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How I lost 130 pounds (and kept it off…)

Finding peace with food and my body.

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Jenna Lessner, Wellness Coach
Jenna Lessner, Wellness Coach

2.9.5. I remember the moment clearly. The moment that I stepped on the scale and saw those three numbers staring back at me. I remember thinking “how did this happen?” and I remember vowing that I would never reach 300 pounds. Which is a vow that I have held up to and then some.

I believe the hardest part about losing weight is keeping it off. As someone who has been on countless diets and lost over 100 pounds, I understand that weight loss isn’t easy. But I also believe that it is simple; begin eating more foods that nourish your body and make you feel good while moving your body daily.

There are two parts to my journey. One outlines a physical transformation in which I was able to completely transform my lifestyle and therefore my physical body and career in the process. And the second part is much more complex, it is where the real work lies because it is so much harder than losing weight. It’s dealing with why you put the weight on, to begin with.

At just 24 years old and graduating from university I was morbidly obese, depressed and unsure of where my career was headed. But I was sure of one thing – if I didn’t make a change, I was headed towards an early grave.

In “Start with Why,” Simon Sinek, explains how companies that are able to communicate their why to consumers and are able to succeed at a higher level. Because when you create an emotional connection to a brand you become a loyal customer. I know what you’re thinking… What does this have to do with my weight loss? Stay with me. In both, his TED talks and book, Sinek goes on to explain how leaders inspire action from their employees. And it starts with WHY, not how or what. But why. Everyone knows what they do and some even know how they do it. But very few people know WHY they do it. Leading companies focus on WHY first. They inspire change. Sinek says, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”

Weight loss became about me and the life I wanted to live. I refined my personal WHY. Why I wanted to lose weight. What losing weight actually meant to me. My goal has always been longevity. I want to be 70 and climbing mountains and running marathons well into my 60’s. I want to have the ability to chase my grandchildren around the playground. I truly don’t think those dreams would have been attainable if I didn’t make a drastic change in my health and in my life.

There’s a reason why the term yo-yo dieting is a thing. Going from diet to diet. Losing and then regaining the same weight or more again and again. If weight loss were just about the food, no one would struggle. As a nutritional professional who has worked with countless clients, I can attest that the majority of people know that they should be eating more vegetables and less processed foods for their overall health. But I believe the issue lies in their relationship with food.

The problem that I can see so clearly now was that I let my emotions determine what, when and how much I ate. If I was experiencing ANY emotion I ate. If I was stressed, I ate. If I was bored, I ate. If I was lonely, I ate. If I was angry, I ate. If I was sad, I ate. If I was happy, I ate. And If I was, ashamed, I ate more. You get the picture. Food was the only coping mechanism that I had.

In 2013, how I viewed food shifted. I became mindful of my eating practices and I started listening to my body. When you’re eating to comfort it is not food that you truly want. Instead of numbing my emotions with food, I acted on them. I started by going for evening walks instead of snacking in front of the TV. What I wanted most was a connection and I felt the most connected to myself in nature. Then I began finding other ways to give my soul what it truly wanted. Feeling lonely? I called my mom. Feeling stressed? I ran. Exercise is scientifically proven to lower cortisol (your stress hormone). Feeling angry? I started journaling to let it out. Feeling anxious? I meditated for 2 minutes. Feeling ashamed? I called my sister because in the words of Brené Brown “to combat shame is to share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding.”

Learning how to keep the weight off after I lost it became about improving my mental and emotional health. I learned to identify what emotions, feelings or situations triggered me to comfort with food. And then I allowed myself to feel them. What I’ve learned from that experience and through my training is that emotions are like waves. They may crest but they always dissipate because nothing is permanent. It is always changing. Sitting with an emotion instead of numbing it, allowed me to process the emotion and get curious. Meditation has taught me that I can choose how I respond to a trigger instead of just reacting. This has been my greatest lesson.

When I was able to see why I reached 295 pounds, to begin with, it completely changed my perceptions of weight loss. To be healthy in body but not in mind, is not health. It’s denial. Because mental health and emotional health are just as important as physical health.

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