On Your Health

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Everything You Want to Know About Losing 100 Pounds... But Were Afraid to Ask

It’s hard to imagine the determination, sweat and patience required to lose more than 100 pounds. Just ask Sarah Johnston. Sarah, a social media specialist at INTEGRIS, began her weight loss journey after enduring frightening complications from a low-risk surgery. She worked hard over many months to safely lose more than one hundred pounds — 135, to be exact!

For anyone who has tried to lose weight, there are always the questions of how to do it successfully and how to maintain it. To help you get in the fighting spirit to achieve your 2019 health resolutions, Sarah recently sat down with On Your Health to answer all the questions you might have regarding her path to healthy living. 

On Your Health: What was your turning point that made you decide to pursue a healthier lifestyle?

Sarah Johnston: I was 30 years old and needed emergency surgery. This surgery was common. I wasn’t supposed to be in the operating room for long and I planned to go home the same day. But when I was in the operating room, numerous complications occurred. The worst was when my heart rate fell to a dangerously low level.

I was told my body was so unconditioned and unhealthy it couldn’t handle the impact of what was supposed to be minimally invasive surgery. My doctor told me after the surgery, “You absolutely must get your weight under control because we almost lost you on that table.”

I was flabbergasted that at 30 years old, because of a condition I chose not to control, I almost lost my life. I told myself, “That’s unacceptable. I deserve more than that. I deserve a better life than that." And then I got to work.

OYH: Did you follow an exact workout plan or diet? If so, what did you do?

SJ: I joined WW at work and focused on reprogramming my brain. I learned that my unhealthy cravings were not a personal flaw, and I didn’t have to resign myself to battling them forever. I took things step by step and I tried to slowly introduce new healthy habits into my life.

I didn’t get down on myself if I had a slip-up, I just acknowledged it, tracked it on the WW app, and gave myself permission to move on. I knew that tomorrow was another day to make healthier choices. Everyone has a slip-up now and then, but what’s important is not throwing in the towel and bingeing for a week after. Forgiving myself and immediately “getting back up on the horse” were key.

Cooking was a foreign concept to me, and being a single girl, cooking for one was challenging at first. But gradually I began to introduce cooking into my routine. I started small and tried simple recipes that I could cook easily in the microwave, or prep in the slow cooker and then freeze.

I also learned I was a huge sugar addict. That was a hard concept to grasp because I initially thought that meant I was addicted to sweets, but I didn't eat much candy and I didn't drink soda. Then I learned my sugar addiction came from bread. In the past, my go-to snacks were bread and lunch meat, bread and peanut butter, bread and butter, bread and anything else you can imagine. At WW, a small piece of bread is OK, but back then my portion sizes were out of control. I was gorging on bread.

I decided to take processed bread out of my diet and replace it with lots of healthy carbs and protein. Making that change was hard because I went through a complete sugar detox. My energy was low, my brain was foggy, and I was SO moody, but eventually it was worth it. My doctor was thrilled that I was taking such a brave step toward improving my health.

I felt like I really needed to be pushed out of my comfort zone, so I hired a personal trainer who was passionate about physical fitness and good nutrition. He had a reputation for being tough on his clients. I worked with him twice a week, learning new cardio and strength training exercises. I also went to the gym every day, often changing up my routine. I can quickly get bored, so I mixed it up with running, biking, stair climbing, elliptical, jumping rope, walking and running on the track.

OYH: What motivated you throughout your journey? Did you ever experience a struggling point or plateau?

SJ: I'm not going to lie, it was SO HARD at first, but pretty quickly I saw some results. Once I had a little momentum I was inspired to keep going, and each day I just built on that.

Over my weight loss journey, I learned to take things day-by-day. Even, now, I wake up each day and recommit to healthy eating that day. I don’t get over analytical and worry about the rest of my life, I just think about my goal for that particular day.

I still have times when I struggle. Definitely. I wanted to quit more times than I could count. Especially in the beginning, some days I would go to the gym and be so angry that I had to work that hard to stay healthy. But being honest with myself and acknowledging my feelings has helped me.

I learned through this process that I will always have to be mindful. I will always have to stay active. I will always have to pay attention to my portion sizes. I will never be able to eat like I used to eat. Sometimes, that really irritates me.

