The reality of an empty nest forced Joyce Anderson, 41, of Richmond, KY, to change her focus. Here she shares how she finally got fit and took back her life.
My secret binge eating started when I was 13, after my grandpa died. I really looked up to him and we were very close, so when he passed away, I turned to food to comfort myself. In high school, I was very active and ran cross-country, but I still gained weight because I was overeating when no one was around. At 19, I shed about 30 pounds in the months before my wedding by going on a crash diet. But after I had my daughter and son, the weight gradually crept back on and before I knew it, I was over 200 pounds. I felt so unattractive that I hardly have any family photos from that time. Occasionally I'd lose 30 pounds but then I'd gain back 35 more. It was a vicious cycle.
In 2008, my daughter, a senior in high school, told me that she didn't want to be a cheerleader anymore. I was upset—not because I was disappointed in her, but because it would leave a hole in my own life. I had been devoting all of my free time to my children's activities; at one point, my daughter even told me to stop living through her. Her comment hurt, but she was right: I didn't have a life of my own. I was too embarrassed about my body to go out and socialize. I knew then that I had to do something about my weight and "get a life," since both my children were nearing college age and would be leaving home.
That year, two days before Christmas, I sat down and searched for weight-loss plans online. I found SparkPeople.com (an online health and weight-loss community) and began to log what I ate; I also read other people's blogs to stay motivated. I joined a gym in January of 2009, and it just so happened that it was hosting a Biggest Loser—type competition. I signed up, worked out with a trainer a few times a week, and at the end of 12 weeks, I had lost 50 pounds and won the individual female weight-loss category!
Afterward, I continued to eat healthfully and stuck to 1,200-1,500 calories per day. The competition kickstarted my weight loss, but I knew I needed to find an activity that I really loved and would do long-term. Dancing seemed like a fun challenge, so I used a coupon I had for a free private dance lesson. The first class was a mix of cha-cha and salsa dancing, and I definitely felt clumsy and awkward, but I had so much fun that I decided to keep going.
Over the course of a year, I continued to lose weight (about 50 more pounds) and improve my dancing. In 2011, I competed in rumba, cha-cha, bolero, mambo and East Coast swing at two different dance competitions. Dancing has taught me how to carry myself, control my body and just have fun. Now, at 41, I'm not afraid to take chances and I finally feel attractive, something I've never experienced. And yes: I now have a life.
Pick a "cravings" day. If I have a craving during the week, I tell myself to hold off until Saturday. If I still want it then, I eat it—but I often find that the urge has passed.
My Stick-With-It Secret
Use visual reminders! I carried around this "before" picture of myself when I was at my heaviest as daily inspiration to stay on track. I would pull it out whenever I felt my commitment waning. It was a great reminder that I didn't want to go back to that overweight place and a positive reinforcement of how far I'd come. It really came in handy the night before my first dance showcase (after I'd lost 65 pounds). I was terrified that I would freeze up, but then I looked at the picture and thought, Wow, I've come too far to turn back now.