Weight-Loss Win is an original Yahoo Health series that shares the inspiring stories of people who have shed pounds healthfully.
Stacey Morris is 51, 5′8″, and currently weighs 165 pounds. But in 2009, Stacey weighed more than twice that amount, at 345 pounds. This is the story of her weight-loss journey.
The Turning Point
Going back to the genesis of my weight issues, weight wasn’t the original problem — bullying was. I was bigger and taller than the other kids at school. Some of them called me fat, which turned into a daily ritual. Eventually, I began turning to food for comfort and refuge, which ultimately did make me overweight, and then dieting made it worse. I was 9 when I hopped on the diet merry-go-round, thinking one of the severely strict formulas would contain the magic answer. I even lost 100 pounds twice in my 20s. In retrospect, it’s clear to me that the weight returned so quickly because I only repaired my exterior. For the entirety of my life, I’d been told that if I lost weight I would finally be happy. But even with 100 pounds off of me, I still felt like the inadequate fat girl inside.
After the second re-gain, I gave up trying to micro-manage my weight. I was tired of the fight, and doubly tired of feeling bad about myself, so I began psychotherapy for the emotional wounds and took an extended break from portion control. It took years of work, but I was finally able to realize that being a big girl didn’t make me a horrible person. I had the self-esteem I’d longed for but couldn’t deny that my weight had gotten out of hand. I was 300 pounds and wore black stretch leggings every day — even in heat waves! As you might imagine, that did not make me a very happy camper.
As cliché as it sounds, the turning point was delivered in a weight-loss-themed episode of the Oprah Winfrey Show. The date was Jan. 5, 2009. I remember it because it was the day my doctor told me I’d reached an all-time high weight of 345 pounds. In a state of shock after hearing that news, I went home, took refuge in a bag of potato chips, and flipped on the television to hear Oprah confess that she’d fallen off the wagon (oh, how I related). What I hadn’t expected to see on the screen was a radiant, slender, and very happy-looking Carnie Wilson. I’d always considered her to be my genetic twin: a chubby kid who became an obese adult and constantly struggled to get her weight under control. Gazing at Carnie that afternoon, I knew there was hope, so I did an Internet search for her fitness mentor whom she credited for her transformation. Turns out he was a former professional wrestler named Diamond Dallas Page who rehabilitated his own battered body through his DDP YOGA. There I was, a 345-pound, Ivy League-educated writer at the end of my rope. I was out of options and ready, at long last, to take direction again … even if it was from a gravelly voiced wrestler.
I knew traditional dieting was out. It was a set-up for deprivation and never taught me how to properly relate to food or my body’s requirements. The reality is, I hadn’t failed at diets, diets had failed me. So I set about making my own way of healthy eating that I could live with long-term. I didn’t want to be too strict in the beginning because that would overwhelm me. The one rule I had in the beginning was to avoid my binge foods because they were loaded with carbs, sugar, and unhealthy fats, and were nothing but empty calories. I began to focus on what foods could do for me nutritionally while also tasting good. I chose more whole foods such as fruits and vegetables, lentils, eggs, nuts, and brown rice. My nutritionist had a theory that many people with significant weight issues are intolerant to gluten and cow dairy, so she suggested I eliminate them. I was shocked at how much better I felt after making that adjustment. There was a noticeable spike in my energy levels, and the weight came off steadily, without a lot of struggle. It’s important that you know yourself and do what works for you, and everyone’s path to health is a little different. For example, I declined my nutritionist’s advice to count daily fat grams because I knew that would drive me nuts in the long run. However, for me it is important to be aware of overall calorie ranges and to have a basic awareness of a food I’m eating in terms of things like nutrients. I’m more concerned about the quality of ingredients and what a food is doing for me instead of how many calories it has. Like with avocados — I adore them and usually eat one a day. They’re high in fat grams, but it’s a healthy fat, and I find them nourishing and satisfying.
