Jay shares her story.
“Two hundred seventy,” the nurse announced when I stepped on the scale. It was July of 2012, and I had gone to see my physician for a routine physical before starting college the following month. I was 18 years old and Class II Morbidly Obese. I wore size 20 pants, and I couldn’t walk for more than a mile without my legs and feet hurting. My definition of “vegetable” was corn, or cauliflower drowning in melted cheese.
A month later, I left my small rural hometown in Michigan for my new life at school in Philadelphia. I was so excited. When I got to there, though, it was immediately apparent to me that I did not look like anyone else. I felt embarrassed and uncomfortable seeing how people looked at me. I isolated myself. You’re supposed to have fun at college. You’re supposed to meet new people and make lifelong friends. I really wanted to be the person who fearlessly introduces herself to everyone who crosses her path. The truth is, I was not outgoing, and I was not confident. I felt like no one looked past my looks.
I tried not to eat in public or take extra food like everyone else did. I didn’t want to be “that fat girl.” Instead, I ate in secret or at night, once everyone else had gone out to parties. My past attempts at dieting and losing weight had already failed. I was defeated, and I had accepted that I was never going to change. Day in and day out, I was my own worst enemy and my harshest critic. How could I even begin to motivate myself to change when I constantly told myself that I was going to fail, just like I had done for what felt like two million times before?
There was a turning point in my first semester at Penn, though, that "aha" moment I had been waiting for. It was an introductory anthropology class, and the professor showed a slide of two women’s body scans (these scans take a picture of a “slice” of the person so that doctors can visualize the internal structures). Here’s what we saw:
The woman on the right was 5’6’’ and weighed 120 pounds. The woman on the left was the same height, but weighed 250 pounds. I remember how striking it was to see the body composition right there in front of me. I couldn’t ignore it. I heard my classmate’s shocked reactions to the picture and all I could think about was the fact that I weighed 20 pounds more than the woman on the left. I couldn’t believe I was doing this to my body. I decided it was time to change. All these moments and thoughts and realizations of my freshman year up to this point finally came to a climax — it was time to take myself and my health seriously.
I now knew that I wanted to look different, I wanted to feel different, and I wanted to move differently. But I had zero idea of how to get there. I knew nothing about dieting, about nutrition, about exercise…. I didn’t even know how to interpret a nutrition label beyond the fact that I could do the math and count calories. However, what good is knowing the caloric value of a food if you don’t know how many calories your body needs to survive? After doing very basic research, I learned that someone needs to consume 500 fewer calories a day in order to lose one pound a week (that is, a 3500 calorie deficit = 1 pound lost). Okay, that’s literally a Big Mac from McDonald's, or a bag of chips from the 7-Eleven. I could see myself making the choice to skip one additional snack a day. It was manageable.
I sat down at my desk and opened my yearly planner. I thought to myself that I needed to lose just one pound, and then I could move on to the next one. If I started that day and lost one pound per week, then in 100 weeks, I could be 100 pounds lighter.
Of course, by then, I would be in my junior year of college. However, I was going to be a junior in college no matter what. Did I want to stay the way I was or change so that I could have at least a year and a half of a normal college experience, not to mention the rest of my life?
I chose the latter option. I wrote a large “1” in the top right corner of the week ahead of me. For each successive week, I would add one more until I hit 100. This was my benchmark for how I was going to keep myself focused on my ultimate goal.
What’s important for me about my strategy is 1) it was a long-term approach and 2) my weight loss goals were not dramatic. I was not trying to crash diet. I was not trying to starve myself. I wanted to have my college years be a time where I could feel pretty, go to parties if I wanted to, and feel confident in myself. I wanted that change; and for me, gradual change was the most realistic way to achieve it.
This time, I was determined not to fail. What was different this time? I was motivated. I was motivated by the photo of the body scans from my anthropology class and by a desire to rid myself of the angry and hurtful thoughts that I carried with me in every moment.
I did research on an online forum called Reddit to learn about tools for weight loss. Many people on /r/progresspics used an app called MyFitnessPal to track and count their calorie intake. I downloaded it to begin to understand how many calories I was actually consuming. This choice was one of the best decisions I made in my journey. I am a very visual person, and I like to see things all spelled out in front of me. MyFitnessPal showed me in no uncertain terms why I was gaining weight so rapidly (about 20 pounds per year throughout high school). And it helped me see that I really could not lose weight eating 4,000+ calories per day.
I started making only small choices that semester. Nightly trips to the local convenience store ceased. Instead of eating when I wanted food for emotional reasons, I began to learn how to eat when I was physically hungry. I constantly reminded myself that it took years to put on all this weight, and it would take some time to get it back off. It was a slow start, but I was determined to change my eating patterns in a way that was right for me.
That first summer, I lost only 20 of the 142 pounds that I would eventually lose. But I finally felt that all-important moment where I knew that “this is for real — I’m actually doing this.” I wanted to keep the good changes going. MyFitnessPal became a tool for weight loss, and I conscientiously logged calories and learned about portion sizes in the process. I learned how to calculate how many calories I needed daily to maintain weight, and thus how many calories I could eat daily to lose weight each week. It became more clear to me as time went on that I could stick with this because I was approaching weight loss in a healthy way.
There’s a lot that happened in my life the next 100 weeks. I learned a ton, I tried many strategies, I failed at a lot of things — but by July of 2014 I had lost 100 pounds, and the weight loss didn’t stop there. In future posts, I'll tell you about how I kept going, how I incorporated exercise into my life, and most of all, how I never regained the weight. I'd love to hear about your journey as well.