Name: Lisa Valentino
Height: 5 feet, 4 inches
Before Weight: 300-plus pounds
How I Gained It: Growing up, I never had a weight problem. I remember being bigger than my friends but not by much. If most of them wore a size two, then I was wearing a four. It wasn’t until I was married in 1993 that I started gaining weight quickly. The problems started when I rushed to the altar after losing both my parents. I thought getting married would erase the pain I felt from losing them, but I couldn’t have been more wrong.
It was an unhappy marriage from the beginning. I kept telling myself it would get better, but it never did. So I started using food as a go-to when I needed comfort. I continued to eat and eat, because when I did, I could temporarily escape the pain that had infiltrated my life. Food was my friend — it never yelled at me or made me feel bad. It was my comfort zone. My food addiction escalated when later on in my marriage, I discovered that my husband had been unfaithful, and although he gave me three beautiful children, I had to face the truth that my marriage was over.
When I look back at that time in my life, I thought I was okay, but I wasn’t. I was killing myself with food. I was always making sure other people were happy while I totally neglected myself. During the 17 years of my marriage, I continued to gain weight, finally topping off at 300 pounds when I reached the worst point of my life. I kept hoping it would all just change suddenly — my weight, my state of extreme unhappiness, the hopelessness I felt.
Breaking Point: I was a stay-at-home mom who lived and breathed the same routine everyday. I would wake up, take care of the kids, clean the house and repeat. A little over a year ago, I sat down to watch “Oprah” one weekday morning and saw her interview a young woman who had been diagnosed with stage-four terminal cancer. I’ll never forget the words that she spoke: “We’re all going to die, but how many of us actually can say we lived?” Those words forever changed my life.
I knew then I wanted to change my life — I wanted to be happy and feel special, and I was the person to make that happen. It wasn’t just about my weight, but it was about making me happy. I started by watching what I ate and how much I ate. I did a lot of soul searching and put out a lot of positives, which I got back in return.
Little by little, I started changing my life, but no matter how hard it got, I never stopped believing that I could do it for a minute. I compare my journey to climbing a rock wall. You see the top of the wall, and you want to get there so badly, but you don’t know how, so sometimes you just put it at the back of your mind and continue to go about your life as usual. Once you decide to climb that wall, you know you’re going to slip a little, but you just get back to where you started and keep on going. I finally reached the top of that wall, and when I got to the top, it was the best feeling in the world. Now when I look in the mirror, I like what I see.
How I Lost It: I began reducing my portions and eating only healthy food and also added a pre-exercise drink, Celsius, to my diet 15 minutes before workouts. The drink made a dramatic change in how quickly I lost weight by giving me energy to work out longer. But it wasn’t a secret miracle diet or anything — the hard part was up to me. I watched what I ate, I counted calories and I became as active as possible.
Whether it was just going to the gym or going for a walk, I was always focused on moving my body. I also limited my calorie intake to 1,000 to 1,300 calories per day. It takes discipline to be successful, and I followed a few important rules — for instance, I never drink my calories, and if I want junk food, then I will make other sacrifices. Everyone wants to know the secret, but it’s really just common sense: If you watch your calorie intake and start moving your body, you’ll start to lose weight.
In the end, it’s all about remembering to take care of yourself and not forgetting to put yourself first. The journey is tough, and there are a lot of ups and downs, but you have to focus on using your mind to overcome the negatives. I now take “me” time every day to do something I enjoy, like going to the gym. Losing the weight and finally getting to a place where you feel good is all about willpower. It’s not just about how you look on the outside — you have to feel good on the inside, too. Now when I look in the mirror, I not only like what I see, but I love how I feel.
After Weight: 120 pounds
Lisa has maintained her weight loss for more than a year.