When most people start a diet, they focus on the numbers that appear on the scale, but Colleen Fields had a different sort of goal in mind, her dress size. In January 2010, Colleen weighed 304 pounds and wore a size 26 W. Her goal was to shed enough weight so that she could wear a size 12 by her 40th birthday. She knew she had just under two years to make it happen.
As a child, Colleen remembers being “chubby,” but says her real struggle with weight didn’t occur until after she had her second child. She gained 75 pounds with her son and never shed the extra weight. Then, a divorce and the demands of being a single parent caused her to gain even more.
Colleen explains, “I had a terrible marriage that left me with significant self-esteem issues. I left him shortly after my son was born and I poured myself into my kids (I also have a daughter, same father, who is three years older). I went back to school, I worked full-time, and I shuttled them to all of the normal kid activities – Girl Scouts, Cub Scouts, gymnastics, baseball, soccer, dance, swimming, etc. I wanted to give them as much of a normal childhood as possible despite the fact that their father was not involved in their lives, and in the process I ignored myself. I would leave work, pick them up from day care, take them to their activities, grab fast food, get home and do homework, then put them to bed and I would do my own homework. There was no time for me and I didn’t make me a priority.”
In the fall of 2009, Colleen’s daughter left for college. Then, her son started having problems in school and, “making some very bad life choices.” During a visit to the doctor for diabetes and high blood pressure, Colleen says she was, “stunned and ashamed,” to learn she weighed in at more than 300 pounds. Colleen says her true aha moment came after that doctor visit, when she not only realized she had to let her son understand the consequences of his actions, but she also had to take responsibility for the choices she’d been making in her own life regarding diet and exercise.
Colleen made the decision to take control. She knew the basic rule of weight loss was eat less and move more but after many failed diet attempts over the years, she wondered if a medical issue was the first barrier. She explains, “I believed there was truly something wrong with my body and I was incapable of losing weight.” She made another appointment with her doctor and together they devised a realistic plan. The first step was an eight week class on healthy weight management that Colleen says, “forced me to explore things like emotional eating, taught me how to read nutritional labels and set realistic goals, and also forced me to start food journaling.”
Along with food journaling, she started a very slow attainable fitness routine that she knew she could stick with. “I also began moving more,” Colleen said. “I started with just 5 minutes per week, then I went to 5 minutes a day 3 times a week, then 5 minutes a day every day of the week. I then made a weekly goal to increase my activity time by 10% each week. By starting small, I was able to develop a habit that still carries with me today.”
By the end of the eight week class Colleen had lost 18 pounds. She continued to use the knowledge she learned, as well as meeting periodically with a nutritionist, sociologist, and physical therapist. She says the biggest method she has employed to lose the weight and keep it off has been food journaling, though she hasn’t always enjoyed the process. “Food journaling absolutely worked for me,” she said. “I hated it, and I still hate it – it’s time consuming and tedious – but it works. It forced me to evaluate portion size, to be accountable for what I was putting in my mouth, and to learn how to balance my calorie budget,”
After starting slowly with an exercise routine by walking and eventually running, Colleen realized the other health benefits she was receiving including sleeping better, having more energy and feeling, “happier.” She even used the Couch to 5K program as a template but struggled initially saying, “It was difficult, just running 30 seconds was a challenge when I first started. But it’s something that I really enjoy and I now look forward to. There is nothing better than a Saturday morning run to start my weekend, it just puts me on top of the world.”
Colleen taking her daughter to Paris after she graduated from high school and AFTER – Running her first 5K costume run in her home town of Portland, Oregon. She chose Wonder Woman because, “She felt pretty darn wonderful.”
Goal Weight! Colleen met her goal of reaching a size 12 by July 2011, one month before her target.
Looking back, Colleen says initially her biggest struggle was getting started and overcoming years of bad habits. She shared a story about a change she immediately implemented at work. She writes, “One my three goals in my first week was to stay out of the office candy bowl. My first day in the office after making that goal, I walked by the candy bowl, pulled out a little bag of M&Ms and began eating them before I even realized it. I was so mad at myself, and just disappointed for doing something so absent-minded. The next morning I came in and I took my co-workers aside and told them about the journey I was embarking on. I expressed to them that working beside that candy bowl throughout the day was like an alcoholic working in a bar – I just couldn’t do it. I begged them to help me and they enthusiastically agreed and moved the candy bowl to another area that wasn’t in my normal path. The problem was solved and I didn’t have any issues with the candy bowl after that.”
Her biggest triumph? “Being able to shop in the misses section of a clothing store. After 17 years of only being able to wear plus-sized clothing, this was huge for me. I am determined that I will never go back.”
Colleen’s advice for other people struggling to lose weight? “Start small and develop new healthy habits. This works for exercise and food. Deprivation diets don’t work, they simply aren’tsustainable. But when you learn to make small, impactful changes in your lifestyle, you will lose the weight and keep it off.”