It wasn't until after college that I started gaining weight. Once I graduated, I started working a full-time job where I sat at a desk for about nine hours a day. I would hide snacks in my desk drawers, grab doughnuts and coffee on the way to work, go out to lunch daily, and skip the gym for happy hour.
Honestly, I was addicted to food. Even after happy hour, I'd go home and continue eating all night long. The weight started to pile on quickly, and within two years of graduating from college, I gained more than 34kg. I got winded walking up the stairs, and always felt exhausted and bloated. I was embarrassed of my appearance and uncomfortable in my own body.
A list of my accomplishments and disappointments turned out to be my wake-up call.
In September of 2012, I went to a work conference where Jinny S. Ditzler, author of Your Best Year Yet was speaking. She made us all write down our top 10 accomplishments—and disappointments—for the year so far, and then go around our tables to share them.
At 23 years old, I was the youngest at my table by far, but I had more disappointments than everyone combined (I could also only think of four accomplishments). I felt so much humiliation in that moment. The other women shared about how they were having children, running marathons, winning awards, getting promotions—I had none of that.
When I went home that night and looked at my list of disappointments, I noticed a theme: Most of them had something to do with my weight or my lack of confidence. I knew in that moment that I had to make a choice— either I needed to be okay with where I was at or I needed to make a change.
The next day, I started my weight-loss journey, one day at a time, one meal at a time, and one workout at a time.
When I started my journey, a trainer at my gym gave me a tip and told me to stay on track Monday through Friday, and save your cravings for Saturday and Sunday. This worked for me at first (I loved getting to treat myself), but it was counterproductive to my real goal, which was to avoid binging on every craving I had (even on weekends).
After a while of my Monday through Friday routine, I switched things up a bit: I tried to change one small thing at a time, every day of the week (like switching my coffee creamer to skim milk or packing my lunches instead of bringing them). I started looking at labels more often, ate fewer processed foods and more whole foods, and kept a keen eye on portion sizes (you never realise how much you're eating until you actually measure it).
Making these small changes worked well for me (changing everything at once felt too overwhelming), so I tried to look at it as changing one habit at a time until I was making more healthy choices than unhealthy choices. Here's what I typically eat in a day:
- Breakfast: Two eggs with a half cup of sweet potato chips (homemade in my air fryer).
- Lunch: A big salad! 2-3 cups of spinach, 3/4 cups of grilled chicken, 1/2 cup of veggies like carrots and tomatoes, 1/2 an avocado and 2 tablespoons of a vinaigrette.
- Snacks: Vegan Cafe Latte Shakeology and a banana.
- Dinner: Always a protein, veggie and complex carb. I love flank steak (110g) with 1 cup of broccoli and 1/2 of a baked sweet potato.
- Dessert: Tea
I started exercising at the same time I started to change my diet—but it was tough on my body.
I gave myself permission to take lots of breaks but never allowed myself to quit. I started working out in the gym and eventually transitioned to at-home workouts (I prefer those because I don't feel like I have a crowd watching me).
I focused on my strength and endurance. When I began lifting weights, I'd try to push myself a little harder every day (when I felt like I couldn't do one more rep, I told myself to at least try before pausing). It turns out, my mind was willing to give up so much quicker than my body was. When I actually pushed myself, I found I could do way more than just one more.
After I lost my first 23kg, I met my husband and we began having children.
I've had two children—number three is on the way—and throughout my pregnancies, I have continued with my workouts and meal plan, with the supervision of my doctor. I modify my workouts to make them pregnancy-friendly, like taking out some of the ab work and always keeping an eye on my heart rate.
As for my meal plan, I make sure (again, with my doctor's supervision) that I still eat healthily, but add in calories to my diet each trimester. But I'll be honest, pregnancy is hard after weight loss; I need to remind myself that I while I need to gain healthy weight, it's not an excuse to completely indulge.
Becoming a mum has also really taught me the importance of self-care beyond just weight loss. In order to make sure my family is happy and healthy, I also need to be happy and healthy. That's why I start my day before everyone else to get up and have time to myself (and to work out).
Seven years and almost three kids later, I've lost (and kept off) 34kg.
I've even started helping other women with their health and fitness journeys by hosting monthly boot camps and virtual fitness groups.
My biggest piece of advice? Don't wait to feel motivated in order to get started. Start today, right where you are and take each day one day at a time, because getting healthy is a lifelong journey and lifestyle change—not a quick fix.
Jess Dukes as told to Emily Shiffer. This article originally appeared on Women's Health US.