yourself depends on your goals and how weighing affects you. When trying to lose weight or prevent weight gain, it’s best to weigh at least once per week. This makes it easier to adjust your eating and exercise as soon as you find your weight creeping up. Some people find it more effective to weigh in 3 to 7 times per week.

If you take minor fluctuations in stride, then weighing everyday may work well for you. On the other hand, if a half pound weight gain makes you feel like giving up, weighing 1 to 3 times per week may be a better choice.

Keep in mind that your consistency and tracking may be more important than how often you weigh. If you weigh every day, weigh at the same time of day. For less frequent weigh-ins, choose the same days of the week and times of day. Also, pick one scale and stick with it since there are often discrepancies between scales.

Record the number each time you weigh and take note of how you feel. Whether you had a successful loss or a slight gain, make a few notes about your habits leading up to the weigh-in. This allows you to pinpoint little things that are contributing to success as well as barriers that are getting you off track.

Aim to develop a healthy relationship with the scale. While body weight is important, many health experts agree that it is only one indicator of overall fitness. Track your weight, but don’t allow those numbers to take control of your mood and attitude.

How to Make Healthy Restaurant Choices

Restaurants have come a long way in offering healthier options, but dining out when you are trying to lose weight can still be challenging. Sometimes the problem isn't a lack of healthy options but the temptation to stray from your plan due to the environment and your peers.

Do your research.

You know how it goes when you dine out with others. People arrive and the conversations begin, leaving you little time to closely review the menu. The need to make a quick choice puts you at risk for ordering an unhealthy option, especially if others at the table are doing so. Most restaurant menus can now be found online, so take the time to research before you sit down at the table. Have an idea of 3 or 4 healthy options before you arrive. Then, if you are put in a position to make a quick decision, you can make a smart choice.

Don’t skip the appetizer.

A major goal while dining out should be to avoid eating excess food, but that doesn’t mean you should skip a course to do it. If you show up hungry and everyone else orders an appetizer, you will have to sit and wait while they begin eating. You will likely be offered a bite, and there is a good chance it won’t be a healthy choice. Satisfy your hunger and resist giving in to unhealthy choices by ordering a nutritious option like a house salad or a cup of broth-based soup. You will feel less deprived and in better control of your food choices for the entire meal.

Read the menu description.

Some menu options look healthy at first glance until you read the full description. Buzzwords, like vegetarian, gluten-free, or light, don’t automatically mean a food is more nutritious or lower in calories. Instead, look for healthy keywords like broiled, baked, and steamed. Keep an eye out for heavy sauces and excess dressing. Ask how foods are prepared. Don’t be afraid to request less butter or ask for sauces on the side. Many times, chefs are willing to accommodate. Servers can also make suggestions that fit your dietary needs better.

Rethink dessert.

Much like ordering an appetizer, it can be difficult to watch everyone else eat a dessert. If you’ve saved a few calories to enjoy something sweet, split a dessert with a friend and eat a few bites, just until your sweet tooth is satisfied. If you want to steer clear of dessert altogether, turn to the drink section. A decaf espresso or hot tea will allow you to have something to enjoy so that you don’t feel completely left out of the final course.

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