I leaned on my support system a lot. I have a tight group of friends and family who encouraged me to think back to where I was a year ago and compare it to how I feel now. They reminded me of my successes and told me I had come too far to stop.

If I told my personal trainer that I was struggling, he replied, “You want to quit? Go pick up two 50-pound weights. That’s what you carried on your body. Do you really want to quit?” Point taken!

Before and after photos still motivate me. I look at myself every day. It’s hard for me to see the difference in my body, and in my mind’s eye I sometimes feel like I look the same as before my weight loss journey began. But the side-by-side photo comparison helps me see the actual changes. It helps me see that my hard work is paying off.

Once again, the biggest thing I try to remember during a struggle is to forgive myself. We are all human. Life is not perfect. We make mistakes. If I overindulge and have too much cake or too many fries, I can get right back on track with the next meal. I still have control. I haven’t completely undone all my months of hard work with one burger or donut. 

OYH: Do you experience triggers for old habits? How do you power through those?

SJ: Absolutely! Those triggers usually happen when I’m emotional, stressed or tired. Not keeping food that triggers old habits in the house is the number one thing that helps. So, donuts, cookies, pints of ice cream and cupcakes aren’t even in my house. If I want one, I must get into my car and drive to get something. I must make it difficult to get to the trigger foods.

If I really want a trigger food, I’ll go ahead and have something, but I’ll be very mindful of how much. If I really want a donut or cookie? I have one cookie or half a donut. That’s a quick course of action that has made my cravings more manageable.

OYH: Other than weight loss, what other ways did you notice your body change?

SJ: My joint pain has hugely improved. I developed arthritis in my knees from of years of being overweight. My knee pain at the beginning of my journey was unimaginable. I still have times where I battle it, but it’s so much better because the pressure of the extra weight isn’t there anymore. I can also stand for longer periods of time. At one point my back felt like it would break after standing for a few minutes.

Now, I notice muscles! I have collarbones and defined muscles in my arms. My hips are not as wide, so I can comfortably sit in an airplane seat or at a movie theater. I can go through a turnstile and not worry that I might need to shift to the side to get through. I can simply sit and comfortably cross my legs, which is so pretty and feminine, and something that I once thought was impossible.

OYH: What non-physical changes have you noticed?

SJ: I am mentally healthier and happier than I have been in years. Throughout this journey, I discovered that I was overeating to numb pain. I was overeating to push things away. I was overeating to make myself feel better. I went to counseling to discover what was at the core of my unhealthy habits and the pain I was trying to numb. I uncovered that I was battling years of fear, insecurity and a broken heart.

Addressing those issues took time, and it wasn’t fun. I confronted phrases like “I can’t,” I’m too scared,” and “I’m not good enough” that constantly bounced around in my head. That self-talk worked against me for many years. It was overwhelming and draining to battle those demons, but once again I took it one step at a time.

After a while, I really started believing that I am valuable and worth all this time and strenuous work. I embraced the fact that I am important enough to focus on. I learned that energy put into taking care of myself isn’t selfish, it’s necessary. If I’m not at my healthiest, I can’t give my very best to the people I love.

OYH: Do you have “cheat” days or meals? If so, how do you incorporate them into your lifestyle?

SJ: I do! Planning is key. If you know ahead of time what you want, work it into your lifestyle. If I know I’m going out with friends for dinner, I’ll have a lighter breakfast and lunch, or I’ll work in an extra walk here and there.

I don’t want to live in a world where I can only eat chicken breasts and broccoli. If there are special foods I love or if it’s something special I can’t get anywhere else, I’m going to have some, but in smaller portions, and I don't give myself a treat every time I crave it. I make sure that when I do allow myself a treat, it’s going to be something delicious and special so that it’s really worth it.

I remember once I was shopping at the dollar store when I walked by the candy aisle. I paced back and forth, deeply craving some chocolate. Then I thought to myself, “If I’m going to have chocolate, it’s not going to be from a dollar store.” I left without the chocolate.

If you’re ready to begin a weight loss journey or want to start making healthy choices, INTEGRIS has the resources to help. Learn more about the INTEGRIS Weight Loss Center or the INTEGRIS Healthy Living Center YMCA

Need more motivation? Read Sarah’s original weight loss post and her 2018 update post on the INTEGRIS On Your Health blog. You can also find inspiration from OYH’s Nutrition and Weight Loss posts

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