You’d never think that by doing something healthy for yourself, you’ll end up gaining weight. But that’s exactly what happened to Cathy Z., a 50-year-old graphic designer and entrepreneur in St. Paul, Minnesota. “I smoked a pack a day from the age of 16 and was always thin,” she says. “But when I had my first kid at age 30, I knew I needed to quit smoking.” And she did—kind of. “People thought I had quit, but I kept sneaking cigarettes without anyone knowing,” she says. “I went back and forth between wanting to quit, trying to quit, and not really quitting until I was 40 years old.” That’s when she quit for good.
Unfortunately, quitting smoking had an unhealthy side effect. “Giving up cigarettes was the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” she says. “And rather than managing my addiction to cigarettes, I transferred it all to food.” She started gaining weight, going from 136 pounds to 170 pounds in just nine months, ultimately topping out at 182. Cathy tried different diets to lose the weight, but found them all unsustainable. “I didn’t want it to be about counting calories, I wanted it to be about being healthy and changing the way I thought,” she says. “That’s why soon after gaining the weight, I got the original Fitbit Classic—I knew moving more would be key.”
With that goal in mind, Cathy started running. “The first time I made it through a five-mile run, I couldn’t believe I’d just run nonstop for that long,” she says. “It was so empowering!” She even did races—running her first 5K in the summer of 2011, with her husband and kids cheering her on. And all of that exercise made a real impact: She was down to 142 pounds and felt like she was on the path to being slim again.
Then she hit a speedbump. “I started having pain in my foot and an x-ray showed it was a bone spur,” she says. “But I just pushed through it and kept running—this time with a Fitbit Flex tracking my steps.” Cathy was hitting 15,000 steps a day on average until she finally decided to get the much-needed foot surgery three years ago. “I didn’t realize how immobile I’d be after the surgery,” she says. “I couldn’t walk at all for eight weeks and had to go through months of physical therapy.” She kept telling herself she’d get right back to running as soon as she felt better, but she never did. And the long period of inactivity took a toll on her health. By October, 2015, Cathy weighed 194 pounds.
Eager for accountability, Cathy, who teaches scrapbooking classes, decided to teach a year-long course about creating a healthy living scrapbook. “Each month we would make a mini album about moving more and eating better and what you’re doing to change for the better,” she says. “I was going to have to tell my students what I was doing to be healthier every single month.”
Leading up to the class, Cathy refocused herself. “I started eating as little processed food as possible and went back to walking 15,000 steps a day,” she says. “By January 2016 I’d dropped 20 pounds and by March I was down to 169!” While she still has a way to go to reach her goal, and still experiences setbacks in which she gains instead of losing, Cathy is taking things day by day. “It’s not about perfection, it’s about doing better,” she says. “I have a new Fitbit Alta that I bought myself for my 50th birthday and every day I commit to taking better care of myself.”
Cathy’s Advice to Others:
Come up with a simple formula. “I realized that if I walked 10,000 to 15,000 steps a day and ate 1500 to 1600 calories a day, I would lose weight,” she says. “It’s a simple way to break down what I need to do.”
Cut out food if you need to. “If I tell myself I can have a little of something, I go all the way,” she says. “I love drinking red wine, especially when I’m cooking, but I decided to cut that one thing out. To replace it, I started drinking naturally flavored sparkling water instead—and I love it.”
Invest in a home gym if you can. “I know a treadmill isn’t sexy, but for me it’s been fantastic,” says Cathy. “I download a bunch of episodes of a show I want to binge watch, like Jane the Virgin, and crank out the miles. Gyms were always tough for me to get to, and I didn’t want to pay a monthly fee—the treadmill was the best investment I’ve made.”
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This article is not intended to substitute for informed medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.