Wellness Wins is an original Yahoo series that shares the inspiring stories of people who have shed pounds healthfully.
Joanna Pearson is 6 feet tall and currently weighs 195 pounds. In 2009, after an embarrassing moment on an airplane, she was inspired to finally pursue a healthier lifestyle. This is the story of her weight-loss journey.
The turning point
Even as a little girl, I could always remember being bigger than my classmates. I was often ridiculed while in elementary school, and that torment continued into high school. Fortunately, I had an extremely loving family, and they constantly reminded me I was loved and that I was beautiful no matter what. However, even with all of that positive reinforcement, the negativity that forced its way into my life through the harsh comments and jeers from the outside world weighed heavily on me. I fought very hard through my high school and early college years to stay afloat and not drown under all that pain, but I most definitely understood that I would eventually have to undergo a battle against an enormous foe.
About 10 years ago when I was 27, I stepped onto a plane to go visit a friend, and those steps would change my life forever. I sat in my assigned seat and went to buckle my seat belt, but failed. I was too big to get my seat belt all the way around my stomach. I tried to hide the fact that I couldn’t get my seat belt buckled, but a flight attendant could see that I wasn’t safely secured in my seat. She came by and told me that I would need a seat belt extender. She loudly yelled down the cabin to another flight attendant asking for the extender. I was mortified. Not only did I have a hard enough time physically fitting into the seat itself, but now I felt publicly humiliated about not being able to buckle my seat belt. I could no longer hide what had been paining me for years and years. I had to make a change.
I began walking late at night around my parents’ neighborhood so that no one would see me walking. I was too afraid of being made fun of to actually do my exercise in the light of day. I was still hiding in the shadows, but I was making my way out — slowly, but surely. I cut out sodas and fast food entirely and began researching ways to eat healthy. There wasn’t one magical diet or workout plan that I followed in the beginning. I was just taking baby steps to becoming healthier. But changing the way I ate and incorporating moderate physical exercise helped me shed pounds over the first couple of months. I kept up my walking and healthy eating for about six months, and I ended up losing about 60 pounds. Once that initial weight came off and I could begin to see a different face and body in the mirror, my whole attitude changed. I knew I could do it!
I began to incorporate a more regimented routine of physical exercise. I found at-home workout programs that would allow me to have a scheduled set of exercises while still keeping me out of the gym — I wasn’t ready to face that fear yet. I did the Beachbody Power 90 program and continued to lose weight. I had great success and became even more confident. Once I hit the 100-pound mark of my weight loss, I decided that it was time to ramp things up even more. I found a local trainer to help me continue on my journey. I lost nearly 115 pounds by combining training from him, along with another Beachbody program, P90X.
I felt energized and motivated to keep working hard because I knew it was possible. My family — my parents, sister, cousins, aunts and uncles — encouraged and supported me every step of the way. There is no way I could have accomplished even those beginning victories without the love and support of my family. When I started losing weight, I was at a point in my life where I had graduated from Arizona State University with both a bachelor’s and master’s degree, I had a huge future in front of me, but there was no way I was going to see it if I kept going the way I had been going. I knew I couldn’t give up.
Physically, I felt amazing. I could now walk up stairs without losing my breath. I could run miles. I could participate in obstacle course races. I could fit on an airplane. I could ride an amusement park ride. I could lift heavy objects. I felt athletic and in shape. I had amazing emotional moments too. I still feel a huge sense of pride and accomplishment over my weight loss. I worked, and continue to work, extremely hard, so that makes me incredibly happy. I smile more now than ever before. But I went through tougher emotional times as well. Experiencing weeks where the scale didn’t move or moved in the heavier direction was difficult. It took me a great deal of time to learn how to cope with those moments, and I still work on that today.
I try to stick to a relatively clean diet, but I am human and I definitely still enjoy my chips and guacamole and a slice of pizza. I eat relatively low carb and high protein daily, with veggies and fruits as well. I drink at least 1.5 gallons of water a day and try to limit alcoholic beverages and sugary drinks. For exercise, I train at the gym at least five days a week. I do weight training on those days, with cardio (walking on an incline treadmill) warm-ups and cool-downs. But every day I try to make sure I get some activity in — even just walking if need be. Physical activity helps my mental well-being, as well as my physical health!
As I continue to learn more about nutrition and physical fitness, I grow in my desire to lead a healthy, fit lifestyle. Human beings never stop learning, and we must take it upon ourselves to constantly seek out new ways to develop. I try to stay connected to a group of people who support my healthy lifestyle choices and who will be accountability buddies. For the past seven months, I have been working with a trainer, Natalie Pao, who has motivated me and inspired me in ways I didn’t think existed. She encourages me to keep striving toward improvement, and not just physically, but also emotionally. Her mentorship and guidance have been invaluable over these past months and keep me motivated on a daily basis to stay on my journey. Seeing changes in my physical appearance that I have never experienced motivates me to constantly strive for a healthy, fit life.
Although I have lost more than 200 pounds, I still carry with me tremendous physical and emotional baggage. Despite a slow, nonmedical and methodical weight-loss process, due to my long history of living at such an extreme weight, I would venture to guess that I have about 20 to 30 pounds of excess skin on my arms, stomach and legs. No matter how many days I step foot in the gym, how many hours I sweat, or how healthy I keep my diet, I just cannot shed this excess skin. The fact that I still have all this skin keeping me from reaching my true fitness goal is extremely frustrating and emotionally onerous.
My struggles with my self-image surprised me the most. I thought that once I lost weight, I would be good to go and that I wouldn’t suffer negative thoughts or feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness. I was wrong. Even after losing weight, I still battle with those demons. I work through them in counseling and therapy; however, they are still heavy remnants of my old body.
Life is not a sprint. Things that are worthwhile take time and effort. It’s OK to stumble — you just have to figure out how to get back up. Lean on others. Practice self-care and self-love. Rest when tired but don’t give up. And no matter what, the journey is always worth it. All the hard work, blood, sweat, tears, injuries, disappointments, discouragements, victories and achievements — they are all worth it in the end.
Need more inspiration? Read about our other wellness winners!
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