Photography by Carla Bagley Credits: Photography by Carla Bagley
"I've been overweight my entire life," says 39-year-old Stacey Lessard. "I have done a lot of diets, exercise and the whole yo-yo thing. I had gotten to a point where I had given up. Nothing seemed to work for me."
But two and a half years ago, co-worker Cheryl Richard recommended the diet program Simply for Life, which is built around customized meal plans and one-on-one consultations. Stacey gave the diet plan a shot and soon began seeing results.
"I learned a new way of [approaching] food that worked for me," she says. She focused less on calories, more on the glycemic index; ate protein-rich foods and whole grains; and cut out white bread and white rice. The weekly consultations were like therapy for her, she says, and helped keep her on track. Eating well gave her such an energy boost she started to "want to move."
She began using cardio machines at the gym, then signed up for a clinic at The Running Room with a co-worker. "I went in that first night thinking to myself, ‘I'm not a runner.'" But the group started out slow, alternating one minute of running with two minutes of walking. Though daunted at first, Stacey says she "became a runner." She started running in June of 2012, and by September had completed her first 5K. "I wanted to finish in under 40 minutes, and I did. I was just floored." Stacey kept it up, and last May she finished her longest run yet, a 10K.
So far, Stacey has lost 75 pounds. While she'd like to lose an additional 80 pounds, she says she already feels healthier and has been encouraged by the people around her, including her fellow nurses. Many of her co-workers bring healthy dishes to office potlucks and coordinate fitness initiatives.
"Exercise has helped to deal with the stress I carried with me," she says. Over the course of her career, Stacey has tried to convey to her patients the importance of sleep, diet and lifestyle to mental health, but she didn't always follow her own advice. Now she can finally say she practises what she preaches.
Forty-eight-year-old Cheryl Richard used to be a fairly good athlete, but years of nursing took their toll on her body. "Nurses don't always stay healthy," she says. "We all do shift work, and people are always bringing in doughnuts. What we need is carrot sticks."
Four years ago, Cheryl joined Simply for Life, the same program she would later recommend to Stacey Lessard. She cut sugar and white flour from her diet and lost 30 pounds. More importantly, she increased her energy levels.
The need to keep up with her 17-year-old daughter was a big motivator. "It takes a lot of energy to run after her and her friends, and I knew I needed to find it someplace," she says. She started hitting the gym at lunchtime, then got a personal trainer to help her work around a back injury. "I decided that when you put your mind to it, you can do anything."
Cheryl also decided to take up running. After a few shorter races, she ran her first half marathon a year and a half ago. Now she mixes running with hot yoga, speed walking and weightlifting. She even brings a yoga mat to work and does back exercises during 15-minute breaks. "We are always taking care of other people, but we keep each other well, too," she says.
"My goal is to continue being healthy," says 47-year-old Beth Toole. At the age of 18, Beth experienced the first symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS), a disease of the central nervous system, but she wasn't formally diagnosed until she was 34.
Recently, she has experienced more symptoms such as hand tremors and speech problems, but the disease hasn't stopped her from living her life. "I get tired and stuff, but I do just about as much as anyone else," she says.
Over the past 12 months, she took up running and completed a 5K, an 8K and a 10K. "I'm the shakiest one at the end of the race," she says. "I tell my husband, ‘You be there when I cross the line,' because I'm so shaky and I'm banging into people, and he holds me until I level off again."
Though running may not be sustainable, she wants to continue going to the gym every day and to start weight training. "I would love to lose 15 to 20 pounds," she says, "and I'm sure I could, but I need to set long-term goals. I use the SMART acronym when setting a goal: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-sensitive."
Beth avoids processed foods and eats fresh produce from her garden, which she turns into home-cooked meals and preserves. And she keeps the diet up when she's at work. "We're all foodies," says Beth of her co-workers. "We share recipes and support each other in our weight-loss efforts."
In the summer of 2012, mental health nurse Capt. Jim Quinn, who was 39 at the time, decided to shape up. After a combat simulation in which a co-worker had to drag him for 25 metres, he was told, "Jeez man, you have to lose some weight."
Knowing his co-worker was right, Jim began using his lunch hour (plus an extra hour allotted to military staff each day for strength training) for weight lifting and short, high-intensity bursts of exercise. He did this routine three times per week, then slowly increased it to five times. Getting healthier helped him keep up with his three young boys. "Fitness is crucial to engaging with my family," says the scout and cadet leader.
Nutrition-wise, Jim avoids milk products, packaged foods and empty calories. He eats more fruits and vegetables and embraces healthy snacks like hard-boiled eggs and seaweed. Having regular discussions with his fellow nurses about nutrition and fitness helps him stay on track. He has even nixed caffeine and started using water to reduce hunger pangs. Thus far, he's lost 40 pounds.
Jim had to experiment with a lot of different routines before finding one that worked, a process he likens to buying a pair of shoes. "You go to the store and they have 10,000 pairs—you have to find the pair that works for you," he says.
The rest of the group describes Ellen Morris as their health-and-fitness ringleader. "I have always been healthy," says the 56-year-old. "My husband and I are volunteer firefighters, [which] is a big motivator to stay in shape."
Under her lead, the group began walking and running after work and doing yoga and other types of cardio over lunch. "One of our huge challenges is having to sit all day," explains Ellen. "But instead of taking 15-minute smoke breaks, we take 15-minute walks. We also have exercise mats and free weights right in the office.
"We don't want to be supermodels," she adds. "We want to be healthy. And though we may fall off the wagon once in a while, we never stop trying."
For more weight-loss tips, try one of these three simple weight-loss solutions.
|This story was originally titled "Six-week slim-down" in the February 2014 issue.
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