In October 2014, I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism, which is when your thyroid doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormone. This can bring on all sorts of symptoms, including fatigue and weight gain (your thyroid plays a role in how your metabolism functions). I was prescribed a medication known as levothyroxine, which is used to treat hypothyroidism and helps reverse symptoms.
I didn’t like the idea of having to have to rely on a pill for “the rest of my life,” as the doctor described my situation to me. Hypothyroidism can also make weight loss even more difficult. But I wasn’t given much direction aside from my prescription, and I walked away unsure about how to adjust my diet and physical activity to help manage my condition and symptoms in tandem with medication. I admittedly also failed to take my pills regularly as time went on, which didn’t help.
The turning point for me was nearly two years later in March 2016, when a coworker invited me to go hiking. I had always wanted to do this hike, so I was excited! We got to the trail and began the ascent—but it was much more difficult than I had anticipated.
I didn’t consider myself to be as out of shape as I was. I weighed over 95 kilograms at this point. There were hikers on the trail who I'd guess were well into their 70s strolling past with ease as I struggled the entire way. The closer to the top, the steeper it got, and the more I wanted to give up. My friend was patient with me and I pleaded to God for the strength to finally make it—and I did.
I realised in that moment: I was 23 years old and in the worst shape of my life.
I had to make some serious changes if I wanted to be a 70-something woman hiking with ease and enjoying life. It was almost as if my blindfold had been taken off and I could finally see myself in an honest light. I was killing myself with my diet and lack of physical activity. I couldn’t continue on that path any longer.
April 2016 marked the start of my weight-loss journey. I went all in. I Googled meal prep recipes like a mad woman and, with the internet as my only resource, I felt confident in the information and tips I found online. I had my grocery list in hand and I just Went. For. It.
I basically stopped eating out altogether, somewhat cold-turkey style. I began prepping all my meals for the work week in advance. A few helpful hacks? I kept my dishes very simple and I ate the same thing most days, which helped streamline the nutrition and food aspects of losing weight for me.
I also came to the realisation that I’m a person who thrives on a routine and loves consistency. So I also used the MyFitnessPal app to help me see and track my eating patterns, which ultimately allowed me to alter any not-great patterns I noticed and build better ones that would last.
Here’s what I typically eat in a day now:
- Breakfast: I love starting the day with scrambled egg whites with sautéed spinach, onions, and cherry tomatoes, or a hard boiled egg and a piece of toast.
- Lunch: My protein source is the main thing that I change up in my eating regimen. Currently I’m really into fish; I’m loving grilled salmon, tilapia, and trout. On the side, I usually have roasted sweet potatoes with roasted asparagus, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts.
- Snacks: Greek yogurt, almonds, or a protein bar does it for me.
- Dinner: I love having a tuna salad sandwich or a chicken salad sandwich.
- Dessert: Halo Top red velvet or salted caramel ice cream—yum.
I also knew I needed to start working out after my hiking experience.
I lifted weights in high school and always enjoyed it. But I hadn’t picked up weights in so long, and I didn’t know how to put together a workout or where to start. I began by researching workouts on fitness and weight-lifting websites. Some of the sites I looked at featured free four-week plans, so I took advantage of those. I didn’t have a gym membership at the time, so I also just went walking and jogging a lot.
Soon enough, though, I signed up for a brand new gym that opened within walking distance from my house, and I started going every single day. I fell *in love* with Zumba, a dance cardio workout. Zumba, in my opinion, is the most fun you can have exercising. The music is great, and the choreography is such a blast. I feel like Beyoncé every time. I don’t do it as often anymore, as my gym facility doesn’t offer many classes, but it’s definitely still something I enjoy. (I aspire to become a certified instructor one day!)
I also did a full-body workout every other day while doing my cardio just about every day. I found my love for strength training all over again. I progressed through more difficult plans as time went on and felt so motivated watching my body get stronger. About three to four months in I was already writing my own workouts and creating my own splits (which is when you divvy up your workouts by muscle group throughout the week). I became totally devoted to lifting. I can even remember my first deadlift in September 2016, and I can still recall the rush I felt from lifting the bar off the ground.
I hit a small snag in the early stages of my fitness journey: I was diagnosed with exercise-induced asthma. I couldn’t help but think that letting myself get to my weight was the reason I was having respiratory issues during my workouts. It was really discouraging and put me in a low place. My breathing and asthma problems made it hard to work out initially, but I believed that if I lost weight, my asthma symptoms would go away. I made sure I kept my inhaler close whenever I exercised but tried to not rely on it.
As I began exercising more and more, I needed my inhaler less and less. And at the same time, my hypothyroidism symptoms were improving. Whether the health improvements I was seeing were a direct result of my weight-loss efforts? I can't say for certain. But, in May of 2016, after just one month of changing my dieting and fitness habits, my thyroid hormone levels had improved, too.
My doctor told me that I no longer needed to take the levothyroxine (but that we would continue to retest periodically and monitor my hypothyroidism). I have remained off of medication for over three years now.
When I started my weight-loss journey in April 2016, I was 95 kilograms. I am now 60 kilograms.
That’s a total of 35 kilograms lost, and I’m proud! Trust me, I didn't get here without any challenges and ups and downs, and I’ve gone through weight fluctuations. In December 2017, for example, I experienced a period of depression after a life change caused me to move back home, and I gained about 9 kilograms But did I get down on myself about that? No. That’s part of the journey of life, and it’s okay.
I want other women to know that the road to improving your health is not always linear. Reaching your goals is about taking steps daily in the right direction, but it’s not about being perfect. We are all capable. I have to make the conscious effort every single day, even on the days I’m not feeling it, to put in the work. But I now try to attack every goal in life head on. Some days I do great, other days I don’t.
Fitness has helped me stop shying away from things that seem difficult to me. It’s taught me that I am capable of so much, and the only limitations that exist are the ones I create in my mind. As cheesy as it sounds, I just want other women to believe in themselves. I once didn’t have faith in myself. But once I started being my own biggest support system and cheerleader, there was no turning back.
This article originally appeared on Women's Health US