When I was in my 20s, I was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). At the time, I was a size 16 and weighed close to 200 pounds. I was also in graduate school in Washington, D.C., and my focus was on getting my work done, not on my health.
I was miserable all around. I grew up around horses and lots of land, and I didn't enjoy living in a big city. It wasn't long before I started making horrible choices when it came to my health. Some people have a glass of wine to unwind; my method was a little different. I would go home — all stressed out from studying — and stand in my kitchen with bread and a tub of butter, crying as I ate. I remember actually saying out loud how I didn't want to spend my 20s being fat. Meanwhile, my weight was sneaking up on me.
One day I started feeling short of breath — the first sign that I was having more serious health issues. I asked my PCOS doctor for Metformin because it can help women with the condition lose weight, but he wouldn't give it to me. He told me I had to lose weight on my own, and that was a big wake-up call.
The First Turnaround
I began to eat better around 2001 — that's when I started appreciating how delicious fruits and veggies can be — and I also found myself at the gym. At first, it was tough getting over being the "bigger girl" at the gym, but I finally discovered that even though I'm very much an introvert, I enjoyed group classes. I started steadily losing weight, and by the time I was 28, I felt like my health was improving. By the time I was 30, I loved my body.
Now came another setback: I had two children fairly close together. My daughter was born when I was 31, and I lost that baby weight fairly well. Two years later, I got pregnant with my son and that's when I packed on the extra pounds. I weighed over 200 pounds when he was born, and it wasn't all baby weight. I kept telling myself that the weight would come off because I was breastfeeding, but my doctor was worried.
I was having trouble breathing and my blood tests were "concerning." I just couldn't keep up with the physical demands of my life as a mom. On top of everything else, I was doing something many mothers do: finishing my kids' fries or eating a bite of their grilled cheese. All that mindless eating added up. Because my husband is a professional polo player, we were also traveling every two months and my self-esteem was slowly plummeting. I kept saying I'll start running, I'll work out, or I'll do an exercise video, but attempting to start exercising and failing to do so is absolutely soul-crushing.
The Second Turnaround
About four years ago, I was at a breaking point. None of my clothes fit, my world had gotten so small between traveling and having kids, and I knew something had to change. My kids are now 6 and 7, but at the time they were 2 and 3.. and we were about to move again.
I remember sitting with the moving boxes and deciding I needed to get serious about eating better, so I started by tracking my food. The My Fitness Pal app quickly became my best friend, especially because I realized when my stress starts to get out of control, overeating is in my bag of tricks for coping. When I'm pushing through the calories, it helps to stop and ask myself why I'm eating certain things.
I'm not much of a cook, but I taught myself to cook a few things well, like stir-fried veggies. Whatever we have, I'll put them in a pan and sauté them. Because you can eat as much as you want totally guilt-free, it's my go-to. I'm also a big fan of smoothies. I'll put a little bit of protein powder, cashew milk, and frozen fruit in the blender and mix it up. It's always a great way to start the day.
Once I got my eating under control, I realized I could go running and it wouldn't matter where we were — whether that meant a gym or just being outdoors. At first, I was only able to run for a few seconds at a time, but I ultimately built up to being able to run between three to five miles every single day. It eases my stress, increases my confidence, and makes me feel strong. After pairing those runs with body-weight exercises at home, the pounds came off.
Finally Living a Happy, Healthy Life
Now that I'm at the weight I want to be, I allow myself a treat every now and then. With my PCOS, something that's super sugary isn't really the best thing for me, but if I'm going to enjoy a sweet, I might have some ice cream. But when I do have it, I'll always log it on My Fitness Pal and remain aware of its effect on my body.
It's interesting: Every now and then when I look at my "before" photos, I feel sad. I was sad then. I wasn't happy with myself at all. When I see myself now, I feel so grateful that I had the opportunity to get healthy.