Weight-Loss Win is an original Yahoo series that shares the inspiring stories of people who have shed pounds healthfully.
Sara Dickson is 39 and currently weighs 122 pounds. In 2016, after regaining a significant amount of weight after the birth of her daughter, she decided to get fit for herself and her family. This is the story of her weight-loss journey.
The Turning Point
The very beginning of my weight problem was when I was a chubby 11-year-old. I was taking a lifesaving swim class, so we were all standing in bathing suits. I had no boobs and a stomach that stuck out, and I was looking at this tall, thin, developed girl. It felt embarrassing to exist.
She said, “Don’t worry — it will all grow up and out.” I was mortified but can laugh at it now. She was trying to be nice and say something supportive, but it called attention to the fact that my body was so awkward.
Later in life, I noticed my weight becoming an issue when I stopped waiting tables and started doing graphic design, working at a desk full time. It was a slow gain, but years of working in that environment with little exercise, and a metabolism that was slowing down as I got older, I found myself out of shape and overweight.
I became pregnant at 32 but had a miscarriage. I remember the hospital nurse helping me out of bed and saying in passing, “You should check with your doctor; your glucose levels are high. You’re prediabetic.” It was a harsh moment.
I was over 170 pounds at 5 feet 2 inches tall, and I knew I had to lose weight to have a healthier pregnancy, but there was a lot of depression at that time, and I had no energy for exercise. I decided to become vegan and I lost 20 pounds. I then became vegetarian and had my daughter at 34. Right after having her, I lost all my pregnancy weight, but it turns out my daughter was having an allergic reaction from the dairy I was eating. Then my husband was diagnosed with a gluten allergy. There were way too many cooking restrictions; I did not want to make everyone a different meal, so I ended up going back to eating what I had been eating before, minus the dairy. And having even less time for me, I gained all the weight back.
I started running while pushing the stroller in the evenings, about three miles, three to five times a week. I did workout videos while my daughter was napping. I ran a couple of 5Ks and didn’t have the worst finishing times, but the most I lost was about five pounds. I knew I needed more, and I didn’t know how to do it on my own. I decided to join a fitness studio.
I joined a gym, and at first, I was worried about spending the money on a membership but ultimately realized I that my health needed to be a priority. I saw myself in decline and felt like I was on a trajectory of getting heavier, unhealthier, and closer to death. I wasn’t happy with how I looked, I weighed the same as I did when I was nine months pregnant, and I still wore some of the maternity clothes that were hanging in my closet.
I started working out at a studio four days a week. I was intimidated at first but everybody was friendly, welcoming, and helpful. I was determined and always showed up for my classes, but I still did not make any big weight-loss change. The tipping point of my entire weight loss happened when I joined the Weight Loss Challenge that started in January 2016.
I then increased my workouts to six days a week and took an included nutrition, mechanics, and stretching workshop. I realized that even though I tried to eat healthy, I might not have been eating the right things to facilitate weight loss.
I began tracking my food intake with the app Lose It and aimed for eating 40 percent protein, 30 percent carbs, and 30 percent fat. A provided menu plan guide made me realize I hadn’t been getting enough protein, and I’d been eating larger meals three times a day instead of five to six smaller meals throughout the day.
I’d start the morning with a protein shake with berries, spinach, and almond milk (Vega Protein and Greens is what I use), then my second meal would be an egg white and one-egg omelet with red and green peppers, red onion, and mushrooms.
For lunch, I’d have something like sautéed ground turkey, quinoa, brown rice, and veggies on top of spinach. Then around 3 p.m., I’d have another protein shake with pineapple, spinach, and almond milk.
For dinner, I’d have chicken breast with asparagus and brown rice or quinoa. In the evening, I’d eat Fage fat-free Greek yogurt with berries, a little squeeze of agave, and a bit of cereal on top. If I needed a snack, I’d dip cucumber slices into hummus, have some bites of chickpea salad, or eat some edamame. I stuck to around 1,350 calories a day.
For exercise, I really concentrated on lifting heavier weights to build more muscle. Every week, I would try the next weight up. If it was too heavy, I’d go back down and later try again and again until I could lift it. When it got comfortable, I’d know it was time to go heavier. I stopped drinking alcohol for the six weeks.
For cardio, I was using the elliptical machine because at the time I was having arthritis symptoms in my knees. I would push higher and higher gears on the elliptical, then drop them down and go really fast to get my heart rate up.
