Name: Michelle M. (Member since: 2013)
Age: 23 Height: 5 feet 5 inches
Before Weight: 175 pounds Dress/Pant Size: 14
After Measurements Weight: 135 pounds Dress/Pant Size: 4
LIVESTRONG.COM: What was your life like before joining LIVESTRONG.COM?
Michelle: Before joining LIVESTRONG.COM I was not knowledgeable about health and fitness. I would say a lack of education played a definitive role in my unhealthy lifestyle, which resulted in a very hard time throughout high school and starting college. I went to an all-girl high school where appearance did not matter as much, and a mandatory uniform masked my insecurity and lack of confidence.
I played lacrosse in high school, and that was my main form of exercise. The problem was that it was my only form of exercise, so I was only active during that one quarter of the year.
I ate very poorly, which also contributed to my unhealthy weight. My typical diet consisted of a sugary bar or toast for breakfast and pizza or a soft pretzel for lunch paired with a coke and candy from the school bookstore. After school I usually had chips or ice cream, and then dinner was whatever my mother cooked. After dinner I always wanted more and would usually eat popcorn or chips late at night.
I never counted calories, but I knew that I was making poor eating decisions. I often hid what I ate from others to avoid judgment.
LIVESTRONG.COM: What was your inspiration to make a change?
Michelle: When I went off to start my freshman year at college I knew I needed to make a change. Starting college seemed like the ultimate fresh start — new friends, new schedule, new city and an overall new life.
I chose a school in Washington, D.C., which made me even more excited to get out and explore the area. I started walking around the city and staying active in between classes instead of sitting in my room watching TV and eating.
With a dining hall full of options, I knew every choice was my own. I started walking to the salad bar instead of the grill line, and I went to the fruit basket instead of the free ice cream machine after dinner. It started with small choices like not adding butter to my toast, having at least one vegetable with every meal and drinking water instead of coke.
At my university I had a gym right next door, which was hard to ignore (and another choice that was my own to make). The gym held classes throughout the day, and my friend and I decided to try a Zumba class to meet new people. This got me into a weekly fitness routine that I had to commit to.
To make sure I didn’t get into a rut with exercise I also started running around the city with my best friend on the weekends. We explored the different areas around D.C., which added to the excitement of fitness.
LIVESTRONG.COM: How did LIVESTRONG.COM help you lose weight?
Michelle: LIVESTRONG.COM was key in my health and fitness education. Before college I really wasn’t educated in portion control and healthy decision-making when it came to meals. Through the LIVESTRONG.COM email newsletters I learned so much about healthy recipes and how to make smart choices in what to eat and drink when I was out with others as well as learning a variety of exercises to help cross-train while I became an avid runner.
It took me a year to lose 40 pounds, but, honestly, I’m more proud of myself for keeping it off. I went through many life changes these past five years that were out of my control, and I’ve learned that my health is completely my own to manage. My active lifestyle has become part of who I am.
LIVESTRONG.COM: What was your support system like?
Michelle: During my first year of college my friends were my support system. Since I was away from my family for the first time and starting a new life in a new city, my friends helped me stay active. Whether it was signing up for a half marathon my sophomore year or joining an intramural softball and basketball league, my friends have always been up for new experiences.
My best friend, Rachael, was my rock during my freshman year. She understood my frustration and how much I wanted to be fit, and she helped me along the way. During that first year the so-called “freshman 15” was very hard to avoid. There’s lots of pressure to “fit in” with others, but Rachael supported me and all of my decisions along the way.
While working to maintain my weight loss my family and boyfriend have been my support system. Instead of just watching me make health a priority in my life, they joined in. My family has become much more active and self-aware of their own health since I began my weight-loss journey. My cousin actually came up to me at a Thanksgiving party and shared how influential and inspiring I have been to her, which meant a lot. I also helped inspire my boyfriend to get into running more during college, and later this year we will run our fifth race together.
LIVESTRONG.COM: What’s your favorite way to work out?
