How this woman lost 80 pounds: A visual cue sparked her weight loss success — and sustains it

Ditching the junk food, cooking at home and cutting back on carbs helped Alissa Moody lose 80 pounds.
Image: Alissa Moody
A day at the pool was the catalyst for Alissa's 80-pound weight loss journey.Adrian Lam / NBC News
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By Stephanie Thurrott

Alissa Moody was so self-conscious about her weight that she isolated herself. “I hated my body. I was so ashamed of who I was and the way I looked. There were times I wouldn’t even leave the house. I didn’t have a job. I went a year unemployed as a housewife. The thought of going to a job every day in public with people seeing me — I was terrified. I stopped seeing my friends and family,” she says.

For comfort, she turned to food, which led her to gain more weight. “The only thing that made me feel better was eating,” she says.

She worried about the health risks linked with her weight. “Heart disease and diabetes run in my family. I’m sure I would have had issues with my heart and diabetes,” she says.

She can point to the day when her weight-loss efforts turned around. She and her husband Zachary planned to go the pool near their Texas home. “I put on a swimsuit and it looked horrible. I started crying, and my husband said, ‘I’m tired of seeing you like this. We need to do something about our weight,’” she says.

It wasn’t the first time Moody had tried to lose weight. “I remember drinking Slimfast at age 8 and never sticking to it. I tried portion control, but I could never stick to it — I always felt deprived,” she says. “I was overweight all through high school, and when I got married.”

Moody and her husband had talked about weight loss before, but that day, preparing to go to the pool, their commitment stuck. “We decided to live a little bit healthier every day,” she says.

She replaced fast food with healthy, home-cooked meals

The couple started preparing healthy dinners at home. “We were junk food junkies. We were eating out every day — Taco Bell, Whataburger, McDonald’s, Pizza Hut,” she says.

They now grill a lot, and base their meals around lean protein, low-carb vegetables and salad. “I like to include fresh vegetables as well as cooked vegetables,” Moody says.

They also cut out bread products. “I’m a bread lover, and giving up pizza was a challenge for me — we were ordering it about once a week. It was a staple food for us,” she says.

Moody’s mother had tried the Atkins diet in 2003 and lost a lot of weight, so the couple decided to try it themselves, choosing foods higher in clean protein and healthy fats. They swapped their junk-food lunches for Atkins shakes or meal bars. “With Atkins, I’m not hungry. I feel more full, and more fulfilled. My brain is happier, so I can stay on track with what my end goal is,” she says.

She added exercise and accountability

Moody and her husband started going to the gym five days a week, alternating elliptical and stationary bike workouts.

They hold each other accountable for their new routines. “He’s right there with me. If I don’t feel like going to the gym, he reminds of the end goal, and I do the same for him,” she says.

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They weigh themselves every Saturday, and Zachary has seen success with his weight loss as well — he’s down to 215 pounds from his 325-pound peak.

She sees benefits beyond the number on the scale

Moody has found her self-esteem and energy levels have both skyrocketed with her weight loss. “Getting up, going to work, and living a normal, regular life is not a big deal,” she says.

“I have a great job, more friends, and a more active social life. I’m involved in more activities. I’m physically able to do more. Instead of being ashamed of who I am, I’m able to go enjoy myself. I get more out of my life now that I’ve lost weight than I did when I was overweight,” she adds.

She and her husband hope to one day have children, and she appreciates that her weight loss will increase her odds of having a healthy pregnancy. “I want to be healthy for my kids someday, and to be there for them,” she says.

She saved that swimsuit, as a reminder of how far she’s come. “The image of me in that swimsuit really stayed in my mind. I never want to feel that way again,” she says.

A dietitian’s take

Samantha Cassetty, RD, a nutrition and weight-loss expert with a virtual nutrition counseling practice based in New York City, says that Moody found some good strategies that are helping her succeed:

  • She recognizes any diet that left her feeling deprived wouldn’t work in the long run. “Anything that leaves you feeling hungry, overly restricted, or deprived will be impossible to stick with,” Cassetty says.
  • She and Zachary are working toward their weight-loss goals together. “Having a supportive partner or friend is amazing, but having someone who isn’t just going to cheer you on, but will eat better with you is the type of support that matters,” Cassetty says. “When a couple says to themselves, ‘We could both be healthier with more activity,’ or ‘We could both be eating better’ it’s less about one person who is trying to lose weight and more about joining forces and getting healthier together.”
  • She identified what works best for her. Moody has had success with a major transformation — giving up breads and junk foods. Cassetty points out that more gradual changes might work for other people. “Weight loss is highly personal. What works for one person might not work for another,” she says. “If an overhaul feels overwhelming, set small, realistic goals, like ‘I’ll have fast food twice this week,’ Or ‘I’ll meal plan two meals this week.’ The idea is to set yourself up for success. Small goals can help you take steps in the right direction while minimizing the overwhelm.”
  • She watches her weight in a way that works. Cassetty says, “There’s a lot of research that monitoring your weight can be a very effective tool and can help you revert back from holidays and vacations and other periods when you may gain a little weight. Of course, if the scale triggers any emotional distress, there are other tools, too. You have to pick the ones that work for you.”
  • She focuses on the health boosts that come with weight loss. “I always suggest people focus on benefits like increased energy and being able to move with more ease,” she says.

Strategies can help with emotions linked with weight

Cassetty is saddened by how Moody’s weight affected her self-esteem, and recognizes that it’s a societal problem: “As a society, we have to do better and be more critical of the standard of beauty that values thinness over anything else. No one should feel measured or judged by their weight or appearance.”

She says that if, like Moody, thoughts about your weight interfere with your wellbeing, formal interventions can help, and people can also find information and resources through the Health at Every Size community.

As a society, we have to do better and be more critical of the standard of beauty that values thinness over anything else. No one should feel measured or judged by their weight or appearance.

Samantha Cassetty, RD

Affirmations can make a difference, too. “Affirmations can be really effective at helping people to become more loving and respectful toward their bodies," says Cassetty. "You can start with affirmations, like ‘I love myself and accept myself the way I am,’ ‘I’m a beautiful person,’ ‘My body is a gift,’ or ‘My body is a vessel for my kindness and intelligence.’” Free apps and resources can help you develop an affirmation practice.

“This type of practice can dramatically improve self-esteem and respect, so you can heal your relationship with your body and begin to view food as a way to nourish yourself instead of a means to find more self-acceptance,” Cassetty says.

Alissa’s typical meals

Breakfast: Coffee with coconut milk and Splenda or monk fruit sweetener

Lunch: A meal-replacement shake or bar

Dinner: Grilled chicken breast or thighs, green beans or asparagus, and salad

“For snacks I like dill pickles because they’re pretty much calorie free and they’re delicious,” she says. She also likes cheese sticks, pepperoni slices, Greek yogurt, avocado, and “anything that has good, healthy protein and fat.”

Cassetty says that while this routine is working for Moody, she could add more food. She recommends a couple of hard-boiled eggs with red pepper strips or cherry tomatoes for breakfast. And she could cook extra protein at dinner and add it to a salad for an easy meal prep for lunch the next day.

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