Weight Loss

How to lose weight as a family

Photo courtesy of Jody Arsenault Author: Canadian Living Credits: Photo courtesy of Jody Arsenault

Weight Loss

How to lose weight as a family

Jody Arsenault
Age: 34
Lost: 70 pounds
Occupation: Blogger and founder of MommyMoment.ca, Steinbach, Man.
Time Period: January 2013 to fall 2014
Height: 5'6"
Weight loss: 268 to 198 pounds
Pant size: From size 22-24 to size 13

Trevor Arsenault

Age: 36
Lost: 35 pounds
Occupation: Child protection social worker
Time period: January 2013 to fall 2014
Height: 6'
Weight loss: 255 to 220 pounds
Pant size: From size 40 to size 34

Jody was eventually diagnosed with hidradenitis suppurativa, a chronic painful skin condition that causes lumps, bumps and sores on parts of the body where skin touches skin, such as under the arms, and that can be exacerbated by excess weight. “That was a wake-up call. My body was not functioning the way it should,” she says. Her anxiety was also at an all-time high, and she was suffering from headaches and trying to manage her symptoms with over-the-counter medicines and antibiotics.

As for Trevor, he had difficulty sleeping and lacked energy. He craved unhealthful foods—doughnuts, chips and cookies— to keep him going. It’s no surprise that diet was a major part of the problem. “We ate like a typical North American family,” says Jody. They ate out twice a week, opting for pizza or Chinese food, and they always had junk food in the house. Both Jody and Trevor grew up eating processed foods and rich dishes traditional to their cultures. (She is Mennonite, and he is First Nations.)

How they did it

In 2013, the family decided to make a New Year’s resolution to start eating only “real food.” “I knew a diet wouldn’t work for me,” says Jody. “It had to be a lifestyle change. I wanted to eat food in as close to its original state as possible.” The change was immediate and drastic. They cleaned out their cupboards and threw out processed peanut butter, flavoured yogurts, packaged oatmeal and anything with artificial sweetener or refined sugar. “If the ingredients list sounded like something from my high school chemistry class, then it should stay in the chemistry class and not in my body,” says Trevor. They started buying fresh fruit and vegetables, and Jody began making meals from scratch.

“When we first started, I spent a week in bed thinking I was going to die,” says Jody. “I was cold, then hot and clammy. I was on an emotional roller coaster.” But after she pushed through the worst— both physically and emotionally—she began to feel better. For Trevor, the hardest part was breaking old habits. “I loved cereal—and I mean loved cereal,” he says. “I had a bowl before I went to bed every night. But I thought, If I have a healthful supper, do I really need to eat more? Probably not.”

“We started to see results within the first month,” says Jody. It was a big change for everyone, including their friends. “We weren’t getting invited to the same functions,” she says. “Everything in our community is centred around food. We’re very social, so that was hard.” But family and friends eventually came around.

These days, when the Arsenaults invite people over, they make their own hamburger patties and healthful low-fat versions of favourite traditional recipes.

Their daughters have made the transition to a healthier diet, too. They love to help prepare food and are willing to try new things that they wouldn’t have considered before. “Although my husband and I make sure we stick to eating healthfully all the time, we do let our girls go to friends’ houses or to their grandparents’ and eat the food that’s offered to them,” says Jody. “If we keep good food at home, we’re helping them learn to make the right decisions as they get older. We want them to enjoy eating and preparing healthful food, not to despise it because we were too strict.”

Rather than enforce rules, Trevor and Jody model good eating habits. When they have movie nights with the kids, instead of snacking on junk food, they make fruit bouquets, veggie shooters and plantains fried in coconut oil. “I try to present healthful food to them in a fun, cute way,” says Jody.

Where they are now
“We feel like a whole new family,” says Jody. Trevor has lost 35 pounds, is sleep- ing well and has stopped snoring. “It’s like night and day,” he says. “I no longer have that afternoon crash where I feel the need to have a nap, and my productivity at work has gone up.” Trevor has also experienced big fitness gains. He has played rugby for a few seasons, but this year is different—he’s able to keep up. “Normally, I would be lagging behind at he back of the pack, unable to run after five minutes. But now I’m able to last entire games.”

Their daughters were always busy and into sports, but now they do more activities together. Instead of sitting down to watch TV, the whole family goes out for a bike ride.

For Jody, the physical and emotional changes have had a big impact. “After losing more than 70 pounds, my anxiety and worry have gone away, and I feel much more productive,” she says. “The rash is almost completely gone. I feel like I’ve been granted a miracle.”

Lessons they've learned
The right mindset is key to the family’s success. “Don’t get caught up in the scale,” says Jody. “Look at where you’ve come from and be proud of yourself.”

The couple doesn’t compete; the focus is on cheering each other on instead. “Jody is my accountability partner,” says Trevor. “She has made huge strides and achieved incredible results. I’m very proud of her. She’s a tremendous gift to me and our girls. I do this for her and also for me.”

Trevor and Jody also want to set a good example for their children. "I want my girls to be confident,” says Jody. “It’s never about a size or a number for me—it’s about feeling good.”

Pro Tips
Trevor and Jody have lots of social support by doing this together. They’ve focused on preparing meals from scratch so that they know exactly what they’re eating, and they get extra marks for making their own food for events. They’re still in that “achieving weight loss phase,” but they also need to focus on how to make this a lifelong change.

People can fall off the wagon on holidays and at parties, so it’s important to let go of an all-or-nothing approach to dieting. I recommend a “five-by-five” rule to keep people on track: Think about a food that you miss and experiment by eating it. If you are up five pounds for five days or more, you have to take a step back and re-evaluate whether you’ve added too much of that food back into your diet. It’s all about meeting in the middle for maintenance.

Encourage your kids to help in the kitchen by making one of these yummy snacks with them.

This content is vetted by medical experts

This story was originally titled "Slim-Down Special: How They Did It" in the February 2015 issue.
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Weight Loss

How to lose weight as a family