1. Hide your scale and full-length mirror.
“I hid my scale and my full-body mirror for the first month, a trick I picked up from Henry Rollins’ essay “The Iron and the Soul.” …This helped me to focus more on what my body is telling me and how it feels and less on a number or how I looked. I am also impatient, [and] part of the reason my weight yo-yoed so much [in the past] was because I wasn’t seeing results fast enough, so I would give up. This helped me to stick with my game plan because I couldn’t see what was physically happening to my body.”
—Penny N., 31 (lost 80 pounds over four years)
2. Just get through one workout — even if it’s your millionth time trying to take up exercise.
“I was bored … so I threw on some old running shoes and decided to go for a run. It was 90+ degrees outside, the sun was blazing, and I struggled to run for 15 seconds at a time. As painful as it was, it felt invigorating, so I decided to start on the Couch-to-5K program. This was my third attempt at starting this program, but every other time before I came up with excuses as to why I couldn’t finish it: too much work, too hot outside, back pain. I honestly didn’t have any goals in mind other than to complete the C25K program I had not completed twice before.
So, honestly, my mindset that very day was kind of like Forrest Gump — I just felt like running. So I ran. Nothing magical. I just wanted to finish something I had started. I completed the program in nine weeks and ran my first 5K on Sept. 1, 2014.”
—Jason Nelson, 42 (lost 74 pounds in about a year)
3. Or set a super-doable goal — like working out for 20 minutes twice a week.
“On the first day of my lifestyle change (I don’t like to call it a diet, because it is really a lifestyle change for me), I signed up for the gym. It was pretty intimidating at first; I felt like everyone was staring at me. However, I saw that everyone was there for a purpose, so after the first week of exercising I began to feel more comfortable and motivated to continue. At the beginning of my journey, I started small: I walked on the treadmill for 20 minutes and slowly started increasing the time. After four months, I used other machines like the elliptical and the Stairmaster.”
—Asha Hussein, 30 (lost 70 pounds in about 14 months)
4. Learn how many calories are actually in the foods you’re eating.
“I decided to take control by, first of all, logging all the calories I was putting in my body (food, drinks, and the handful or more of chips and candy I’d take from our snack cupboard at home). It quickly made me realize how much I was eating.
I also became really interested in seeing how many calories there are in different food items because I honestly had no idea what to look for when eating (calories, fat, fiber, protein, etc.). It really helped to understand what foods I was putting into my body and WHY things are so good for me.”
—Jazmine Fedora, 25 (lost 50 pounds over four years)
5. Take a break from processed carbs and white sugar.
“I cut out all processed carbs and sugar. That first week was brutal. I had headaches, I was lethargic, I was a grumpy mess. I would say that I was definitely addicted to sugar, and I went through a very rough initial withdrawal period.
I made it through, and as the weeks went on, it got easier. I stopped eating junk and began every day with two eggs for protein. I ate salads for lunch and only meat and vegetables for dinner. I’d let myself have dark chocolate chips on occasion, but that’s it. Every week, I’d let myself have one ‘cheat’ meal, usually on the weekend. Then I’d be back to my normal routine.”
—Kelly Crosby, 33 (lost 58 pounds over eight months and ran her first marathon in April 2014)
6. Write a letter to yourself about why you want to lose weight.
“I wrote my future self a letter in case I ever needed motivation. I was as honest as I could ever be, and the letter was heartbreaking. However, it was real, and I needed it many times. I typed this original letter out in a blog post about a year later, along with a reply.”
—Sarie Bronish, 25 (lost 95 pounds in 18 months)
7. Challenge yourself to give up dessert for a period of time.
“I never thought that I would be able to say this, but I went one whole year without dessert. I began by changing my daily routine. For instance, instead of making daily pilgrimages over to the gas station across from my dorm to get ice cream, I completely stopped going there for a few months. Next, I changed who I spent most of my time around … In those first few months, when the temptation to give up was the strongest, I made an effort to be around people who were supportive of my goal.
