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I struggled to lose weight for most of my adult life and only reached a healthy weight within the last couple of years. More importantly, I now feel calm and comfortable in my skin, and don’t spend time or mental energy picking apart the things I don’t like about myself (something that took up most of my mental bandwidth for years).
Specifically, I lost over 80 pounds and went from a size 16 to a size 4 in 15 months (and got my Hashimoto’s into remission).
I’m sharing what worked for me. This is not medical advice and I do not think these same factors will work for everyone. This process was, in many ways, an overnight success a decade in the making.
The Personalized Way to Lose Weight
I learned two important lessons essential to creating a sustainable system that worked for me (and that I feel are crucial to address before delving into the physical stuff).
1. I Started With Mindset
I had a story in my head that “I’ll be happy when…” or “If only I was… I would be happy and accept myself.” I realized that I could choose to be happy and accept myself without waiting for my body to look a certain way. The mindset change wasn’t an overnight shift, and it took time to internalize, but this was a fundamental and vital shift for me.
I realized I couldn’t hate or punish myself into being the size I wanted.
When I started to love and appreciate myself as I was, it became so much easier to choose what led to weight loss without internal friction. It became easy to listen to my body and choose healthy foods (and enough of them) out of love rather than deprive myself based on what I didn’t like about my body.
For me, dealing with past trauma was a huge part of this process, and I detail my journey with that in this podcast episode.
I share the diet and lifestyle things I changed below, but the importance of mindset and inner work can’t be overstated.
2. I Asked Better Questions
I also learned to ask better questions. Here’s what I mean: I used to internally say things like “Why is it so hard to lose weight,” to which my mind would inevitably answer and provide all the reasons it was so hard: thyroid disease, six kids, bad genes, etc.
After working with Dr. Joy Martina, I started to instead ask myself questions like “How is it so easy to lose weight and feel so healthy,” and my mind jumped to answer the question with reasons like: because I love healthy foods, movement is fun, sleep helps me heal, etc.
I found these books helpful for mindset:
Personalization is Key
These past two years also really brought home the lesson that health and wellness are hugely and intricately personal. So many “experts” claim to have all of the answers, and many do… for what works for them. I had tried almost every “system” imaginable. What eventually worked for me was a combination of things I found through my experimentation that was tailored specifically to me.
That’s the real secret: there is no secret or magic bullet.
There is wisdom to learn in almost every approach, but it must be personalized. I built on the most researched-backed methods I could find and then experimented, tested, and tracked to see what was most effective for me.
I share these strategies below and highlight the commonalities that I think can be helpful for most people. At best, these should be a starting point for your research and experimentation. Pieces of my strategy might work well for you, but the methods below should be, at best, a starting point.
A Note on Hashimoto’s:
I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis years ago after my third child was born over ten years ago. I’d tried many things before this point, and while many of them helped thyroid numbers, I still struggled with weight loss until this point.
I think that many of the things I did during this time were keys to healing my gut and body to be able to lose weight, and I am forever grateful to Dr. Alan Christianson and Dr. Izabella Wentz for their work and help with my thyroid recovery.
I should also note that over the last couple of years, I stopped acting like I had thyroid disease and stopped letting this be part of my story or an excuse. This might not be helpful to everyone, but I found the mindset shift really important.
Part 1: Tracking to Lose Weight
I realized I couldn’t figure out what was working and what wasn’t without objective measurement over time. I decided what I was going to track and starting documenting these metrics:
- Weight, body fat and BMI
- Fasting blood sugar (every 1-2 weeks) using a glucose monitor
- Ketones in a 24-hour fast monthly
- Heart Rate Variability and sleep using an Oura ring
- Basic labs including CBC and Comprehensive Metabolic plus thyroid and vitamin D using a local ProHealth clinic
- Food intake and macros through My Fitness Pal
- Time-restricted eating and intermittent fasting through the Zero App
By tracking these, I could see over time what was working and what wasn’t. I also kept a digital journal in Notion that tracked my food and exercise and added notes about these into Oura to correlate patterns.
