For the longest time, I’d pick up fried chicken or junk food on the way home from work. And then, there was my sweet tooth. I had a candy drawer that was packed to the brim. Every day, I’d go home with chocolate in my cart. My habits were leading to debt I couldn’t pay off. I used  to go food shopping at Walmart for $25 — then my candy habit easily had me spending $75. One day, I skimmed through a Challenge booklet in the lounge and thought, “If these people can improve their lives, why can’t I?” 

At first, I set small goals of losing five pounds and cutting back on needless spending.

I swapped frosted donuts, cookies, and chocolates for radishes, cucumbers, and broccoli. I love cauliflower and celery too. That’s what I reach for when I’m feeling snacky. I stopped grocery shopping when I’m hungry, and that made all the difference. It helps me save money — things don’t just “jump” into my cart anymore.

I also swapped soda for water. 

I try to drink two liters a day, but sometimes it’s a struggle. I make it easier for myself by keeping water next to my bed. My five-pound goal turned into me losing 25, and I feel more energized and less moody. I got a good laugh when I was volunteering at my local museum, and there was a split second I thought my pants were falling down! 

Although I’m on medical leave for my back, I still push myself to go for walks twice a day. 

I’m walking more now than I was six months ago. My walks are helping me heal and care for my mental health. When I’m hit with a wave of depression, I get out for a walk. I also tap into prayer and my support system. I’m a firm believer in being patient with yourself, and never feeling ashamed about asking for help. 

I’ve paid down $5,000 in debt and feel less stressed.

A big part of it was being more aware while food shopping. I hit the produce and meat sections, but skip the candy aisle. I love antiquing, but when I’m out and about, I’m sure to ask myself, “Do I really need this?” So, I’ll come home with one antique that’s on sale, instead of four or five. I also refinanced my debt and am working to pay it off at a lower interest rate. 

I had to slow down and take care of myself.

Before going on medical leave, I hit a low point. There was one day I could hardly get out of bed or into the car because I was in so much pain. Now, I’m working hard to heal my injury and looking forward to getting back to work. I think everyone can make better choices every day, whether it’s choosing to eat a nourishing meal or thinking twice before buying something. You have to be patient and consistent — and be kind to yourself too.

—Jon Wendorff, Supercenter #1722; Marshall, MN; $5K Winner