Justyna Lost 65 Pounds with a Little Help from Her SparkFriends*

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Name: Justyna Lawrence
Username: Justyna7
Amount of weight lost: 65 pounds
Hometown: Richmond, Ontario, Canada
Occupation: Bed and Breakfast Owner
Age: 53

Justyna experienced gestational diabetes with her first pregnancy which was complicated by an undiagnosed eating disorder (Bulimia) as well as being an emotional eater. Once her baby arrived she realized she needed to admit her eating was out of control and sought help. Overeater's Anonymous and their 12 steps helped Justyna realize the "dragon" in her life was real. In Alcoholics Anonymous, people learn to slay the dragon but in Overeater's Anonymous, participants have to learn how to walk the dragon three times a day.

Justyna got counseling to help her deal with her demons. She battled with yo-yo dieting through two more pregnancies after which she experienced a steady weight increase that was resulting in a ten pound weight gain every year. At her top weight of 264 pounds, walking was like walking on shards of glass. At 46 years of age, she wasn't the best candidate for knee replacements and found herself spending most of her days in an electric lift chair in a bedroom.

Learn how someone barely able to walk finally took control of her life and health once and for all by learning you can never fail at SparkPeople, you just keep practicing until you get it right.
What was your "light bulb moment" that made you get serious about losing the weight? One day I confessed to a friend that I had lost hope and didn't want to try any more. He asked me, if I could do anything, what I would like to be able to do. Because I was writing a book about the building of the Rideau Canal, I found myself saying in jest "walk the Rideau trail from Ottawa to Kingston." He made me get up, get into his truck and drove me the 40 minutes to Ottawa's downtown where he waited while I walked with two canes down to the "Richmond landing" plaque and touched the "mile zero post" then hobbled back to the truck. It was probably 100 feet further than I had walked in a long time. I spent the next three days crying in my lift chair in pain but I had done it. A few days later, he came by and said it was time to go back and continue where I had left off. It took me from April to the first snow fall in November to walk just over 10 km. The trail is 305 km long but, for the first time in years, I had a goal. Then I had my first knee replacement.

When I found SparkPeople.com I was looking on the internet for a recipe. Something about the simplicity of what Chris Downy described: the drinking water, the ten minutes a day of exercise and the eating of three to five servings of vegetables appealed to me. It was liberating. At the same time, I didn't feel like I could do a single thing consistently. I tried the water, the vegetables and the exercise and nope. I set up a SparkPage and made my SparkStreak "log in every day." I read blogs and articles. I was looking for things that people who succeeded had in common: they blogged, they did strength training, they ran a 5K (that made me laugh), they logged their food and they reached out to help others.

I did not expect to lose any weight but I was hopeful that I would find something to help me have my new knee replacement last. I did my 21 days of logging in. I joined the Diabetes team and I logged some of my food. I noticed that despite thinking I ate well I had several days where I had zero vegetables. I ate butter at every meal. I read that people with diabetes should eat lots of fiber and I looked on my logs and saw that I was eating very little fiber. When I discussed this on the diabetes team thread they suggested my diabetes knowledge (over 20 years old now) was outdated and I should talk to my doctor about a nutrition course. So I did. By spring I was reading labels to try and get enough protein, fiber and limit my carbs and when I started walking the Rideau trail again, I was able to log it on the SparkPeople maps and see my progress.

Tell us a bit about your weight-loss journey: I had no expectations to lose weight. In a thread one day a Sparker asked "where do you see yourself when you reach goal weight?" I answered "being active and eating healthy." She wrote back, "what is stopping you from doing that now?" It dawned on me that if I ate and acted now, the way I wanted to at goal weight, I would be succeeding now. I started making the smallest of changes. I started losing a half a pound a month. That would happen for a few months then I'd plateau for a few months. My goal became to lose or maintain, just not gain. Sometimes I would take on too much and trigger a self-sabotage but then I'd pull back, return to the simple water, veggies and ten minutes and get "balanced" again. Then I'd try something else.

Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn't. I have never felt like I could do things the way everyone else does because as soon as there are expectations, I falter. The irony is I'm a very strong, intelligent, competent woman who can facilitate others in reaching their goals, but when it comes to me, I get overwhelmed. SparkPeople has helped me take baby steps and inch forward. The other comfort I got was when a Sparker told me "you can never fail at SparkPeople, you just keep practicing until you get it right." That pretty much describes my journey. Try something and if it doesn't work, try something else. It is not about reaching a goal or failing but instead about discovering what I succeed at and what makes me feel better.

Did you encounter any obstacles during your journey and, if so, how did you deal with them? Life happens. I had several crises happen in my family and household. I was grateful to have a community to support me online through them and find other people with similar challenges to support. Being a regular blogger gave me an outlet. I could cry and worry out loud and admit with shame how I had turned back to food with emotional eating. However some of my SparkFriends were relentless in their positive encouragement and helped me build an attitude of gratitude. We would celebrate my successes, no matter how small. As I grew to know them, I could celebrate in their successes even when I was floundering.

Through blogs and teams, I addressed my issues. Why did I have such a problem with some foods or exercises or behaviors and what could I do about it? I found teams that were discussing the same self-help books I was using or offering challenges. There were articles that gave me insights. I found I needed a combination of routine and trying new things "outside my comfort zone" to keep motivated. I learned to do countdowns from 21 or 100 instead of counting up. I stopped expecting perfection and instead tried to accumulate successes.

This has been a process of problem solving. I hate being dependent. Getting ice crampers for my boots let me walk on ice. Getting walking poles helped me to manage walking downhill and on the rugged trails. I found a SparkFriend who loved hiking and canoeing who had a pre-weight loss picture of herself with the quote, "at a dangerous weight to the people I hiked with." The picture looked just like me. That gave me pause, realizing I was the "weakest link" in family events. I started working at getting up from the floor and strengthening my arms and core so I could safely get out of canoes myself or be responsible for my snacks and water and taking my meds on time to not be a potential problem for the people I love and care about. When I was not using some of my equipment in my basement, I moved it beside my kitchen so I could do crunches while waiting for the kettle to boil or a few arm curls while waiting for rice to cook.

What tools did you find most helpful to stay motivated? The hardest thing was throwing my expectations out the window. Exercising for just ten minutes seemed pointless but I made it a "rule" that I had to put on my running shoes for ten minutes every day. I looked up strength training exercises that were super easy and made a list (wall pushups and calf raises and crunches on a ball). I found Coach Nicole's 10 minute ball exercise video and was shocked to find the 10 minutes included the warm up and cool down. When I could think of nothing else, I planned to walk out the door for 5 minutes in any direction and then turn around and come back. Of course I balked, "I'm too tired," so I had to learn positive self-talk. "It's the rule," I would tell myself, "so put on your shoes." "I don't want to!" To which I'd reply "do it and walk out that door!" Then I'd be grumbling and tell myself, "that's enough! From here to the stop sign I am going to remind you of all the reasons I am worth this and how good it feels!" It turns out I am quite gullible. Over the years I have taken on the persona of "Super J" who over the course of several weeks took on the super abilities of trying new recipes and pushing past my normal repetitions of exercises or did 100 crunches daily for three weeks.

Sometimes I need a kick in the pants and can get that in a team that is doing a challenge or I'll meet up with a SparkFriend or I make up some crazy personal challenge. Whether it is a busy schedule, the demands of family or a crisis, I can get off track easily and I have to remember that all I need is to get started again and I will be OK. Whatever works, right?

Did you ever slip up or hit a plateau? If so, how did you overcome it? Weight is such a powerful tool. For me it is a negative one. I have no control over my weight loss. Stress and hormones and the Diabetes and medications and my own body makeup all have too much influence. Still it is easy when you start to see the scale move to get excited and then disappointed. Instead, I focus on the non-scale victories like going from a size 24 to an XL or large. I can now walk 5K and even run. I was able to cancel my second knee replacement and both knees are now strong. My blood sugars are never high. I look more toned and have confidence in myself. On the one hand I know I am a success because of the changes, but I know I'm still obese. I'm still not happy with that. I'm still trying to walk that dragon three times a day and keep it asleep the rest of the time, which is an ongoing battle. Even if I reach a normal weight I will always have an eating disorder and SparkPeople will be there to help me stay healthy.