Nearing the end of the weight-loss challenge, I had lost over 18 pounds in six weeks. At one point, I had walked into class and a few people no longer recognized me.
I came in second in the challenge and then lost direction a bit, but I kept going. I realized I liked the competitive aspect, so I just pretended it was still going and set my mind to “I’m just getting started.”
Now that I have lost 50 pounds, I feel great. I am much stronger than I used to be. Now my 4-year-old daughter says things like, “I’m strong like Mommy,” which pleases my inner feminist. I rarely have arthritis symptoms — they’re gone other than when the weather gets crazy. And the back pain I used to have has decreased and is sometimes gone completely.
Working out has become such a positive aspect to my life that I realized it’s become meditation. It’s a time where my mind can’t jump from one worry to another because it’s so focused on making it through the set or the run. It’s a brain vacation.
There are many people who have told me I’ve inspired them to lose weight and get healthier, and that’s probably the best thing. I never thought people would admire any part of my body, or ask me what I eat, or what I do to look the way I look.
I eat the same types of food as I did throughout the whole process, now sticking to about 1,450 to 1,500 calories a day. I don’t log my foods anymore because I have the general idea of what I’m consuming. I eat if I’m hungry, but my goal is to eat often enough where I don’t get starving. I focus more on weights now versus cardio and weight loss. I’ve started adding Bikram yoga classes now for stretching. Now that it’s cooled down, I also do weekend mountain biking for an hour.
I don’t buy things for the house that I don’t eat, other than some stuff for my daughter and husband. I try not to have bottles of wine hanging around so I’m not as tempted to open one. We go to restaurants occasionally and I have the self-control to order salads with dressing on the side instead of a burger.
Also, my sister-in-law, Nicole, helped me out a lot with encouragement throughout the process. She told me I inspired her to get fit, so I helped her along and she helped me along. It helped to have accountability. I feel I have to practice what I preach!
I won’t lie — how far I’ve come inspires me to keep going. I never want to go backwards from here. Compliments keep reminding me what I’m doing has made a difference, and it’s nice. And my trainers from the Weight Loss Challenge still motivate me every step of the way. They notice when I can run a bit faster or reach a new benchmark.
New challenges inspire me. At the gym there are always challenges coming up and I like to see how far I’ve come since the last one, like running a mile the fastest that I can. I set new goals and still keep pushing harder.
Social situations that involve food and alcohol will always be a struggle for me. I really enjoy food and wine, and when I’m not in charge of preparing the meal, it’s hard to make the best choices.
When I’d go back to Canada to visit family, I would definitely fall back into drinking beer and eating potato chips. But all I would need is to be back in the fitness studio environment and I’d remember my goals and support.
It’s also difficult when I make healthy food dinners that my family gets tired of, so I end up making different food for everyone because they want something fatty.
The unfortunate reality of weight loss, especially after a pregnancy as well, is the loose skin. It’s a bit anticlimactic to have all this weight loss but be left with the saggy skin. When I do a plank, there is at least two inches of skin that hangs off me. But I’m happy with my decision to not continue on the path I used to be on.
I think people need to be internally motivated to lose weight. I recommend going to a personal or group training, at least in the beginning, to learn what’s necessary and to have someone to push you harder. It’s hard to push yourself as hard as a trainer would. I don’t know if I would take myself to my limit if I were doing it completely on my own.
What surprised me about weight loss is how important support and positivity are. I definitely leaned on support from trainers to keep me going. One emotional disaster can take out weeks of work, and you can’t out-train a bad diet. I occasionally would go out drinking or eat a non-ideal meal, but getting right back into eating right is the key. Don’t think, Oh, I screwed up, might as well eat this too. Just stay focused, stay on track.
Other people will not always respect your dedication to eating properly. They like it when you cheat and eat and drink. I do not recommend having cheat meals or days until you have lost a significant amount of weight. Otherwise, you are squashing your weekly efforts, and it is discouraging to not make progress, which could lead to giving up. Your spouse may go get In-n-Out to eat at home in front of you while you eat spinach and chicken for the fourth time that week. You have to not care. Don’t let what someone else is doing throw you off track, because it’s your track.
Need more inspiration? Read about our other weight-loss winners!
Have a weight-loss win or beauty story to share? We want to hear it! Tell us at YStyleBeauty@yahoo.com.
All photos are courtesy of Sara Dickson.