Lost & Found: A 5 Year Journey

It’s been five years since I started on this incredible journey. FIVE YEARS! How is that even possible? Time definitely passes whether you’re doing something positive with your life or not, and I finally feel like that saying has sunk into my rather thick skull. (Took long enough.) You’ll see in this post that although I look different on the outside, the truly magical transformation happened on the inside. I’m a changed woman. Where I felt lost, insignificant, purpose-less, and unworthy before, I now have the confidence and the knowledge to make my wildest dreams come true. Nothing is impossible because I deserve a happy and powerful life. And I’m capable of creating it.

Here is a look at my journey.  You know – the good, the bad, and the ugly. So here we go.

(If you want to hear about my story prior to starting this journey, click here & watch the videos! You can also read my ‘about me’ page.)

Meet Nicole – circa 2009/early 2010. Age 27. Wife of James. Mother of 3. I know she is me, but honestly, it feels like I’m looking at a completely different person. She is smiling in these photos, but she was just recovering from a severe and exhausting depression that lasted years. Tipping the scales at nearly 250 pounds, I feel so proud of her for jumping in with both feet. I’m proud of her for deciding that complete change was the only option for a prosperous future. There was no room for excuses. There was no room for failure. She realized she had everything she needed to fix things, and there was nothing that could stop her.

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And for reference, here is a “before” shot of our family.

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I started blogging in the middle of March 2010, just one week after I began my weight loss effort. That came less than two months after I gave up my pack-a-day cigarette habit. I realized once I overcame my decade-long addiction that I was truly capable of anything. And if I was going to take one step towards being healthy – why not two?

The week I gave up the smokes, James and I signed up at our local gym. We weren’t actually ready to go, but it was the first step.  We actually got a free month, and I guess that helped justify skipping it. Once we were paying for it, we decided to make use of the money we were spending.

I’ve never been good at keeping diaries, but speaking to an audience made more sense for me. When I began this blog, I had just two readers – my dad and a coworker. But that was enough. This blog became my outlet. It became my accountability tool, and five years later, I’m still using it in much the same way. My readership has grown, but my purpose remains. I can only be raw and honest. Because filling you with fairytale notions about weight loss is unhelpful. It’s not realistic, and it does no one any good. So as you’ll see, my journey has been a successful one. But that doesn’t mean it’s been smooth or simple. Nothing good in life ever is.

If you haven’t read my story, I highly recommend going back to the beginning of the blog and digging in. But that’s a lot of work, so I’ll lay it out for you: I made a calorie plan for my days based on my BMR (you can find the calculator and more info here). I tried to eat whole foods as much as possible, and I experimented with different meals and snacks (ideas & recipes). I had no clue what I was doing. None. I didn’t even know how to steam a vegetable. But like I mentioned before, I was approaching this with a “no excuses” mantra, so I had to figure it out. And I did just fine.

At the time, I was working full time so James would pack my lunch for me. It became a routine. I’d stand in the shower and tell him what I wanted for my morning snack, lunch, and afternoon snack. That way he didn’t have to make the decisions, and I didn’t have to spend the extra time assembling the meals. They were easy though – walnuts & carrots for the morning. A turkey sandwich, cucumbers, and grapes for lunch. A greek yogurt for the afternoon. The point was to always have healthy food available so I didn’t hit the vending machine when I felt snacky.

I even had to overcome a serious Mountain Dew addiction. I weaned myself off of those – I even did cans of diet for a bit. That may not be recommended, but who cares? I was doing the best I could. I eventually got to a point where I didn’t even crave it.

For dinners, we decided early on that the most important issue was giving up the fast food. We were at a point where we could eat McDonald’s four or five times a week. Sick huh? But it’s the truth. So that was the first thing to go. Aside from that, we started pairing healthy meat options with the processed side items we still had in the pantry. We couldn’t afford to just throw everything away and start over. We had to do it slowly. But we had to show the kids that eating vegetables throughout the day was not just a novel idea, it was an important one! Weaning them off of poptarts, donuts, chicken nuggets and pizza rolls might not be easy, but it had to be done. (And yes, it is possible.)

In addition to the change in diet, I started hitting the gym nearly daily. For the first few months, I just did cardio every morning before work. I was scared to death of the treadmill, and I wasn’t a huge fan of the elliptical at first. So I mainly used the stair-stepper/elliptical combo (aka Adaptive Motion Trainer) my gym had. I busted ass for an hour most days.  I needed that extra calorie burn so I could see a quick drop in weight. It gave me the motivation to keep going.

When I was down to about 220, I was ready for something more physically. I had a free consultation session with a personal trainer in May, and found out that my body fat percentage was a staggering 46%. I remember wondering how high it must have been before I started my journey. 55%? 60?