My best thing I did was an "I Matter" list that I have on my fridge. It lists 12 things that make me feel better, from spending time outside and drinking water to taking a walk or preparing vegetables for my next meal. Whenever I "slip" I can go to the list and do something positive.

What is your typical exercise routine like? I did finish the Rideau trail. It took me 5 years and I am forever grateful for the friends and family who helped drive me. Every year I try and do something different. For my 50th birthday I did my first 5K. I have done three ten week terms on the Biggest Loser Fans SparkTeam and participated in various Challenges. I've been in a dragon boat race, tried snow shoeing gone on several canoe trips and tried aqua Zumba and other Zumba classes. I'm fortunate to have an indoor pool here at the B&B and can now swim or walk in the water. I do something active every day. My newest toy is my Spark Activity Tracker which lets me count my steps in the water or snow shoeing or on the elliptical or walking around the big box stores. I love it!

How would you describe your typical diet now as compared to before your weight loss? Before, I could not restrict my food in any way. I had to start by adding in healthy vegetables and fiber. Because I associated salads with diets, I shied away from them, so I brainstormed how to get in vegetables--frozen, soups, juice and lots of new recipes. Eventually, I started enjoying salads especially when I went out to dinner, where they were often creative and different. I started reading labels and found some choices were not the best because of salt or other ingredients but, for a while, I accepted that as a compromise. When I found a meal that worked, I kept it in my repertoire and slowly built up meals that worked for me. I also tried to freeze a "plan B" meal that I could pull out when ordering in or picking up fast food was tempting. It helped when my husband and daughter had to do an elimination diet and I was forced to find new recipes that would still meet my fiber and protein needs. I started having bed and breakfast guests with allergies, too, and I started enjoying the challenges of healthy eating. I would learn from my SparkTeams and guests about new foods. I started reading more and more labels and gradually we have become "clean" eaters, trying to eat fewer additives or sugars or "empty" carbs. We don't eat perfectly, but we eat healthier and include water with every meal.

What advice would you give to someone just beginning a weight loss program? Try something and if it works, do it again. There is nothing that works for everybody, and insanity is expecting different results when you keep doing the same thing over and over. Build your own "tool box" of routines and menus. Stress reduction and sleep should be as important as food and exercise. Have a backup "plan B" that is easy for food and exercise. Build a support group. SparkPeople is full of teams, but find ones with active threads that inspire you. Surround yourself with people who are succeeding and who you admire.

Did you experience any other benefits in addition to losing weight? Normal blood sugars and being able to do things again like dance and run and participate in all the activities I want to have given me joy. Being comfortable in airplane seats and not being afraid of breaking antique chairs and not feeling self-conscious in rooms or at events for being the largest person is a huge relief. Smaller wardrobe and even a smaller shoe size--gotta love thrift shops. Confidence and pride in my accomplishments. My children are proud of their mom. I've met new friends and have a hope that my knees will last my lifetime.

How has your life changed since losing weight and improving your health? I am happy and love life. Back then I was hiding away and not enjoying my relationships and now I thrive on them. I can celebrate my past because I have learned so many skills that I can share. I am not only a role model for my family but my healthy lifestyle has influenced them to be more active and eat well. My job as a bed and breakfast owner has me showing guests how to exercise in the pool and design customized meals for their healthy lives, which I could never imagine doing ten years ago, so I am passing my enthusiasm and knowledge along and changing others' lives every day.
Way to go Justyna! Keep on Spreading the Spark!

Have you lost weight and kept it off using SparkPeople.com? We'd love to share your story. Email us: sparkpeoplesuccess (at) gmail (dot) com

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