Jackie Waters of Beeville, Texas used to drink three to four 32-ounce Diet Cokes per day. She used to dine out all the time and enjoy enormous portions. "I ate whatever I wanted to eat, whenever I wanted to eat," says Waters, who turns 50 on Jan. 13. She'd been overweight nearly her whole life, and having four sons - now ages 12 through 24 - sure didn't help. She focused entirely on them, Waters says, and neglected herself. That's part of how she landed at 261 pounds.
Not anymore. In August, Waters decided to make a change - well, lots of changes - to turn her life around. She's dropped about 30 pounds so far and is pushing for another 50 or so. U.S. News got wind of Waters' transformation when we asked U.S. News Health Facebook followers to post their weight-loss success stories for the chance to win a prize - a prize that Waters wound up winning. The giveaway was part of an effort to stir excitement for the January launch of the 2014 Best Diets rankings. The story Waters posted to Facebook, and the enthusiasm with which she told it, was so inspiring that we wanted know how she did it. She shares her story below; her responses have been edited.
At what point did you decide to make a change and lose weight?
Just the thought of turning 50 was depressing me, and being overweight and 50 was going to be that much worse. I'd be miserable and seriously depressed. But I thought, "If I can turn 50 and feel the best I ever felt in my life, then I'll be happy about turning 50." I also just started thinking about the future - when the time comes that I have grandkids, am I gonna be able to keep up with them?
How did you get started?
I had been on Nutrisystem years ago, before I had children. And I had been looking online at the program more recently and thinking, "Man, I should do that, I should do that, I should do that." Then I happened to walk into Walmart, and there on the shelf sat a box: five-day trial of Nutrisystem. And I said, "No way!" And that's what did it. I said, "I am getting this." I did that for five days, where you order from Nutrisystem all breakfasts, lunches, snacks and dinners.
Then I did a lot of studying and said, "I can do this at the grocery store for a lot less." So I started studying what Nutrisystem was feeding me by looking at their website to see which ingredients were in each product. I looked at how many calories and fat grams they were feeding me. I also wanted to see what was in their products that stopped be from being hungry or having cravings, and I found out that a lot of the foods were high-protein. So after finishing Nutrisystem in five days, I went to the grocery store, stocked up on fruits and vegetables, and then went on my own.
[See: U.S. News Best Diets.]
It was around this time, too, that I started Spark People. I started reading their articles - just anything about what you should and shouldn't eat. A lot of my recipes come from Spark People, and they're healthy.
In all your research, did anything surprise you about healthy eating that you hadn't thought about before?
Oh definitely, yes. I never ate breakfast ever. I usually didn't eat until noon or one. And then I found out that, man, you've got to eat breakfast. I think the key is to eat five times a day. I eat a breakfast, I eat a morning snack, lunch, an afternoon snack and dinner. And it has been the easiest diet I've ever been on in my life.
What's your favorite go-to breakfast?
Just plain old oatmeal with a tablespoon of peanut butter and chopped up strawberries.
What exactly does your diet consist of?
This is just my own personal diet, which is 1,300 calories - so really low calorie - 35 grams of fat, 75 grams of protein, 150 grams of carbs. I try to stick to that, and I use the Fooducate app, which helps. I eat more fish than before, plus extra lean meat and a lot of chicken breast. And it didn't happen overnight; it was a daily thing to slowly switch over to healthier options until it became a habit.
[Read: Are Mobile Health Apps Helpful?]
It sounds like this wasn't just a diet change, but a complete lifestyle overhaul.
It's a lifestyle change, not just for me, but for my boyfriend and my children. I've been educating them and kind of converting them with the dinners I cook. I never used to cook, and if I did, it would be Hamburger Helper and stuff like that. I love cooking now. I look up recipes and make recipes, and the majority of them are healthy. If it's chicken enchiladas, which are my kids' favorite, then it's low-fat cheese. I switched us to whole wheat pasta, and they didn't say anything. Like, oh that was easy.
Now that you're about 30 pounds lighter, do you feel different?
I have more energy, and I'm a lot happier. And I'm able to fit into my smaller clothes. I'll pull something out of my closet and go, "Oh my gosh, I haven't worn this in years!" So that's pretty exciting.
You're continuing to lose weight, right?
I'm guessing I've still got a good 50 pounds to lose. And man, I'd be tickled pink if I could get down to 200, but of course, I'm not going to stop there.