At 49 years old, Rachel Nipper could barely go for a stroll without losing her breath. An on-and-off-again smoker who had chronic high blood pressure and respiratory issues, Rachel had had overweight her whole life.
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Last January, she tipped the scales at 232 pounds. Having sunk to rock bottom both physically and emotionally, she decided it was now or never to make a lifestyle change.
A year later and 74 pounds lighter, Rachel has a new lease on life and health. Here, she shares her story with us, including what strategies worked for her and how she's keeping the weight off.
'If I Wanted to Breathe Easier, I Had to Reduce My Belly Fat'
With a milestone birthday on the horizon — the big 5-0 — I started reflecting a lot. I was unhappy with my weight, my health was deteriorating and I didn't have control over my life. And as another new year approached, the realization hit me: If I don't act now, it will only get worse. Then and there, I resolved to transform my health situation before I turned 50.
To do that, I knew that I had to stop smoking once and for all, after years of bouncing on and off the wagon. I struggled with asthma, and my smoking habit only exacerbated my symptoms. I could no longer go on walks without needing my rescue inhaler. And using my rescue inhaler regularly — combined with chronic acid reflux — led to even more health issues.
I developed vocal fold dysfunction and paralysis — that was scary. Vocal folds are the elastic bands of muscle tissue that make up a major part of your voice box, and when they don't work properly, you can experience difficulties with breathing, which was what happened to me.
I figured that my excess belly fat wasn't helping my breathing problems either. I knew some of that shortness of breath had to do with the weight. So, if I wanted to breathe easier, I had to reduce my abdominal fat.
"Counting calories shifted my whole perspective on eating. It's eye-opening when you start tracking accurately. Those extra bites here and there really add up."
The App That Jump-Started My Journey
Determined to live healthier, feel better and avoid further health problems, I committed to revamping my diet. Tracking my food was key, so I downloaded the LIVESTRONG.com's MyPlate App on January 1. I didn't realize then how this one easy tool would change my life completely.
Counting calories shifted my whole perspective on eating. It's eye-opening when you start tracking accurately. Until I started using MyPlate, I had little awareness about all the excess food I was eating. Those extra bites here and there really add up.
That's why I decided to purchase a food scale to help me learn proper portion sizes. That made a huge difference. We all believe we can "eyeball" portion sizes or estimate calorie counts. But the majority of us are way off.
And I was pleasantly surprised to find that eating the right amounts of healthier, wholesome foods kept me feeling satisfied and not at all deprived. When you eat good, clean, real food, you get so much more for your calories. What we eat makes the difference. And so does what we drink. When I started drinking half my body weight in water, I felt truly hydrated for the first time!
Not only was I starting to see results on the scale, I was also feeling so much better. Losing weight significantly improved my breathing, asthma control and blood pressure, plus it gave me way more energy and stamina. With all this extra oomph, I decided to start exercising too.
I subscribed to LIVESTRONG.com's newsletter, where I learned about the monthly fitness challenges and discovered a newfound passion for working out. Who knew I would be a person who could fall in love with burpees and planks! (A far cry from who I used to be!) But I relish the challenge of achieving new fitness goals and how empowered it makes me feel.
'I Learned to Treat Myself With the Same Kindness I Would Show to Loved Ones'
For me, shedding pounds involved more than simply counting calories and working out. Before I could fully commit to a healthier lifestyle, I first had to confront deeper issues that had plagued me for years. We all have various "monsters" in our heads trying to hold us back. Obesity enabled me to hide in plain site as a way of protection.
And, once I began to tackle my personal demons, I experienced a transformative shift. When you reach the point where you can openly and honestly look at yourself — acknowledging who you are truthfully — everything changes.
But I also discovered the importance of patience and self-compassion. I learned to treat myself with the same kindness I would show to loved ones. And I started to love the little girl inside who was hurt so long ago.
Healing and learning to cope with stress have been essential during this process. And when it comes to nourishing the mind, body and spirit, practicing yoga has been invaluable. Yoga is definitely a lifestyle for me. It allows for those quiet times of reflection and meditation. It's been so helpful that I've increased my practice from once a week to every day.
Read more: 10 Best Yoga Poses for Beginners
As determined as I was to lose the weight, going it alone was overwhelming. I was scared that I might slip back into old patterns, so I did something I've never done before: I shared my weight-loss goals on social media.
I knew myself well enough to know that if I told everyone, I wouldn't fail. Public failure was not an option for me, so I posted to social media, letting friends and family know what I was doing. I brought my "dieting" out of the closet.
"With the help of my online community, I've exceeded my wildest weight-loss dreams. On the horizon of 50, I currently weigh 158 pounds, and I've never felt better!"
And it was the best decision I ever made. Not only did social media hold me accountable, it also acted as a major source of encouragement, camaraderie and inspiration. Through the LIVESTRONG.com Challenge Group on Facebook, I found a tribe of like-minded people — also in pursuit of health and fitness goals — who were always available to lend a kind word and to help keep me motivated. The support from that group has been amazing! Shout out to all my LIVESTRONG Challenge buddies!
With the help of my online community, I've exceeded my wildest weight-loss dreams. On the horizon of 50, I currently weigh 158 pounds, and I've never felt better! But my journey has just begun. Now I'm embarking on a new endeavor: Strength training and body building.
And the best part is that my weight-loss transformation has even inspired my husband to become more active. His interest in fitness has returned, too, and we're adding some home gym equipment — a bench and weights!
Ready to Kickstart Your Get-Fit Journey?
Join the LIVESTRONG.com Challenge Group on Facebook to participate in monthly fitness and nutrition challenges and get support from an encouraging community of like-minded people.
My Best Piece of Advice for Others
For anyone who wants to get healthier but doesn't know where to start, the change will happen when you are ready to approach it with acceptance. You must be willing to take an honest look at yourself, leave your excuses behind and commit fully.
But that doesn't mean you can't enjoy a cookie or potato chip ever again. You still have to live life. I allow myself one "flex" day a week. Having a balanced lifestyle will help you stick to healthy behaviors in the long term.
And so will finding a cheer squad to support you on your journey. Losing weight is a long, tough road best traveled with others who can relate to you and have your back. Consider joining an online community like the LIVESTRONG.com Challenge Group. If you're ever struggling or just need some motivation in your health and fitness endeavors, you will find it there!
Finally, don't compare yourself. Every person's situation and path to a healthier lifestyle is unique. With patience, persistence and consistency, you'll cross the finish line at your own pace. Always make your goal to be the healthiest you.