James and I decided to sign up for a year’s worth of training sessions. We were to split them for the first few months and then I would use them all after that. We felt like I needed the help more. It wasn’t a cheap investment, and we didn’t have a ton of money. But I essentially used my “cigarette money” to pay for it. Cardio wasn’t enough, and I didn’t have the first clue about weight lifting. It ended up being a good move that I think will benefit me for life.

My first “leg day” with my trainer was experience I’ll never forget. Or maybe I should say – the week following “leg day”. I hurt so badly that I had to walk on my tiptoes for what felt like a month. My thighs and calves were on fire. I wondered if he was trying to torture me or if that was just an added benefit. Thankfully, each session hurt just a little less.

By late June, I was down 44 pounds.  I shared this next photo on Facebook, and that was a big deal for me. I was making regular posts and even recording my daily weight on the blog, but I wasn’t ready to share that with everyone I knew just yet. I was so proud of myself though – I was really killing it. In just those few short months, I’d already gained enough confidence to visit an amusement park. And I rode rides! I remember watching an overweight woman struggle to fit in one of the roller coaster seats, and my heart just split wide open for her. The fear of that very situation had paralyzed me for far too long. It was another reminder that I had to keep going.

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The next few months went by in a flash. We began taking the kids out biking around our neighborhood. We biked while they hung out in the trailers behind us. And it was a huge deal because just the summer before, we’d tried to do the same thing. But less than an hour of exercise then rendered me immobile and gasping for air. Now I could go for hours. And I loved it.

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And I went swimming! I wasn’t ready (mentally) for a swimsuit just yet, so I wore yoga pants in the water. But it was a start! It’s funny because I don’t look much thinner, but you can see the joy emanating from within me. Because sometimes the process is just as powerful as the result.

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My diet was impeccable in those months, and I attended all of my training sessions. I wasn’t always great at going to the gym in between, but I was still losing weight pretty rapidly. I lost 25 pounds from July to the end of September.

By late summer, you could already see a pretty significant change in me and James. The kids were obviously as cute as always.

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Our 10 year high school reunion was in November, and my original goal was to be below 200 for the event. But when I reached that mark in mid-July, I (obviously) re-evaluated. My new magic number was 165, and I came pretty damn close. I remember trying on clothes for the occasion with the help of an associate in the store. And I just beamed as I looked in the mirror. This was ME! I was starting to look like ME again!

By this point, I was no longer logging every calorie I consumed, but I was still following a pretty regimented plan of calories/meal so that I could budget my day.

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Once the reunion passed, I worried a bit about the holiday season and all of the food! But I’m so thankful that my family welcomed my “healthy” dishes, and they did a great job of adapting their own contributions. I was realizing that it really does take a village to accomplish such a big task – and that task was about a lot more than my waistline. I was trying to overhaul my children’s view of what healthy living looks like. It wasn’t an easy process because I was still figuring it out myself. But the support from my family helped immensely. And I also was able to see that I could indulge on special occasions and it didn’t derail my progress – as long as I picked it right back up the next day.

In December of 2010, James & I celebrated our 10 year wedding anniversary. We did a family portrait session, and I couldn’t help but create this side-by-side comparison. What a difference a year makes, right? Crazy. I was still doing so well with my food, and I was down 93 pounds. In just over nine months. I didn’t feel like I was starving myself, and I was building muscle like a pro. My cardio still wasn’t consistent, but I was seeing my trainer enough that I was doing okay overall.

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In late January 2011, I hit that magical number: 100 pounds lost. My body fat percentage had fallen to 30%. I don’t remember what my actual goal was at that point, but I know that it eventually became 123 pounds. So at this point, I was at 146. I was obsessed with ending at half my starting weight. Not the healthiest frame of mind, but I’d wager to say many of us “big losers” have the same thought process. People’s “Half Their Size” edition, anyone?

I was so proud of myself in this picture. My gym even featured my story in locations across the city. I felt important, and I’m sure you can imagine how much motivation that gave me to continue. I was finding an identity for what felt like the first time in my life. I was Nicole, The Girl Who Lost 100 Pounds. Silly, right? But until then, I’d felt successful at nothing. Things were changing for me.

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But over the next few months, I started to really struggle with my loose skin. As the weather warmed up, I wanted so much to enjoy my new thinner body. I wanted to wear thin shirts and mid-thigh shorts & skirts! But I just wasn’t there mentally. The jiggle of the extra skin was too much for me to ignore. My stomach skin-roll hung out and over my pants unless I wore them Urkel-style. My inner-thighs drooped and rubbed together with each step. My boobs were smaller for sure, but they flopped around and spent most of their time down by my belly button.  I had to wear underwire while I exercised because sports bras weren’t supportive enough. Where was this perfect body I was supposed to have after 10 months of hard work?

