No one imagines herself at 29 years old, sitting in an exam room and hearing her doctor deliver a diagnosis of prehypertension and prediabetes. But there I was.
I'll say it flat out: At 5-foot-10 and 275 pounds, I was fat. I didn't like the way I looked, but I hadn't felt motivated to do anything about it. I'd made some halfhearted attempts — weight-loss shakes, a low-carb fad diet — though I never stuck with them. Now my health was seriously on the line.
I was chubby from babyhood. My parents got divorced when I was young, so that meant two household I could overeat in. At my father's staples were homemade mac and cheese, meatloaf, and mashed potatoes. Meanwhile, my mom, who is Italian, was always cooking up carb-fest pasta dishes. I definitely inherited a love for all things tasty. By high school, I was wearing a size 12, and I only got bigger from there.
It wasn't just what I was eating. Sugary beverages like sodas and sweet coffee drinks made up their own food group in my diet. After college, I had a desk job. I'd sit all day, not burning many calories; then I'd often pick up takeout on my way home.
At 27, I was up to a size 22 — and a soon-to-be bride. With my wedding date fast approaching, I got desperate and tried a liquid cleanse. Not only did the powdery mixture taste like bile, it also left me cranky and sluggish. I finally gave up and accepted that I was going to walk down the aisle at my heaviest weight. I knew I'd feel devastated if there wasn't a bridal gown that fit me, so I didn't even attempt to look for one. The last thing I wanted was to be that girl crying in the dressing room.
A year after my husband and I got married — for the record, I wore a dress, but not a wedding dress — we both found ourselves unemployed. We were on a strict budget, so grocery shopping was often a numbers game: I'd check the prices on everything and load up on rice, frozen fries and pasta.
That day in the doctor's office in October 2011, learning that I was inching toward 300 pounds, prehypertensive, and prediabetic shocked me into realizing that the cost to my health was simply too big to not make a major change. The only question was, Where do I start?
My first step, before doing anything else or seeking support, was to ditch soda. It's crazy to think about now, but I had been drinking about 2 liters daily. I started by replacing one 12-ounce can of soda a day with a glass of water. Each week, I cut back yet another can until sodas were totally out of my diet.
That was my one and only move for the first six months, and amazingly, I lost 23 pounds during that time. Yes, just from not consuming all those extra calories and sugar! Seeing the impact of just one change motivated me to keep pushing.
At that point, I needed guidance, so I reached out to a friend, who recommended SparkPeople to track my food and workouts. I first logged on in April 2012 and input a typical day of eating to figure out how many calories I was taking in. I had no idea I was averaging 2,500 to 3,000 calories a day.
I love food — cooking it, eating it, even watching TV shows about it. I didn't want to be miserable and cut out an entire food group or drastically slash my calorie intake. I knew that if I did that, I'd just end up unsatisfied and reaching for the bad stuff. And so I started cutting 100 daily calories from my diet every two weeks by slightly trimming my portions. I'd measure a cup of rice instead of just plopping a heap onto my plate. Hundreds of cals gone, just like that. I also replaced snacks like chips with high-protein foods.
My daily calorie intake was down to 1,800, and once I got comfortable with portion sizes, I started to focus on flavor. I'd find a recipe I loved and experiment on my own, tweaking until I got it right. If I was craving Indian food, like chicken tikka masala (chicken in a creamy spiced tomato sauce), I traded the heavy cream for unsweetened evaporated skim milk — still delicious! I stocked up on herbs and spices and used them in everything. Nobody ever gained weight on cilantro!
As of December 2013, I weighed 177 pounds. My husband lost 90 pounds too, by proxy. Now I needed to focus on fitness. I got a Fitbit and started tracking my steps and activity.
When the following summer came around, I was a 160-pound woman whose clothes were officially too baggy. It's such a relief to have a clean bill of health: Today I'm in a normal BMI range and my blood sugar is perfect. I've maintained my weight, and I'm fitter than ever.
Sometimes women at the start of their own weight-loss journeys reach out to me through my blog, A Measured Life. I share what worked for me and the recipes that make my palate happy while keeping the pounds off. I never wanted anyone to tell me I had to eat bland food every day to lose weight, so I try to dispel that myth. My motto is: Find the flavor. That applies to what you eat, but there's also flavor to be found in life.
Andrea's Insta-Flavor Tips
1. Make Smart Swaps: For example, cook your coats with unsweetened dried fruit instead of sugar. Thicken soups with puréed veggies, not heavy creams.
2. Rely on Herbs and Spices: Red pepper flakes kick up veggies; ginger in stir-fry cilantro in Thai soups.
3. Rethink Your Treats: Craving ice cream? Frozen bananas do the trick!
Want more yummy food pictures and tips? Head over to Andrea's Instagram at @ameasuredlife4.
This story originally appeared in the October 2016 issue of Dr. Oz The Good Life.
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