Lastly, I found things that I could replace dessert with. It was not easy at first to switch from ice cream to eating low-fat yogurt and fruit, but after a month without dessert, I found that I started to crave the taste of these healthier food options.”
—Dan Case Jr., 21 (lost 60 pounds over a year)
8. Walk everywhere.
“The very, very first thing I did was just start walking everywhere. I had to start small. I could barely go up a flight of stairs or even walk a block without getting breathless, but I knew it had to be done. I stopped taking the bus, I stopped driving, I stopped taking cabs. I walked. I was 400 pounds and could barely do that without getting sore feet, or tired, or out of breath, but eventually it helped me build up to more.
I started adding in more exercise. I would go to Aquafit classes and Zumba classes and became a little less self-conscious and joined a gym. I started doing more classes at the gym and cardio, and I lost 100 pounds in just over a year.”
—Michelle M., 30 (lost 200 pounds in about two years)
9. Work out with a Wii.
“I was too embarrassed to go to my gym and take a class, and I heard about really good results from Zumba, so I bought the game [for my Wii]. I played at home, working out five to six days a week.
I’ve always been a big gamer, so getting the Zumba game and playing it didn’t make it seem like it was exercise. To me, it was just another game to play — and I guess that’s what motivated me to ‘play the game’ more. Then when I actually saw results from it, that became the motivator. Dancing with the Zumba was really fun, especially when it was a song that I knew or liked. The game made it seem more like you were trying to beat a level as opposed to exercising.”
—Nadia G., 27 (lost 150 pounds over three years)
10. Curb your fast-food habit and learn to cook.
“I stopped eating pizza and fast food every week and started cooking for myself. I had been eating fast food three to four times a week, and pizza about two to three times a week. It was so easily available and cheap. I was lazy and didn’t really know how to cook. I thought food that was cooked at home was most likely going to taste awful.
It was super empowering to know that I created a dish. I started to play around with plating and discovering how creative I could be. Not only that, but that I wasn’t a shabby cook! At least, my wife says I’m not.”
—Rogelio Orozco, 26 (lost 60 pounds in a year)
11. Make healthy changes one at a time and build on each one.
“I started walking home from work … a 3.5-mile walk. I did this for six months and then started eating healthy: I cut out all sugar, all processed foods, and then a year into walking home three to five days a week I hired a personal trainer and started lifting weights and doing circuit training (weights, push-ups, squats, etc.) and interval training (sprints).
Take it slow in the beginning: Build a routine into your schedule that you can commit to. I stopped buying my bus pass home so I had to walk home. Once you have a routine you can try building upon it — add in healthy food or start lifting weights. Keep changing it up and adding in new challenges to push yourself.”
—Signe Heffernan (lost 126 pounds in about two years)
12. Take advice but follow your gut.
“There are so many ‘experts’ out there in the health and fitness industry. It is imperative that you do research and try different workouts and meal plans. What I have found is that every single person is different, and we all react and benefit from certain things in a different way. Having said that, keep in mind that no one knows your body more than yourself — and not everyone on the internet is an expert.
Find your niche, and own it.”
—Hunter Montgomery, 28 (lost 105 pounds in a year)
13. If cardio sucks, find something else that you love.
“The biggest revelation I’ve had is that cardio sucks. Cardio REALLY sucks when you are 275 pounds; it makes you feel really bad about yourself. A friend introduced me to strength training and I fell in love with it. It was doable at my heaviest weight and I realized I was kind of strong. I would do cardio a few times a week but it was lifting that kept me coming back to the gym. Then in October, about halfway through the year, I found boxing. I had built up just enough endurance and strength that it was really fun.
I box three days a week and strength train the other three … Cardio is much easier now at 175 pounds and I’m hoping to do my first 5K this summer!”
—Olivia Sullivan, 28 (lost 100 pounds in one year)
14. If you’re self-conscious about working out in a gym, try some gym-free activities until you build up your confidence.
“I started with walking for as long as I could (about 15 minutes) then started Aqua Fit classes when I had lost 15 pounds. I continued with Aqua Fit classes four times per week for nine months until I felt ready to conquer the gym. I never thought that I would be ‘that girl’ who lives to work out but here I am. I go to the gym at least five times per week where I do cardio and strength training.”
