How a “Total Dessert Queen” Keeps Up Her Healthy Habits
*People following the WW program can expect to lose 1-2 pounds/week. Sara, WW Coach, lost weight on a prior program and is continuing on WeightWatchers.
As told to Katerina Gkionis
I was an active 11-year-old sixth grader when I was diagnosed with scoliosis. For the next three years, I had to wear a corrective back brace that extended from my neck to my hips. Though I was allowed to remove the brace for an hour or two each day for dancing or swimming—two activities I loved—my overall mobility was limited, and I could always feel people staring at me. That experience took a toll.
My parents were sympathetic and wanted me to be happy, so trips to the local ice cream shop became our thing. Cones, sundaes, sweets—I turned into a total dessert queen. What I didn’t realize was that I was using food to comfort myself and deal with difficult emotions. Even after the brace came off for good and I returned to my former activity levels, that habit sort of stayed with me.
I met my future husband in my late teens, then got married at 21. This was followed by a move from Chicago to New York City and two pregnancies within a few years. Life was moving fast. Like many moms, I had trouble finding time to care for myself. My daughters were my main priority.
One thing I loved to do was bake. Ooey-gooey cakes, pies, and cookies were always in our kitchen. Growing up, I was taught the rules of the “clean plate club”—finish your meal and you’ll get dessert. So something sweet always came right after dinner. In adulthood, I came to think of dessert as my reward for getting through those busy, nonstop days of parenting two young girls.
My approach to “weight management” at the time was to cut back on meals—I convinced myself this was the easiest way. Never mind that it usually backfired. I’d skip lunch and feel so hungry by dinner that I’d end up eating multiple servings of crackers and cheese over the sink as I prepared the meal.
It was only when my daughters hit their teens that life calmed down a little and I was able to think about making some healthy changes for myself. Both girls started attending dance classes a few doors down from a WW Studio, which sort of planted the seed for me. When I ran into a friend at the grocery store who told me she had recently joined WW and was having success with it, I decided to sign up, as well.
Done with deprivation
It was mid-January 2011 when I walked into my first WW Workshop. At first, I was a little confused to hear members talking about all the incredible meals they were eating—after all, here I was trying to slash calories by skipping meals. Everyone in my Workshop seemed to be eating flavorful Mediterranean recipes and pasta bakes!
I also appreciated how supportive everyone was. At one point someone joked, “WeightWatchers don’t count if you’re eating over the sink, right?” I had to laugh—this was too real. The other members chimed in with lots of helpful tips on eating more mindfully.
So that first week, I felt inspired to try some new things—starting with lunch. Each day I pulled a real plate from the cupboard, made myself a salad or sandwich, and actually sat down to enjoy it. By dinner, I wasn’t ravenous, and I didn’t need the cheese and crackers to hold me over until dinner. The Recipe Builder tool was super handy for figuring out the WeightWatchers values of the dishes I made.
What Sara ate then vs. now
|Toaster pastries, large glass of orange juice, and coffee with heavy cream and sugar|
Savory oatmeal bowl with rolled oats, chopped baby spinach, diced onion, smoked turkey, whole grain mustard, and poached egg; coffee with fat-free milk
Kale salad with red onion, sliced orange, grilled chicken, goat cheese, and low-sugar dried cranberries with light balsamic vinaigrette; deli-sliced buffalo chicken on wheat bread with lettuce, tomato, cucumber, and spicy brown mustard, plus a side of WW Nacho Tortilla Chips
Pasta heaped with grated cheese; cheese-covered burrito supreme
Filet mignon with roasted Brussels sprouts and a baked potato or sourdough bread; Greek-style grilled chicken over quinoa with tomato-cucumber salad, tzatziki, and baked falafel
Sleeve of crackers and half a block of cheese; chocolate chip cookies; cakes; pies
Sliced banana with powdered peanut butter and rainbow sprinkles; sliced cucumber with hummus and sriracha; fresh raspberries, mango slices, pineapple chunks, and grapes
Stepping it up
By my second week on WW, I knew I wanted to incorporate more movement into my days. I decided to try indoor walking workouts, which appealed to me for a couple of reasons: For starters, I didn’t have to force myself outside into the cold and snow. I also liked not having to worry about strangers watching me—a lingering concern from my years in the brace. I started with a 15-minute walking video. From there, I added a few minutes each session.
By the end of March, I was 10 pounds* down and feeling more confident. The weather was finally warming up, and the girls’ spring lacrosse season got under way. During their practice sessions, I walked laps around the perimeter of the field instead of sitting on the sidelines with the other parents. Some of the moms eventually joined me. It was fun—I started a trend!
By the summer, I was ready for maintenance mode thanks to all the healthy habits I had picked up along the way. For instance, I learned that if I track my breakfast in the morning, I’m likely to keep tracking for the rest of that day. Even now, tracking is still the big habit that keeps me accountable. It helps me understand what’s going into my body. It also helps me figure out ways to fit in my indulgences, which I’ve discovered is a must!
When it comes to baking, I like to get creative. Sometimes I’ll make a lightened-up dessert like cheesecake using low-fat cottage cheese and a fresh fruit topping, or I’ll just budget my WeightWatchers for whatever it is I really want. No offense to black bean brownies, but sometimes I’d prefer the real thing!
A big difference is that I no longer use sweets to soothe my emotions. If I’m having a stressful day, I’ll go for a walk or short jog. Or I’ll pop in one of my workout videos and clear my head that way. I still love baking, but I’ve learned to see dessert for what it is—a delicious treat, not a cure-all. I plan for it, enjoy it, and track it.
New foods I love
Through this journey, I've surprised myself: I've learned to love so many whole foods since joining WW in 2011. Now I actually prefer many whole foods that were never part of my daily life before I joined.
For example, I’ve become obsessed with whole wheat penne pasta, which is a ZeroPoint™ food. And oatmeal—I love oatmeal. When I first joined Connect, I used the hashtag #wwoatmealgirl to share photos of the different bowls I’d make with old-fashioned rolled oats. I also love artichokes, asparagus, beets, and eggs. These foods were not my go-tos before; now they make up the majority of my plate!
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With food no longer serving as a cushion for my feelings or as a reward in the clean-plate club, I’ve figured out new ways to take care of myself. To celebrate something, for instance, I might treat myself to a small indulgence like a pedicure or a new top. On a more everyday level, it’s about being mindful and using “me time” to support my happiness and wellbeing. I’ve learned that living a healthy life is its own reward.
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