After I lost more than 40 pounds last year, I got a lot of questions. Quite a few people — only moderately interested — asked in passing, “What did you do to lose weight?” They wanted me to answer with one “magic bullet” type of answer. Others, more highly interested, kept asking questions and probing further, looking for additional potential solutions. So, I developed a kind of triage system for answering the question, based on the level of interest in possible solutions. My best succinct answer for what triggered my weight loss most quickly, easily, and sustainably would look a bit like this:

  • I ate more lean protein, especially at breakfast. I felt this more or less stabilized me for the day. I ate eggs or protein powders, but other options exist. If you simply *must* have a sweet treat or cereal one day, have the protein alongside it. Track what you eat. Don’t mistake “lean protein” to mean “meat” — consider plant-based protein your friend.
  • I worked out regularly, with an accountability partner. I sought the services of a personal trainer but this could also be a friend or family member. Ideally, you should find someone who is passionate about sharing information and learning more about health and nutrition. Many people think a personal trainer is out of reach, but even a few brief sessions with a qualified professional can be a great investment. It is worth checking into.
  • I explored the behavioral and emotional side of eating. A growing body of information is available about psychology and eating. Read books, articles, and seek the help of credible professionals as needed. Most of us eat for emotional or social reasons at times — to celebrate or soothe ourselves. This is okay in moderation, but the psychology of eating is a topic typically worth exploring.

The answers above represent distilled bullet points that only hint at the underlying narrative of a multiple-year wellness journey. The results I accomplished last year were triggered by the excellent counsel of health and fitness professionals who suggested a mix of technical changes that I’m still working on. In addition, I invested time — perhaps years — of priming and prepping myself to make sustainable lifestyle decisions.

Here’s a partial list of how I readied myself for weight loss, roughly in chronological order. Skip to #38 if you want to see where the major weight loss happened.