Helpful resources for tracking:
Part 2: Understanding Genes
Part of figuring out what worked for me was taking a deep dive into my genes. I used Nutrition Genome for genetic testing, and they provide a 90+ page report about nutrition and supplements that I used as a starting point. I also ran my data through Self Decode and built out an algorithm that would look at all my genes in relation to each other and make recommendations based on that.
Again, this is very personalized, but the factors that ended up being most helpful for me:
- Eating less fat, especially less saturated fat, even though these can be vital for many people.
- Consuming MORE protein (more on that below)
- Less red meat to reduce iron intake and insulin levels (noticed a big difference here)
- Optimizing vitamin D levels
Part 3: Eating MORE to Lose Weight
When I started tracking, I realized I’d been under-eating for years (especially protein) while trying to lose weight, and my metabolism wasn’t happy about it. It took a while to break this habit, but I started by tracking my food intake and making sure to eat enough calories.
For me, consuming enough protein was especially important… and research supports this. Protein reduces ghrelin (the hormone that makes you hungry) and increases GLP-1, peptide YY, and cholecystokinin (which signal that you’re full). Protein is also needed for building muscle, which burns more at rest than fat.
I found that by increasing my healthy protein intake, I naturally wanted to consume less high carb and high-calorie foods and felt satisfied much more quickly. It also takes more effort to metabolize protein (as much as 30% of the calories in it are burned while digesting it, and it has a much higher thermic effect. Since protein is needed for muscle and tissue health, this also has an anti-aging effect! Win:Win. I didn’t find her until after my weight loss, but I recommend checking out Dr. Gabrielle Lyon’s work if you are new to this concept.
In short, eating more protein helped me feel full faster, burn more calories, and not have cravings for foods I was trying to avoid.
Specifically, I aimed to eat 30 grams of protein minimum per meal, at least three times a day. Most meals, I hit 40-45 grams. Another way to look at this is getting about 30% of calories from protein.
Some examples of my protein consumption per meal:
- 2 cans of sardines (my lunch almost every day along with lots of green veggies)
- 1.5 cups cottage cheese
- 5-6 ounces cooked chicken or turkey
- 6-7 ounces cooked cod
- 6-7 ounces cooked salmon
- 5-6 ounces lean beef
- 7 ounces of shrimp
- 12-18 raw oysters
I don’t tolerate eggs well, but if I could eat them, they would have also been a go-to protein source for me. I also used grass-fed whey protein powder and bone broth to hit protein targets when I needed it and drank Kion Aminos daily for extra bioavailable protein.
My only real focus was hitting my protein target at each meal. I also ate in a shorter window (more on that below). Once I hit protein targets, I also ate as many vegetables, fruits, and healthy fats (mostly olive oil) as I wanted until I wasn’t hungry.
A bonus of this?
The extra protein and micronutrients from veggies had an anti-aging effect and helped my skin too! Since protein also helps build muscle, I got a LOT stronger without working out nearly as much.
Part 4: Eat Less Often
I experimented with and used several types of fasting and have found what works well for me after a lot of testing and tracking. I do not think these methods are universally beneficial, and many people don’t seem to respond well to fasting. These methods worked for me, but do your research and work with a doctor (like I did with my SteadyMD doc) when trying any extended fasting.
I still regularly eat in a shorter window each day. Often called Intermittent fasting (IF) or Time Restricted Eating (TRE), these methods help a person consume fewer calories and give the body and liver a break during the non-eating window.
We all practice some form of TRE each day without really realizing it. Unless you’re waking up to eat in the middle of the night, most of us go at least 8 hours without eating, which means we eat in a 16-hour window each day. I’ve reversed this and usually eat in a 6-8 hour window each day instead. Most days, I eat three meals, about 3-4 hours apart.
I track my hormones regularly, and my body does excellent with this method of TRE. Several genes make fasting easier for me than for many people, and I’m careful to make sure I’m not stressing my body out with too much fasting.
I also do longer fasts semi-regularly, but worked up to these slowly and would never recommend them without a doctor’s oversight. Specifically, I fast for 24 hours about once a week and measure my fasting glucose and ketones on this day. I also do a 3-5 day water fast every month or two and a 7-10 day water fast at the beginning of the year (I’ve found it a great way to start the new year and focus on goals and objectives).
