Weight loss isn't easy. It's a long road riddled with obstacles, and the toll is hard work, discipline and sacrifice. That's why at SparkPeople, we spend a lot of time celebrating our members who have achieved their health and fitness goals. Over the years, we've featured dozens of real-life success stories—motivated men and women who had the courage and persistence to not only change their lives, but in many cases, to save their lives.
The stories don't stop after the weight comes off. Every so often, we like to check in with our past success stories to find out how they're maintaining their new lifestyles, what challenges they've faced and what advice they have for future Spark successes.
Nicole Lagomarsino-Nguyen (LOSLUNAS)
From: Albuquerque, NM
Original weight loss: 89 pounds
When we featured Nicole's original success story in 2013, she had lost 89 pounds after a long struggle with anxiety and depression. Today, she has gained back eight pounds, but it was an intentional move for her health. At 102 pounds, Nicole was slightly underweight for her 5'2" frame, so she added weight training to increase her muscle mass. "I wear the same size clothing that I wore when I was eight pounds lighter, but I carry more muscle," says Nicole. "I feel stronger at 110 than I did before."
Nicole's battle with anxiety and depression is ongoing, but exercise has helped. She works out six days a week, combining full-body strength training sessions, Pilates, boxing and cardio sessions. For her cardio, she prefers the elliptical, bike and incline treadmill, and also hikes with her dogs. "I challenge myself to get 15,000to 25,000 steps per day," she says. "My motto is 'ABM,' Always Be Moving! I walk in place while folding laundry, dance while dusting, doing yard work—anything to stay active throughout the day." Each week, she takes one day off exercise so her body can rest.
Nicole is also vigilant about sticking to a healthy diet, consuming between 1,400-1,700 calories a day. Since her last success story, she has chosen to become a vegetarian. For breakfast, she has a glass of almond milk, Greek yogurt and two eggs. For lunch, she typically has more almond milk, an apple and organic sprouted bread with peanut butter and fig butter. For dinner, she has lentils and kidney beans with cheese and sauerkraut over a bed of steamed veggies, or tofu with sweet potatoes. Snacks consist of nuts and an organic protein bar, a spinach salad with nuts or a bowl of organic cereal with fruit. "I allow myself a 'free day' on Sunday to eat whatever I want," she says. "It keeps me satisfied and prevents binges."
In addition to the weight loss, Nicole is thrilled with her newfound strength and endurance: "I can lift heavier weights and do pull-ups now. I like coming up with new challenges to keep things exciting, like biking a certain number of miles or hitting a number of elliptical strides in an hour."
Nicole says the only downside of the weight loss is excess skin, which remains despite how well she eats or how much muscle she builds. Instead of considering surgery—which carries more risk and cost than she's comfortable with—Nicole has decided to carry the skin as a reminder of how far she has come and how hard she has worked.
SparkPeople plays a big role in keeping Nicole motivated to maintain her healthy lifestyle. "The food and exercise trackers keep me on track, and I love all the other resources," she says. "I can look up calories, read new and interesting articles, be inspired by other people's successes and help inspire others if I can." Nicole's other secret weapon? She keeps a pair of her old size 18 pants as a reminder of where she never wants to return.
Steve and Debbie Cartwright (SAC-6582 and DEBARIZONA)
From: Peoria, AZ
Original weight loss: 180 pounds (Steve) and 87 pounds (Debbie)
When we featured Steve and Debbie's original weight loss story in February of 2015, the couple had been battling some serious health issues. Today, Steve is no longer taking any medications for diabetes or blood pressure, and Debbie is also med-free after winning her fight against breast cancer.
For the most part, the pair has maintained their significant weight loss, but not without some setbacks. They gained a few pounds while traveling last year, and Steve has noticed a slowdown in his metabolism. "Even staying within my daily calorie goal of 1,850 to 2,250, I have to rethink what I'm doing as my body fights to return to its previous state," he says. "I'm having to rethink my metabolic level and how much I can eat. I’ve had to lower my calorie intake to lose the few pounds I put back on."
Debbie helps keep them on track with meal planning. "To cut down on unplanned eating, we often log a lot of our meals several days in advance," she says. "We eat to fuel our bodies, not just to feel full." That said, the couple is the first to admit they're not perfect. Debbie admits that she sometimes "rebels" against the advance planning and has to resist snacking or using food as a reward.
The Cartwrights eat a substantial breakfast nearly every morning, which includes eggs, protein shakes, oatmeal or cereal. Lunch is often a sandwich and fruit. For dinner, Debbie cooks a healthy meal with lean meat (or a meatless protein source); a starch such as a potato, pasta or rice; and a vegetable. They limit their starch portions to a half cup of rice or half of a potato. "This allows us to have a small dish of ice cream or some other dessert, usually something made with a fruit or vegetable, like an apple cake or a crustless pumpkin pie."
For Debbie, the biggest challenge has been resisting foods at various meetings and parties. "I have to be careful to put aside the messages in my head that tell me, 'You’ve lost all this weight and worked so hard, surely a little of this or that won’t hurt, and you deserve it!'" she says. "I have to remind myself that I deserve to be healthy, and that nothing tastes as good as healthy feels."
Steve is still walking five miles per day. He's also currently training for a half marathon, which consists of running three days a week and strength training two or three days. His position as a facility director keeps him moving and lifting a lot throughout the day. Debbie runs two or three miles three days per week, strength-trains a day or two per week and does yoga once or twice per week. She's also physically active in her job.
