Vanessa, 26, of Upstate New York was overweight her whole life. When she graduated from high school she weighed close to 250 pounds and was a size 24. Reflecting back on her childhood, Vanessa never recalls being a skinny person. Despite trying many diets like Weight Watchers and committing to various fitness routines, she’d lose weight for a time but it always came back.
When she tragically lost her mother to cancer in October 2010, she continued to struggle with her weight in the midst of such a difficult season.
“In 2009, I found out that my mom had cancer. She never told us and I found out on accident,” recalls Vanessa. “I carry guilt with that because I knew and I never told her. She started chemo on May 23 and she passed away on Halloween 2010.”
After her mother’s death Vanessa carried a lot of guilt and pain which led to emotional eating. “I would come home and eat a bag of Dove chocolate. As a result I gained 40 pounds that fall,” she said. “I was in a size 26 pant size, but it didn’t even register. I thought to myself ‘Enough is enough. I can’t do this anymore. My mom wouldn’t have wanted this for me.'”
In that moment Vanessa made a change that stuck. She started working out three days a week for 40 minutes. Now she’s up to 4-5 times a week and doing an hour of cardio plus weight training. To track her calories she started using the Lose It smart phone app, and believes she wouldn’t have been quite as successful without it.
Just months into her weight loss journey Vanessa experienced a setback in the form of a medical condition that sidelined her from the gym. Normally that would’ve meant failure, she admitted. But instead she kept focused and stayed on track.
Between March and November despite being unable to do any form of exercise, Vanessa still lost close to 40 pounds. Before cleaning up her diet, Vanessa admitted she’d skip breakfast or stop at a gas station and grab something unhealthy. But after realizing that was one of her pitfalls, she started making changes.
“In the beginning I was eating two packets of oatmeal, but then I switched to just one packet and one banana. I have a love affair with peanut butter so I still have PB & Js,” she said. Vanessa also believes in the importance of not giving up all of the foods you love. “There’s no food that I gave up. You can have what you want, you just can’t have all of what you want.”
Another change Vanessa made was limiting the amount of times she ate out and started to cooks for herself at home as much as possible. “I made small changes like going from white wraps to whole wheat and switching from regular to light yogurt or Greek,” she said. “It’s crazy that the small changes like that add up to such big changes.”
When it came to exercise, Vanessa found her home at a local gym called Mike Aertega’s. It was there that she got to know the people who eventually became like a support team and community to her.
“The woman at the front desk stopped me one day and complimented me on losing weight. I run into people from high school and college professors all the time,” she said. “They know me and know if I’m not going to be there.” She considers these relationships a great encouragement and accountability system.
There’s also a cardio cinema at the gym where she can do cardio while watching a movie. When Harry Potter plays, you can believe Vanessa will willingly workout for two or more hours just to watch the show.
At her heaviest Vanessa speculates she was around 315 pounds (since her scale stopped at 300). These days, however, she’s at a much slimmer weight of 185, just 10 pounds shy of her ultimate goal weight of 175. Of her drastic change, Vanessa feels proud. But in a way she admits it’s almost like a double edge sword.
“I feel more confident, but then I feel pressure not to slip back. I don’t feel like I’m any different, I’m just a smaller version of me.” Vanessa recalls a recent time when she ran into a family member she hadn’t seen in a long while. “She looked at me and said ‘You look just like your mother.’ I miss my mom and to know that I remind people of her is really important to me.”
For those struggling with losing weight, Vanessa offers this advice: “It sounds cliche, but everyone says if I can do it anybody can do it. There is no trick, quick fix or magic pill, you just have to decide that you’re worth it. I lost my mother to cancer and I want to be there for my kids one day. You have to want it bad enough and believe that you’re worth the time to go to the gym and spend a little extra money on healthier foods. Once you get to the gym, it’s easy. It’s getting there, getting your mind frame to get to that point, that’s the hard part.”
As for future goals, Vanessa’s looking forward to seeing that 175 mark on the scale and reaping the rewards that come with it. “I’d like to be around a size 10 or 12. I’ve only been able to shop at stores that have bigger sizes. But I’d like to be able to walk into any store and buy something in my size.”