When I started writing this column a year ago, I thought my journey would be filled with all of the classic weight-loss strategies I was familiar with (though honestly, they had failed me in the past): counting calories, reducing portion sizes, and doing lots of high-intensity cardio exercise. To my surprise, the last 12 months haven't included any of those techniques—and I've been more successful at getting healthy than I ever thought possible.
I've dropped almost 20 pounds (18.5 pounds to be exact) and reduced my body fat percentage by 6.8 percent. But the most dramatic change has been all the inches I've lost: 12 from my waist alone! And another 15 inches total off my arms, legs, and hips. The biggest lesson for me has been realizing that what really matters is my new shape and strength, not just the numbers on the scale. And because I lost the pounds and the inches in a slow and healthy way, I'm more confident than ever that this time the weight will stay off.
Recipe for Success
Before I began this year-long project, my diet included way too much sugar—and just too much food, period. I was a classic mindless eater, absent-mindedly snacking off my kids' plates and spending my evenings lounging on the couch, munching on chocolate-covered almonds. At parties I routinely overindulged, hovering over the food table to ensure easy access to all the chips and dip I wanted as I chatted and socialized.
Through working with my nutritionist, Heather Wallace, I learned that the key to lasting weight loss is to gradually change those bad habits and replace them with an overall healthier lifestyle—rather than manically counting up calories or making quick changes. Heather taught me how to focus on fresh produce and whole, unprocessed foods rather than obsessing over precise portion sizes, and to simply think before I eat. Now I stick to the perimeter of the grocery store when I shop, loading up on fresh fruit, veggies, and lean meats. I've even gotten the rest of the family on board. My kids, Jeb and Mattie, loved working on the garden we planted this summer, and we're all looking forward to enjoying the fruits of our labor in the spring.
Crossing the Finish Line
As far as exercise, my strategy before this year might sound familiar to a lot of habitual dieters: I would do sporadic bouts of cardio, usually on the treadmill or in group cycling or aerobics classes, never really getting into a groove or sticking with it long term. And I generally avoided the weight room—I didn't know how to use the machines, and I felt intimidated by the groups of iron-pumping guys.
My personal trainer at Life Time Fitness, Tomery Stolz, got me over my fear of lifting weights and showed me how it builds lean muscle, helping me burn more calories throughout the day. By doing fewer reps with a heavier load, I've transformed my body into a more toned, compact version of my former self. To stay that way, Tomery says I just have to keep hitting the weight room as well as exploring other activities that will keep my body challenged, like running, biking, and playing tennis.
RELATED: The Best Carbs for Weight Loss
Overall I'd say my biggest accomplishment this year has been taking my life coach Kate Larsen's advice and getting past my obsession with the number on the scale. I really get it now: Looking and feeling good is not about those three digits—it's about becoming healthier, and then staying that way. I've noticed that the circles under my eyes have diminished, my rolls of fat have been replaced with strips of lean muscle, and I have the kind of energy I had as a kid.
Best of all, my transformation has had a positive impact on my family. My husband and kids are more active than ever, and actually enjoy the healthy eating options they find in the fridge. Success tastes oh, so sweet!