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I started seeing a new personal trainer, and his mission was to fill out the skin with muscle. And damn, he did a good job of kicking my ass twice a week. But I didn’t do my part. When he told me to increase my calories to account for the extra work, I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t make myself eat 1800 calories a day. My mind was still so stuck in the weight loss zone and I couldn’t push past it. I started blacking out after standing and spent a lot of time light-headed. But still, I pushed on.

By May, I was down to 136 and damn, I looked smokin’ hot. I can say that about myself right? The weight loss also helped spur me to find my style. I finally felt confident enough to wear the clothes that really appealed to me. Skinny jeans and TOMS!

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My former trainer asked me to make a little compilation for him that showed my true difference. So I obliged. It’s weird, right? It’s like two different people.

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May 2011 was a big month for me. I wore a dress, shorts, and a swimsuit for the first time in forever. (I apparently could not be bothered to clean my mirror.)

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Sometime around that point though, things started to change. I finally figured out a way to eat 1800 calories a day, but it was by eating mostly shit. I continued to work out though, so my weight didn’t reflect the situation for a while. In fact, I got even smaller. I started not to recognize my own face, but I was obsessed with the number on the scale.

The situation was sort of exacerbated by a consultation with a local plastic surgeon. It was then that I realized just how much fixing my loose skin would cost. It was less than we’d originally guessed at, but I also knew it wouldn’t be happening in my immediate future.

Despite the negatives, I had a pretty amazing summer. My newfound confidence led me to go zip lining for the first time, try my hand at indoor rock climbing, bike 50 miles in downtown Indianapolis, and enter my first 5k race. I was becoming that person I always wanted to be. (And those arms!)

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Our family was changing right before my eyes. The kids were getting bigger, and James and I were so much smaller!

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In August, I saw my lowest weight as an adult: 130.8. I was so excited to begin my descent into the 120s. I thought I might actually meet that insane 123 goal! But it became quickly apparent that the only way I could maintain that kind of number was to eat a ridiculously low amount of calories. Forever. And by that point, my contract with my trainer (& gym) had expired, and I wasn’t doing so well with exercise on my own.  I was restricting my calories severely, and I was only making things worse for myself.

I was thin. Thin, but not necessarily truly happy.

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By the end of 2011, I was back up more than 15 pounds. It was a gradual gain, but it was a steady ascent. A stop for fast food here, a month without exercise there. But I still kept reminding myself of how far I’d come.

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The good news is that I wasn’t letting the weight gain stop me from new experiences. As a family, we signed up for Taekwondo. And I wasn’t even sure that the weight gain was a bad thing. I knew the lower weight wasn’t manageable. But I definitely wasn’t living a consistent lifestyle. I was beginning this ugly trend of wanting my brain to be magically transformed. I didn’t want to have the urge to binge on cupcakes anymore. (Which I’d done just a few months prior.) I wanted to have a natural desire to exercise daily. I mean, when was that suppose to happen? I’d put in so much time “faking it ’til I made it” except I never made it. I lost all that weight, and I could still slip back into old habits with ease. It was frustrating, but I wasn’t about to give up. I think it was at that point that I realized this was a forever endeavor. No matter how difficult it was – no matter how many times I screwed up, the only option was to keep trying. These kids depend on me to show them the way.

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2012 started out with a renewed sense of dedication. I spent the first few months watching my calories and avoided eating out as much as possible. My exercise ebbed and flowed. But my weight did fall a bit, and I started to think I was getting things back under control. And like the previous year, I was still trying new things (like snow tubing!). There was so much in life I’d avoided because of my obesity. I would never again allow that to happen – I promised myself. And I haven’t.

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For Christmas, James had purchased me a stationary bike trainer, so I used that in those too-cold-to-bike-outside months.

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But by April, I was back up near 150. I kept trying, and I kept falling off the wagon. Nothing would stick consistently, and then I’d get even more frustrated with myself. It was such an ugly cycle. It’s not as if I’d forgotten everything – I hadn’t. We were still implementing most of the things I’d learned about eating a healthy diet. But the “occasional” treats became more frequent, and my ass spent more time plastered on the couch. Bad combination.

That spring, we decided to take our first real family vacation to Disney World. So I took it upon myself to lose ten-ish pounds before vacation. In May. And you know I went about it in all the wrong ways. So it only half-worked, but I still managed to have a great time in Florida. Because for the most part, I was able to remember how far I had come. I really didn’t spend all my time focusing on the backslide, even if it did invade my thoughts from time to time. Although I was struggling with my weight, we had still largely transformed our eating habits. We brought snacks and made a lot of great meal choices while on our getaway.

