How one woman lost 95 pounds and still got her Taco Bell fix

After losing 70 pounds, and gaining it all back, Alissa Mashburn changed up her dieting routine to focus on portion size instead of eliminating foods.
Image: Weight Loss Success
Mashburn educated herself on portion sizes, paying attention to the serving size on labels and making sure to proportion her snacks and meals accordingly.Adrian Lam / NBC News
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By Danielle Page

Name: Alissa Mashburn

Age: 31

Residence: Massapequa, NY

Job: Administrative Assistant

Home life: Single, lives alone

Peak weight: 235

Current weight: 140

Alissa Mashburn has lost a substantial amount of weight not once, but twice. "After losing 70 pounds, I thought it was going to be easier to maintain than what it was," she says. "I stopped going to the gym. And slowly but surely, started eating everything I missed from my dieting era." To get to her weight-loss goal, Mashburn had put herself on a very restrictive diet — no carbs or sugar — plus two-a-day workouts that involved a two-mile morning run followed by an evening stint at the gym.

It wasn't sustainable. "I noticed that my weight was creeping back up, so I did what many sane dieters do ... I hid the scale. Put it away so I wouldn’t have to look at it," she says.

Making a change

Mashburn started a new job in September of 2018 and found herself surrounded by temptation. "There was nothing but food and stress as far as the eye can see," she says. "Every day someone was bringing in treats or candy and I was having to learn an entirely new process. So this combination meant, by the middle of October, I was weighing in at 230."

It was a combination of seeing that number on the scale and a change in her relationship status that pushed her to make a change. "I also became single for the first time in my adult life, and I used that as my motivation for putting myself and my health first," she says. "Self-care and self-love really became the staples of what I was doing this for. I deserved to be healthier and look the way I wanted to look, feel the way I wanted to feel."

She started by taking one small step

In October of 2018, Mashburn started with a simple goal: to walk three miles in 30 minutes Monday through Friday after work. "Even that was tiring," says Mashburn. "[On the treadmill] my walk was a 3.0 and my run was a 5.5, no incline. I would stay at a speed for a few days and then up it by .1." By the end of the month, she felt her stamina increase, and even noticed her clothes were looser.

During month two, Mashburn added resistance training into the mix. "I'd complete my three miles on the treadmill, hop over to the Stairmaster for a quick 10-minute walk/jog up those steps, then head over to the weight machines," she says. At first, the machines she chose were at random. "I'd jump on whatever was free at the time," she says. Mashburn would then head home to do at home resistance training (exercises she was too embarrassed to do at the gym). "Any sort of crunches/core work was always done at home because I wanted to get better before anyone saw me work out my toughest parts," she says. "I was sweating and cursing and did not feel ready for anyone, even like-minded workout souls, to see me struggle like that."

Her typical at-home workout consisted of:

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  • Crunches: three sets of 15 crunches, center, left and right
  • Leg Lifts: three sets of 15 leg lifts
  • Squats/Sumo Squats: as many as she could perform in 60 seconds
  • Scissor Kicks: 30 seconds
  • Plank: 30 seconds
  • Dumbbell side bend: three sets of 10 bends; holding a 10-pound dumbbell

"My at-home workout is where I really felt the difference," says Mashburn. "I was losing a few pounds every week. My muscles were looking toned and while I was exhausted because of the long hours of working out, my body never felt stronger!" After five months, she was down 40 pounds.

She changed her dieting approach, focusing on portion size not eliminating foods

Having tried and failed at keeping the weight off with a super restrictive diet, Mashburn made sure she wasn't setting herself up to fail by dieting in a way that was so limiting it wouldn't be sustainable in the long run.

"During the first month of this journey I made some quick cuts to the amount I was eating as well as being aware of the amount of sugar I was putting into my body," says Mashburn. "I had to start seeing food as energy and sustenance, not just something to kill the boredom." To make sure she didn't feel deprived, Mashburn still paid a visit to her favorite fast-food chain, Taco Bell, 3-4 times per week — though she modified her order to include less items. "It let me keep some semblance of my normal routine, and still let me have something delicious while losing weight," Mashburn says.

Mashburn educated herself on portion sizes during her first few months of the diet, paying attention to the serving size on labels and making sure to proportion her snacks and meals accordingly.

She also scheduled her meals and snacks around her workouts. "I would eat breakfast at 8 a.m., a snack at 10 a.m., lunch at 1 p.m., a small snack before the gym and dinner whenever I got home from the gym," she says.

