'I Cooked All Of My Meals For 30 Days—And It Kickstarted My 105-Pound Weight Loss'

Paige Gandara-Valderas, as told to Emily Shiffer
·7 min read
Photo credit: Courtesy
Photo credit: Courtesy

My name is Paige Gandara-Valderas (@justdreampaige), and I'm 26 years old. I live in San Antonio, Texas, and I'm a high school art teacher, professional caricature artist, and graduate student of art education at The University of Texas at Austin. I struggled with my weight for my whole life until I cut out junk food, starting following a Mediterranean diet, and began running and doing Zumba workouts.

I was bigger-bodied my entire life. I remember weighing myself for the first time ever as a fifth grader in elementary school, and the scale said I was 203 pounds. I was always the biggest, tallest, and strongest.

I was also not able to find clothes that fit. I would constantly have to sew my clothes because they would tear or wouldn't fit me correctly. I picked up sewing at a young age because of this (I do not sew as much anymore). I could barely fit in airplane seats or on roller coasters, and I couldn't keep up with my friends when we would go out. I also had a harder time sleeping, and my monthly cycle was irregular.

I was also diagnosed with prediabetes when I was 13 years old.

At every single doctors visit, they would tell me that I was in the medically obese category and needed to lose weight. But I just accepted the idea that this was my life. For me, it was inevitable that I would be big my entire life and end up with diabetes just like my mom and dad.

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My highest recorded weight was at age 22 at 303 pounds. At that time, I was fresh out of college and had just landed a teaching job that allowed me to step into true adulthood in November 2017.

Around that time, I took my first ever trip to California, and I remember barely being able to keep up with my brother when we would walk or go on a hike. It bothered me that I could not keep up with him and that I was always out of breath.

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When I came back home from California, my dad was in the hospital fighting complications from diabetes.

He was in the hospital for weeks with multiple surgeries. He ended up going to a nursing home after the hospital stay so that the nurses could help him to fully recover. I remember my heart hurting for my dad. And he also said to me, "Mama, I don't want you to end up like me."

Unfortunately I did lose my dad in 2020. It's been tough, but he is a part of every workout and my motivation to keep going with my journey. After all, he was a pretty big defining turning point in making real change for myself.

My little sister also inspired me. She was 5 years old at the time I was 22, and I was carelessly eating away an entire box of Oreos. My little sister was sitting next to me, and I offered her some but she said, "No, because I don't want to be fat like you." As harsh as that may sound, it was my reality. The pure innocence of a child's honesty was what I needed to hear. Too many things were happening for me to not change for real this time.

When I first started my journey, I had no idea what I was doing. But I started anyway.

I didn't necessarily go in with an eating plan, but the very first thing that I did on my day one was throw away all the junk foods both at home and at my workplace. For the first couple of months all I ate were salads.

I also created my weight-loss Instagram to document my journey and to follow other weight-loss, fitness, and food accounts. The more I tuned into this Instagram community, the more that I learned. I had never cooked before my weight-loss journey, but I decided to go 30 days without eating out. This helped me so much to develop cooking and meal prepping habits. During those 30 days, I made grocery lists based off of what I saw on my Instagram, bought my own fridge, kitchenware, and meal prep containers.

I also learned a lot about my body and what kinds of food I liked and what worked for me. A common misunderstanding that I had was that I needed to eat salads to lose weight. This was so untrue. In fact, I do not even touch salads anymore. I learned that I love fruits, veggies, grains, and red meat in moderation. I mainly stick to chicken and seafood, and embrace the fact that I have a sweet tooth.

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Right now, I unintentionally follow the Mediterranean diet. I love this "diet" because it is non-restrictive, places mental health as the foundation of it all, and does not exclude sweets or red meat. For me, it's the perfect balance.

Here’s what I eat in a day.

  • Breakfast: Fitonomy protein shake with collagen, unsweetened vanilla yogurt and almond milk.

  • Lunch: Usually a soup or bowl of some kind. I love making soups and bowls! I meal prep these items.

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  • Snacks: Smart Sweets, dotFIT protein bar, cheese sticks, carrots, or strawberries.

  • Dinner: I usually do chicken, veggies, and some kind of grains/carbs.

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When I first started my journey, all I could really do for exercise was walk and use the elliptical. But I went from walking, to running, to doing Zumba and other fitness classes.

I started off slow because I knew my body wasn’t capable of doing more advanced workouts. I then started to increase the speed and/or incline until I got comfortable enough to run. And I fell in love with running.

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I also had seven pounds of loose skin removed in June 2020, which made working out so much easier. (Before the surgery, it would cause painful rashes on my skin.) After my surgery, I decided I wanted to shift my focus to strength training. So right now, I am actually working with a personal trainer to learn correct form and movement. I do personal training three times a week, boxing four times a week, and run at least two times a week or do an at-home or gym workout.

These three changes made the biggest difference in my weight-loss results.

  • I took time to learn about nutrition. Take the time to learn about YOUR body and the way that food works for you. The way that I see it is that we are all our own unique calculator–once you plug in what works for YOU, that creates sustainable goals that you will always look forward to.

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  • I accepted it was okay to learn as I went. Learn as you go. You do not need to know everything to start–just choose a Day One and learn through the process. It is okay to not know everything. I think the best part of this journey is that you are constantly learning and growing every day.

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  • I stopped comparing my journey to others’. Do not compare your journey to anyone else’s journey. Everybody and person is very different. Focus on yourself and celebrate all the wins, both big and small. Celebrating will help you to see and acknowledge the changes that will be happening over time. Trust the process.

I have lost 105 pounds. I am now in a maintenance phase and am building muscle.

This entire journey has really changed my life. I thank the 300-pound Paige for deciding to start her day one. I have grown so much mentally. I am always striving to better my mind in the process. Losing weight will not fix all of the mental struggles that you go through.

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In order to work on your mind, it is important to acknowledge the areas you want to grow in, and then make daily effort to reach those goals. It is a daily conversation that you have to have with yourself to restructure the “No I can't,” mindset to “Yes, I can.” If you want it enough and believe enough, everything else will come as it is supposed to.

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