As far as food goes, I make sure to “eat the rainbow” and get a variety of plant-based foods in my diet, everything from eggplant to oranges! I’ve gone from being a junk food aficionado to a lover of produce, but it took time to adjust my palate and to disconnect from the habit of emotional eating. But food is only part of the picture. Living in balance requires a mosaic of solutions and exercise is certainly one of the pieces. Very often, it’s the cardio, strength-training workout called DDP Yoga. Sometimes I’ll attend a class, other times I’ll pop a DVD in and do a workout in my living room. It has strengthened my body and mind. Decline is definitely not inevitable when growing older — it’s all in how you take care of yourself. I look and feel better now than I did in my 20s! I’ve come to realize that exercise is a wonderful stress-reliever and I also love my three-mile morning walks and a little light weight-lifting.
That first year especially, it felt like a literal rebirth. I remember my very first tangible smaller-size victory, about three months in. Several months prior, I’d bought a size-28 shiny patent-leather raincoat that was too tight in the stomach, with a 4-inch gap between the last button hole and the button. I literally jumped for joy upon discovering I could close the last button! Eventually it became looser and looser until it no longer fit. I keep that coat in my closet as a reminder. There were so many physical gifts of getting smaller. When you’re obese, it feels very much like you don’t fit into the world, literally, which is both discouraging and irritating.
Stacey before her weight loss (left) and after (right). (Photos courtesy of Stacey Morris)
Little victories along the way kept me encouraged and on the path — things like going to a spa and being able to wear the robes they provide rather than toting my 4X bathrobe from home, fitting into a movie theater seat, not needing a seat belt extender on an airplane, and being able to navigate a crowded restaurant without asking people to reconfigure their chairs. I was living a whole new life, and one without fear or restriction. When I was at my former size, I was always concerned about chairs being able to bear my weight, or if I could fit through a narrow passage of tables on the way to the restroom. It was stressful. Emotionally, I was well-prepared for the changes. This time around, I wasn’t expecting the weight loss to make me a more valuable person or make me magically happier. What the weight loss did was make me free at the physical level, and that is a very wonderful feeling. The biggest compliment I often received from people who noticed my changes wasn’t that I looked great, but that I had more life in my eyes. That says it all.
My morning starts with fresh fruit, which I eat by itself on an empty stomach. I love any fruit that’s in season. During winter, I often rely on frozen berries. A half hour or so later, I’ll have eggs with sautéed vegetables or a whole-grain hot cereal. Lunch is usually my largest meal. Today, it was a bowl of mushroom risotto. I usually have simple carbs earlier in the day. Dinner is often a bowl of lentil vegetable soup or something like salmon and asparagus. As a food writer, I love both cooking and recipe developing. (You can find my recipes on my website.) Eating clean has inspired me to come up with healthier alternatives to some of my favorite foods, including dessert! Some of my favorites are black bean brownies, chocolate quinoa cake with coconut whipped cream frosting, and pistachio pudding made from avocados. I’ll have a dessert, but one serving. Just because it’s healthy doesn’t mean I should have an unlimited quantity. Last year, I turned my story and the recipes I’ve compiled into the cookbook-memoir, Clean Comfort: Finding Peace, Balance, and My Perfect Weight.
I drink almond or coconut milk now and eat goat and sheep milk cheese very sparingly. I look at cheese as more of a condiment rather than a protein source. Now that I’m in my 50s, I’m more moderate with carbs, eating simple carbs such as potatoes and rice no more than once a day. I’ve never been a big lover of salads so I find creative ways to get the vegetables in, such as green juices made in the Vitamix, baked kale or eggplant slices (a great potato chip substitute!), or steamed cauliflower pureed into a velvety soup.
Exercise is a regular part of my life and when I slack off, I feel it immediately in my mood, energy levels, and in my mobility. Once, I had to stop exercising for nearly two months because of a sciatic nerve issue and was shocked at how miserable I felt. That was actually good news because it meant exercise had become a viable coping mechanism. I exercise four to five times a week for 30-to-45-minute increments, and rely on movement for so much of my well-being. It’s good for anyone and everyone, regardless of weight, size, or age.