During her weight-loss journey, Mashburn didn’t take anything out of her diet completely, but modified the amount, which she says was key. "I knew that if I didn’t allow myself to have what I loved I would binge on it whenever I gave myself the opportunity and do more harm than good," she says.

I knew that if I didn’t allow myself to have what I loved I would binge on it whenever I gave myself the opportunity and do more harm than good.

She found supportive gym buddies

By May of 2019, Mashburn had lost 65 pounds — and started to become worried about whether she'd be able to stay motivated and sustain her new lifestyle. Around this time, she moved into a new apartment and befriended her landlord who encouraged her to come along to fitness classes she was taking like Zumba and circuit training boot camp. Mashburn also reconnected with an old friend at the gym. These two companions played a key role in keeping her on track.

"Having worked out alone and with others, I can say that without a doubt, I would not be where I am today without the help of these women," she says. "Having a support system of people going through the same things as me really helped me push through the hard days. At any given time, one of us would have a bad day where we didn’t want to give any effort to the gym, but there was something about being together that gave us the motivation for one more rep," she said.

She kept changing her routine

With two new companions along for the ride, Mashburn spent the summer of 2019 hiking and taking gym classes to keep her workout routine from becoming stale. "I took full advantage of the classes my gym had scheduled," she says, which included Zumba, body conditioning and circuit training. "Sometimes I'd hit two in one night, if possible. My monotonous routine of treadmill and weights was getting old fast and I knew that I had to pique my interest if I wanted to continue the motivation. It didn’t take me long to find my groove." By the fall of 2019, she'd lost 95 pounds.

The mental benefits

The biggest advantage of losing weight goes beyond the physical for Mashburn. "I have always had confidence in myself but having my outside match how I’m feeling inside is such an amazing feeling," she says. "I wish I was able to embrace myself at any weight and do the things that I love, but mentally, you stop yourself. You say no to a lot of things when you’re bigger because you don’t think you can do it, or you’re embarrassed to even try." Today, Mashburn can say yes to things she used to feel embarrassed about doing like kayaking, hiking or even a dance class. "Losing the weight that I did has let me lead a healthier, happier life," she says. “I am grateful for all the helping hands along the way." The folks at Taco Bell, in particular.

"It sounds so cheesy (pun intended) but I honestly don't know where I would be in this journey if it wasn’t for Taco Bell," she says. "It let me keep some semblance of my normal routine, and still let me have something delicious while losing weight."

Giving yourself full permission to include foods you love while enjoying them in a way that is self-loving and respectful is key to any healthy and happy lifestyle.

Samantha Cassetty, RD

Alissa's typical meals

Her typical meals:

  • Breakfast: Rice cakes with peanut butter and a piece of fruit
  • Snack: 100-calorie pack of nuts, cheese and grapes
  • Lunch: Taco Bell (1 soft taco, 1 mini chicken quesadilla, chips with cheese)
  • Snack: Granola bar
  • Dinner: Steak, veggies and mac and cheese

A dietitian’s take

Samantha Cassetty, RD, a New York City-based nutritionist, says that while this routine is working for Moody, she could add more veggies and plant-based foods. "Maybe one of her Taco Bell visits could include some beans instead of the chips with cheese, or she could try the chips with pico de gallo instead of the cheese sauce," Cassetty suggests.

  • She eats food that she likes. "Giving yourself full permission to include foods you love while enjoying them in a way that is self-loving and respectful is key to any healthy and happy lifestyle," says Cassetty.
  • She started small. "In order to achieve health goals, like a reduced risk of diabetes and heart disease, and to reach a more comfortable weight, studies show it can take as little as a 30-minute walk most days, and that the walk can be broken up into shorter sessions if you don’t have the time or stamina to do it in one session," says Cassetty. While Alissa is now committed to a high frequency of workouts per week, she began with just a simple 30-minute walk, and Cassetty says to think about ways you can break down the amount per week so it feels more doable. "For example, can you walk for 15 minutes twice a week? Some exercise is always better than none and it’s always a good idea to create achievable goals," she explains.
  • She plans ahead. Strategic snacking helps keep Alissa prepared and on track. In the event that social situations arise, knowing what you're planning to eat and when can be key. "Have a plan for these situations so you feel empowered to deal with them instead of letting the situation take control," says Cassetty, whether that means having a snack on hand to prevent overindulging or adjusting the rest of your day to allot for the occasion. "You can be healthy and still participate in all the social joys of eating," she says.

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