I Lost 103 Pounds!*

By , By Abigail Cuffey, of Woman's Day

BEFORE 226 lbs

AFTER 123 lbs!

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.

→ Focusing on me

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 agand would be leaving home.

→ The big jumpstart

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.

→ Dancing my way thin

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.

My best tip

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.

Stories you might like:

What is your best tip or “stick-with-it secret" for your weight loss and/or health journey?

*Weight loss results will vary from person to person. No individual result should be seen as a typical result of following the SparkPeople program. 

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Loved your blog! Just what I needed to keep me grounded. Great job! Report
Congratulations on your weight loss and your dancing. How fun is that!!! WOW
Thanks so much for sharing and for the inspiration. God Bless Report
Thanks for the tips and the motivational story. Congratulations on setting yourself free!
I ran numbers on my BMI and BMR today and finally realized I haven't been eating enough! Sheesh!! Your calorie range of 1,200 to 1,500 is where I need to be too. So glad to have that verification from you that increasing my calories (I was ranging from 1,000 to 1,200) will not cause me to gain weight but instead to kick my weight loss into gear. Along with exercise of course. Thank you for a great blog. :-) Report
You are awesome!!
I'd love to learn how to dance - it always looks like so much fun and as well, a bonus calorie burner : ) !!
Peace & love to you and yours,
Thank you so much for sharing your story
Congratulations on your accomplishments
Best wishes as you continue to reach other goals
One day at a time
I too have what I call a free day and if want something set it aside to eat it that day and usually do eat it that day but then forget it
Also weight gain started with empty nest and just not caring
Now DH has alzheimers and have to live to care for him love him so much
I have only lost 35 pounds and am proud of the achievement Report
Way to go!!! Great advice. The more we move, the more we lose. Report
Excellent blog. Looks like you really dug deep inside yourself. As far as dancing goes, I have not done any of the dancing that you are doing but I do turn on youtube and dance around the living room when no one is watching. And it is working. Report
You're much braver than me, good for you. Loved your blog...... Report
What a great blog to start my day! You look amazing and healthy and like you could be dancing your way to the stars. There are many great tips here from readers, as well. 'Gotta love Spark People! Report
Very encouraging. Great job. You look wonderful! Report
Congratulations and thanks for sharing. I think I'd like to try dancing as well. Report
Great job. Keep dancing. It really feels more like fun than exercise! Report
Awesome. I needed inspiration today. Decided to click on your story when I saw the dance idea. I just recently started Zumba! I kept putting the "starting part" off over and over again. Then I just jumped in feet first - literally. Then when I saw your actually in my same home town! I was blown over at the coincidence! I've fought my weight - seemingly all my life. One year I did WW - lost 30 lbs. Quit - then gained 40. Last year I went to a weight Dr. - Lost 40 lbs. and I've gained 30 of it back. Back with WW online and trying to do the rest myself with Zumba - no pills this time - but it is SO hard. I travel for work a lot which doesn't help. Despite battling health issues and money issues - I'm trying hard to stay committed. Thank you! Report
Ooooooh! I LOVE the idea of holding off for a 'cravings" day.' I'll bet most of the time it passes, but just KNOWING it's there can get you through!
And you look MAH-VA-LOUS!!!!!! Report
You look awesome and such a motivating blog. My weigth watcher is in my clothes as I am not a fashionista (in not fladdish) and wear classic clothes that do not age, which can become expensive. When they no longer fit or fit properly, that's my sign to get it together, girl. Th eprrof id in the pudding and not only do yo look god, you have a different outlook on life. It's all in taking that first step; then one at a time! Report
Love the cravings day. great tip. Congrats. You look great. Report
U look fab, well done I am glad u did it for your self. X Report
Way to Go! keep the great work up Report
Way to Go! keep the great work up Report
Well done!!!! Report
Congratulations hun, you look fit, healthy and a-maz-ing! Report
Congrats!!! Report
You are awesome! Congratulations :) Report
Congrats!! Picking a 'cravings day' is genius. Report
Congrats, very inspiring, thanks for sharing. Report
Wow, keep up the good work...such an inspiration Report
I love your 'stick with it secret' and your 'best tip'. I plan to use both of those techniques! I'm also going to add one more to my plan.... For every pound I lose, I am going to put away $16.00. (1 pound = 16 ounces). I recon I'll have enough money put away for some beautiful new clothes! Report
Thanks for sharing! I love the dance idea, I'm going to see if we have some dance studios here - what a great way to get my husband involved too! Report
Thanks for the inspiring encouragement! I'm going to run with it and become an role model for others just like my heroine ~ Joyce. Report
Thank you for sharing. Such a great story of success. Keep on dancing and fulfilling your dreams.
Way to go. I just started, I love the craving day. Report
I'd say my biggest "stick-with-it secret" is to not consider it optional. If it doesn't seem to be working, if I feel down, if I don't have time - there is almost always an option, a better choice I can make.

As a tip - find something other than the scale to measure by. Measuring inches tells us more, comparing our physical ability tells us more, tracking calories and seeing we ate a single serving tells us more. Report
I love your story. You found an alternative to food...dance. What a great discovery...keep dancing! Report
Good blog, and what a difference. Congratulations. Nice red dress (my fav color) Report
Great blog. I just started doing Zumba and I love it! Dancing does it for me. Thank you! Report
Great blog. Very motivating. Report
Great blog Report
A cravings day is wonderful advice. I am going to give it a try! Thanks for sharing. I can really relate to this story. Report
Great story.. Happy for you. Report
Great job ! Thanks for sharing with us ! Report
Awesome, inspiring story.. I'm going to start using that "craving day" tip. Great idea. Thanks for sharing. Cheryl Report
I am at the edge of empty nest and I am trying to reclaim my life, my body and so that you for sharing your story. II feel encouraged. Report
Wow....what a great story Report
Congratulations. Keep up the good work - very inspiring! Report
Great job Report
How encouraging. Thank you for sharing!! Report
I, too, like that cravings day idea. I think that if I piled up every item I craved (and waited until Saturday or whichever day I picked) I would be surprised and probably excited and relieved that I avoided eating that much "bad" stuff. Report
Great job. Good tips. Thanks for sharing. Report
Congrats!! Report
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