When I was in college, I was the skinny girl who could eat whatever she wanted and not gain a pound—bottomless chips and queso, huge bowls of pasta, bloomin’ onions—you name it, I ate it. But 10 years, three pregnancies and three dress sizes later, I struggled with my self–image for the first time in my life. I constantly compared myself to other young moms, wondering how they had lost their baby weight while I still carried mine around.
I hated going home to my small town, because people I had known my whole life didn’t recognize me. Strangers asked me several times when my baby was due when I wasn’t even pregnant. Then to make matters worse, a difficult loss plunged me into a deep depression, and I gained an extra 10 pounds on my already overweight figure. My overeating and obsessive soda–drinking was damaging my body, but I didn’t know how else to deal with the grief. I needed to exercise, but in my depression, the last thing I wanted to do was put on my running shoes. I couldn’t start eating better, losing weight and feeling healthier unless I made a change, but I knew I didn’t have it in me to do it alone.
I decided to develop a competition with friends who wanted to not only lose weight but build life–long healthy habits. I came up with a list of rules, hoping for three or four women to join me in accountability. To “qualify” for my competition, participants had to be at least 20 pounds overweight and willing to donate $10 toward a prize pot. Over a period of 15 weeks, we would earn daily points for drinking 8–10 glasses of water, eating six servings of fruits and vegetables, posting a detailed food journal, staying within a daily calorie goal and recording every 10 minutes of exercise. Each Monday, we would weigh in and earn points for every pound lost, and the person with the highest percentage of weight loss that week would earn extra points. At the end of the 15 weeks, the woman with the most cumulative points and the woman with the highest percentage of weight loss would split the prize money.
I posted my competition rules on Facebook, and to my surprise not just three or four, but 21 friends committed to the competition we named “Girls Getting Fit.” These friends, from all different seasons of my life, bonded and cheered for one other with each pound lost, each goal reached and each new pair of fitting skinny pants. We supported each other through moments of failure, pulled muscles, job changes, deaths in the family and cancer treatments. We lost weight through good old–fashioned hard work, one small change at a time, and we had fun doing it together.
The eight women who persevered to the end lost a combined total of 165 pounds, an average of over 20 pounds per person. Lynn, my friend battling cancer, was the winner of the most accumulated points. After incorporating exercise and healthy eating into her life, her recovery after radiation treatments went from three weeks to 10 days, amazing the doctors who’d been encouraging her for a long time to get healthy. Rachel, the winner of the highest percentage of weight loss, lost almost 17 percent of her weight and went on to run two 5Ks. Lori’s ratio of “bad” to “good” cholesterol improved dramatically, and after three years of being on antidepressants, Deanne was able to wean off medication.
I may not have been the Biggest Loser, but at the end of those 15 weeks, I had lost 23 pounds and more than two dress sizes. I learned to eat smaller portions and to view food as fuel instead of something with which to stuff my stomach when I’m bored or stressed. My husband and I discovered a love for kettlebells which somehow helped eliminate the back pain I had long experienced, and our family became more active, taking hikes on Saturdays and joining the YMCA to work out and swim. My weight loss and healthy lifestyle rebirthed self–confidence and a sense of beauty in me that had been missing for many years. The healthy habits I learned and the support of my Girls Getting Fit friends played an important role in my emotional healing, too.
I know I’m not the only mom who has let her health take a back seat during the early years of parenting. Maybe you’ve struggled with making healthy food choices or fitting exercise into your busy life, and you feel like you’ll never be in shape. Why not make a small change toward a healthier you or better yet, start your own competition? It might just be one of the best decisions you ever make—for you and your family.
Sandi Haustein is a freelance writer who makes a mean smoothie and loves hiking with her husband and three sons.