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I even managed to get up the courage to swim in the hotel’s pool and then later in the ocean. And I didn’t wear a swim skirt! That was my first moment of realizing that my experience was only really contingent on how I saw myself. No one else made fun of me or pointed out my skin. Their perception of me was really irrelevant. And that was hugely freeing. It didn’t fix my self-esteem issues of course, but it was the first step.

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When we returned from vacation, my mental situation kind of deteriorated. The whole year I’d been fighting off a mild depression, but I think it became worse. I started spending all of my days reading books. I read a book a day – sometimes more. Nothing overly educational either. I was really digging the modern-day smut. And as I look back, I feel sad for my family. I stepped away from them mentally. But I figure there are much worse ways I could have handled my struggles. So while it’d be easy to beat myself up, I don’t.

There were a ton of factors that culminated in those rough few months, but ultimately I think it boiled down to a couple of things: I felt once again like I’d lost my identity. I’d become so successful at something, and then I couldn’t maintain it. Regardless of what “healthy” looked like for my body, I couldn’t stay consistent. I was either losing weight or gaining it, and right then I didn’t have the motivation to lose. On top of that, I was really struggling with our financial and life situation. By then, I was staying home with our kids and we were homeschooling them. James was busting his ass to provide for our family, but it still wasn’t easy. Bad decisions in the prior years had led to a mountain of debt. I spoke many times on this blog about how I felt like we were in this prep phase for years while living home in Indiana – just gearing up for the next chapter in our life. I wasn’t wrong – there were some seriously great things to come. But it left me feeling antsy and frustrated back then. And beyond that, we were considering a (civilian) deployment for James to Afghanistan. That would most likely help the financial issue (and it did), but the idea of spending a year away from my best friend was unthinkable to me. I thought we’d left that in the past with the military. So I was just living my life in denial.

With the prolonged unhappiness, my weight just climbed. (I hesitate to label it depression because it in no way compared to the severe form I endured prior to this journey beginning.) By the end of August 2012, I was back up near 160. But it wasn’t all gloom and doom. I turned 30 the day James left to train for his upcoming deployment. It was a sad day, but it felt like a beginning too. The next day, I became a college student again for the first time in 12 years. That was a huge moment for me. Although it is perfect for many women, being a stay-at-home-mom is difficult for me. I’m not necessarily good at it, and my brain needs something more. But returning to college helped incredibly. I was still a homeschooling mom, yes, but I was simultaneously preparing for my future. I no longer felt stagnant. I was moving forward.

I decided to look at the next year as an adventure – not a sacrifice. That mindset was mildly successful. I also once again dedicated myself to healthy living. That also was only mildly successful.

But I got through those first few difficult months. And I tried to enjoy life as much as possible.

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James officially left for Afghanistan in early November, so Thanksgiving was hard. Christmas too. His deployment was the right thing for us though, and we knew it. It was helping us pay off debt, and we were hoping it would help his future career. It just wasn’t an easy process. How could it be?

I was also really struggling with my body image. Every effort I made to get back into the health groove was short-lived. I was wrestling between trying to love myself as I was and this overwhelming urge to lose weight.  I had plenty of days where I felt beautiful! But it felt like the ugly days were more impactful unfortunately. My loose skin was still my biggest issue. The whole idea of weight loss felt pointless because no matter how hard I worked, the skin always remained. And for someone who really likes to be in control, I felt absolutely powerless.

I do have to say though that the sheer amount of selfies I took while James was gone was empowering in some weird way. I wanted him to feel like he was there with me, and we had the great fortune of being connected via Facebook most of the time. (In addition to our daily Skype sessions.) So I sent him pictures constantly, and I of course only sent him the most flattering ones. (Because…duh.) It did a lot to make me feel good about myself.

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It took a lot of supportive discussions with James, but I finally realized that if we could financially swing it, the surgery was a necessity for my mental progress. I wrote a blog post on the subject as well – partly to explain it to myself, but partly to explain it to anyone following my journey. I’ve moved past the point of needing to justify that decision now, but at the time I felt incredibly vulnerable.

That decision was made in early 2013 with the surgery to happen in late summer. That set a positive tone for the year. I wanted to lose weight before the surgery of course, and I had a time table to follow. I was hovering around 160 then and I really wanted to be 140. Easy peasy, right? Ha.

In addition to the surgery plan, James and I decided to run our first half marathon together while he was home on leave in May 2013. We made a training plan, and I’m happy to say that we stuck with it. Despite struggling to lose much weight in the first half of the year, I did do a great job of readying myself for the race.

