How this woman lost 75 pounds: Gradual lifestyle changes were the key to her weight loss success

Slow and steady won — and continues to win — the race for Jess Dukes.
Image: Weight loss success-Jess Dukes
Jess Dukes says the key to her weight loss success was to focus on one day at time. Adrian Lam / NBC News
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By Julie Compton

Fitness coach Jess Dukes, 31, lost 75 pounds in a year and a half by incorporating small changes into her daily routine. Dukes, who lives in Bellevue, Washington, says she used to work a hectic office job that made it difficult to change her bad eating habits.

Dukes says many of the people she coaches are in the same situation.

“Oftentimes, when I see people start trying to lose weight, they try to change everything at once. They completely get rid of everything they love eating-wise and they start working out intensely, and they can’t keep up with it,” Dukes tells NBC News BETTER.

Dukes, who first told her story to Women’s Health, started with a tiny change swapping sugar and cream in her coffee with Stevia and almond milk. Overtime, she weaned herself off of those until she was able to drink her coffee black.

“My goal was to just do one habit change at a time,” says Dukes.

Here’s how Dukes says she integrated small changes into her lifestyle that helped her lose the weight.

She slowly gave up eating out

Dukes says that much of her weight gain was related to eating out nearly every day. She worked a busy office job and got most of her lunches to go, and often ate dinner at restaurants. She began to bring her lunch to work, and made a rule to only eat out on Saturdays and Sundays.

“Rather than giving up eating out completely, I saved those things for the weekend,” she says.

After three months, Dukes craved restaurant food less and less. She found herself making more and more meals at home on the weekends.

“By the time you’ve been on track all week, you feel so good that you get to the weekend and you’re like ‘I don’t really want to go out for ice cream, and I don’t really need to go out to that place because I feel really good,’” she says.

She slowly adopted a diet of mostly lean meats and vegetables. She started to realize that she had more energy and didn’t feel bloated, she says.

“I never realized that wasn’t normal to feel that way until I started cleaning up my diet, stopped eating out as much and realized I had less brain fog,” she says. "I wasn’t as tired all the time. I had energy. When I got off work I wasn’t ready to lay on the couch all night.”

Dukes says she goes out to eat less often, and when she does, it’s usually a date night with her husband.

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“But every time I go out to eat I don’t feel like I need to splurge and order everything on the menu anymore, so I save it for special occasions,” she says.

Maybe drink a little more water, get a little more activity in. Maybe rather than taking the elevator, take the stairs. Just do a little more, because all of those healthy habits compound over time, and they snowball into big results.

Jess Dukes

She slowly eased her way into exercise

“Once I was 215 pounds, I kind of felt like I was just going to be stuck there forever,” Dukes says. “My mindset was really poor and I didn’t enjoy exercise and I couldn’t honestly even think of what life was like before I packed on the weight, because I felt very stuck in my body.”

She says she didn’t exercise at all.

“And it felt very hard for me to move my body,” she says, “and frankly, I also felt very embarrassed to go to the gym. I felt like I didn’t know what I was doing.”

To get started, she set a goal for herself: “In the beginning, it was just move my body every day, do a little bit more than I did yesterday.”

Dukes signed up for a gym membership. Every day, she worked out on the elliptical for 20 minutes.

In the beginning, 20 minutes on the elliptical “felt like I was dying each day,” she says.

“That eventually became a lot easier because my body got stronger. I built up my endurance and my strength, and so that’s when it became more fun,” she says.

She adds, “I found I was able to do a lot more than I was beforehand because it made me want to try new things.”

After about six months, Dukes says she had lost about 30-40 pounds. She started to do more high-intensity training with weights.

Focus on one day at a time

Losing weight can be difficult, but it’s important not to fixate on the end goal, says Dukes. “It’s easy to look at how far we have to go and feel very discouraged by that,” she says.

She says to focus on one day at a time.

“Focus today on making good nutrition choices, moving your body, and then tomorrow, doing a little bit more,” she says. “Maybe drink a little more water, get a little more activity in. Maybe rather than taking the elevator, take the stairs. Just do a little more, because all of those healthy habits compound over time, and they snowball into big results.”

She says it’s also important to focus on having a healthy mindset.

“It’s not some diet or some weight loss kick that you’re going to be on,” says Dukes. “Just make the decision to be healthy and never stop. If you’re making those health decisions every day, it’s going to compound.”

Dukes says losing weight feels “amazing.”

“I never thought I would be in the shoes I am in today, but losing the weight has completely changed my life,” she says.

She says her weight loss isn’t about the weight on the scale or being able to fit into a smaller size.

“Just genuinely loving how you feel and what you look like and having the confidence, it changes everything in life,” says Dukes.

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