50 Years of Success Contest Grand Prize Winner: Sharonda

 My 30s are going to look good on me! 
*People following the Weight Watchers plan can expect to lose 1-2 pounds per week.
Sharonda was a closet fast-food junkie who had trouble sleeping and suffered from lower back and knee pain. She was coming up on 400 pounds. Then, in 2010, she saw her family’s Christmas photos and got a shocking wake-up call. She used her Christmas money to join Weight Watchers meetings, little knowing it would become the gift that kept on giving! Today she’s a fit, fabulous social butterfly and a grand prize winner of our 50 Years of Success contest.

You Only Live Once Adventure (YOLO) Prize: Co-host a segment on a national news or talk show.

In Sharonda’s words
Christmas is supposed to be a happy time. My family and I opened presents and celebrated like any other year. But a few days later, when the photos were developed, I couldn’t believe what I saw. At 381 pounds, I didn’t recognize myself. I had no idea that I looked like that, that I was that unhealthy. I realized I was in denial and living with blinders on. I just didn’t want to see that I was morbidly obese.

Because I was unemployed at the time, most of my family gave me money for Christmas. I wasn’t shopping for clothes at that point anyway, so I decided I had a choice to make. I was at a crossroads: I could either continue down the same road — risking diabetes, hypertension and any number of other conditions — or I could choose the road toward health. I’d recently seen the Jennifer Hudson commercials where she sang “It’s a New Day,” and I thought, “She’s right. It is a new day.” She and I are both from the South Side of Chicago, so I saw a lot of similarities in our stories. I thought if she could do it, I could do it. So I used the Christmas money to join Weight Watchers meetings.

Before Weight Watchers
My food habits were awful. I would never eat breakfast — or if I did it would be at 1:00 in the afternoon and it would be four or five eggs with cheese, sausage, toast, jelly and butter. Then before I knew it I was hungry again, snacking on chips and then hitting the drive thru — without telling anyone where I was going. I’d get three or four cheeseburgers and a large lemonade, then come home and eat whatever my mom had made for dinner. It was my little secret. I didn’t go out much because of my size. When you’re over 300 pounds it’s difficult to walk. That made me mad, which made me want to eat more. It was a vicious cycle. I tried all sorts of diets, but I could never stick with them. I needed something sustainable that I could live with.

Getting started in the kitchen

eTools were a huge help for me along the way. I’d use Cheat Sheets, recipes and the Recipe Builder on WeightWatchers.com to cook healthy, yet satisfying meals that didn’t leave me feeling deprived. I’m a burger girl and I like Mexican food, and there are options there on WeightWatchers.com. There’s no way to make this work long term if you don’t eat the foods you love.

I’m from a family that cooks. My mom would often cook vegetables, but I wouldn’t eat them — ever. But little by little I started cooking Weight Watchers recipes that incorporate veggies. I sort of made it a game for myself to pick out the fresh ingredients, cook the meal and try to get it to look just like the picture in the cookbook or the Weight Watchers Weekly. My family would be so impressed. They’d say, “This is from Weight Watchers?!” I sometimes feel like I’m a chef on a cooking show! I appreciate food more now because I know the time that went into making it. And now I eat vegetables every day.

Meetings matter
The meetings are amazing. It’s like a community because there are people there from all walks of life, but we all have the same goal: to lose weight. You learn so much from the others who are going through the same struggles as you. If you have an unexpected gain, everyone is there to help. My Leader, Jamie, has been one of my biggest supporters.

Building up endurance
When I started Weight Watchers, I couldn’t walk a block without stopping to catch my breath. But I started working out at a gym and little by little I built up my endurance. Now I take spin classes and jog regularly. But I’ve got to say my biggest accomplishment is running the SkyRise Chicago event. I ran 103 flights up to the top of the Willis Tower in 31 minutes and 50 seconds. I will never forget that number. That’s something I hope to one day tell my kids about.

The best part
One thing I’m grateful for is not having to think about fitting into seats anymore. Sometimes when I sit down in a chair it hits me that I didn’t even think about it. I don’t need a seatbelt extension on a plane.

I remember I got tickets to see Oprah during her last season. It was the episode where the cast of The Color Purple was going to be on. I felt like I won the lotto! But my first thought was, “Will I be able to sit down?” That’s not how a 20-something person should be living.

But the absolute best part about losing the weight is my attitude. I’m a social butterfly by nature, but was using my weight as a shield. I didn’t want to go out or be seen. Now I’m going out with friends and really living my life. My 30s are going to look good on me!