And we were even featured on our local news!

I was still not doing the greatest job on the health front, but my sadness was subsiding because I felt like I was once again making progress. I had a goal, and I’m generally good with those. As I mentioned above, I just like to be moving forward.

And while the deployment was difficult, I was also learning to be independent. And since I rely on my husband far more than I should, that was a welcomed benefit. I even took the kids on a mini-vacation to Florida to visit my grandparents.

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I was not the mom they needed me to be during that year, but I was doing the best I could. And I think they could feel that. And more importantly, it was a great reminder that those three are pretty much the most amazing kids a woman could imagine having. They were understanding and helpful. They held me when I cried. They brought me crackers when I got the flu. Right or wrong, they became my support system.

In addition to growing stronger and more independent, I also learned to reach out for help. I’m not one to ask anyone for anything. But with James gone, sometimes I had no choice. And that was humbling. The military lifestyle we’d lived for so long created this atmosphere of self-reliance. It was hard to break free from that, and I’m still trying. But my family and friends were there for anything I needed during that year, and I’ll never forget it. I worried often that we’d be reminded that we’d made this choice for ourselves, because obviously, we did. But that never happened. No one made me feel bad for asking when I needed help. It’s such a silly thing to point out, but it literally has me in tears right now as I think back. I’ve spent so much time in my life worrying about what could go wrong that I didn’t really live. That’s a painful thought. But it’s a pretty powerful lesson too.

The deployment was a growth period for all five of us. I’m forever thankful for the communication we were granted with, because when James arrived home on leave in May, it felt like he’d never been gone. There was no awkward re-integration period. It was just, “Daddy is home for a few weeks! Let’s live it up!” And we did.

We ran our half-marathon. And with a goal of running the entire thing (regardless of speed), we completed our mission!

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After that, we headed south for a vacation in Gatlinburg. And I think that was the start of the rest of our lives in many ways. Instead of simply acting like tourists, we decided to make the getaway an active one. We hiked trails, went zip lining, and rafted down a river. And we spent our time talking about our future. What would happen when James returned for good? We had no idea! But we had hope that it would be an adventure. We just knew that the sacrifice was going to pay off in a big way. (And I love it when we’re right.)

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When James went back in late May to finish out his tour, I was heartbroken. It hurt worse than when he’d left the first time, and that was saying something. I started to question our ability to get through it. James reassured me that if I felt like I was done, he would come home. No questions asked. That was one huge benefit of being a civilian. He could do that. But ending the contract early could heavily affect his future career. And that’s not what I wanted either.

His reassurance was enough for me. I just took it day by day, and I focused on my upcoming surgery. Like before, I was still struggling to really lose weight, but I was maintaining fairly well in the mid 150s. I had hired a new in-home personal trainer earlier in the year, and she was helpful. But my mind was just all over the place, so I didn’t take full advantage of her services.

I would go on weight training and/or cardio sprees. And then I would quit for a while. I would eat really well for a few weeks, and then not. I was still completely inconsistent. I was at this point in my journey (again) where I wasn’t sure if I should be naturally capable of living healthy. I couldn’t commit to long-term calorie counting because it felt obsessive. I felt like there was something wrong with me for still wanting to lose weight, when I felt healthy. Was I asking for too much? My body seemed to really like the 150s. Why didn’t my mind?

The summer was pretty much a blur. The kids attended day camp, and I taught them to ride their bikes. While I obviously missed James, we were all doing okay. We were getting by. Sometime in there, we learned that his contract was ending early. That was hugely exciting, but also scary! He had no job to come home to! We’d budgeted for the full contract, and I had my skin removal surgery scheduled. Should I cancel? We’d need that money to survive if he didn’t get a job right away.

At his insistence, I decided to go through with it on faith that things would work out. And shortly before he arrived home in the middle of August, he was offered a job. And not just any job, but a job in Hawai’i! Wow. (I still can’t believe it, and we’ve lived here 18 months.)

I spent way too much time finding the perfect homecoming outfit, but I wanted to look beautiful for my guy. And funnily enough, all that work to lose weight throughout the year, and I weighed nearly the same as when he left. Not that he cared one way or another. I’ve always been perfect in his eyes.

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We had just about a week to get everything in order before my surgery. We were supposed to leave for Hawai’i a month after that, so we had no time to lose. We went through our paperwork, purged unnecessary items from the house, and spent time being active.

I wasn’t sure when I’d be ready to get on a bike again, so we did that a few times.

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And then, after all that time waiting and hoping, it was surgery day. I had my boobs lifted, my tummy (& back/butt) tucked, and my thighs tightened. And it was no joke. 10 hours in the operating room, and a lot of pain afterward. They removed about seven pounds of skin and fat. I definitely had no idea what I was getting into.