  1. Recognized pain and discomfort. Recognized that not only did my body not fit my clothing and my self-image not match my reflection, but also that weight gain and inactivity was causing me debilitating lower back pain.
  2. Gained positive role models. Realized, for the first time, that all the thin women I knew actually focused their time and energy to stay fit. For the most part, they didn’t complain, but instead took pride and pleasure in getting exercise and caring for their bodies by monitoring what they ate.
  3. Set mini-goals. Received a handout on 12 tips to try over a period of 12 months. Picked one action per month. Kept trying new tips each month, sticking with some new habits and letting others fall away to be ignored or tried later when they fit my life better.
  4. Tried yoga. Got comfortable typically being the heaviest, least flexible person in the yoga class. Until one day I wasn’t.
  5. Had a health scare. Had a health scare (unfounded, thankfully) that made me re-evaluate everything I knew. While it turned out to be nothing, it opened my eyes to the fragility of life. Additionally, I saw family members and friends dealing with health issues I wanted to avoid if possible.
  6. Gained clarity. Read a book about prioritization that helped me gain clarity on pulling together the disparate areas of my life. As it turns out, all those sticky notes and reminders fall under just a few key categories that can be prioritized and measured.
  7. Revamped priorities. Established “improved health” as my #1 annual priority, and kept it as such day after day, year after year, even as I was occasionally labeled “selfish” or my priorities were challenged, directly or indirectly.
  8. Offered gratitude. Started to recognize that, no matter what happened on any given day, I could change my own mindset by being thankful.
  9. Studied behavior. Having long been an advocate for positive social change, decided to read absolutely everything I could about individual behavior change, seeking to “crack the code” on my own behavior. Read, for example, “Willpower” by John Tierney and Roy Baumeister, in which I learned that people who succeed don’t rely on willpower, they rely on tools that prevent them from having to use willpower.
  10. Sought food awareness. Watched documentaries (I went to see the first one alone in the theater because I didn’t yet know anyone else who would have wanted to go see it with me) and began to learn more about the many aspects of nutrition. Admitted that while I thought I had a good baseline for what was “healthy” or not, I didn’t know it all and I wanted to know more.
  11. Reframed the journey. Watched, at my chiropractor’s office, a screening of “May I Be Frank,” a documentary about Frank Ferrante, a man on a wellness journey. Ferrante spoke after the screening and said that many people said to him, “Sure, you could do it with the support of those three people,” but he challenged anyone who wants to improve their health to find a support network of their own — friends, family, health practitioners, or whoever could help. Find three people to be your support team.
  12. Sought a support network. Recognized I couldn’t do it alone, and that I didn’t have to. I could create my own support network.
  13. Protected the priorities. Decided not to let any financial or time barriers get in the way of achieving my health goals, because good health enhances progress toward all other goals. Decided to take full responsibility for where I was and where I wanted to go. Decided that opportunities for improvements exist no matter the situation.
  14. Increased energy. Made “energy” my “word of the year” and sought out all manner of ways to increase my energy levels. (Subsequent words of the year included “vitality” and “delight”.) These guiding words helped make health decisions easier and made spotting synergies possible.
  15. Got permission. Gave myself permission to get help.
  16. Sought therapy. On issues that seemed to big to handle alone, I sought the help of a well-qualified professional. I don’t know many people who couldn’t, at times, benefit from the perspective of a trained counseling professional.
  17. Examined my stories. Learned to separate the “stories” I was telling myself from reality.
  18. Felt emotions physically. Learned a bit about what signals my body is sending me when I feel angry, hurt, rejected, scared, worried, frustrated, excited, enthusiastic, and more. It is easy to overlook the wisdom of the body.
  19. Explored intuitive eating. Took an Intuitive Eating Class. Learned to eat mindfully, to taste my food, and to recognize the feeling of satiety. Learned to appreciate my body.
  20. Moved to a new environment. Moved to a health mecca: Boulder, Colorado.
  21. Stopped drinking soda. Made iced tea my “default drink” instead of diet coke. Realized that I had been making my body filter at least one chemical-laden soda every day since high school.
  22. Stopped buying temptations. Stopped buying as regular grocery items the things I didn’t want to have to “resist,” such as ice cream, cookies, and sugary drinks.
  23. Increased movement. Began hiking and biking and skiing and swimming as often as possible.
  24. Increased greens. Began eating more greens, mainly in smoothies.
  25. Tried meditation. Learned Transcendental Meditation. Meditated daily (still do). This gives me ongoing clarity about my priorities and keeps me calm and focused on my top goals and objectives. It also helps me be more present in every situation.
  26. Sought nutrition advice. Visited a nutrition consultant who had training in emotional eating. Stopped putting synthetic creamers and sweeteners in my coffee. Added healthy fats to my breakfasts. Learned to eat chia seeds. Learned to think of food as fuel. Started paying attention to which foods give me energy and which foods leave me feeling drained.
  27. Gave my body some love. With the help of the nutrition consultant and the intuitive eating class, learned to accept and appreciate my body at its current weight, as part of myself. Thanked food for being there for me during tough times. Thanked my body for everything it does for me.
  28. Reached a point of acceptance. Maintained my weight for a year or so.
  29. Took a group class. Enrolled in a 5-week “boot camp”-type class. Lost 3 pounds. Enjoyed the collective energy of the group members and their outlook on life.
  30. Tried an anti-allergy cleanse. Learned I was sensitive to peppers. Some cleanses can be terrible, but this one allowed for a sensible approach without starvation and encouraged journaling and self-awareness. It introduced me to some new go-to foods and methods for increasing nutritional intake.
  31. Read Brian Wansick’s “Slim by Design.” This amazing book is full of strategies for anyone in charge of shaping nutritional environments — so a wonderful resource for individual weight loss and social change.
  32. Deployed the Half Plate Rule. Filled half my plate with veggies, even when going back for seconds. (This is what Brian Wansick has noted as his number one bit of advice.)
  33. Ate on smaller plates. Started using the “salad plate” instead of the dinner plate as a visual trick to feel more satisfied and reduce excess calories.
  34. Reduced volume of bread when eating out. Found that I could be just as satisfied when eating out if I remove the top bun or eat only the meat-and-veggie parts of a sandwich. I utterly love bread, but have found that sometimes the amount provided is just too much for nutritional balance.
  35. Slid backward, kept going. Went on a trip to Australia for business and pleasure. Nailed my presentation, had fun, but regained the 3 pounds and added two more.
  36. Realigned. Decided that while I was comfortable with carrying extra weight from a self-esteem perspective, it was time to change for health reasons. I also felt that my image in the mirror didn’t match the way I felt on the inside.
  37. Pledged. Made a pledge to my family that I was going to lose weight.
  38. Hired a personal trainer. Followed the trainer’s advice and immediately saw the weight begin to peel off. The trainer’s knowledge and attitude made a big difference — I was surprised to learn I was having more fun than ever working out rather than making “sacrifices” or being berated and pushed too hard. (If you see a trainer that makes you feel bad or uncertain, get a new trainer.) This worked better than anything I’ve ever done to be fit — during these sessions, I lost more than 40 pounds in one year. When I saw it working after three sessions I decided to keep going as long as it was still working. It is still working — better than anything I’ve ever done.
  39. Committed to strength training. Worked out at the gym basically 2x/week for an entire year with a trainer.
  40. Tracked my food. Tracked food using “My Fitness Pal” but ignored calorie limitations and used those determined by my trainer instead. Used the macronutrients portion of the app to decide what to eat for dinner. When in doubt, tried to overestimate food calories and underestimate exercise calories. Viewed the app as a fun tracking tool rather than punishment I was enslaved to use.
  41. Began running. Began training for a local race and ran 3–4 times per week.
  42. Tracked my runs. Tracked my running distances and pace using an app on my phone.
  43. Seized every opportunity to move for fun. I looked for new ways to “let loose” and move my body, such as dance, ice skating, and roller-skating. I looked for new venues to work out. I also didn’t hesitate to take stairs or a scenic route. I allowed myself to do what I call “the Boulder thing” of exercising more than one time per day if I can make the time and have the energy to do so.
  44. Learned about cooking. Took an online cooking class that taught me to have confidence cooking without recipes.
  45. Committed to never stop learning about health. The adventure continues! I have a long list of activities, foods, and experiences I want to try and I can’t wait to see what happens next. Now, my plan is to keep moving — running, doing yoga, hiking, skiing, and trying new things. I believe the best is yet to come concerning my health and wellness.