Resources for more learning about TRE and fasting:
Part 5: Supplements That Helped Me Lose Weight
I found some specific supplements helpful, especially during the intensive weight loss phase. What worked for me won’t necessarily work for you. These are specific supplements I experimented with based on my genes and with tracking to see what helped. I think that nourishing my body properly in relation to by genes also helped reduce the biological stress response (see part 6 below).
I’m sharing the specifics of what I take most days as an example, but this list will look different for you. The Nutrition Genome test was helpful for me in figuring out this list.
I believe that we should get most nutrients from food and eat a very nutrient-dense diet. Based on my genes, it was challenging to get enough of these specific nutrients from food with my dietary limitations (not eating eggs, etc.), so supplements were beneficial. I also would have needed to massively over-consume calories to hit the number of nutrients if I tried to get all of this from food.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record: these are the supplements that worked for me. Taking these supplements will not necessarily lead to weight loss for a person with different genes. I share these as a personal example and not as medical advice or as any form of recommendation.
Part 6: Staying Parasympathetic and Keeping Stress Low
This one factor might be the biggest key to my weight loss! We’ve all heard of Blue Zones and all of the potential factors that make them healthier and help people to live longer in these zones: better diet, more movement, sunshine, drinking red wine, etc.
I think the most overlooked and possibly most important factors are their strong focus on community and lower levels of stress. These factors mean that they are more often in a parasympathetic nervous system state than the sympathetic nervous system many of us stay in constantly.
When we eat in a sympathetic state, we don’t digest as well, and food is more likely to be stored as fat or to raise blood sugar. We don’t sleep as well in a sympathetic state or regulate blood sugar as well either. In short, we could do the same things: eat well, sleep enough, take supplements, etc., but have a completely different response in a sympathetic state vs. parasympathetic state.
It isn’t as simple as reducing stress, but it starts there. It goes beyond self-care and is a daily practice.
You won’t be shocked to hear that addressing this underlying stress is also personalized and individualized. For each of us, this means identifying and fixing our biggest sources of emotional and physical stress over time through a combination of conscious choice and environmental changes.
Here are some of the things that helped me most (but I didn’t do all of them each day):
- Exercising less: I found that early on, I was actually exercising too much and this was causing physical stress for my body. During the first six months of intense weight loss, I didn’t do any intense exercise at all and only walked and swam.
- Sauna use: Among other benefits, regular sauna use served two purposes for me: it worked as an exercise mimetic to give many of the cardio benefits even when I wasn’t exercising as much, and it helps the body get into parasympathetic. This study found that: “A session of sauna bathing induces an increase in HR. During the cooling down period from sauna bathing, HRV increased which indicates the dominant role of parasympathetic activity and decreased sympathetic activity of cardiac autonomic nervous system.”
- Prioritizing sleep: Sleep became an absolute non-negotiable for me. During sleep, the body regenerates, flushes cerebral spinal fluid, and resets a lot of metabolic factors. Even one night of bad sleep would mess with blood sugar levels and HRV for a couple of days. These posts have more info: sleep remedies that work and how to create a perfect sleep environment.
- Tapping: A method called tapping helps calm the nervous system. It was one of the strategies I used to actively deal with stressful situations and I did this before eating to make sure I was in a parasympathetic state to digest. This podcast with Nick Ortner and this one with Brittany Watkins both explain tapping in more detail.
- Hunter Fitness classes: As I focused more on gentle fitness, I still wanted to increase strength and mobility and found CARs and Kinstretch classes from Hunter Fitness to be really helpful. I’m not sure why, but I also notice a big increase in HRV (a good thing) at night after I do these classes during the day.
- Sprinting and strength training: With my COMT genes, I found that extended cardio was almost never beneficial for me, and that once I could tolerate exercise without it being too stressful, I did best with short but intense exercises like sprinting and lifting heavy weights. I now almost exclusively train with weights, sprints, and the Car.O.L bike.
- Massage: When possible, massage and foam rolling seemed to help my body stay in parasympathetic.
