I was always a little overweight my whole life. I come from a family of heavy people, and when I was growing up, all of our family get-togethers were based on food. It didn't matter if it was a happy gathering or sad, people were always offering each other something to eat (and you don't want to insult anyone by not eating—it's a part of my Cuban culture). Plus, with five siblings and my mom working a lot, fast food was one of our go-tos.
When I was in the sixth grade, I first realized that I was heavier than the other girls. I thought, "Oh, I'm going into junior high school—I should try to lose weight so boys will like me, like me." From then on, my mom and I tried pretty much any popular diet from the early 2000s you could think of. She was always encouraging me to lose weight whenever she did. I would usually lose between 30 and 40 pounds on those diets, but I always put it back on—and then some.
After I graduated from high school, I went to community college and started working. I was so excited to feel independent and on my own, but then my grandma became really sick and she passed away. It was a really rough time because she was like a mother to me.
Another aspect of her death that really got to me was that she had heart problems, and heart disease was something that ran in my family. Since I was overweight, I realized I was putting myself at risk. I mean, she had triple bypass surgery when I was in the third grade and had been in and out of hospitals ever since. It really made me realize that I needed to get serious about my health.
A few months after her death, in January 2009, some family members and I decided to join Weight Watchers. Even though I knew I needed to get healthy, I was reluctant to go. But after starting to get into it, I became so much more aware of everything I was putting in my body. Although the program helped me at first, I decided that I wanted to start making changes to my diet and exercise on my own. I needed to change my lifestyle, and I knew that keeping track of points for the rest of my life wasn't going to work for me.
I started by making very gradual changes like cutting out soda and limiting drive-thru meals and junk food. Over time, I started adding more fruit and veggies into my diet, and my taste buds started to change. I would actually crave a banana instead of a Snickers bar as a snack. And even though I was eating out fairly frequently, I made a deal with myself that I had to have at least two home-cooked meals a week. Eventually, I started cooking a majority of my meals at home.
My exercise routine also underwent a gradual change. I started by walking on my lunch break and hiking to burn extra calories and boost my metabolism. After losing about 60 pounds, I began using an elliptical at the gym and was even running by the summer. By January 2010, I hit my goal weight of 145 pounds and ran my first half marathon the following spring!
I think the fact that I made gradual changes was part of my success. I didn't dive in head-first and get overwhelmed with my new habits. And now that I've hit my goal weight and I'm super active, I do eat out with friends occasionally. It's not realistic to cut going to dinner with friends and family out of my life altogether. Today, I'm so proud to say that I've successfully maintained my weight for five years!
One of the biggest rewards of losing weight has been that I feel like I don't have to be "on" all the time. Now, I feel so confident in myself that I don't need to be constantly making jokes for people to like me. I can just be myself.
It's also such a great feeling to run 13 miles and not even think twice about it. It's so amazing that I'm capable of that now!
Eat breakfast as often as possible. This has been such a crucial factor in my weight loss because it kept me from being hungry and tired later in the day.
Try to do some kind of exercise every day. I started by walking during my lunch break for an hour, and that really helped me get the ball rolling on being active later in the day. It just became a habit that I liked to keep up.
Be patient with your weight loss. I would have weeks where I wouldn't eat as well as I could have and sometimes would gain a little bit of weight—but I knew that I could get back on track. That helped me not give up hope and stick with my new lifestyle.
Catharine Acurso , 25, is 5' 7" and works as a photographer in Los Angeles.
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