I Lost 85 Pounds — and Regained Control Over My Life

By M. Jane
|
July 21, 2022
a before and after photo of a super strong woman's weight loss journey
Image credit: Lindsey Engelken for Clean Plates | M. Jane

Six years ago, I was a young mom struggling to get through grad school while caring for my five-month-old baby boy and two-and-a-half year old daughter. I was also a woman in an abusive marriage, and the situation with my husband was quickly worsening. I didn’t feel equipped to leave him, but one day, I knew I had to: I noticed my daughter carefully memorizing the way her father spoke to me. His voice was aggressive, his words demeaning, and in that moment, I realized I was not the person I wanted her to emulate. I was not strong like I wanted her to be. 

When we left, my kids and I stayed with friends and family for a few months before we got on our feet. Those first few weeks, I couldn’t believe the feeling of freedom that came with leaving the intensely controlled environment I’d been living in. I could eat a handful of chips without being yelled at. I could drink a beer without punishment, skip a run without judgment, and hear nothing but beautiful silence as I tasted cookie dough or licked cake batter while baking. I was free. 

That freedom was incredibly necessary for both my mental health and my family’s safety. But what started as an empowering act quickly spiraled out of control: I was drinking beer or wine nightly, ate desserts daily, and spent most of my day thinking about what I was going to eat or drink next. By February 2020, I weighed 225 pounds, up from 165. I felt a deep, humming loneliness that seemed to originate in my gut. I organized all my social time around what I could consume while watching the kids run around the backyard.

I couldn’t keep up with the kids, and I didn’t feel good. My back ached. My feet hurt.

As I gained weight, I felt more and more out-of-sync with myself mentally and physically. I realized I was using food in an attempt to fill the holes in my life. At this moment, I saw myself again through my daughter’s eyes: tired, grumpy, short-tempered, anxious. I was sometimes drinking more than a bottle of wine every night. I was using food and alcohol to self-medicate, and it wasn’t healthy. Once again, I was not strong like I wanted my girl to be. 

So I decided to gain control over myself and lose weight.

I joined an online group for moms in my area who were trying to get healthier. We focused on exercise and nutrition, community, and consistency. Through daily check-ins, we held each other accountable and were brave enough to be vulnerable with each other. We inspired each other with words of encouragement and pictures of ourselves smashing a workout or drinking a nutrient-laden smoothie. I started to pay attention to what I wanted to eat in moments of quiet, solitude, stress, or anxiety.

By midway through 2020, I had really started losing weight. There was a gym at my work, and due to Covid, I could often be alone there, so I began going once or twice a week. I stopped eating desserts all the time. Slowly, the arrow on the scale began to point in the other direction. 

Then I met the best accountability partner and friend I could ever imagine.

A former Army Ranger named Ty started a new job at my workplace, and I immediately felt drawn to his perspectives on a wide range of topics, especially how he approached fitness. I was just at the beginning of my journey, but I was already finding it hard to talk with friends about nutrition and exercise as my commitment increased. Honestly, I was finding it harder to talk with them about a lot of things — some of my friends became less supportive and more withdrawn when I wanted to enjoy social time with them that didn’t revolve around beer and pizza.

With Ty, everything was different. Our first conversation about fitness happened just a week or two after we met. It centered on simply executing the task at hand: not talking about it ad nauseum, not making a New Year’s resolution, not going in for fad diets. As educators, we saw how our young adult students struggled with resilience and self-efficacy — and I realized that these were my issues, too.

It’s fair to say I pestered Ty. He was new to the area and had his own issues to contend with, but somehow, he still accepted my ongoing intrusions into his classroom, office, and lunch hour. He answered questions for me, listened to my ideas, and modeled healthy choices daily. We’d enjoy our lunches together on a bench near the lawn, and I was so grateful that he brought a level of accountability to my efforts. 

