Whatever you do, don't tell Jaci that you can tell she's been on a diet. The 30-year-old mother of two feels strongly that losing 65 pounds over 4 years was the result of permanent lifestyle changes—not dieting.
"I actually get mad at people when they say, 'You've been on a diet.' I'm not on a diet. I've never been on a diet. I just changed the way I eat. I changed the way I live."
If you're looking for an example of how making small, gradual changes can make a big difference in how you feel and look, Jaci's the one to turn to.
How it started
Jaci says she was watching her two boys grow and felt like she was missing out. "I was too shy, too self-conscious to go out and do anything," she says. "I didn't like meeting new people. I didn't feel good. I didn't feel like me. I didn't want to go to the park."
So she started eating smaller portions, and she cut down on fast foods—little steps that still allowed her to eat some of her favorite foods (like french fries, cheesecake, and chocolate chip cookies) once in a while. And she started exercising.
She lost about 50 pounds and then hit a plateau. "I got stuck for a year," she says. "It wasn't a big deal, because I felt like I was maintaining it. I think my body just got comfortable where it was at."
Getting through those plateaus
For Jaci, more exercise was the key to breaking through plateaus. Her two boys started football, and she began walking and running around the track while they practiced. "Instead of going home like a lot of people do, I do the track while I'm at football practice."
These days, exercise is a regular part of her life and her family's life. "We ride bikes. We do a lot of outdoor activities. That's been a new thing since I lost the weight."
Now Jaci tries to exercise at least 5 days a week. When she's not running around a track, she uses an exercise bike and weights. She varies her exercise throughout the year—running track when her kids are in football practice and playing basketball with them when they have basketball at school.
Ask Jaci what has helped her lose weight, and she rattles off the list:
- Cutting down on fast food.
- Learning to control portion sizes.
- Exercising 5 days a week.
- Eating her favorite foods. If she has a craving for french fries, she will eat a small portion or get a kid's meal if she is at a fast-food place.
- Eating her vegetables. "I love all vegetables."
- Being choosy when eating out. "I'll look for something on the menu that is more healthy. I try to eat half of it and box half of it." Sometimes she will share a meal.
- Having healthy snacks. "I find that really helps. I'll have an apple or almonds."
- Writing down everything she eats.
- Cooking at home as much as possible. "We do a lot of vegetables. Asparagus has been a big thing with us. The kids like it. My husband likes it. Grilled stuff—chicken. We grill a lot of vegetables."
The key to success
What has been most important to Jaci's success?
"Sticking with it. I know people who have lost 100 pounds in a year," she says. "It's taken me 4 years, and I feel like I know how to do it and I know what I'm doing. I feel like I have a better chance of keeping it off.
"I think if you lose weight too fast, it could come back just as quickly as you lost it." She thinks people who do crash dieting haven't had "the chance to really learn what their body needs and doesn't need. I think if you lose weight too quickly, for one, you're not doing something right, something healthy.
"A lot of people I hear, they cut stuff out of their diet in order to lose weight. I don't think that's healthy. I don't think you can always keep something out of your diet—like a food group or a type of food. If you want a hamburger and french fries, have a hamburger and french fries. Just have it in moderation.
"I don't like to say I can't have something. That's when I feel it's more a diet than a lifestyle change."
The importance of support
Jaci is part of a weight-loss program with regular weigh-ins and meetings. "That's a big thing for me, being held accountable."
She likes to go to the meetings for "the ideas and the struggles. Seeing other people go through the same thing is probably the best part about the meetings."
"Once people started noticing and saying, 'Wow, you look great,' even after 10, 15 pounds… that gave me the confidence to know, 'Hey, I can do this.'"
Jaci's story reflects her experiences as told in an interview. The photograph is not of Jaci, to protect her privacy.