How I lost 20 pounds, and how you can, too

June 22, 2018

This post is long overdue, since I hit my 20-pound mark just over a month ago, but it's still relevant. It's also going to be a long one, so bear with me here. Let me just say, to all the people who have heard me talk endlessly about this-- I am sorry you're hearing this again. To me, this is worth the read, though, because if I can do this, anyone can. (What a cliché, right?)


*I have so many pictures to show, so some are scattered throughout, but there is a gallery at the end. 


My story

About two years ago, right before entering college, I was pretty heavy for someone of my height. I was still lying to everyone I knew about my weight.

At the end of my senior year, I was asked to give a presentation about my experiences with disordered eating, and I lied a little too, then. At the end of my presentation, I told everyone that I was 136 (correct me if I'm wrong, I'm doing this from memory) pounds, a size four pants, and a size six ring. I'm so sorry to everyone who had to hear that very bold lie, but rest assured, the rest of my presentation was 100% true. I don't know how much I weighed at that point, but I know that fitting into a size six pants was a SQUEEZE. I have come to realize that my changing body during my teen years assisted my dramatic weight loss greatly, and it also affected my weight gain. That being said, my weight gain was caused by overeating and a lack of confidence to take control of my life. I was worried that I would fall into old patterns and restrict myself again, which is something I think about and deal with everyday. 


By the winter of my freshman year of college, I was weighing in around 160 pounds. I'm between 5'3 and 5'4, depending on the time of day, posture, etc. and 160 pounds is not a reasonable weight for me. I felt uncomfortable in my body, and I was drinking more Coke Zero than water. I would buy XXL sweatshirts that came down to my knees to hide everything that was going on underneath. I ripped the belt loop off my favorite pair of jeans that Christmas trying to pull them up. (RIP) Every single part of me felt sluggish and uncomfortable.

Even my fingers felt... bloated. I was covering up a lot of those insecurities with a lot of make up (by the way, make up is NOT an insecurity cover-up for a lot of girls, so let them cut their creases in peace, thank you), acrylic nails, spray tans, and anything else that would draw attention away from my body. I wasn't paying attention to my nutrition or anything regarding my body. I didn't start using my scale, which does not work on dorm room carpet, until late in the spring semester. 


I started very small. I didn't know what I was doing or how I was going to do it, but I knew I needed to do something. I started waking up two hours before my first class, so around 7 a.m., and I would drink a bottle of water, have some coffee, and eat some breakfast. Granted, they were those frozen breakfast sandwiches you can get at Target, but at least it was something. I started sleeping less, which wasn't a bad thing, since I was sleeping any hour of the day I could. Instead of getting iced coffees with milk and an everything bagel with cream cheese at Starbucks, I started getting iced tea. Sweetened tea, but it was a step toward where I am now. By the end of the spring semester I had lost four or five pounds. I want to make that clear: it took me about five months to lose five pounds. 


By mid-summer, I cut out Coke Zero completely, and something in my body clicked. I started drinking unsweetened iced tea with lemon (which is a move) and drinking more water than I had in years. I wanted to start running, because all I knew was that cardio burned calories. I started for a few days, and then I got my wisdom teeth out, which meant I wasn't supposed to move around a ton for two or three days, and my whole face hurt for at least a week after. The discomfort set me back in my newly found motivation to exercise, but I found a lot of calorie swaps with soft foods. For example, Halo Top ice cream instead of a pint of Ben and Jerry's. The strawberry Halo Top is 280 calories per pint, and a pint of strawberry Ben and Jerry's is 680. Things like that add up. 


I started dating Ben around that time, and while I did this on my own, and I controlled what I ate and how much I exercised, Ben was there to support me the whole way.


When I went to my mom's in Colorado for July and August, she got me on the elliptical. She was understanding when I didn't want to do it and encouraging when I did. That helped me along a lot because this was a process. 


