Weight-Loss Win is an original Yahoo series that features the inspiring stories of people who have shed pounds healthfully.
Charlene Bazarian is 52, 5 feet 3inches tall, and currently weighs 115 pounds. In 2016, after gradually gaining weight over many years, she finally stopped making excuses and started down a healthier path. This is the story of her weight-loss journey.
The Turning Point
My weight gain, like many women experience, was gradual — a few pounds in college, a few more in law school. My weight continued to increase steadily, and I weighed much more than I had dreamt of for my wedding day. I remember tearfully telling my best friend that I couldn’t believe I weighed 170 pounds. Despite trying everything from Atkins to Weight Watchers, the scale continued to climb, and to my shock and horror, one day I hit 208 pounds.
I treated myself to a spa day and was mortified when I had to return to the desk and ask the receptionist if they had a larger robe, as the one-size-fits-all robe wasn’t exactly fitting all. That was my “aha moment.”
Until then, I was firmly in denial. I remember feeling sorry for myself, as it all seemed so unfair. My friends could eat salami sandwiches on white bread with mayonnaise and weigh 108 pounds. I blamed a bad metabolism, an underactive thyroid that I had been diagnosed with at age 19, genetics, and anything else I could think of.
We all have an image in our heads of what we look like, and mine was something closer to my college self than the reality. It took that awkward moment at the spa, when the receptionist forced me to repeat my request for a larger robe — when she snidely asked, “I’m sorry, what?” — to face the reality.
The biggest change I made to my diet was trying to eliminate added refined sugar and starchy carbs. I had a serious breakup with breads and pastas, as I tried to pick foods with the most nutritional bang for my calorie buck. I swapped white potatoes for sweet potatoes and white rice for riced cauliflower and short-grain brown rice.
I remember being hesitant to go to the gym, so I started with workout DVDs at home. First I used Gilad’s Bodies in Motion, and then added Cathe Friedrich, Holly Perkins, and Jillian Michaels. I liked being able to start working out at home without feeling self-conscious.
Some people find religion; I found weight training — it was that life-changing to me. In the past, I focused almost exclusively on cardio, but I learned that weight training (with heavier weights) helped build more lean muscle mass, which burned more calories even at rest. I came to love working out, found an amazing personal trainer to supplement my home workouts, and eventually joined a gym as well.
Ever since my turning point with the robe at the spa, I was on a mission. I wanted to be a fit person, so I did all the things I could think of that a fit person would do. I subscribed to fitness magazines, made a point to be more engaged with my fit-minded friends, began to shop at Athleta, and even signed up for a course to become a personal trainer.
If you’ve ever listened to a Tony Robbins motivational speech, a common piece of advice is, “If you want to be successful, find someone who has achieved the results you want and copy what they do, and you’ll achieve the same results.” I tried to mimic a fit person until I became one.
There isn’t one part of my life that’s the same, from food shopping and cooking to what I do with my spare time and the magazines I read. I feel that I possess a strength and confidence that came as byproducts of losing almost of half of my body weight. I enjoy clothes shopping and don’t feel limited to the mom jeans or a closet full of loose black clothing. I now consider my bathroom scale a tool and a useful piece of the puzzle, not a cruel device that could bring me to tears and make me want to pitch it out the window.
My personal relationship with food and exercise has changed more than I thought possible. I gave up thinking of healthy eating as depriving myself. It’s not about never having a cupcake — it’s about not always having a cupcake.
A few high school girl friends messaged me on Facebook asking me how I had lost weight, and I began giving them advice on what worked for me. I ended up creating my FBJ Fit Facebook page and FBJFit blog. I get messages from people around the world who say that my story resonated with them and inspired them to begin their own journeys. It’s a very humbling experience to know that something you said touched someone else who is struggling.
I truly feel an obligation to “walk the walk” and live by the advice I give to others. Even more than that, when I receive follow up messages about how someone has lost weight or hit a fitness goal, I’m inspired by how hard they’re working!
For breakfast most days, I have a Luna Bar and coffee — I had always been the type of person to skip breakfast or grab something I thought was a healthy choice but wasn’t (e.g. a low-fat blueberry muffin or a bagel). Late morning, I will have a Burton Nutrition Company Get Fit Whey Protein Isolate protein shake and a handful of almonds. Some mornings I may make two eggs with some wilted spinach.
