At Canadian Living Magazine we emphasize the importance of healthy weight, exercise, good eating habits and positive self-esteem. Not for us the latest fad diets and frenzied exercise regimens. When we wanted to do a story on losing weight wisely, we didn't have to look far. Right in our office are two staff members who, between them, have lost 100 pounds -- slowly and sensibly. When we watched Colleen Tully, 28, an editor on our website, and Janine Falcon, 38, the beauty editor at Canadian Living, get stronger, fitter, slimmer and beam with newfound confidence, we asked them to share their stories and their weight-loss tips.
Colleen Tully has healthy new attitudes toward eating and exercise.
Tell us about your weight issues: how much you gained and lost, if you were heavy as a child, and why.
I was always tall for my age and reached my current height of five foot nine by age 13; extra fat came with the height for as long as I can remember. In high school I weighed between 170 and 175 pounds. In January 2004, after a year teaching English in Korea, I was up to 215 pounds, my highest weight ever. I now weigh 150. (According to Health Canada guidelines, a healthy weight for an adult five foot nine is between 125 and 168 pounds.)
How many false starts did you have before you were successful?
By age 11, I began refusing desserts and trying to count calories. I stole my father's Slim Fast powder (he has always struggled with weight and is now about 100 pounds overweight) and I was really excited when I lost seven pounds in a week. But then the powder ran out and my mother didn't replace it.
I was teased for being fat, so I'd deprive myself of food, then binge; the bingeing kept me heavy.
From about age 18, I was determined to eat healthily and work out enough to lose weight. I was physically active, but I ate too much. I was vegetarian, so I'd justify eating a big portion of pasta with, for instance, cream sauce. I also smoked and drank a lot of coffee to try and suppress my appetite. I'd be "good" for about three days, then binge.
Why were you successful this time?
• Outside help. In the summer of 2005, I came across a three-month program that involves nutrition coaching, personal training and muscle-to-fat analysis every two weeks. The program is FitnessQuest Solutions: The Personal Coach Program in Toronto. Tom Kiatipis owns this clinic, and I saw him every two weeks.
• Healthy eating. Tom told me what I required nutritionally for my height, age and activity level. Although I was eating healthy food, I was eating about 20 per cent more than I should have, and when I indulged in something, I'd overeat (binge).
• Accountability. Every visit included a fat-percentage analysis (seven parts of my body were pinched) and the measurements went on a computer graph. No way did I want my analysis to show that I hadn't lost any body fat.
• Strength training. I started doing this three days a week in addition to cardio three days. Since muscle mass boosts your metabolism, it's easier to lose weight when you have more muscle. I once heard someone say, "when people lose weight without exercising, they just become smaller fat people," and I've never forgotten that.
• Shorter, more intense bursts of exercise. My typical workout now is five minutes of intense cardio; then strength training, starting with the larger muscles; then another 10 minutes of intense cardio. Tom taught me how to log my strength training and try to improve my previous records in order to gain muscle mass. I jog outdoors and do circuit-training at home with resistance bands or at a gym.
Why do you think this approach worked for you?
• Support. I had a supportive partner, Bill, who is now my husband. It also helped that Bill and I began the program together. That meant he wasn't eating popcorn during a movie, while I drooled beside him.
• Motivation. I was getting married, which was great for motivation (everyone wants to be a beautiful bride, and I didn't feel attractive).
• Accountability. Tom encourages you to tell three people and also sets up support groups of people who are on the program at the same time. The thought of "failing" in front of all these people was much worse than satisfying a need for junk food or not exercising.
• Developing a healthy attitude to food. I realized that food is not Prozac. I used to fill myself with something sweet and rich when I was unhappy or stressed, but I discovered that food didn't really make me feel better. Now I try to run or do yoga when I'm stressed; they stop the chatter in my brain.
How do you account for keeping this weight off two years later?
Essentially, I continue to do what Tom told me to do: eat five small meals during the day (with a balance of seven grams of protein, nine grams of carbohydrates and three grams of fat); strength-train and do cardio three times a week, with rest days in between; and drink lots of water.
With the wedding over I had to find new motivation, so I joined a 10-kilometre training clinic at the Running Room.
What gets you to stick to your new diet-and-exercise regimen?
Exercise makes me feel better. Without it I get grumpy, and that's no good for anyone. I also love to beat my old records, and I love the positive feedback I get in my fitter body.
What health benefits have you noticed?
• Improved cardiovascular conditioning. I was always active, and when I was obese, I'd do a slow jog for one kilometre and walk about three more; I'd do it all in just over an hour. Today I can run eight kilometres in 45 minutes.
• Good posture and lightness. My core strength is better so I'm walking more upright. Before I felt as if I stomped into a room, but now I feel like I float in -- I'm much lighter on my feet.
• Greater strength. I'm much stronger, thanks to strength training.
• No more shin splints or sore knees. When I was heavy, my knees always bothered me.
• Improved moves. When I do yoga I can stretch more and sustain poses for longer.
• Less wear on my heart. After an intense workout my breathing returns to normal very quickly, versus me heaving and puffing for 10 minutes afterward.
Have you had any setbacks, and if so please explain.
I developed a hip injury in the past few months (from improper stretching). When I can't exercise regularly, I lose the motivation to exercise at all. That's why I joined the Running Room -- being around other fit people and doing something challenging gets me back on track.
Do you have any food weaknesses?
I love junk food, and on Tom's program we get a two-hour "cheat window" (once a week you can eat anything you want -- for two hours). For the first few months, Bill and I gorged on cheat night: we'd eat chips, a large pizza, chicken wings, an entire pan of brownies and a tub of Ben and Jerry's ice cream. Now on cheat night we may split a chocolate cake, or something else disgustingly sweet and fattening, but we eat a seminormal dinner.
After a few months, you can take a week off to eat whatever you want and not exercise. I took the week of my wedding off, and though I indulged in cocktails and fruit drinks, I was eating the smaller portions that I'd become used to.
What do others say to you about your weight loss?
My family realizes I've made a healthy lifestyle change and they're very proud of my accomplishments.
I'm no longer shunned or ignored by strangers. Before, when I'd walk on a bus, people would shift to take up more room on the seat so I wouldn't sit there. When I'd meet new people they'd say hello, then turn their attention from me to the person I was with. Since losing weight, I'm aware of increased attention from everyone -- women and men.
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