When I started back at school, I was close to 147 pounds... about 13 down from my starting weight. My pants were looser, I had to buy some new clothes, even my shoes weren't fitting the same. I hadn't done anything drastic to make this change, just tweaked a few things in my day to day life. Lauryn and I started going to the gym a good amount of the time. When I first started, I could barely make a mile on the elliptical. By the end of the year I was able to run (with two thirty-second breaks of walking) for four and a half miles. I made myself sweat, I got my heart rate up. I didn't know what these things did, but I knew they were good. I started losing weight quickly. I was eating less because I learned what it meant to be comfortably full. I started tracking my calories, making sure I was eating things that benefitted me and made me feel good. I started taking vitamins, which improved my health a LOT. 


I got really sick for about three weeks in the middle of the fall semester with bronchitis and a few other things to top it off. I could hardly go to class let alone go to the gym. I started losing motivation and gaining some weight back. I didn't really weigh myself that often. I stopped tracking my calories.


By Christmas, I had lost all motivation, and was eating whatever I wanted, whenever. I didn't know how low my weight got, probably not much below 145 while I was exercising. I was gaining a lot of muscle and losing fat, so weight is pretty relative. I remember weighing myself when I got back to school and seeing 148 on the scale. I felt really disappointed that I'd let it go back up so much, and I could feel a difference in my stomach, my thighs, everywhere. I was uncomfortable again. 


Although Lauryn and I were less consistent with the gym over the spring semester, I was consistent with my diet. I don't mean diet as in a fad diet or a Weight Watchers kind of a thing. Those are temporary fixes. I was building my nutrition. My friend Olivia and I started getting salad for lunch every day. Every single day. If you get the right things on your salad, it's a pretty nutritious, low-cal meal. I was eating oatmeal every morning, and chicken and veggies (sometimes another salad, they're my fave) at night. That's the time when I really started to see the weight come off. My new pants that I bought when I started losing weight were loose. My tops were falling off of me. I could see those muscles in my neck that really only come out when you shed fat, I noticed the separation of the muscle in my forearm, I was starting to look healthy. I wasn't trying to be skinny, I was trying to be healthy. I ran when I needed stress relief. I felt pretty damn good. 



Everything in my life has improved. My resting heart rate is lower. I have more stamina when I exercise, or even when I just walk around. My face doesn't get nearly as red as it used to. I sleep better. My posture has improved. Everything. 


So here are my tricks

I'm not going to lie to you, none of these were tricks. I've learned the hard way that you can't trick yourself into losing weight, you just have to do it. 


1. Don't starve yourself, don't overeat

After a looooooottttt of trial and error, I have finally figured out how many calories I need in a day to feel happy, healthy, full and comfortable. For me right now, (5'4 and about 135 pounds, depending on the day) I need about 1,400 calories to feel good. That's on days I exercise. It's lower if I just sit around all day, which does happen. A fully grown man might need upwards of 2,500 a day. It really just depends on how much energy you're exerting and how much you need to consume. Calories are energy!


2. If you do overeat, don't punish yourself

Calorie maintenance is important. You should have an average caloric goal per week. That being said, if there's a night you want to do something that puts a lot of extra calories into your body (drinking, eating out, etc.) do it! Don't make a habit of it, but once in a while doesn't hurt. You can adjust your caloric intake for the rest of the week, and if you increase your deficit by 100-200 calories a day (which, by the way, is like skipping a banana), your week will remain consistent and in tact. If you punish yourself by decreasing your deficit the next day by 500 calories, your body will be mad and you'll probably revert to overeating again. 


3. Exercise is important, but diet wins

Keep your diet in check. Cardio aids your calorie deficit because you burn a lot doing it, but that shouldn't be an excuse to overeat just because you ran that day. You can eat a little more for energy, but you don't have to eat an entire pint of ice cream because you burned off enough calories for it. I mean, you can splurge every once in a while like that, don't get me wrong, (a pint's a little much, but) it's not an everyday excuse to indulge. 


4. Eat things you like

There's nothing worse than sitting down when you decide to change how you're eating to a bowl of lettuce, a few shreds of cheese and a crouton. Vegetables are your friend, and they're really, really good! My salads usually consist of eight or nine different veggies, some beans, maybe some chicken. Also, my treat is dark chocolate and peanut butter (thanks for that one, Lauryn, it is my life). I eat a piece of dark chocolate, broken up, and maybe a half-tablespoon (or whole tablespoon, if I'm feeling particularly munchy) of peanut butter in a bowl.  Every once in a while, I have a burger. It's okay to eat what you like, so long as it doesn't hinder your process.  



