They ate when they were stressed. They ate when they were lonely or frustrated. Then the guilt set in — for breaking the latest attempt at a diet, for losing the power struggle with a craving. It's an unhealthy pattern familiar to the women below, and one to which many of us can relate.
So what makes us stop relying on food as a crutch and start taking control of our choices? Counseling might help some; others may need a disciplined eating plan. For these three women, the answer was faith.
They share how their spirituality gave them strength to cultivate healthier habits and shed pounds for good.
"I got healthy on the inside"
Kimberly Floyd, 43, Fairburn, GA
Pounds Lost: 85
Weight Now: 155
Weight Then: 240
Kimberly Floyd knew how to lose weight: She studied nutrition and worked as a registered nurse for almost a decade. Floyd had reason, too: High blood pressure and stroke runs in her family. Yet when on break at the hospital, she would often down a burger and fries, and she grew to 240 pounds.
Then one evening in December 2003, when she was only 38, Floyd had severe chest pain. "I realized then this was not how I was supposed to live," she says. Though she first became a Christian in her mid-20s, that moment redefined her faith.
"I felt like God has a purpose for my life, and I had to find strength to fulfill it." She started reading the Bible and praying daily. Instead of focusing on shedding excess fat, she told herself: My body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, and I'll do what it takes to stay healthy.
With that, making healthful choices became much easier. She swapped fast food for whole foods and added a daily walk to her routine. In a year and a half, she lost 85 pounds.
Floyd was so inspired that she began her own Christian weight loss-coaching program called Take Back Your Temple. "My message is about taking responsibility and making the most of all the gifts God has given you," she says. "When you see your body as sacred, your desire to care for it intensifies."
My faith helps me...
See the big picture
"Praying and being grateful every day gives me emotional stability and a greater perspective on life. Daily challenges don't throw me off the way they once did, and that helps me make wiser choices."
"Mind-set is huge in terms of weight loss," says Keecha Harris, DrPH, RD, president of a health consulting firm in Birmingham, AL. "You have to stay positive, and that's why faith is so powerful. It's based in something good and hopeful." To stay in that frame of mind:
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Set small goals
Aim to lose 1 pound this week, run ½ mile longer next week, or switch to fat-free milk in your coffee. Attainable mini-goals keep you focused and give you a sense of progress.
Think total-body health
When you eat right or work out, you have more energy and feel happier. Noticing — and appreciating — those benefits, too, will help you stay even more motivated.
"I found purpose in my weight loss"
Abby Meloy, 46, Lake City, FL
Pounds Lost: 56
Weight Now: 160
Weight Then: 216
As senior pastor, Abby Meloy couldn't say no when parishioners asked her to organize a weight loss group at their church. "I was hesitant because I had failed at many diets in the past," says Meloy, whose weight had reached more than 200 pounds. "But I knew I wasn't setting the right example for my congregation, so I gave it a shot."
Meloy started a chapter of a national Christian health program called First Place at her church. The Bible-based plan focuses on improving all areas of life — physical, spiritual, and emotional. Meloy kept a food journal, balanced her meals, and committed to a daily exercise routine. Soon, she led weekly prayer groups to help empower members to overcome temptation. In the first 13 weeks, Meloy dropped 27 pounds. "When I started seeing results and others came to me for advice, my diet became about something more," she says. "If I continued to succeed, I could help others do the same. That was my motivation." Surrounded by trusted parishioners, Meloy acquired the confidence to explore the real reasons she overate, which included the stress of serving as a pastor. Now when she feels the compulsion to eat to quell her anxiety, she prays or takes a walk to clear her mind. "If I'm still hungry afterward, I'm in a better place mentally to make a healthy choice," she says. And if she does indulge, she tries not to be too hard on herself. "I think, God forgives me, so why shouldn't I forgive myself? — and then I'm right back on track."
My faith helps me...
"When losing weight stopped being about me, me, me, and became about setting a good example — that's when I knew I'd be successful."
"Being a leader keeps you accountable," says Jeannie Moloo, RD, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. "And that has a powerful impact on your behavior." Some ways to foster that sense of responsibility:
Consider yourself a role model
Set an example for your family and friends. How you act makes a lasting impression.
Working toward your goal with another person can provide extra support and inspiration.
"I made peace with food"
Jackie Halgash, 54, Warrington, PA
Pounds Lost: 100
Weight Now: 145
Weight Then: 245
Church was one of the last places Jackie Halgash thought she'd go to lose weight. Though she was raised as a Catholic, she never considered herself overly religious. Still, when a friend suggested she try a faith-based diet program, she agreed. Her weight had reached 245 pounds; she felt like she had no other place to go.
In 2002, Halgash signed up for a Catholic plan called the Light Weigh. Its message: Seek comfort in God, not food. That's what hit home for Halgash: "I'd gorge on cookies when I was sad, and it didn't help," she recalls. Through Bible study classes and videos, she figured out that she needed something more profound to feel at peace. "It's like I had a spiritual 'hole' in my heart," explains Halgash. "I tried to fill it with food but never felt content. When I turned to prayer, I felt complete." One basic lesson she learned: Eat when you're hungry, stop when you're full. "We were given hunger cues for a reason," she says. If she's tempted to eat more, Halgash thinks of giving up the excess food as a sacrifice for someone else — her children or the patients in the hospital where she works. "Cutting portions is easier when it's an act of love," she says. Within 18 months, Halgash lost 100 pounds — and maintained it since.
My faith helps me...
Stop judging foods
"I used to think if I ate salad, I was being good; if I ate ice cream, I was bad. Now, food is simply food. There are no more moral consequences to eating."
Follow hunger cues and control portions — both are key to losing weight, says Moloo. Tips to stay on track:
When you have a craving, wait a few minutes before you eat. A change of pace or a couple of deep breaths may also help it pass.
Eat in slow motion
Put your fork down after each bite and chew your food thoroughly (and swallow) before picking it up again. This makes you more conscious of when you're full.
How you can do it!
Get inspired and meet more women who achieved their weight loss goals, including one reader who lost 130 pounds through faith — at prevention.com/dietsuccess.
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