For lunch, I like to make old-fashioned rolled oats — not packets — with cinnamon, fruit, and a scoop of the Burton Nutrition vanilla protein powder mixed in. I may also have some avocado, turkey, and lots of veggies on a lettuce wrap or on Joseph’s Flax, Oat Bran and Whole Wheat Tortillas. I also enjoy a bowl of salad with grilled chicken or tuna with a drizzle of olive oil and vinegar.
Around 3 p.m. I usually grab a snack, which may be some nuts and dates, half of a grapefruit, or brown-rice tortilla chips. For dinner, I mix it up a lot, but it always includes a salad, a reasonable portion of protein (chicken, lean beef, bison/buffalo, or fish), and either sweet potato or short-grain brown rice.
I find that if I eliminate the white foods (sugar, refined carbs) and avoid extra fats like mayonnaise, heavy sauces, cheeses, salad dressings, it’s easier to stay in my healthy weight range. I try not to drink my calories, but when I do have alcohol, I’m a fan of FitVine Wines that have no GMOs, less sugar and sulfites, and fewer calories.
The trick I find that works for me is to always have healthy alternatives. If I want pancakes, I’ll make Stack’d Nutrition Protein Pancakes. I also enjoy using protein powder to make healthier versions of oatmeal cookies, muffins, or energy balls. I also make a lot of low-sodium soups to freeze for times when I’m in a rush and don’t want to derail my efforts.
I call my morning workouts my “coffee before my coffee,” and I truly make them like brushing my teeth — something I do without question. It’s my fear of chaos that keeps me in line and sticking to a routine.
I think the biggest change for me since reaching my goal weight was working in flexibility training. I didn’t think I had the temperament for yoga or pilates, so I would often have a tendency to skimp on the cool-down or stretching after a workout. But I’ve since added in Gyrotonic workouts, which have been really helpful with decompression and helping combat back issues.
I mainly focus on strength, but have a strict rule that I have to be on a piece of cardio equipment to watch TV, so I DVR my favorite shows and hop on the exercise bike when I want to watch. As I keep hearing that “sitting is the new smoking,” I also try to use my FitBit tracker to be mindful to move and aim to get in 10,000 steps each day.
If you’re trying to develop healthier eating habits and a solid fitness routine, you may be surprised by how those closest to you respond. Saboteurs have very tempting catchphrases like, “We will start tomorrow,” “Just this once,” “You’re no fun any more,” “Don’t deprive yourself,” etc. Not everyone is going to be encouraging, and that may be for a million reasons.
Also beware of what I call “funeral friends.” These are the friends who are there for you whenever things are bad in your life or you’re in trouble, but if you won an Academy Award or Nobel Peace Prize — never mind lose 100 pounds — they wouldn’t so much as click “like” on your Facebook status.
For me, the food and nutrition piece of the puzzle is far more complex than exercise. Social gatherings are focused around food, and there are certain trigger foods that I can’t have a little of, so it’s easier for me to avoid those foods altogether. I believe “moderation is for maintenance,” not for real progress. I know I will not stop at a half cup of pasta, so I break out the spiralizer and make zucchini or sweet potato noodles instead. I give myself a three-pound range for wiggle room and some “worth it” treats when I’m within that goal range. I frequently joke that “vodka leads to Oreos,” so I also try to be mindful of things like alcohol that can open the food floodgates.
Think of food as a choice, and not as a reward or a punishment. You don’t “deserve” a decadent dessert, nor are you “depriving” yourself if you don’t have it.
Don’t get comfortable with some success. There’s no finish line or touchdown dance.
BLT’S count: Bites, Licks and Tastes add up … and Sips too (a reminder to try your best not to drink your calories).
Eat foods in their purest form — think an orange, not orange juice. And shop the outside aisles of the supermarket because that’s where the least processed foods are.
Avoid any food that has its own television commercial.
Never walk past a source of clean water. Drink up!
You get to workout, you don’t have to workout.
Meals should be a balance of lean proteins, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats.
A stumble doesn’t have to be a free fall. Having a row of Oreo’s doesn’t have to be a full-out surrender.
Nix the excuses. You’re no busier than a fit person. They’re all busy too.
All photos courtesy of Charlene Bazarian. After photos by Dana Lane Photography.
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