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I won’t bore you with all of those details, because it’s well chronicled. But I spent the whole month of September just trying to recover. It was rough, but definitely worth it. That surgery changed my life. And once again, our families stepped in to help. If things had worked out as originally planned, I would have had surgery while James was still gone. That’s laughable to me now. I relied on him so much in those first two weeks. This blog also helped me immensely, because the pain meds made it difficult to speak clearly. But I could still write, and I needed the outlet.

In early October 2013, we made our big move. I was largely recovered, and our adventure was beginning. I was still swollen, but damn I was looking good. It may have taken a scalpel to accomplish it, but I was in the mid 140s! (That sounds ridiculous, right?)

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Later that month, I even wore my first bikini. My scars were bright red, but I didn’t even care.

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We settled into our new home, and we started hiking frequently. It became quickly apparent that Hawai’i was exactly what we needed. Hiking has become a huge passion of mine. I love being in the mountains!

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But with all that good came some bad. Despite our activity, I started gaining weight pretty rapidly. It felt like we were on a permanent vacation. I started drinking wine nightly, and that’d never been a thing for me. I wasn’t becoming dependent on it or anything, it just felt like the fun and carefree thing to do!

In addition to the alcohol, I was not watching my diet consistently. We were just enjoying life, and I didn’t want to be bogged down by calorie counting.

Aside from the weight gain, I was prospering in a way I’d never done before. I made friends, joined homeschooling groups, and we were going on the best adventures. I even started a whole new blog for the latter. And it wasn’t just me – our family was becoming exactly what I’d always envisioned! The kids were forming their own friendships, and James’s flexible job allowed for so much family time.

And it’s not as if I suddenly didn’t care about my health. I did. It just took a backseat to the rest of my life. But it was always there. I started conditioning my body to run again post-surgery. Our family completed two 5k events. And we walked around the neighborhood quite a bit.

It just wasn’t enough to overcome the eating issues I was having. I kept trying new things, but I was so hesitant to make (& follow) a strict plan. I kept falling prey to the notion that healthy living means you must allow your body to naturally find its rhythm with food. And my body kept demanding junk. It was frustrating. It seemed like if I kept forcing the issue, I was saying I had failed. That the initial plan hadn’t worked. That I would be dealing with these urges forever. I would look at my friends who seemed to immerse themselves in this healthy lifestyle with ease. And I felt jealous and angry with myself. I didn’t want to be a failure. I was too happy to be considered a failure. So I decided I would just keep trying. Every stumble would be considered a learning experience and I would try something new. But I had to start somewhere.

So in March 2014, I challenged myself to bike, walk and run a total of 100 miles. And we did it. We began a trend that has lasted for nearly a year, and I’m not sure I’ve ever been so proud of myself. I realized that I really love to walk. It may not result in a huge calorie burn, but I enjoy it. And that’s a good place to begin.

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But by May 2014, I was up to 175 pounds. I kept making excuses for the changes in my body, because I had absolutely never been happier in life. It’s so hard to balance that. I was being active almost every single day! In addition to the walking/hiking/biking/occasional running, we were even trying to get a weight lifting plan started. So it was the food. And I felt like going back to calorie counting meant I wasn’t happy with myself as I was. And I was happy. I just didn’t feel like myself anymore.

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The positive in all of this is that regardless of my weight gain, my surgery still made a huge difference in my daily life. I clearly have cellulite and jiggly legs in the above photo, but I still wore shorts. It was like I knew that I had done as much as I could, and that’s just how my legs would be from now on. Even at a lower weight, the jiggle will always remain. It’s a ton better than it was pre-surgery, and that’s good enough for me.

That spring, I bought a Fitbit Flex, joined a gym, and started taking group classes with a friend. (It only lasted a few months, but it was fun!) That jumpstarted a slow, but effective weight loss trend that has been pretty consistent since then. I also remembered around that time how important weight training was, and I became pretty dedicated to the idea that my health picture isn’t complete without it. That’s not to say I’ve been entirely consistent on that front since, but it was a good kickoff.

Sometime in the summer, we decided to train for the Honolulu Marathon. We had signed up for it six months prior, but my original intention was to walk the race. I just wanted to complete one. But we had started to run here and there, and I was slowly building up my endurance. James thought we could do it. And I do love a challenge. The marathon wasn’t until December, so we had plenty of time to complete the 20-week training plan we found.

I began to find myself once again at that point. I was beginning to understand that I didn’t need to subscribe to anyone else’s brand of healthy living. I was losing weight slowly, and we were doing a pretty good job of following the training plan. Our weight lifting came and went – no matter how important I knew it was, I couldn’t always “find” the time to make it happen.

