It's hard for me to believe that I ever weighed 333 pounds when I see the "me" in the photo on this page. Four years ago, I couldn't even walk down a hallway without becoming breathless. My unhealthy behaviors were so ingrained that it was going to take a serious shove to turn my life (and body) around—and that's exactly what life gave me.
I can pinpoint when my eating first started going downhill: I was in my midtwenties, a busy newlywed, and fast food and takeout were my go-tos.
Of course, the effect of this way of eating was weight gain—lots of it. Then I got into a yo-yo pattern. Two years after I gave birth to my twins, I lost 76 pounds, but I couldn't maintain that size. I was back up to 298 pounds by 2006, then lost 100 pounds in 10 months—and, yes, I immediately gained it all back.
I was in a horrible cycle, swinging from one end of the scale to the other, because it was too hard to sustain what I was doing to slim down. A meal might look like a piece of plain chicken, or tuna without mayo, and steamed veggies—no fat at all. I counted calories, making sure to stay under 1,200 per day, and I weighed all my food to be certain I didn't overeat anything, even vegetables. After a period of this kind of super-controlled eating, I'd go to the other extreme and chow down on anything I wanted, in whatever amount. I'd get a hero and a pizza for dinner, for example, and eat them both. Or I'd have a pint of ice cream in one sitting.
I felt numb when I ate all that food, and I used the effect like anesthesia to help me deal with what I was going through emotionally. In the summer of 2010, I found myself in the middle of divorce proceedings and decided one day to take my kids to a nearby obstacle course. We needed to just spend time together having fun. My 9-year-old son wanted to do the adult course, but he was a few inches too short. Me? I was 60 pounds too heavy to be allowed in. The day was a huge disappointment—and a denial buster. I couldn't ignore how bad my weight problem had become. I made a pact with my son that day: "You grow the inches, and I'll lose the weight—then we'll come back here next summer." But seven months later, I still hadn't lost a pound—in fact, I'd gained 20. I'd made plenty of empty promises to myself in the past, but now I couldn't even come through for my son.
Soon after, at a doctor's visit, my gynecologist gave me a straight talk: This wasn't just a clothing-size issue; my health was on the line. I had all the hallmark signs of metabolic syndrome and prediabetes. And I had already been diagnosed with PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome), an endocrine disorder.
My dad was proof of my possible fate if I didn't start to make changes. He'd been living with type 2 diabetes since he was 40, and was now seriously ill. One leg had been amputated, and he had kidney failure. One day, standing by his hospital bed, I looked at him and then at myself. Here I was, almost the same age as he was when he was diagnosed, and weighing over 300 pounds. There was nothing I could do to fix him, but I could still fix me. And I needed to, fast. I knew enough about diabetes to connect the tingling I'd begun to feel in my toes with blood sugar raging out of control.
When I left the hospital, I made a vow to myself—the last one—that I would lose the weight for good. That day, I signed up for MyFitness Pal, an online food-and-exercise tracker. I log in daily to keep myself accountable—it's been 1,559 straight days (and counting) of logging on to the site.
At first, I started to crash-diet again, because it was all I knew when it came to weight loss. But after a few months, I always felt hungry, began having a lot of food cravings, and was losing willpower fast. Then, on the MyFitnessPal site, I read about an approach to eating that was paleolike but didn't seem as restrictive to me, and I decided to give it a try. Four years later, I still eat in this way. The basic framework: protein (that could mean chicken, wild-caught fish, eggs), plus lots of veggies (especially the green ones), and carbs such as sweet potatoes, winter squash, and fruit (instead of the kind that can spike blood sugar, like white bread and refined sugars). My healthy fat faves are coconut oil and butter from grass-fed cows. And when I have a treat, it's quality, like dark chocolate that's 80% cacao.
The result? I was able to keep on a steady weight-loss path, dropping an average of 10 to 12 pounds per month in the first year. In the process, I've figured out that the key for me is to keep things healthy but not boring. I look for delicious recipes online, like cauliflower pizza (the crust is made with mashed-up cauliflower). As a crunchy-food addict, I needed to find smart swaps for chips. I'll take a head of iceberg lettuce (confession: I always have three heads in my fridge), and when I miss that mindless hand-to-mouth eating while watching TV, I crack it into a big bowl and nosh away as if it's a pile of pita chips.
Exercise proved to be a whole other beast. I started by just walking, then thought, Why not run? So I downloaded the Couch to 5K app onto my phone. It coaches you to mix walking and running until you can run the entire distance (3.1 miles). Well, I tried to run, but at my size, I couldn't. Still, I worked on it for a few months, and in the fall of 2011, I jogged my first mile.
As my dad's condition tragically deteriorated—he eventually had to have his other leg amputated—I got stronger and stronger. A year after that one-mile victory, I completed a half-marathon.
I want other women to know that they, too, can get from where I was—overweight, miserable, and headed in my dad's direction healthwise—to where I am now. Most days, you'll find me, my husband (in 2012 I got remarried), and our kids working out in the home gym we set up in our garage. No matter how many false starts and empty promises you've made, you always deserve to give yourself another shot.
Amy Budd's Weight-loss Timeline
- March 2011, 333 lb
- June 2011, 283 lb: 50 pounds down from her top weight.
- October 5, 2011, 239 lb: Jogs her first mile.
- October 21, 2011, 233 lb: 100 pounds gone!
- October 6, 2012, 184 lb: Crosses the finish line of her first half-marathon.
- May 2014, 170 lb: Hits her goal weight. Happy and healthy, and committed to staying that way.
This story originally appeared in the September 2015 issue of Dr. Oz The Good Life.