The scientific world has long been familiar with these "aha" insights, but researchers are newly seeing them as pivotal catalysts for losing weight. "In terms of health, it has to do with realizing a behavior change fits with your life goals," says Elliot Berkman, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology at the University of Oregon in Eugene. That, he says, jolts people into action.
We asked four women to share how a lightbulb moment sparked their transformations.
DANIELL NIELSEN JENKINS, 41
WEIGHT LOST: 36kg
HER AHA MOMENT: On the morning of August 16, 2012, Daniell received word that her husband, Brandon, a police officer, had been killed on the job. Mired in grief, she experienced a flash of clarity that told her she had to get healthy and strong for their five children.
HOW SHE HARNESSED IT: Daniell had struggled with weight most of her life and had yo-yoed in the past. This time, though, at 97kg, she approached things differently: "as something I was doing for myself, not to myself," she says. Six weeks after Brandon was killed, Daniell joined a gym and began working out with a trainer. She also started tracking her food with the MyFitnessPal app. Eliminating added sugar and empty carbs made a difference on the scale and inspired the former nail salon owner to become a personal trainer and help others get to a healthier place too.
KATHERINE GARCIA, 28
WEIGHT LOST: 17kg
HER AHA MOMENT: While on holiday in April 2016, Katherine saw a photo of herself at the beach at 100kg. "I suddenly recognised that my weight was a reflection of me not caring about myself," she says. "I'd been using food to fill a void."
HOW SHE HARNESSED IT: As soon as she returned home, Katherine hired a nutrition coach, who had her start to practice mindful eating (taking time to chew her food and listen to her body's fullness cues), consume more veggies, and set boundaries with friends who often wanted to eat out or sent her tempting Instagram "food porn" photos (Katherine asked them to support her on her path to better health). She also began doing Zumba three or four times a week. Now, she has kept up her exercise habit and has mostly kicked her sugar addiction.
TYRAIA COLBERT, 33
WEIGHT LOST: 36kg
HER AHA MOMENT: In 2014, something clicked for stiletto enthusiast Tyraia. "I could barely make it from the car park to my office because my weight [136kg] made wearing heels so uncomfortable," she says. "I knew I had to do something."
HOW SHE HARNESSED IT: Tyraia signed up for her job's wellness program — she's an office assistant at a medical center — and worked with a nutritionist to overcome her stress eating. She also began attending cardio-strength classes, Zumba, Pilates, and yoga four or five times a week. On lunch breaks, she walked to rack up 5,000 steps. Two years later, Tyraia's success has hinged on focusing on the positive. "People think that if they ate one bad meal, it's over, but you can get back up and keep trying," she says.
CATHERINE ANDERSON, 50
WEIGHT LOST: 46kg
HER AHA MOMENT: Right before Mother's Day in 2009, Catherine's then-husband filed for divorce. At 108kg, "I'd been miserable in my body for years," she says. "The shock of the split inspired me to take back some control of my life."
HOW SHE HARNESSED IT: After the divorce was finalised, Catherine joined Weight Watchers with a friend. After two years of doing cardio on a treadmill, she began exercising with a trainer at a gym, who introduced her to strength workouts and high-intensity interval training. "I embraced the challenge," she says. Encouraged by visible results, she cut out most processed foods, flour, and sugar and developed a love for healthier living: "The more time you put into the things you want to change, the more you'll change."
This article originally appeared on Women’s Health US.