By July, I was down 10 pounds and I was feeling awesome.

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That same month, I started creating a line of “Health Nut in Training” gear that has become a fun side thing for me.

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The more intense our marathon training became, the less time we had for adventures around the island. And that wasn’t great, but we were on a mission. It wasn’t without rough spots, but we persevered.

In October, I was down 20 pounds.

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I yo-yoed a bit in the next few months because the training runs got longer and my appetite grew larger. But I never felt discouraged about that because we were so focused on not getting burnt out before the marathon. If I had to eat more, I ate more.

And on December 14, 2014, we ran 26.2 miles and completed our first marathon.

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And I had yet one more reminder that we were capable of absolutely anything. Huge moment for me. Huge.

For Christmas, the kids each got a Fitbit Zip from their grandparents. Since then, one of their chores is to get 10k steps each day. And they do it! It also makes hikes easier because they enjoy watching their step counts get higher and higher.

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In January of this year, I got back to basics. After some downtime post-marathon, I was once again up in the 160s, and I knew for certain that I had to stop waiting for my body to simply eat mindfully on its own. I had to take control, and I did. In the past few months, I’ve been counting my calories daily – good or bad. I skipped a few weeks in March because we had just purchased a new house and then we had guests come stay. But largely, it’s been incredibly effective. I have realized that counting calories is not the same as severely restricting my intake. I aim to eat 1600 calories a day, and it’s hit or miss. I may eat 3000 in a single day, but if I log it, then I can’t deny what I’m doing. I can’t let the days slip by and wonder how I gained twenty pounds in a month. That’s impossible if I’m paying attention. Call it counting calories, call it tracking or logging….call it whatever you want. Right now, right here, it’s working for me.

For the first time since 2011, I can say I weigh less now than I did a year ago – by about 15 pounds. And of course I’ve dropped weight before, but I’ve been maintaining well for a few months. The trend has been downward since May of last year – even if I had a few hiccups.

The Fitbit has been a huge factor in my success I think. That thing was a huge indicator of just how sedentary I am! With very few exceptions in the past year, I’ve gotten at least 10k steps per day. But I had to put effort into that. I found that on a “lazy” day, I could easily get less than 3k steps. That’s insane! And it goes a long way to understanding why I couldn’t maintain a loss when I wasn’t exercising properly! And now I have a Fitbit Charge HR, so I’m excited to see what changes that helps me make!

It’s only April, but I’m thinking 2015 might just be my best year yet. I don’t know how my body will change from here on out, but that’s okay. I’ve got the tools to be healthy, and it’s now just a matter of using them consistently. I’m learning to balance between enjoying life and taking care of my body. In just a few short months, I’ve realized that those two are not mutually exclusive in any way. I wonder why it took me so long to discover this, but I’m just grateful it didn’t take longer.

I realize now that this journey won’t ever end. I’ll learn more each year, and I think certain things will get easier. But five years in, I still struggle. There is no perfect way to be healthy. Whatever way works for me in that moment is the best way. That’s been my biggest lesson. I have come to accept that I’ll never be consistent. I’ll have good eating streaks and bad ones. I’ll probably never get one exercise routine down forever. I get bored easily. It’s just a matter of never quitting.

I can say that I have never been happier in my life. Never. I’ve proven repeatedly to myself that I’m capable of any physical challenge I attempt, I’m halfway done with my college degree, I own my own home, I get to take adventures with my family, and I’m healthy. Life is good. I’m thankful for so many things, but I know I needed each and every step in this process – good or bad – to get me where I am today.

Maybe I shouldn’t say I’ve changed. Maybe I should say I finally figured out who I am. I’ve figured out what I like. I knew nothing about myself for nearly three damn decades! I had so many assumptions about myself that turned out to be totally not true. I thought I was going to be a miserable old hag forever, and it turns out that I’m a really fantastic person who has LOTS of interests. Who knew?!

When this journey started five years ago, I weighed 246 pounds and I was morbidly obese. Today, I am 93 pounds lighter than that. It’s been a long and bumpy road, but it’s led me to a pretty amazing place.

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But perhaps more importantly, my family has changed in exactly the right ways.

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I knew that I could not fail at this mission because my kids’ futures were at stake. I was on the road to teaching them all the wrong things about health. Now, my kids eat nearly every vegetable without complaining, and they can tell when we’ve eaten like crap for too many days in a row. We’ve all learned how to listen to our bodies, and for the most part we respond correctly. They still love junk food, but we’ve taught them about balance. We’ve taught them that fast food and soda should be the exception and not the rule. They understand that it isn’t about weight gain or weight loss, it’s about living a lifestyle that allows you to do the things you enjoy with ease. And for a very long time. Because that’s the purpose in all of this right? Quality of life. And mine is pretty incredible.