When summer hit, we were both faced with childcare costs, so we decided to do a nanny share. This exploded our cordial, interesting workplace conversations into an incredibly meaningful friendship. Children have a remarkably authentic and humbling way of interacting, and his three kids and my two, who are all about the same ages, deftly forced our friendship into one of even further raw honesty and trust. Our conversations generated in me a desire to understand how resilience and motivation are impacted by stress and trauma, and how you rebuild them by doing hard things. I came to believe in support, routine, accountability, small wins, and an eye on development, not perfection.

Yes, this is also a love story. And it’s a good one. 

Ty had experienced over fifteen combat deployments in the Middle East, lost dear friends to suicide and war, and had undergone his own cataclysmic divorce, so he had every reason to self-medicate with food, substance abuse, and unhealthy choices, just like I’d been doing. If his mind ran his body, he would have been broken or dead. But Ty recognized the gravity of this situation, so he didn’t just talk about living a healthy lifestyle, he actually lived it. Daily. No excuses.

Ty didn’t maintain a healthy diet and engage in daily exercise out of vanity; these choices were genuinely what kept him alive. When we first started talking about this mindset, I realized his approach was a complete reversal of how I’d been thinking. I’d been waiting for my brain, which was crammed with behaviors created through poor emotional and mental health, to control my body. This was an approach that had never once worked for me, but which I returned to again and again because I didn’t know there was an alternative: put your body first, and your mind can follow. 

As Ty and I became close friends, he gently encouraged me to care for my mental and physical health. I was hardly in Army Ranger shape — I couldn’t even run a mile anymore, couldn’t do a push-up to save my life, and didn’t have years of training under my belt to form better habits. But deep inside me, I knew that I did have strength and resilience — and I knew that my daughter deserved to see those qualities in me. Now, I also had an accountability partner to help me see when I was making excuses, rather than finding solutions. So I decided to make some changes.

First, I cut out refined sugars. At the beginning, that meant I swapped Kit-Kat bars and gummy bears for bags of sugar-free candies and chocolates. Of course, I immediately ate way too many of them, which led to the inevitable: bouts of embarrassing, uncomfortable diarrhea that are often the result of consuming certain sugar-free sweeteners in large quantities. Although this was an unquestionably unpleasant side effect, the fact that I was willing to suffer through that much gastrointestinal stress in order to eat a sugary treat introduced me to an important reality about myself: I’m someone who is likely to consume anything that feels good to the point of negative consequences. I’m just not good at moderation. I couldn’t make real changes in my mental and emotional health until I was able to address my behavior patterns honestly, but once I did, I knew what I had to do next. 

I resolved to sweat once daily through exercise. 

I realized that in order for me to stay healthy, I needed to get in a proper sweat session on a daily basis. I also began to use Ty as a model for a lot of healthier habits, including daily exercise; significant reduction in processed foods; taking probiotics, vitamins and supplements; drinking more water; and seriously reducing simple carbohydrates and processed sugar.

It’s been two years since I made these changes, and in that time, I’ve experienced some big life changes, as well. As you probably guessed, my relationship with Ty grew and changed: we’re still great friends and accountability partners, but now, we’re also husband and wife. We realized that we simply couldn’t be without each other, so now we have a family of seven: the two of us and all our fantastic kids.

I also lost 85 pounds, dropped from a size XXL to an XS, and most importantly, got strong enough to actually do a pushup. I can run five miles without dying, and not only keep up with the kids, but annihilate them at most sports — which I’ll admit is low-hanging fruit, given that they’re between the ages of five and nine, but still, it feels great. I sleep well. 

Everyone’s mind and body are different, and I wouldn’t suggest that my routine is for everyone. However, I can say with absolute certainty that having a pretty strict regimen has been incredibly beneficial to my mental and physical health. I do daily cardio, and I adhere to an intermittent fasting schedule, so I don’t eat until 11am. These changes have been amazing for me. My brain had a long, long history of manipulating my body, and forcing it into the co-pilot seat has worked wonders for me. Now that it’s my body’s turn, I feel strong, calm, and happy for the first time in my life. 

Read next: 11 Healthy (and Delicious) Chicken Thigh Recipes

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