Last year, I was at my doctor’s office for a normal yearly check up. I had some blood work taken and was called the next day. The nurse on the other end of my phone said my cholesterol was high and my thyroid numbers were a little off. I was asked to come back in 6 months for a re-test.

After that conversation, I made a decision that changed my life forever. Not only was my weight affecting my self esteem and overall mood, it was now officially affecting my health. I was on a mission to lose weight. That phone call was a wake up call for me. I had been overweight for about 9 years and it was just because I was lazy and totally in love with junk food. I had been on every kind of diet known to man, but nothing ever seemed to work for me. I would try it for a week or two and eventually give up because I was hungry or just ready to get back to the junk food.

After watching a program about weight loss, I came up with my own idea. My idea stemmed from the ideas on the program. The program was for the participants to lose a certain amount of weight or have their fat bikini picture shown on television. Well, since I didn’t have a local television station willing to air my fat bikini picture, I decided on a way that would work for me. I came up with a goal of 20 pounds even though I had much more than 20 pounds to lose. The goal seemed small and not so impossible. I told everyone in my family and most of my friends my plan to lose 20 pounds by the summer. I figured if everyone I knew was going to hold me accountable, maybe I’d hold myself accountable for once, too.

I started changing my eating habits on March 20, 2006, with a start weight of 192 pounds. My goal was to get to 172 pounds by July, 2006. I researched some different healthy lifestyle and dieting websites and found that I should reduce my calories by at least 1,000 a day. My goal became about 1,600 calories each day.

The steps I took were actually much easier than a typical diet. I didn’t think of it as a diet, but more like a lifestyle change. First, I invested in a small notebook which cost me about $1.99 at an office supply store. In the notebook I kept a food journal. Some people choose to log their food intake in one of the many dieting websites, but I knew this would never work for me. I do work on a computer most of the day, but there was no way I was going to log in to a website and catalog my food intake each day. It was much easier for me to keep my notebook and pen right next to my computer and that way I could write down all the food and calories every time I ingested food.

Second, I cleaned out my refrigerator. I stayed away from soda – even diet soda. Instead of buying two cases of diet soda a week, I bought two cases of plain water. Keep in mind, I hate water. I even gag if I drink too much of it at a time. I hate it so much that I was hardly drinking any water at all on a daily basis. For me to decide to go from drinking juice, diet soda and coffee on a regular basis to drinking all water was a major change. This is how I did it – the first week of my new plan, I bought some crystal light to go packets and every time I drank a bottle of water, I just poured the contents in to the bottle. It was like drinking a light juice instead of water. The packets are only about 10 to 20 calories each, so it really didn’t affect my calorie intake much. I made sure to drink at least four 16 ounces bottles a day because it kept me from feeling hungry and it kept me hydrated.

After the first week on my new eating plan, I used the crystal light packets in every other bottle of water I drank. After the second week, I was able to drink the water plain with only the occasional sweetener.

The third step was changing my eating habits. I am not really a sweets person. I love cheeseburgers, fries, potato chips, chicken nuggets and just about any other type of fast food you can think of. I decided that I would go cold turkey on the cheeseburgers right away. I didn’t stop eating fast food, I just made better choices. Most fast food restaurants now have all their nutritional information on their website which is pretty handy. I would just check the restaurant’s website before going and pick the most healthy (but to my taste) thing on the menu. For example, instead of a cheeseburger and fries, I would have a baked potato and a small cup of chili. Or, instead of the fried chicken sandwich, I would have the grilled chicken with honey mustard sauce. It actually amazed me that there were so many good, healthy foods at fast food restaurants.

For the first four months of my plan, I drank a chocolate meal replacement shake in the morning. It is amazing how much these shakes have changed in the last several years. I actually looked forward to this “treat” the most because it was like having a milkshake for breakfast. It was also really good at curbing my appetite for a few hours so I didn’t feel hungry until it was lunchtime.

For lunch, I bought Lean Cuisine frozen meals for lunch because they seemed to have the most choices when it came to things I liked. If I got tired of that, I would substitute a lunch meat and low fat cheese sandwich on whole wheat bread or a salad with chicken strips and a low calories dressing.

Dinner was a challenge for me at first. I made the decision to look for Weight Watchers recipes on-line and since I was a big fan of chicken, I looked for lots of chicken recipes, too. I came to find that I really enjoyed chicken in the crock pot and a lot of our family dinners therefore were chicken meals. Most of the meals were low in calories and fat.

A lot of guesstimating comes in to deciding how many calories you’ve had for prepared meals especially, but I usually just made sure I only had one or two portions (a portion is normally one cup), depending on my daily calorie intake from breakfast, lunch and snacks.

I also made sure I had two or three low calories snacks per day. I didn’t eat all vegetables or fruits for my snacks. For the most part, I made sure one of my snacks was fruit or vegetables like carrot sticks, celery or an apple, but I also had cottage cheese, yogurt, a serving of cookies, etc. I ate so much that I was never hungry and I never felt deprived.

The last step was finding exercise I actually didn’t mind doing. Notice I didn’t say I liked it, but I at least didn’t detest it. For the first few months, I only walked on the treadmill. It was easy and it didn’t make my joints hurt too badly. I started out doing 20 minutes, 3 times a week. That’s all I was willing to do. After about a month, I started walking 30 minutes, 5 times a week.

Eventually the weight was coming off fairly easily. I was completely astounded at how “easy” it had been as opposed to the other times I had tried to lose the weight. 20 pounds was gone by July. My next goal was another 20 pounds by Thanksgiving.

Once I had lost that 20 pounds, I felt it was time to move to the next level. I was lighter so cardio aerobic exercise hurt less. Also, I was in better shape physically from all the exercise I had performed over the previous 4 months, so it wasn’t as stressful on my muscles and joints to do more stimulating exercises. I would go to the video store and rent exercise DVD’s until I finally found something I liked. I found that I really like Tae-Bo and kick-boxing. I also enjoyed step aerobics.

After losing a total of 30 pounds, I started focusing more on toning and less on weight loss. Pilate’s and yoga were a little too challenging for me at that point so I stuck with aerobic videos that offered light weight training and squats and leg lifts. I also started working on my abs and made sure to do 10 minutes of ab workouts each day.

Here I am about 11 months later and I am 44 pounds lighter. I went from a size 14/16 to a size 8. For the first time since high school, I put on pants that were a size 8. I feel lighter, more confident, I have more stamina and, best of all, I’m healthy. Everything in my life changed including the way I interacted with people and how I interacted with my family. I saw my doctor and for once, she didn’t tell me I needed to lose some weight. She checked my cholesterol and thyroid and they were both normal.

Now I am just maintaining my weight. I’m looking forward to bathing suit season this year and I have a healthy self image. I’m not the skinniest woman in the world, but I feel healthy and confident in my own skin and that is really what is most important to me. The best part is that I am not on a crazy diet plan and I’m not starving myself. The changes I have implemented in to my life are changes that will stay with me for life. Even my love for cheeseburgers has subsided and I have found much more healthy choices that I have fallen in love with.

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