Stephanie Wetzel’s Weight Loss Story
Editor’s note: This article is a success story written by Stephanie Wetzel of TradingPounds.com.
I was blowing through life like a human tornado, recklessly consuming everything in my path. There was too much work, too much stuff, and way too much food. In the moment I decided it was time to make some significant changes in my life, I weighed 411 pounds.
I knew the road ahead would be long. There was a part of me that wanted instant satisfaction, to wake one day and find all the excess weight gone from my body. Luckily, the more sensible side of my brain had found its voice and reminded me that slow transition is where lasting success can be found.
My eating habits were less than ideal for creating a healthy lifestyle. Most of my meals came out of a drive-thru window. Sugar-laden treats were in abundance, as were the junky snacks. All in all, I suspect I consumed over 3500 empty calories a day.
This left me feeling constantly exhausted, and I was ashamed of how bad my weight had become over the years. I didn’t just want to lose weight; I wanted a normal life with a healthier, happier version of me in it.
I thought about what this goal meant to me, and then I picked the smallest possible action step I could take towards it.
The Transition Begins
On January 1, 2010, I cleared all the junk food out of my house. I created a “safe” space for eating in my life. And as soon as I put the last of the cookies in that trash bag, I panicked.
I didn’t know what to eat. The refrigerator and cabinets were all bare. I questioned my own ability to survive. After all, every diet I had attempted up until this point had failed.
This is when I had to remind myself that I wasn’t dieting; I was creating a lifestyle. The question wasn’t what would I eat, it was what did I want to eat. I was in control of my choices and actions. And I could do this—one day at a time I could make better choices for my life and body.
So I began doing just that by not worrying about anything but the food on my plate. I created a little mantra for myself—one meat to two veggies. At first, I only chose the fruits and vegetables I knew that I liked, but after a while I got a bit braver and started experimenting.
It turns out that I love Brussels sprouts.
The other thing I did for myself during this time of food transition was acknowledge the cravings. Diets make us believe we can just “flip a switch” and no longer want those cookies and cupcakes. The reality of my body was that it craved the high levels of sugar it used to receive each day.
It’s the same as an addict in rehab. You can’t just wake up one day and stop without facing some serious withdrawal. You are going to crave that cupcake fix. The longer you deny it, the more you put yourself at risk for overdoing it.
So I made the pact with myself that when I craved something specific, I would have a small portion of it immediately. But I didn’t want to make these junky indulgences too accessible. So I kept it out of the house completely, and always bought them in a single-size serving. This helped me keep things in balance when the cravings hit.
All in all, I wanted to protect my sanity during this time of slow transition. I was creating a happier, more joyful life for myself. That was the goal and losing weight was simply an added bonus. I had to keep my focus where it belonged, so some other things I did during this time were:
1. Avoided the numbers. Dieting is all about numbers—calories, pounds, portions—and it can become maddening trying to keep up with them all. Instead of letting my mind be overwhelmed, I chose to ignore every last one of them.
2. Measured progress peacefully. To me, success was defined by a day of good choices, clothes that no longer fit (in the good, too big way), and a smile on my face when I fell asleep each night.
3. Acknowledged my body. My mind was unable to recognize the natural cues of my body, which was confused itself from 22 years of excessive indulgence. I started listening by keeping focus while I ate. This meant sitting at the table, distractions removed, and focusing on the food in front of me.
4. Committed to quality. Food is fuel for our bodies. The higher quality food, the better your body feels and performs. As part of this transition in my life, I made the commitment to eating real food. 90% of my groceries now come from the produce, meat or dairy sections of the grocery store.
5. Experimented with eating. We are all unique and I’ve discovered that each of our bodies responds differently to food. For instance, my body doesn’t like rice. When I eat it, I get an overly-stuffed feeling in my stomach, and then 20 minutes later, I’m starving. My body doesn’t like rice, I didn’t like the sick feeling, and so I gave up rice.
6. Learned what matters most. There are a plethora of “healthy” products on the market screaming their low-calorie, low-fat, whole-grain benefits at you. The truth is that these products strip our food of its vital nutrients during the manufacturing process. For me, the less process there is between me and my food, the more satisfied I feel after eating.
I even conducted an experiment with this last year. I bought both the 2% and the whole milk varieties of my favorite Greek yogurt. Off and on over the course of several months, I would switch between the two. Eating the 2% variety, I was hungry again faster than when I ate the whole milk variety—by about 90 minutes to two hours earlier! That’s an extra meal or snack over the course of a day.
7. Hydrated often. Water is the other necessity of life and healthy bodies. I started drinking eight to twelve glasses a day, making sure that my body was always well hydrated.
8. Ate when hungry. Probably the most important thing I did during this time of transition was eat when I felt hungry. If you feel hunger, it’s because your body is hungry. There is a big difference between just eating, and eating because your body is signaling hunger. It takes time for your level of satisfaction to reset itself, and going hungry only causes you to overeat later—and sometimes you don’t make the best choices when you do!
9. Healed my emotional wounds. Life is not as easily compartmentalized as we would all like to believe. There is a reason eating and emotions are interlinked, causing us to reach for the cookies when we are sad or stressed.
I was carrying the burdens of the past with me, beating myself up over mistakes, trying desperately to control the chaotic rhythm of life. All of these things were contributing to my growing waistline, and all of them had to be faced along the way to better eating. The biggest part of this transition for me has been learning to heal the relationship with myself, which in turn is healing my relationship with food.
10. Established my personal boundaries. People mean well. When they love us, they want to show us support. But asking, “are you sure you should eat that?” isn’t always the best way for us to feel supported. Early on, I expressed to those that love me what was and was not received well by me as a part of this process. I gave them ideas on ways they could support and love me through the journey.
Most importantly, I spoke up when someone (even strangers) crossed the boundaries. This is a very personal transition in your life. And it’s important that you do what works for you. Ideas, comments, and opinions will come at you all along the way. You get to choose whether or not you listen. Know your boundaries and you’ll feel like you’re standing on solid ground.
Life After 411
I’m entering my 28th month as a recovering eater, and I still have about sixty or so extra pounds on my body. So far, I’ve lost 200 pounds and completely changed my relationship with food. I’ve healed some old wounds, left full-time employment behind to launch my own business, and currently find myself in my first serious romantic relationship.
My life is completely different than it used to be, but I find peace and comfort here. It is the life I envisioned back on that January day when I cleaned out my kitchen cabinets, and yet it is still so much more.
When you are taking that first step towards something greater, it’s hard to know how you’ll get there or even what the journey will ask of you along the way. It can feel almost debilitating in scale. I estimated I would need to lose around 245 pounds to reach a “normal” weight for my body.
200 pounds later, I’m still just taking this process day by day. I’m now helping others who’ve found themselves facing the same uphill battle. I’m opening up and sharing my most painful secret with the world.
If you had told me this is what my life would become, I wouldn’t have believed you. Or even worse, I probably would have been too scared to even begin.
But today? This version of me handles it all with grace. I feel blessed by every opportunity to share my story and challenge myself to experience the great adventure of life. I have changed my life, but life has changed me in even more amazing ways.
Right now, all you have to do is focus on the first step. Don’t get too caught up in figuring it all out. Just see where the journey takes you. I promise you’ll be OK on the other side too.
Stephanie Wetzel is the founder of Trading Pounds, where she coaches women in lasting lifestyle change for weight loss. If you are ready to lose the weight and gain your life, learn more about Steph’s journey.