When you're facing the prospect of a three-digit weight loss, it's easy to feel overwhelmed and helpless. Standing at the very beginning of a long and unpredictable road, the idea of completely overhauling your lifestyle and shedding the equivalent of a whole person can seem daunting—but it's not impossible.
For safe and sustainable weight loss, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends losing one to two pounds per week, while avoiding fad diets or products that promise extreme results. At the Academy's suggested pace, it would take somewhere between 50 to 100 weeks—one to two years—to hit the three-digit mark. However, in 2008, our member Janie (WANT2BEFITBY40) achieved her goal of losing 100 pounds in eight months. She shared her story in a blog post to help motivate other Sparkers.
Janie's "A-Ha" Moment
Janie had loved food all her life. At the young age of 13, when she was 15 pounds overweight, her parents took her to the doctor to get a prescription for diet pills. That day marked the beginning of decades of weight issues and yo-yo dieting.
For the duration of her 14-year marriage, Janie had been very overweight. Not only was she unhappy with herself, but her family relationships were also suffering. Janie couldn't take her children to an amusement park because she couldn't fit into the seats of the rides. She'd always enjoyed horseback riding as a child, but she was too heavy to teach her kids. But Janie was most bothered by the uncertainty of her future. At least several times a week, she found herself thinking about what her husband and children would do if she died: "I was literally planning out in my head who would take care of them and how my three-year-old would get along without me."
Then, in February of 2008, Janie woke up one day and something clicked. She knew from that moment forward, things would have to change.
"I knew that I could never again eat the way I'd always eaten," she remembers. "I had to eat healthy, and could never make a habit of eating junk again. Not that I can't have [treats] once in a while—but a lifestyle of eating that way, no more."
After so many years of hopping from one diet plan to another, Janie realized that dieting would never get the results she wanted. "If you are prone to gaining weight, you have to realize, it will never do you any good to go on a diet, " she says. "What happens is, we go on a diet, lose weight, feel great, then think, 'Wow, look at all this weight I've lost. Okay, now the diet's over.' Then we go back to our old ways of eating, and bam! we're overweight again, sometimes worse off than before."
Janie's Nutrition and Weight Loss Plan
When Janie first started her new lifestyle, her plan was to eat extremely healthy five days per week and then allow herself some treats—such as a burger or pizza—on the other two days. The goal wasn't to eat everything in sight on those two days, but just to enjoy the occasional indulgence without mentally punishing herself.
"Literally overnight, I completely changed the way I had been eating," Janie said. "I cut out the obvious sugars—candy, cookies, sodas, high-calorie juices, milk (while good for you, still has a lot of calories). I cut out cheese, high-fat meats, white pastas and breads. I 'went brown,' as I like to call it. Whole wheat, low-carb breads, pastas, tortillas, bagels and rice in moderation. I started eating more fruits, vegetables and lean meats. And I finally started getting in eight to 10 glasses of water daily, and I know that has helped tremendously."
After a strict first two weeks and some quick success, Janie tweaked her initial plan, opting to give up her two splurge days. As it turns out, she found that she simply had less desire to eat unhealthy foods. Although Janie still enjoys an occasional treat now and then, she doesn't make it a habit and doesn't have full-blown cheat days.
"In the past, if I ate something that was 'off' my diet, I would feel defeated, think there's no way I can lose all this weight anyway, and then just give up," she recalled. "Now, I plan for it, I allow room in my daily calories and I enjoy it. I know it's a treat and not a normal food I can eat all the time."
Dark veggies became a staple of Janie's meals. "A lot of the lighter colored veggies have more starches, which convert to glucose," she said. "I don't ever ban a veggie, starchy or not, but I do try to limit them. The green, dark red and purple veggies are my best friends." Janie invested in a veggie steamer, using it to steam her favorite medley of broccoli, onion, zucchini and bell peppers.
For protein, Janie grilled chicken with her favorite lime pepper spice. She would grill large amounts, then cut the extra chicken into small strips, put it into baggies and freeze it to use later in chicken salads, whole-wheat pita pockets or wraps.
Janie also drank lots of water, chicken broth or tomato soup. "Since the store-bought chicken broth has so much sodium, I made my own by cooking some chicken in water with onion, garlic and spices," she says.
Exercising to Lose 100 Pounds in 8 Months
Janie started with a very light exercise routine, which consisted of walking around her neighborhood and bouncing on an exercise ball at night while watching television. In April of that year, she joined a gym and began exercising three days a week, primarily walking and lifting weights. In the summer, she incorporated some swimming five days a week.
"Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays I would ride three to five miles on the recumbent bike, swim for about 20 minutes, then do an hour of water aerobics," she said. "Tuesdays and Thursdays I would walk, ride the bike for seven to eight miles, then do weights for 45 minutes."
By the end of the summer, Janie had lost around 80 pounds.
After a year, Janie had worked up to 12 to 15 miles on the bike. She would do intervals between the bike and the arc trainer, then walk about a mile around the track while using dumbbells to work her arms and keep her heart rate up. Next, she would do about 25 minutes of weightlifting, alternating days with upper and lower body, then finish up with stretching.
"I try to vary my routine a bit each week," she says. "Even if it's just the amount of weights I use or the order of the exercises or the intensity. Your body gets used to the exercises you do; changing it up keeps it burning calories more efficiently."
Is It Safe to Lose 100 Pounds in 8 Months?
It's important to note that Janie's quick weight loss is not typical, and that it's not safe or advisable for everyone. Dr. Caroline Apovian, Director of Nutrition and Weight Management at Boston Medical Center, says that it's more typical to see a 100-pound weight loss in 12 to 18 months for someone who has had bariatric surgery.
"If someone is rapidly losing weight without bariatric surgery, there are hormones that the body produces to fight back against extreme weight loss," warns Dr. Apovian. "Without surgery, those hormones are unopposed, and that person is at risk of gaining the weight back. That is the unhealthy or dangerous part: rapidly regaining the weight."
To avoid regaining, Dr. Apovian recommends maintaining the Academy's recommended weight loss pace of around one to two pounds per week.
Janie's Top 5 Tips