Both Steve and Debbie are enjoying their toned physiques and higher energy levels. Debbie also loves the increased flexibility and balance she gets from doing yoga. The couple also enjoys participating in 5K and 10K races. "For both of us, the best achievement is just being able to keep up with the pace of life and the physical demands of our jobs," says Debbie.
SparkPeople continues to play a big role in the Cartwrights' success. "Getting into the habit of tracking food was a game-changer for us," Debbie says. "While it was a lot of work at first, once we got so many of our favorite, recurring foods and recipes into the program, it was so much easier." Given their competitive nature they also enjoy racking up SparkPoints. When friends and family members ask for advice with their own lifestyle changes, Steve and Debbie send them straight to SparkPeople.
Mike Honkomp (HONKUS)
From: Cincinnati, OH
Original weight loss: 67 pounds
Mike Honkomp isn't just a valued member of the SparkPeople staff—he's also a real-life success story. Since his original transformation, Mike has maintained his 67-pound weight loss—but while the scale looks the same as it did three years ago, his body composition has evolved.
"When I lost the initial weight, I hadn’t really built much muscle," he says. "Since then, I've started lifting more weights and running longer distances. Overall, I’d guess I lost about 100 pounds of fat and gained 30 pounds of muscle."
Now an avid racer, Mike has run four half marathons this year. "I never expected to have the fitness level to consistently run that distance," he says. His next event will be the Flying Pig Three Way with Extra Cheese in May, which consists of a one-mile race on Friday, a 10k and 5k on Saturday and the half-marathon on Sunday. During training season, Mike plans to run in a couple of other local races.
In addition to his three weekly runs, Mike lifts weights five days a week, hitting each major muscle group once or twice a week. He has also recently started incorporating 20 minutes of yoga and stretching into his routine. "I’ve definitely noticed more muscle mass and tone this past year," he says. "I have defined pecs and even a hint of abs, which I never expected to have. I'm quite happy and proud of what I've accomplished."
Mike has maintained a healthy diet since 2013. He tries to limit each meal to 600 calories, and snacks to 150 or 200 calories. Meals are heavy on protein and vegetables and lighter on carbs, although he does add more carbs when running longer distances. "I try to limit pre-packaged foods and make fresh meals whenever possible," says Mike. He has also cut back on alcohol, as he finds that even just one drink tends to loosen his control over food intake.
As a SparkPeople employee, Mike enjoys the perks of an in-office gym, encouragement from his co-workers and the flexibility to incorporate exercise into his workday. He continues to use the fitness and nutrition trackers every day.
Barbara Whitehead (ONEKIDSMOM)
From: Lincoln, NE
Original weight loss: 100 pounds
Hundreds of our members were inspired by Barbara's inspiring 2013 story of losing 100 pounds and becoming a triathlete. At 64 years old, she recently qualified—for the fourth year in a row—to compete at the Olympic distance in the USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships.
Barbara's weekly workouts start with four or five daily walks, along with the specific requirements of her current training regimen. She is preparing to run her first full marathon in October, which entails about three runs, one day of swimming or biking and one day of strength training per week. Barbara has maintained her 100-pound weight loss, and also enjoys the definition in her legs and arms: "I've become accustomed over the years to my slim and fit silhouette, and yes, I like it."
Far from deprivation, Barbara's daily diet consists of a lot of her favorite foods. Breakfast is typically steel-cut oats slow simmered in skim milk with chia and flax seed and two servings of fruit. For a mid-morning snack, she'll have a half ounce of raw nuts, fat-free yogurt and an apple. Lunch is a garden salad—spiced with oregano, fresh ground pepper and olives instead of dressing—and a small entrée, either a half-sandwich or a vegan soup. Her mid-afternoon snack might be baby carrots, an orange and a string cheese stick. For dinner, she usually has three ounces of fish or meat and a starch, like potato or rice. "That's about as stable as it gets—all foods I like, varying fruits and veggies based on what's in season," she says. "Oh, and I make a great veggie soup for fillers with supper."
After succumbing to emotional eating for most of her life, Barbara feels that the struggle is, for the most part, behind her. "I do still eat for comfort at times, but it's a conscious choice, not a knee-jerk reaction," she says. "When I do eat for comfort, I'm less likely to panic over it and continue for very long." To help her stay aware and to make the right decisions, Barbara relies on the Beck Diet Solution Spark team as well as two books: Judith Beck's "The Beck Diet Solution" and Barbara Berkeley's "Refuse to Regain!"
Barbara's journey hasn't been without its setbacks. Recently, she took a tumble during a run and suffered a concussion. Although she was sidelined for a couple of weeks, she was back up and running much sooner than she would have been pre-weight loss. "I attribute my quick recovery to being very fit at the point at which the injury occurred," says Barbara.
Barbara's biggest source of motivation is sharing her stories with the SparkPeople community. She interacts daily with other maintainers in the At Goal & Maintaining + Transition to Maintenance Spark team, follows many members' blogs and also blogs about her own experiences. "Blogging the good, the bad and the ugly—and getting support from my Spark community of kindred spirits—reminds me of how important it is to eat properly. It's no longer for weight loss, but it's for good health, for feeling good and for my beloved events." Barbara considers SparkPeople her "safe space," where she can work through her issues and get back on track whenever she strays.
Next up on Barbara's bucket list is completing a 70.3-mile triathlon. "It's a pretty steep goal, but I'm amazed at how far I've come already, and you never know until you take it on, right?”