—Diana Noesgaard (lost 90 pounds in 15 months)
15. You might cry your way through a workout. Just know that your next workout will be easier.
“I’ll never ever forget my first workout. I cried, I would like to say I teared up but I cried, pretty hard and it was in my work’s gym and random coworkers looked at me and tried to avoid eye contact. At one point during the workout I sat down and thought, I can give up right now…or I can suck it up because next time I do this workout it won’t be as hard. So I sucked it up and I decided that giving up was too easy.
My favourite quote [is] ‘the difference between falling and failing is whether or not you decide to get back up.’ I realized that no matter how hard everything was if I just continued to get back up it would be easier every day.”
—Jackie Kankam (lost 70 pounds over two years)
16. Don’t go on a diet. Go on a journey to change your lifestyle.
“The challenging part of my journey is … the complete lifestyle overhaul. It’s not a diet, it’s not an exercise, and it’s definitely not a pill, it’s an entire lifestyle change. There’s been so many times where I wish I could go back and sit on my couch eating an entire pizza, a bucket of wings, and what have you. But I don’t because I know what I’m working towards, and I don’t want to go back to the person who I was.”
—Gurinder Pabla (lost 70 pounds in three years)
17. Find a community that will support you and cheer you on.
“Surround yourself with the most supportive people possible. I was lucky enough to have my girlfriend at the time (now my wife) by my side supporting me the entire way. She has been running next to me throughout our entire relationship, and cheered me on while I raced. My parents were also there every step of the way checking in with me on my progress and cheering me on when I completed my first marathon. My best friends all supported me throughout the entire experience, with one of my friends even trying to complete what I was doing for just a month.
The support of the running community … provides such a great running environment you don’t have to be a marathoner to run with them. They are accepting of every level. I’ve created great friendship with guys I ran with at the store.”
—Zachary Rieger (lost 52 pounds in a year)
18. Identify your unhealthy habits and educate yourself on how to change them.
“It took one and a half years to lose the 100 pounds, but the journey continues even to this day. Food was my drug, particularly sugar. The fight still continues.
I started to educate myself on nutrition. Mostly calories. I looked at macro and micro nutrition later on, as I started to really build muscle.
The temptation of food, especially sugar, has always been the toughest part of my journey. You overcome it by not keeping it around the house and by not going out to eat much. I prepare all my meals ahead of time and only buy nutritious food.”
—Timothy Reed (lost 100 pounds in 18 months)
19. Figure out what psychological blocks stand between you and changing your life.
“I started going to counseling for my generalized anxiety disorder…and once I did that a lot of the fears I had about losing weight started going away.It sounds weird to say that losing weight scared me but it did. The thought of possible failure scared me a lot. But letting go of all that and dealing with my day to day anxiety made a huge difference.”
—Vanessa Nelson (lost 70 pounds in five months)
20. Sign up for a race with a friend.
“I was weighing in at 240, was always tired and ready to get my body back. I set a goal, I wanted to run a 5K, but two months before the 5K I was still a couch potato. I mentioned to my co-worker that I was running the Color Run and she said she would do it with me. By lunchtime she was all signed up and I think I said, ‘Shit just got real!’ We started running at the beach after work.
That first couple weeks I couldn’t run more than one min at a time. Little by little I started being able to run whole stretches between lifeguard towers. She motivated me not only to push myself but to relax a little. That Color Run was the turning point. I think I saw a glimpse of what could be.”
—Jenn Flores (lost 60 pounds in about 16 months)
21. Celebrate every single victory — no matter how small — and reward yourself.
“When I first started my journey I would lose five to 10 pounds a week! That started to slow down and some weeks I would lose one to two pounds. Many weeks were even just a pound. I still felt excited about every weigh-in because I was still making progress.
From the very beginning I thought about how I would reward myself when I reached certain milestones. Every time I met a goal I would buy a new outfit or shoes.”
—Athina Garza (lost 185 pounds over two and a half years)