The valuable lessons Chelsey Conlon learned over years of steady weight loss can help you meet your goal, too. (Photo: Chelsey Conlon)
When I was a kid, I would binge on nachos, ice cream, and cookies when I was anxious or stressed. I never cared about what I ate. And while most kids can eat lots of junk food and stay at a relatively healthy weight, I didn’t do any kind of physical activity—so the pounds just packed on. By the time I was 16, I weighed 186 pounds, which wasn’t very healthy for my 5'4" frame.
Besides being visibly overweight, I was constantly reminded during my yearly checkups that I was at risk for diabetes and had crazy-high cholesterol levels for someone my age. I knew I needed to lose weight, but it just seemed too hard. Sometimes, I would get frustrated about being the biggest girl out of all of my friends, and so I would restrict my eating by giving up certain snacks or watching my portion sizes. I did that several times throughout high school and usually felt more energized because of it (I don’t know how much weight I lost because I avoided the scale except for the doctor’s office). But I never stuck with those changes. It was especially tough because my family went out to dinner really frequently as a family activity, so I would be tempted to order unhealthy foods. Plus, my friends and I always hung out at fast food restaurants for fun, and it was hard to be the only one not eating.
One day, I was driving by a gym, and I noticed that it was pretty cheap to join. I knew that I had to take action if I wanted to get healthier, and this was the time to do it. So I signed up! Before that point, I’d tried going on walks with my mom, but beyond that, I didn’t do any kind of physical activity. After activating my membership, I started walking and then jogging on the treadmill and using the elliptical for about a half hour three times a week. I started to use exercise as an outlet when I was stressed or upset instead of resorting to emotional eating.
Even though exercise helped eliminate my urge to down lots of snacks, I knew I had to start eating healthier in other ways, too. Not long after starting up my workout routine, I began eating 100-calorie pack snacks and fruit to soothe my sugar cravings and snacking habits. For the rest of my meals, I ate the same foods, but I tried to focus on making my portion sizes smaller instead of eating to the point where I was stuffed.
As a young person, it was really hard to say no to fast food and other snacks my friends and I always ate. Whenever we went out for dinner or to hang out with other kids, I had to tell myself that I’d just worked out really hard and I didn’t want to sacrifice that effort for a taco or a burger that wasn’t even that great. After about six months, I’d lost roughly 10 pounds. More importantly, I’d started to feel better about my body and had way more energy.
When I began college, I didn’t put on the freshman 15 because I lived at home and didn’t have the temptation of dining hall food—but I still struggled to find ways to eat healthy on days when I’d be in class for up to 12 hours. Most of the time, I packed a lunch and healthy snacks or tried to drive home quickly to have a meal that I knew was good for me.
As I continued to get stronger at the gym, I started working out six days a week and decided to start lifting weights. I found that strength training was really therapeutic because I was only focused on my form and how many reps and sets I was doing, rather than all of the other stuff that was going on in my life.
Unfortunately, my love for the gym turned into a bit of an obsession. When I started seeing results, I was even more driven to keep up my workouts. It was motivating, but I got really upset if I had to miss a workout because I wasn’t feeling good or I just didn’t have time. On those days, I tried to follow a very strict diet to make up for the calories I wasn’t burning at the gym, and I couldn’t stop thinking about how I needed to be working out. It got to the point where I would cancel plans with friends to squeeze in gym time. I was happy about my results, but I knew this mentality wasn’t healthy. It took a while for me to come the realization that working out is supposed to benefit my life and my health, not make me feel guilty. I started telling myself that if I missed a workout, I wasn’t going to instantly slide back into my old ways or gain a ton of weight—but it’s still something I occasionally struggle with.
After gradually making healthy changes and integrating fitness into my life over the course of four years, I’ve lost 51 pounds. Yes, I would have loved to have lost the weight faster, but I think that by taking it slow I’ve been able to keep the weight off for good because I truly changed my life—I didn’t just do a crash diet.
Now, I love being the fit girl in my group. A lot of my friends ask me for advice on losing weight or getting in shape, and it makes me feel good because I never thought that I would be the athletic person people turned to for tips on living a healthy life.
Now, when I go out with my girls, I feel really confident about myself. I’m not afraid to approach a guy or meet new friends like I was before.
Don’t get discouraged. In my experience, the weight doesn’t always come off as fast as you’d like it to, but that doesn’t mean you should just give up on your new habits. It takes time to see the results you want, so you have to stick with it.
Don’t lose weight just to be skinny. Having the mentality that I just wanted to be skinny led me to obsess about the gym. But when I changed my thinking to be more about health and taking things in moderation, that’s when I could make peace with my anxiety about missing workouts.
Treat yourself and don’t feel bad about it. I found that depriving myself of the foods I loved just made me want them more. It took a while, but I came to the conclusion that I can enjoy my favorite foods and not feel guilty about it. It’s all about moderation.
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