This list shows why it is hard to answer the question, “What did you do to lose weight?” It was not a single thing I did; it was many things. The good news is that no one has to do any or all of the things I did, and certainly not in any particular order. There are lots of things you can do to improve your health and well-being.

My motivation sprang from a strong and sustained desire to improve my health. Making and keeping health a priority was huge, and everything else flowed from that decision. Working on the emotional side of eating helped greatly. Counseling, intuitive eating classes, and health professionals helped me visualize how to bridge the gap between my future “best authentic self” with the person I perceive myself to be. Yet the most dramatic and visible weight loss results happened when I began strength training with a personal trainer. People, if you can consult with a trainer, even for a short time, DO IT. Good trainers can help you clarify and reach your goals faster, plus they can give you a system for change.

After all of this, for those interested, my “best tip for losing weight” is: Have fun doing it. Find what small health change you can make that actually works for you. Accept yourself as you are now and give some love and appreciation to your body. This is your LIFE. Make it the best quality life possible. You deserve it. You are worth it. And you can do it!

Originally published at


  • Heather Bowen Ray

    Consultant and technical advisor for behavior-related health and wellness programs. Insatiably curious about social psychology and social change.

    Thrive Global

    Heather is a healthy habits coach and consultant to behavior-related health and wellness programs. She works with inspiring individuals who are working hard to overcome specific barriers to change. Heather's experience includes in-house and on-call work for advertising and communications agencies and stems from a 15+ year social change career based in Washington DC. She has instructed university-level communications courses and has trained hundreds of professionals and university students. She earned an MS in Marketing at Johns Hopkins University and a BS in Journalism from the University of Kansas. She contributes to Thrive Global and is a Precision Nutrition certified level one coach (PN1). Heather lives and works in Boulder, Colorado.