- Breathing: A few simple breath-work exercises made a difference in my HRV. I would do box breathing (breathe in for 4 count, hold for 4 count, exhale for 4 count, hold for 4 count and repeat), and 4-7-8 (inhale for 4, hold for 7, exhale for 8) daily.
Part 7: Don’t Do the Same Thing Daily
I’ve explained many things I do regularly, but I don’t do any of these things every day. I vary my supplements, eating windows, macros, and calories almost daily to keep metabolic flexibility.
- Eating in a 6-8 hour window each day, but one day a week, I eat in a 12+ hour window instead.
- Consume 100+ grams of protein most days but eat much lower protein once a week.
- I don’t take supplements on the weekends.
- Some days I eat much more fat (mostly from olive oil and fish).
- A couple of days a week, I consume more carbs from vegetables and tubers.
- I lift weights a few times a week but occasionally take a week off.
- The only thing I rarely vary is my sleep, and this is one of my non-negotiables. I haven’t found any benefit from reducing sleep and optimizing sleep has positive effects in all other areas of my life.
A Sample Daily Health & Weight Loss Routine
As I said, I don’t do anything every single day, but here is a sample day with many of the common factors built-in:
- Wakeup without an alarm after getting at least 8 hours of sleep. Drink 1 quart of water with the juice of one lemon and some ginger.
- Within an hour, spend 30 minutes outside (often drinking a cup of green tea or coffee with my husband and kids), do gratitude and breathing and move around (walking, strength training or gentle stretching).
- Take any supplements I need to take on an empty stomach.
- Get work done in the morning while the kids work on school.
- If working out, do this late morning just before eating lunch so I can train fasted. Sometimes drink aminos before and during workout.
- Eat first meal between 11-1 most days, making sure to hit 40 grams of protein. Take most supplements with this meal, including the ones listed above.
- Eat another meal every 3-4 hours for a total of 3 meals within 6-8 hours that day.
- Spend time in the afternoon with kids outside and often usually sauna mid-afternoon. Drink LMNT in sauna for electrolytes.
- Stop eating at least 3 hours before bedtime.
- Drink reishi tea most night before bed (Organifi Gold mixed with Four Sigmatic reishi packet)
- In bed by 10 pm most nights and sleep 9+ hours most days.
Sample Meal Ideas to Lose Weight
I don’t differentiate between meal types and can eat any of these meals at any time of day. I don’t tolerate eggs well (the only food that shows up as inflammatory for me) so they aren’t on this list but they are great for most people:
- Two cans sardines over a big salad with pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds, and homemade olive oil and lemon dressing (my most common meal).
- One or two chicken breasts chopped with avocado, cilantro, lots of greens, hemp seeds, hot sauce, and homemade ranch.
- Egg roll in a bowl stir fry with ground turkey.
- Sliced turkey wrapped in lettuce leaves with tomato, sprouts, cucumber, and Tzatziki sauce.
- Meatballs over veggie pasta with salad.
- Pan-seared salmon with roasted veggies.
- Stuffed sweet potato with steak and Brussels sprouts. (I limit red meat due to my genes and eat this once a week at most).
- Pan-seared cod with cauliflower rice and stir-fry vegetables.
- Sheet pan tandoori chicken thighs and vegetables.
- Any variation of salad with leftover protein and homemade dressing
My Plan to Lose Weight: Key Takeaways
As a quick recap, these are the most critical factors that helped me lose weight (but won’t necessarily work the same way for you):
- Knowing my genes and eating/supplementing for them
- Eating more, especially protein, from seafood sources
- TRE and fasting
- Very specific supplements
- Staying in parasympathetic through sleep and tracking HRV
- Sauna use and very specific exercise
Healing my thyroid condition, overcoming past trauma, and learning how to have more balance in all areas of life has been a challenge, but through a combination of all the steps listed above, I’ve lost over 80 pounds, have more energy, and am stronger than I’ve been before.
It hasn’t been an easy journey and I’m not finished with it yet. If you’re struggling with any of these things, I’d just encourage you to keep it up. You can do it! But you also don’t have to wait until you do to start loving and accepting yourself. You’re amazing and wonderful and worthy and lovable just as you are right now!