When people learn that I’ve recently lost 70lbs, they immediately want to know my “secret.” When I start to explain, I often see their eyes glaze over. We want a quick fix for our problems, something that won’t require much effort but, in my case, this journey has been all about soul searching.

After years of illness and the birth of six children, I had become resigned to the fact that I’d be overweight for the rest of my life. With three kids under three running around, I definitely didn’t think I had the time to commit to getting healthy both physically and emotionally.

Like many, I tried to lose weight many times before but nothing seemed to work. It turns out that, for a variety of reasons, I just wasn’t ready.

For me, the real success has come from digging deep and understanding everything that contributed to my obesity. It wasn’t about food, really. It was more about recognizing what needed to change in life.

A Bit of History

Looking back, I was never a thin girl. In high school, I was athletic and fit but still very curvaceous. I started having kids early in life but, even after the first two, I was able to mostly bounce back to my pre-pregnancy weight. It wasn’t until something more serious happened that I started to pack on the pounds.

Twenty years ago, I was diagnosed with a rare neurodegenerative disease. My large intestine became paralyzed and, following its removal, I suffered a heart attack (and then another one). Suddenly, I lost the ability to swallow, speak coherently or walk without assistance. I even wore adult diapers. The first four years of my 20s were definitely not how I imagined they’d be but, over time, things improved.

A New Normal

When the doctors gave me the green light to have another baby, it was an exciting time until I was put on bedrest for seven months. Towards the end, I also started having cardiac-related problems. When she was born six weeks early, it was absolutely terrifying but, fortunately, she was big and strong. I, on the other hand, was a mess. It felt like I was starting all over again.

With three young kids to look after and very little energy, I settled into a sedentary life. Just walking a couple blocks left me exhausted. Without a colon, I struggled to digest high-fiber foods and ended up eating pasta, breads, and meat every single day. Looking back, I have no regrets because those high-calorie meals helped me survive that first decade after my health crisis but it definitely caused significant weight gain.

Starting Over

Over time, I was able to eat a more diverse diet. With my health stabilizing, I made a startling revelation — I wasn’t happy in my marriage. After being “fired” by three marriage counselors, I began to accept that separating would be best for both of us. Without going into the details, I’ll just say that it was one of the most painful experiences of my life. Still, it was a new beginning and for that I am grateful.

Suddenly, I was able to do all of the things I had dreamed of doing. I could check out local events or dance through the aisles at IKEA without worrying that I was embarrassing anyone. It didn’t take long to notice that I wasn’t reaching for those comfort foods like I used to because I felt happy.

Over time, I met new people and tried new things. I took up curling, went on a Segway tour and started signing up for 5k and even 10k races. Years after being given a death sentence, I was grateful to be alive!

My body began to slim down and I was making gradual changes. If I ordered a burger, I had a salad on the side instead of fries. I stopped picking the tomatoes and other veggies off of sandwiches and pizza. I tried one new food a week and threw away my scale. I wanted to create lasting change instead of jumping on the latest fad diet.

Surprise Babies!

At 35, my hormone levels revealed that I was perimenopausal. I had been having hot flashes, irregular periods, mood swings and more. I was happy with my three children so I wasn’t sad to learn that those reproductive years were probably behind me. Besides, after my marriage ended, this wasn’t something I was really thinking about anyway.

Only, life has a way of sneaking up on you, doesn’t it? My best friend of several years turned out to be so much more than that. When my heart was finally free and I was making healthy changes, I started to see him in a new light. We did day trips, outdoor yoga and everything in between. I was finally being the active person I’d always wanted to be!

And then a surprise baby entered our lives, followed closely by a set of twins. In just 12 months and two days, I gave birth THREE times and the back-to-back pregnancies hit me really hard. My body was a complete mess and I wondered if I was ever going to recover. Just like everything else in my life, I needed to be patient.

Radical Changes

Sometimes, to get what you want you have to make big changes. I wanted to be able to step outside my door and take long walks to shed my post-baby pounds but I wasn’t living in a pedestrian-friendly city. After much deliberation, we decided to relocate in order to pursue the active lifestyle we craved. Now, we spend almost every day outdoors. It was definitely worth it.

We also examined other aspects of our lives. My partner had never eaten a salad in his life. We both came from families that preferred southern fare. Together, we implemented changes to our diet and introduced foods that hadn’t been on our tables growing up. We did this for ourselves and to be a better example for our kids. It felt amazing to finally have someone by my side who supported my efforts.

I also started feeling frustrated by the relationships that no longer served me. These people questioned my decisions and made me second-guess myself. I was able to work through this with some but I eventually cut ties with the ones who refused to respect me or my choices. Removing this negativity helped me see my path more clearly.

Training My Body

Late last year, I tried a free class at Orangetheory Fitness. My partner and I went together and we were blown away by how difficult (but fun!) the workout was. We decided to sign up even though the holiday season was just beginning. I wasn’t willing to skip the turkey, eggnog and gingerbread cookies so I chose to focus on regaining some strength.

The one-hour sessions felt like personal training in a group. The coaches gave everyone encouragement and feedback while a great kinship developed between the members. Combined with orange mood lighting and great music, OTF was (and is) an amazing way to get in shape.

By the time the new year began, I was noticeably stronger. I could do things that I hadn’t been able to do in years (if ever). When I heard that my studio was hosting a “Transformation Challenge” I signed up immediately. I was ready to change my life forever.

Eating Right for ME

Taking my medical history and sensitivity to wheat and starchy foods into consideration, I decided to try a ketogenic diet. Despite how bad bread and pasta made me feel, I couldn’t believe that I was going to give them up but I was fully committed.

In its simplest form, keto involves eating a high fat, low carb diet while keeping protein intake pretty moderate. While this won’t be for everyone, and is not how I plan to live for the rest of my life, I opted to keep my carbohydrate intake to less than 20g a day. I thought it would be so difficult but it wasn’t — because I was ready to make this change!

For the first couple of weeks, I felt a bit sluggish and my workouts were more difficult without carbs giving me a boost. When my body became “fat-adapted,” however, it was a game-changer. I never felt my energy crash or blood sugar crash, my mood improved and I felt like a beast at the gym. It was empowering!

I also noticed that my cravings just went away one day. Today, after five months of eating this way, I’m amazed by how good my body feels. I almost never feel hungry (which is crazy!) and “cheat” meals have very little appeal. I’ve found something that works for me.

Celebrating a New Me!

As of right now, I’ve lost more than 70 pounds, 40 of which were shed in just over three months. I cannot even begin to describe all of the ways in which my life is better. I am more confident as I make my way through the day and so many things, whether it’s getting dressed or shopping for groceries, feel much easier.

I’ve also started pushing my boundaries and confronting my fears as a way of working on the things that threaten to derail my progress. I spent a weekend riding roller coasters with one of my daughters and I’m planning a whitewater rafting trip. Sometimes, I can’t believe this is really my life now.

Most of all, I’m celebrating all of the ways that I’ve started putting myself first. I left an unhappy marriage, relocated to a city that meets my needs, focused on getting stronger and changed the way I fuel my body.

This is about more than a number on a scale. This is about self-fulfillment and embracing new ways of living. The smaller dress size just happens to be a perk! Love yourself!