Marla didn't learn much about nutrition growing up. Her family dinners consisted mainly of meatloaf, spaghetti, pot roast and usually some canned veggies on the side—and always chocolate cake. It wasn't until after she moved away from home that Marla became more conscious of what she didn't like about her body. That negative body image triggered a vicious cycle of fad diets, exercise binges and yo-yo dieting, which continued for several years.
"I now know that I was a normal girl who decided she was fat," Marla says.
After Marla's first marriage ended, her bad eating habits became extreme, leading to an eight-year battle with an eating disorder, all in the interests of achieving the long-coveted status of "skinny.” Working as a nursing home administrator, Marla saw firsthand the devastating effects of poor health, but she refused to face the dangers of her own unhealthy diet.
"I knew I was doing it all wrong, but I was young, time was on my side and I considered myself healthy because, in my mind, 'healthy' equaled 'skinny,'" Marla says. "As long as I didn’t go above a certain number on the scale, I thought I was healthy."
When Marla remarried, her husband encouraged her to break free of her eating disorder. She slid back into her childhood habits as her weight crept higher and higher. A typical day might include a breakfast of chocolate doughnuts, a skipped lunch and a microwaved low-calorie meal for dinner. She drank soda all day long, and she always saved room for dessert.
Together, Marla and her husband steadily gained weight. "We really had no concept of the power of food, for good or bad," she says. "My mother had died at an early age from diabetes, so I knew my risk was higher than average, but I felt like I had no control over the outcome."
The Wake-Up Call
One day, after an appointment with the pediatrician, Marla's daughter told her that the doctor had asked if her mom had always been fat. That was enough to motivate Marla to join a gym, where she was surprised to discover that she loved fitness—so much, in fact, that she eventually purchased the business.
"I loved learning about fitness, and I was anxious to help others—but I still didn’t have the food piece of the puzzle," says Marla. "Keeping my weight within normal limits was a constant battle, and one that I consistently lost."
Like many other people struggling with their weight, Marla's "a-ha" moment came while looking through pictures of herself, not liking what she saw and realizing she could no longer chalk it up to bad camera angles. "I had thought I was maintaining a healthy weight, but it was pretty obvious I wasn't," Marla says. "Here I was, a 'health professional' who wasn't walking the walk."
The Missing Piece of the Puzzle
Marla's crash course in nutrition started with a bout of pancreatitis. While researching the best ways to heal herself and prevent a recurrence, she saw a common theme of maintaining a healthy eating plan. After stumbling onto a documentary about the benefits of a plant-based diet, she decided to give it a try.
At the same time, she discovered SparkPeople. "The motivational success stories gave me hope, and the tracking tools made it easy to get started," Marla says. "It all made sense. It was the missing piece!"
The Winning Recipe
The secret to Marla's 100-pound weight loss wasn't a fad diet or extreme eating restrictions. "I just eat real food," she says. "I gradually cut out processed foods and learned to crowd out meat with extra vegetables, fruits and grains, and started drinking water. I looked for ways to nourish my body and use food as fuel." She steers clear of animal protein, dairy, white flour and processed sugar, and also avoids packaged and processed foods as much as possible.
Marla does allow herself a "cheat day" once a week, although even her splurge foods have become much healthier than they used to be. She's more likely to snack on mixed nuts, avocados or apples rather than Oreos, for example.
"The key was finding something that works for me," she says. "Everyone has different needs and tastes. After a lifetime of struggling with food, I was finally enjoying what I ate, and feeling great." In addition to the weight loss, Marla was pleasantly surprised by the side perks of her new diet. She wakes up feeling rested and refreshed, has more energy throughout the day and no longer suffers from the headaches, mood swings and cravings that plagued her before the switch.
Marla's 7 Weight Loss Tips
As someone who has struggled with yo-yo dieting and weight fluctuations, Marla knows that consistency is key to maintaining her new physique. We asked her for some tips to keeping the weight off.
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