Michelle: I honestly don’t have a favorite workout; it really just depends on my mood. If I need some alone time after work I’ll put in my headphones and run while the sun is setting. If I want to have a mental day where I stretch and focus on my flexibility, I’ll put on a yoga video. If I need to go to the grocery store, I’ll go for a bike ride and end up at the store. I try to keep my routine mixed so that it never becomes a burden, but rather fits into my day however possible.
LIVESTRONG.COM: What’s your weekly exercise schedule?
Michelle: On Mondays I’ll go for a 30- to 45-minute run before work while the sun is rising to kick-start my week. Tuesdays I go to the gym and do the elliptical for a bit and then do an upper-body strength video. Wednesdays I go to a workout called November Project (a free workout group that exists all over the country) with my boyfriend and two friends. Wednesdays we go to a 6:30 a.m. workout where we run the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, and by far this is my favorite part of the week. More than 70 people come together and just are so excited to be up and start their day with an awesome workout. This really breaks up my week and makes me feel so productive the rest of the day. Thursdays I usually take the day off, but I may go for a walk after dinner. Fridays I either do a yoga or strength video (depending on if I’m going for a long run the following day). Saturday I usually go for a long run, and I take Sundays off.
LIVESTRONG.COM: What’s a typical day of meals and snacks?
Michelle: I eat three meals and two snacks a day. I usually have cereal or oatmeal for breakfast (I love trying out different oatmeal recipes). My favorite is plain oatmeal, sunflower seed butter and banana all mixed together. I typically have yogurt with granola for a midmorning snack, and lunch is usually a vegetable-based meal. Some options include some sort of salad concoction, zucchini squash with a chili mixture of beans, corn and ground turkey, or zucchini noodles stir-fried with other fresh veggies and chicken. For my midafternoon snack I usually pack apples and almonds. For dinner I usually have some sort of protein, starch and vegetable. It really just depends on what I’m feeling; my roommate and I have been on a sweet potato kick lately.
My favorite food tips are to always try to have balanced lunches and dinners that include both protein and vegetables and to never be afraid or embarrassed to measure out portions. One thing that I have come to realize for myself is that I can never exclude something from my diet. I love sweets, wine, ice cream and bread (and eat them all). It really is all about portion control and knowing your limits.
I like to follow a healthy diet during the week, but I don’t mind splurging on the weekends and going out for pizza and beer or to an all-you-can-eat brunch with friends. It’s all balance, and it’s a lifestyle rather than an “I just have to get to my goal weight” type of mindset.
LIVESTRONG.COM: What’s the range of calories you eat per day?
Michelle: Wow, I honestly don’t know. I usually try to stay within a range of 500 to 600 calories per meal and under 200 for snacks. On days that I have a high-intensity workout I’ll up my calories by 400 or so.
LIVESTRONG.COM: What are the healthy staples that are always in your kitchen?
Michelle: I always have bananas and apples. I love grapes and berries as well, and I buy my berries frozen because I usually add them to smoothies. I love avocado on everything — sandwiches, salads, eggs, potato wedges, etc. I always have oatmeal and some sort of nuts to munch on. I usually have Greek yogurt in my fridge for snacking. And I love Kashi products, so I usually have Kashi bars in my cupboard as well. I like to try different foods for meal prep, so I mix it up with eggplant, Brussels sprouts, butternut squash, shrimp, ground beef and turkey burgers.
LIVESTRONG.COM: How do you strategize for meals?
Michelle: For meal prep it all depends on what I am feeling for the week. If I’m in the mood for chili I’ll make a big pot during the weekend and then throw it over some spaghetti squash for lunch throughout the week. If I prep meals it’s usually just lunch because I find cooking dinner very relaxing, so I don’t like to rush.
I tend to shop once a week on Sunday or Monday, getting all of my fresh produce and anything else I need to replenish. I usually pack a lunch every day of the week, but I’m not against leaving my lunch in the fridge for the next day if my co-workers want to go out for lunch occasionally.
LIVESTRONG.COM: What’s the biggest challenge you faced?
