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Why I lost 80 pounds in 9 months (…and how)

There was a time when I weighed 230 pounds. At 5’6 I thought that I could get away with being heavier because I was a little taller. Despite that delusion, my weight triggered chronic health issues that I still struggle with today – high blood pressure and chronic back problems. I was never able to get my weight under control.

To learn more of Susan’s story, click the photo above.

Then, in 2004, when my first husband became acutely ill after pneumonia, my weight got even worse. He was in the community hospital for two weeks before they had any clue what his very rare problem may be. We were finally shipped off to the major academic hospital in the city where we spent another five weeks.

Over the course of those weeks, I ate a lot of takeout, or skipped meals, or ate from the hospital vending machine while I sat. I sat beside his bed all day. I sat driving back and forth for an hour from home to hospital. I sat and worried.

At one point, early on, the consulting physician told me that he had a 50% chance of survival. There’s nothing like stress to make some people eat; me included. Once we got past his initial crisis and, miraculously, got to go home, we were left with a treatment plan that required blood “cleansing” treatments anywhere from three to five days a week. These were done at a cancer facility one hour from home.

Over that summer, I came to a critical “aha!” moment. Here I am, very overweight and not feeling well, with a husband who is acutely ill with some rare blood disease. It was during this very dark time when a light came on and I had a stark realization.

“If I go down, this whole ship will go down with me.”

susan2I was the only bread winner by then and I wasn’t healthy myself. If I really got sick and could no longer work, who would take care of Scott?

This realization became my purpose. This purpose became my ‘why’ and gave me the motivation to make a big change.

What’s Your ‘Why’?

Before I go into a few details on how I lost 80 pounds over 9 months, and have kept it off for over 10 years, I want to stay with this idea of ‘why’ a little longer.

You may have a health situation of your own. You may even have some habits that are affecting your health negatively.

So, let me ask you…

Who would suffer greatly if you ‘went down’ and your whole ship went down with you?

Said differently, what is YOUR compelling reason WHY to make a positive change?

Actually, you might find this hard to believe, but the actual work of losing weight wasn’t all that challenging. Yes, it took discipline and consistency. However, all of the mental junk that got in the way of my weight loss attempts in the past, fell away.

I saw my WHY every time I came home from a walk or a jog. It was my husband, his wellbeing and quality of life.

I lost 2 pounds every week for nine months. What I realized over this time was that your REASON for doing something can carry you through the difficult times. But, your reason must be BIG! It must be important. And, it must be so precious to you that losing weight, changing habits or living healthier doesn’t look so tough.

Now, here’s the How:

9.19.10_2068There are a few key things that contributed to my success in losing that much weight over a relatively short period of time and without surgery. I may go into more detail if readers desire, but I will give you some of the key strategies I learned from a natural body builder, Tom Venuto, and his e-book, “Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle”. He shares secrets that help you lose fat and increase muscle, which helps you burn more calories all the time.

Although my goal was not to bulk up, his principles around daily calorie intake, how to turn your metabolism on high, and how dehydration plays a big part into our bodies holding on to fat, were real eye-openers to me.

Here are five of those strategies:

1. Zig-Zag Eating: Your body adjusts to the calories you eat every four days. You eat a lower amount of calories for three days and then you increase calories (doesn’t that sound nice?) for the fourth day. There are specifics around the amount of calories you should eat based on factors like age and your weight loss goal.

2. Don’t lose too much: If you want to consistently lose weight, you have to be sure not to lose more than 1.5-2 lbs. a week. If you lose more than that you are losing muscle, which is not our goal.

3. Water, water, water: The ‘Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle’ e-book gives you details, but if you are overweight, let me just say you are most likely dehydrated. Even if you just have 20 lbs. to lose. You are encouraged to drink a lot more water so that your body doesn’t feel desperate to hold on to fat for hydration.

4. Exercise: There it is. I’ve said it. Yes, you have to move. In whatever way you can, you have to turn on your metabolism by doing two things — moving more and eating more. Depending on your current weight and physical condition, you need to break a sweat for at least 30 minutes 4-5 times a week.

5. Eat more: You’ve heard it before, but skipping meals makes you fatter. Well, it’s true. Think of it as a steam engine. If you withhold giving it good quality coal, you won’t go anywhere. Your metabolism needs turned on and revved up and eating a balanced diet, with realistic portion sizes, is critical. It is suggested that a woman eat fives times a day and that a man eat six times.

Susan at Navy PierI ate, mostly, lean protein and vegetables with dairy-based protein as snacks with some carbs. I, also, rewarded myself every night with two iced oatmeal cookies. Yum!

Of course, you should get approval from your doctor before you start any kind of diet and exercise regime. The key to my success, and to the tips above, was that I did them all in combination. If I did just one or two, I would have not had the kind of consistent weight loss that I did.

Just like that steam engine, once I was stoked with the right fuel and water, and started down the track, there was no stopping me!

If you have experienced big, positive changes in your life as a result of being a caregiver, or experiencing your own health scare, please join our community and post your story below. What’s your WHY?

About @susanharkema

Susan is the creator of MyHealthVoice.com, built upon her 20+ years in healthcare and her experiences as a caregiver and patient. She is a writer, speaker and advocate for people living with chronic or life limiting illness as well as their family and professional caregivers. Learn more - www.myhealthvoice/susanharkema/.

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  1. Very thoughtful post. I really like the small goals you outlined. I usually tell myself this month we are losing 20lbs! This never works and I find myself trying to climb a mountain before I’ve learned how to tie a harness. Thus I come tumbling down. Your story is very inspirational and let’s me know that courage, faith and hope can create new paths. I feel very empowered and will look into the book.

    • Thank you, Tanisha, for your comment and observation. It’s true that we, quite naturally, set ourselves up to not reach our goals. I’ve often shared with others, who have learned of my weight loss, not to start on that journey UNLESS they’re WHY is big enough. Motivation just seemed to show up, and stay present, as long as my why was in front of me. Good luck on your path!

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