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This journey isn’t over – far from it. But I’ve found myself. I don’t have to work on fixing myself, because I’m exactly who I’m supposed to be. I’m happy, healthy, and living life just the way I’d always imagined..

Thanks for following along & believing in me – your support means more than you’ll ever know.

Comments

  1. Renee Ray says

    Inspirational as always. I cannot believe it has been 5 years already. So much has changed. Congratulations on all of your hard work and new home. I love watching your journey and learning from your experience. Miss you!
    Renee

    • Nicole says

      Renee! Thank you so much for reading and for all of your support five years ago. I really don’t think I could have done it without you! I hope you’re doing well. Miss you too!
      Nicole

  2. Jason Newkirk says

    I really loved reading this Nicole! Amazing journey and amazing inspirational story. You and James look the same as you did in high school! Amazing job to you both! (I always like to check in from time to time, I think I will be doing it more often!) mwah! Jason.

    • Nicole says

      Jason, thank you! Thank you! You are a fantastic role model about how to live an amazing life! I love seeing your posts. Thanks for reading and commenting! <3
      Nicole

  3. says

    Hi Nicole! I really enjoyed reading about your weight loss. I found you via the Hapalua Facebook page. They posted your story about your and your family. I can really relate to everything you’re sharing on here. I’m on my own journey to being healthy, and I also live here in Honolulu. I’m down 70 pounds so far! My blog post about it in here, if you’re interested: http://www.tonybarnhill.com/how-i-lost-62-pounds-in-one-year/

    Keep up the tremendous work! Good Luck!

    • Nicole says

      Hi Tony! Thank you for reading! Congrats on your own weight loss – that’s incredible! Can’t wait to check out your site!
      Nicole

  4. says

    Found your site from Runs for Cookies. You are soo inspiring. Thank you for sharing your journey, i’m looking forward to following along =)

  5. says

    Like Anna, I found your site from Runs for Cookies. This was something I really needed, as I’ve been working on losing weight for a little over a year now. I’ve lost almost 60 pounds but I’ve been plateaued since around Christmastime, which has been so frustrating. I also get bored easily, so I am not great at being consistent with my exercise. I appreciate so much your honesty and transparency, and I am really excited to follow along on your journey!

    • Nicole says

      Hi Maegan,
      Thanks for being here! Congrats on your 60 pound weight loss! I know plateaus are frustrating, but just don’t fight against yourself. If you get bored, try something new. I know you’ve got this. Heading over to check out your blog!
      Nicole

  6. says

    You took so many words right out of my mouth! I found your blog on FitChicks and relate so much to your story… long term weight/eating struggles, running (I’m training for my first half marathon), depression, and having a lot to say :)

    I found freedom from the scale rollercoaster and food addiction / cravings from (1) finding healthy substitutions that are actually just as yummy, (2) learning about why it hasn’t necessarily been about my “willpower” but about how the foods I was choosing were keeping me in that vicious cycle, and (3) eating what fills me up longer (i.e. more protein). Here’s a post I wrote about it:

    http://imgoingthedistance.weebly.com/shortcuts-great-ideas-products–tips/help-im-craving-a-peanut-butter-cup-chocolate-blizzard-and-a-side-of-fries-getting-real-about-dealing-with-real-food-cravings

    Best wishes to you!

    • Nicole says

      Hi Debbie! Thank you so much for reading and commenting! I’m so happy to hear that you’ve found your own freedom. Totally going to check out your blog! :) If you’re interested in being featured on my blog as a Health Nut Hero, let me know!

      Nicole

  7. says

    I just want to thank you so much for sharing your story. I have had a long history of disordered eating but gained 120 pounds after severe postpartum with the birth of my son. I have had many ups and downs but am working now to stay active and motivated. I’m only down 15 pounds but your story is giving me hope that it’s possible to do this.

    • Nicole says

      Thank you so much for reading! 15 pounds is HUGE and I know you can keep it going. I’m here for support if you need it!

  8. Diane says

    Thank you for sharing your journey! I just got my first fitbit and I am starting at 246 lbs. I can’t believe I don’t reach more than 2-3000 steps a day! I reached 7500 yesterday and I am working toward 10,000 by the end of this month. I am eating 1350 calories a day now and have cut out sugar and refined carbs, and I am 5 lbs down this week. I look forward to being active and lighter in 2016!

    • Nicole says

      Diane,
      Thanks for your comment! You can do it! Please keep me updated on your progress. I’m excited to see how things go for you!

      Nicole

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