As told to Katerina Savvides
In early March 2019, my voice shook as I stood among 30 people in a WW Studio and tried to answer the question I’d just been asked to answer: "What does success mean to you?" I swallowed, running my fingers over the charm I’d just received for losing my fiftieth pound.
Sure, I’d lost a huge amount of weight—and I did it without drinking gross smoothies or eliminating entire food groups. But I still struggled to explain all the other ways my life had changed in the past weeks and months. I had more energy, I was sleeping better, and my snoring had subsided. For the first time in years, I had the confidence to show my arms and smile at people I passed in the halls at work.
To my surprise, I actually kept it together as I spoke and when I let my last sentence drop off, applause filled the silence.
It wasn’t until I slipped back into my parked car that my accomplishment set in. I opened up Instagram, where I'd been documenting my weight loss journey, and hit record to share the news.
When I posted my video with the hashtag #WWFreestyle, the views began pouring in. Hundreds turned into thousands until my post racked up more than 108,000 views with more than 700 comments from people telling how much I’d inspired them. Me!
My weight issues began my senior year of high school in 2012 after I got my driver's license. Instead of eating lunch at school, I began to take my car to the drive-thru and grab burgers and French fries. After graduation, I commuted to my college campus from home and continued to rely on fast foods, causing my weight to steadily increase. The more weight I gained, the more antisocial I became: Worried people would notice the way my body was changing, I'd skip nights out with friends, family parties, and even Thanksgiving. I had no desire to dress up and constantly felt self-conscious.
In an effort to lose weight, I’d try extreme diets like a 10-day green smoothie cleanse, but the moment I stopped, I’d fall back into old habits and gain back all the weight I'd lost. For accountability, in November 2016, I started an Instagram page and YouTube channel where I posted about my progress. Although I appreciated the community, by the time I graduated college in May 2017, I was still stuck in the same rut.
It wasn’t until October 2018, while scrolling through Instagram late one night, I came upon a woman named Felicia (@feliciafitnesshealth) who had been on WW since May 2017 and lost 140 pounds**. Her food photos looked so good that the next morning, I went to the nearest WW Studio to sign up.
Taking the first step
When I pulled into the parking lot, I froze. Instead of exiting the car, I decided to direct message Felicia, who responded right away: “Go in. It’ll be fine. You’ll like it!” she wrote.
Her encouragement reassured me until I walked into the Studio, lingering near the Wellness Check-in area for upwards of 10 minutes as I watched seasoned members meet with their WW Guides privately and weigh in. With proof that no one’s weight was broadcast aloud, I felt ready to step on the scale. Although I never felt judged, when I realized I weighed close to 300 pounds, disappointment washed over me.
As I crept toward the back row of seating in my first ever WW Workshop, and the Coach kicked things off, I immediately felt a sense of belonging. When members around me chimed in on the conversation, I could totally relate to the way they’d been thinking and feeling. It was like I’d found my safe place.
Changing my habits
Because I'd been working 12-hour night shifts at a hospital and knew that planning meals and snacks would be the key to my success on the program, after my first Workshop, I made a grocery list and went food shopping to kick things off.
Early on, I relied on frozen meals for convenience. The biggest changes I made were using the WW App to track them, and choosing healthier snacks like pre-portioned bags of light potato chips to munch on at work.
Even though I was only making little tweaks, my weight dropped steadily throughout my first month. It was then I realized that while I could eat frozen meals and lose weight, I simply didn’t want to spend over 15 SmartPoints a single meal. So I switched to a lighter brand of frozen meals that left me with 5 SmartPoints to spare.
Inspired by the homemade recipes I saw on Instagram, I decided to try making some of my own dinners: I followed a recipe for a healthy casserole and another for chili. Both were so good! Plus they were much lower in SmartPoints values and salt content than my old premade standbys.
What Justyn Ate Then vs. Now
|Breakfast||Small packaged cakes or brownies||Scrambled eggs with turkey sausage|
|Lunch||Fast-food burgers, French fries, chicken fingers, fried chicken||Frozen meals selected using the WW App’s barcode scanner|
|Dinner||Frozen pizza, cheesy sandwiches||Homemade chicken pot pie casserole, cheeseburger casserole, or slow-cooker turkey chili|
|Snacks||Frozen pizza rolls, peanut butter cups, and soft-serve ice cream||Individual snack-sized bags of light chips or crackers, chocolate rice cakes, or frozen yogurt bars|
In February, three months after I walked into my first Workshop, my weight plateaued. Discouraged, I skipped three Workshops in a row until I realized that showing up might help. When I returned to my Studio, a Coach helped me realize the cause of my stalled progress: On busy days, which came up regularly, I’d been defaulting to fast food. Understanding the way my choices affected my outcomes helped me make tweaks and move in the right direction.
Goals after going viral
When my fifty-pound weight loss video began to go viral, it felt surreal. I’d been looking to others for inspiration for so long that it was hard to believe people on Instagram—plus YouTube and Connect where I also posted my video—have begun to look up to me.
Although I still have 100 more pounds to lose, I’m focusing on small goals: For instance, I want to start eating more fruits and vegetables, bringing homemade dinner leftovers to work for lunch, and going to the gym regularly.
Along the way, I have every intention of continuing to celebrate non-scale victories, like the way my bath towel wraps around a little more of my body each day.
I’m keeping myself honest by sharing my ups and downs with my social media followers. After all, we’re on this journey together. If mine has taught me anything, it's that anyone can muster up the strength to reach their goals.
*People following the WW program can expect to lose 1-2 pounds/week.
**Felicia lost weight on a prior program and continued on WW Freestyle.