Michelle: The biggest challenge I faced was getting over the fact that others may not always see eye to eye with my determination. During college people thought I was crazy when I chose to not go out on a Friday night because I really wanted to go for an early-morning run the next day. I enjoyed my morning runs to my favorite coffee shop and wasn’t interested in staying out until 2 a.m. just because others were doing it. People didn’t understand why I didn’t stock up on ramen noodles and Easy Mac in my dorm room or go get pizza at 3 a.m. It was a challenge to say no to these things, but I knew it would be worth it down the line. I knew eventually I could get to the point where I could get pizza at 3 in the morning and not have it influence my healthy state of mind, but when I first started I needed to stay strong in order to build up my new mindset.
My advice is to make the decisions you want to make, not what others might make for you. If a co-worker brings in a box of cupcakes, for instance, wait 10 minutes and decide if you would have wanted one if it wasn’t placed in front of you in the first place.
My other tip is to try not to put unhealthy foods in your shopping cart. I have a serious sweet tooth and still love ice cream as much as I used to in high school, but I don’t buy it to put in my fridge. If I really want ice cream, I’ll get a group of friends together and make it an outing to get some. That way it’s not just me eating ice cream alone with the possibility of reaching for more.
Another tip is to find someone to help and support you on this journey. Whether it’s a close friend, sibling or a significant other, try to connect with someone through fitness. There are so many active things you can do with others like classes, walking, running, biking, hiking, skiing, etc. If you surround yourself with people who are eager to venture out and try new things, chances are you’ll begin to have this mindset as well.
My last tip is to not give up after a bad day of eating poorly. I have my bad days and some really good days, but I never let one bad day ruin what I spent years building. I take it one day at a time and start each day fresh knowing who I am and what activities I enjoy.
LIVESTRONG.COM: What’s your biggest secret to success that you want to share with others?
Michelle: My biggest secret to success is that I don’t let my busy schedule get in the way of my fitness. I make time for fitness, whether it be a half hour before work or a half hour after work. If I need to go to the grocery store, I’ll go for a run and my last stop will be the store. If I want to go into the city and see some friends, I’ll bike. I also never do the same exercise twice in a row. I switch it up every day because I find it fun and exciting to base my activity on my mood. (And it’s also good when training for a race to insert strength training in between runs to target individual areas.)
LIVESTRONG.COM: What’s your life like now?
Michelle: Still today I look at the LIVESTRONG.COM emails and website eager to learn more tips about foods and exercises. I love learning and informing others about fun facts that I would not have known otherwise.
I could not be happier about where I am with myself and my body. I know my body isn’t perfect, but the way I feel each day and how I’m able to be so active makes me truly thankful for my health and very proud of myself. Knowing that I got to this point all on my own and imagining about how I could have ended up if I hadn’t made these changes is crazy to think about. I don’t know who I would be or where I would be if it weren’t for this lifestyle change.
Before, I would try on clothes and nothing would work on my body. I was frustrated, tired and unhappy overall. I have become so much more confident, and I’m no longer self-conscious about what other people see when they look at me. I’ve become more of a public speaker, and I’m self-determined in everything that I do.
When people say I can’t do something, I have a fire within me that lights up knowing that I can do anything I want to do as long as I put in the time and effort. I’ve never boasted about my weight loss before and, honestly, only a handful of my college friends know I used to be overweight. People assume I’ve always been healthy, and it’s fun to have my own little secret of what it took to get to where I am today.
I hope I can help others find their way to a healthy lifestyle and help them to understand that there should never be an “end goal” in mind for the numbers on the scale. We have long lives to live, and it all starts with the right mindset. Everything else will follow.
Ann Rusnak is LIVESTRONG's Sr. Community Manager. Her quest to lose the baby weight before the baby finished elementary school sparked an interest in health and fitness that continues to be a passion to this day. She loves hiking and yoga, and thinks the best exercise is one you can do with a good friend. Over the years, Ann's desire to fit into a certain size has evolved into what she feels is the more important goal of feeling good and having energy to live life to its fullest.