5. Swaps

Make some swaps. Once you start making them, you won't even remember what the old thing tastes like. Light mayo, for instance, is the hookup at Subway. It's 35 calories per tablespoon, whereas regular mayo is usually between 90-115. That adds up! Fat free dressings, so long as you check the nutrition and make sure they're not adding tons of sugar, make your salad a little less boring. Lettuce wraps instead of tortillas or bread makes a 100-300 calorie difference (depending on the bread you use). Swaps are your friend. Be mindful of those extra calories.


6. Exercising

Okay, so this, like everything in this post is very relative to you and your body. It has been a learning experience for me, and I'm still learning every day. I started with cardio, which was great to help me lose some weight, but now I'm ready to shed some fat, so I'm focusing on low-intensity cardio and weights. Don't be afraid to go to the gym! Everyone there is just as clueless as you! Even if they know what they're doing in the moment, they don't know everything. Just go for it. Especially if you're a student and you have a free gym available to you. I was afraid of the gym for so long and it was a miserable experience for me at first, but now I like to go. I'm actually going as soon as I'm finished this post. I used to only spend 20 or 30 minutes there, and now I'm lucky if I get out in an hour and a half. If you don't have time for the gym, which I get, make an effort to walk around a little. Go for a walk when you get home, take the stairs, do some floor exercises while watching TV. 


7. Keep learning

This one is so super mega important. I'm about a year and a half into this, and I've lost twenty pounds, and I eat pretty healthily, so I seem to know what I'm doing. I don't! If someone asks me for advice, I give it to them and then say "idk bro you might have to do some research though." Today when I told Lauryn I was writing this post, she asked if I thought diet or exercise was more important, and I took like ten minutes to craft a response. I have an answer to that, but I don't want to say something that isn't necessarily true for everyone. I just did extensive research this morning on added sugars (which, by the way, are just awful) and I learned a lot about how much natural sugars I should be eating. Yesterday, the gym didn't have a barbell, so Ben helped me look up how to do a close-grip bench press with two dumbbells. Look things up all the time and answer your own questions. It literally cannot hurt you to keep learning.


8. Don't tell other people what to do

Everything in this post has been a recount of what has been working for me. I've said more than once that it's all relative, and that's totally true. What Ben does to stay in shape would make me obese in two months because he needs so many more calories than me. If someone asks you for advice, tell them what you do, if you're doing that thing right, then tell them to do some research before they start so they can figure out what works for them. You can't force anyone to do anything. People will do things on their own time. 


9. It's very straightforward

I don't mean this in a rude or apathetic way, but if you say you're having trouble losing weight, you're not giving it your full attention. I know that because I used to be that way. Losing weight is simple. You figure out how many calories your body burns in a regular day. If you eat less than that, you lose weight. If you eat that many, you maintain your weight. If you eat more, you gain weight. Toning and gaining muscle are more complicated because you have to figure out how to exercise properly, but actually losing weight is pretty simple. Pay attention to hidden calories (oils, dressings, sauces). Make mindful choices about what you eat. If you splurge on something, adjust accordingly. These are kind of universal truths for anyone trying to lose weight. 


10. It's slow

Be patient. It's taken me a long time to get here and quite a few screw-ups, but I'm here, and I've made so many lifestyle changes that I'm still losing weight. There are no quick fixes. Waist trainers don't work. Weight Watchers isn't a long-term fix. Fit Tea doesn't do anything but de-bloat you (trust me, I've tried.) Weight loss pills are a waste of money. You can do this on your own, it just takes some time. 


Those are the things that have really pushed me further along in this process and are the reasons why I've lost 20 pounds in the last year and a half. I hope they help everyone who is trying to embark on this journey. If you have questions about things I do, please feel free to reach out. If you want to read more posts about how I'm losing weight, with tips that might work for you, too, don't hesitate to let me know! 




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© 2017 by Cathryn and Lauryn- All photography credit to rightful owners​