Bright Lights, Big Waistline
Rachel Russell went from over-weight and out of work to healthy professional in just 18 months
Name: Rachel Russell
Height: 5′ 6 1/2″
Pounds lost: 63
Moment when I knew I was a success: Dropping from a size 14 to a size 2 in just a year and a half, and having the cute little Betsey Johnson dresses to prove it.
Straight out of college, I moved toNew York Cityto become an actress. I reveled in the razzle-dazzle excitement ofManhattan, especially the exotic restaurants and the nightlife, but I also adopted a lifestyle that, over the years, became less of a dazzle and more of a dud.
My best friend and I founded a small Shakespearean theater company, and after-rehearsal and after-show socializing with our fellow actors came with the theatrical territory. Working as an executive assistant by day and running a theater company by night left little time for exercise; in my precious free time, I just wanted to plop down with a cigarette and relax.
I’d picked up smoking when I was about 18, and my habit peaked at about a half a pack a day. Since moving toNew York City, my weight had crept up by about 15 pounds, thanks to all the late-night socializing over drinks and snacks and those day-after salt cravings for heavy bacon-and-egg breakfasts at the neighborhood diner. I wanted to quit smoking, but I knew that you usually gain weight when you give it up, and that’s the last thing I needed.
The Candle Burns Out
Then, in 2001, it seemed my whole life started collapsing around me: My theater company folded and my day job ended. Over the course of the next 2 years, my weight jumped from a still respectable 150 to an obviously heavy 185. Even my cat got fat! Finding a job seemed daunting. After all, none of my clothes fit well enough to put together even one acceptable interview outfit, much less an office wardrobe. My mother promised that if I made the trip home toWashington,DC, she’d take me shopping and buy me some new clothes. Great, I thought, until we were standing in the department store and she put back on the rack everything I pulled out to try on. “You can’t get away with that color at your weight,” she’d say. I was hurt, but the truth was, she was right.
I returned toNew Yorkand it hit me full force how dissatisfied I was with everything in my life, from my weight to my smoking. I had been thinking about making changes, but it had all seemed so overwhelming. Now, without work or theater company distractions, I realized it was time to take action.
Because I’m kind of stubborn, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to stick to anybody else’s plan, even a famous one like Atkins or the Zone. Instinct told me that I had to do it the old-fashioned, commonsense way: counting calories.
Staying In, Slimming Down
One of the most important changes I made was to stop going out with friends during the week. With the average 6-ounce glass of wine most places inManhattanserve, simply avoiding wine at dinner eliminated one unnecessary source of calories. (After all, two glasses of Sauvignon Blanc add up to about 275 calories.)
After that, the rest of my diet just fell into place. I’d start off my day with a plain or fruit yogurt or a Slim-Fast creamy milk chocolate shake, and trade in a slice of white toast for healthier whole grain. I replaced my midafternoon Ben & Jerry’s with an orange and some strawberries, and I axed 300 more empty calories by dropping my late-night kitchen cabinet raid for sour-cream-and-onion potato chips and heading for bed instead. Lunch was usually takeout: a design-your-own salad piled high with dark, leafy greens such as spinach and arugula, topped off with a little taste of chickpeas, mushrooms, broccoli, beets, crunchy sesame noodles, feta cheese, and balsamic vinaigrette. I began cooking wonderful stir-fries and pastas at home, and the colorful plates of steamed carrots, onions, asparagus, and snow peas proved so enticing that even one of my cats began to crave veggies–his favorite is now asparagus.
Following my years in the limelight, the most difficult challenge was simply learning how to stay home and relax. I curled up on my bed with my two kitties and caught up on reading The New Yorker. I bought plants for my apartment and took great care to nurture them. And I got especially hooked on the latest political news on TV. Weekends became the time to socialize; instead of going out on the town, my girlfriends and I would meet at each other’s apartments to cook and catch up.
Giving Up Smoking
After only 1 month, I’d lost almost 15 pounds and felt strong enough to take the next big step: I stopped smoking! Not only did I not gain weight when I quit, but each healthy choice seemed to have a domino effect in boosting my self-esteem. I stuck to my unofficial “nonplan” plan, and the pounds kept dropping off.
I already loved walking the streets and parks ofManhattan, so I decided to make power walking my primary exercise. At least three times a week–in the evening on weekdays, or in the early afternoons on the weekend–I’d cross from my midtown apartment over to the waterfront on12th Avenue, walk down to14th Street, and turn around and walk back, a distance of more than 5 miles. Unlike most joggers and cyclists I encountered, I didn’t clip on a Walkman or an iPod. Who needs music when you have the thrilling sounds of theHudsonwaterfront, the cars on the West Side Highway whizzing by on one side, and the boats and cruise ships pulling into the port on the other? On the tough days when I was tired and unmotivated, I’d watch the sun glimmering on the surface of the river, and I’d remind myself what a treat it is to live on an island–something that most New Yorkers never stop long enough to enjoy.
In addition to those power walks, I maintain my fitness by commuting on foot to my new job as an executive assistant at an investment bank that’s 1 mile across town. I walk briskly, but I’m careful not to break a sweat in one of my new fitted Ann Taylor suits. I tried the gym a few times, too. I didn’t do anything too fancy–no trainer, just running on the treadmill and working out with weights. But I never really learned to enjoy it, so I decided to just stick with what I like: walking.
I dropped about 31/2 pounds a month, on average, and though my weight seemed to plateau a few times, I made the conscious decision not to stress out about it. In fact, I allowed myself to have a package of chips on weekends.
My strategy has paid off, because I’ve had no major setbacks (knock on wood). The difficult part was just becoming ready to change my life.
In just a year and a half, I’ve lost 63 pounds. The hard work is done. I’m no longer on a strict, low-calorie diet. I keep trim by walking a lot and eating colorful, healthy foods. Though I didn’t set out to lose that much–it would have seemed impossible at the time–I weigh less now than I ever have in my adult life: 122 pounds. My cat, however, hasn’t been so successful. He’s still on a diet, and he’s not too happy about it.
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