Stacey before her weight loss (left) and after (right). (Photos courtesy of Stacey Morris)
Indulgences are an irrevocable part of my new way of being! Before, I lived in a state of extreme: I was either binge-eating with abandon or undergoing severe deprivation with a diet. This existence was so ingrained, I wasn’t seeing the truth: The answer lies in the middle of the two extremes. I do believe that adage that it’s what you do 80 percent of the time that counts, especially where food is concerned. For the majority of the time, I make healthy food choices and am mindful with quantity — not as in pre-measuring or pre-portioning, but as in tuning in to my body and giving it what it requires. Now I eat until I’m satisfied, not stuffed. And for those times when I choose to indulge, I make sure it’s an actual craving and not me wanting to escape or avoid a feeling. Then I dig in, enjoy, and move on. No regrets. And I balance it out by being a little more strict with my choices the next day. Taking a long walk or doing a DDP Yoga workout are both perfect ways to even the score after a heavier meal or treat.
Giving up dieting meant giving up black-or-white thinking. Some days I’m spot-on with good food choices and other days I’m more lax. I allow myself some wiggle room and it works — this way, I’m not white-knuckling anything or plotting my prison escape, so to speak. I’ve got boundaries in place with my eating to be sure, but I allow myself the dignity of choice and pleasure.
As long as I’m tuned in to the needs of my body and emotions, I do fine. Paying attention to feelings and stress levels and finding healthy coping mechanisms are crucial for an emotional eater. Nowadays, I’m willing to sit through uncomfortable feelings rather than run from them. Or, I’ll have an honest discussion with someone rather than stew about an issue or talk behind their back out of frustration.
Since life is designed to be a series of joys and challenges, everything is always in flux and nothing lasts forever, and that includes the good days and the bad days. Emotions continue to either buoy me or burden me, depending on the day. The good news: I’ve become much more adept at dealing with them without the crutch of overeating. Those mountains of food never helped anyway; all overeating ever got me was fat and exhausted. And the problems I was eating to escape from didn’t budge!
Some days are so busy it’s tough to set aside time to work out. However, I don’t allow excuses the luxury of being taken seriously. As I tell the clients I coach, “You don’t have to like it, you just have to do it.” What’s 30 to 40 minutes out of your day to look better, feel better, move better, and not age so rapidly? If that’s not a fair trade, I don’t know what is!
Sometimes I do slip back into wanting heavier foods or wanting bigger quantities. It’s important for me to be aware of what I’m doing and to be honest about it. I never scold myself. Nothing good has ever come from that. Instead, I realize that when I unconsciously reach for more food it’s valuable information that requires some decoding. For an emotional eater, it signals that something is off and it’s time to take a closer look. Approaching it from this angle helps me deal with challenges or turmoil in the moment. That’s a win-win because the situation doesn’t snowball, feelings don’t get buried, and my weight doesn’t start to creep up again. To get back in alignment, I simply remember what I really want. Usually I’ll look at it as, “I have a choice to make: Which road will I choose?” Am I going to eat a big bowl of X,Y, or Z … or remain clear-headed and able to fit into size-8 jeans?
Too much deprivation will always backfire, yet it’s crucial to have boundaries and discipline because how else can transformation occur? Make the changes as user-friendly as possible for you, and don’t be concerned with how quickly the weight comes off. Instead, cast your energies on creating a way of living that’s healthy, enjoyable, and something you can live with, not escape from. If you’re like me and have made multiple attempts at losing weight, be very selective who you reveal your intentions to, if you choose to be revelatory at all. I don’t recommend becoming the town crier and announcing that this is IT and this time it’s going to stick. That just puts undue pressure on yourself and invites scrutiny from others. Walk your path quietly and seek support from those who have been there and from those whom you trust and respect. And above all: Don’t let anyone knock you off-center with criticism.