Health & Wellness

'Lunch lady' loses 100 pounds on cafeteria diet

Of all the ways to slim down, Tammy McRae’s approach probably included more animal crackers and fish sticks than most diets.

The elementary school cafeteria manager lost 100 pounds after she ate only the meals she was serving to students at George Washington Carver Elementary in Baytown, Texas.

Courtesy Tammy McRae
Tammy McRae, before and after her weight loss.

“I feel like I’ve just been born. I feel so much better, healthier,” McRae, 47, told TODAY. “I feel good and when you feel good, that’s what you project.”

Her unorthodox weight-loss journey began last fall when she weighed 265 pounds. At 5 feet 4 inches tall, it firmly put her in the obese BMI category.

One year later, she’s at 165 pounds and feeling in control of her life.

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Here is how she did it:

How she gained the weight

The extra pounds crept up on McRae after the birth of her second child and she was never able to lose them, she said. She also loved indulging in fast food, pizza and desserts. After a while, she didn’t even try to slim down.

“I had just pretty much given up and resigned myself to: ‘This is my life, I’m fat,’” she noted.

The moment she decided to lose weight

McRae was promoted to cafeteria manager last fall and began to interact with parents in a supervisor role for the first time. After one particular meeting, she felt she wasn’t being taken seriously as someone in charge of nutrition while obese at the same time. She vowed to change.

“I wanted to start living a healthier life,” McRae recalled. “I want to live. I’m going to have grandkids one day and I want to be around.”

Related: Mom gets real about weight loss: Here's how she shed 90 pounds in a year

Courtesy Tammy McRae
McRae has lost 100 pounds in one year.

Why she chose her own cafeteria food

It started by accident. Kids would often ask McRae whether she had tried a particular item on the menu. She began to taste their food so she could tell them what she liked. After a while, she noticed a difference.

“I started to feel better when the weight started to come off. And I thought, I’m just going to eat their food every day,” McRae said. "It's delicious — at least ours is."

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What she eats

McRae tries to eat about 1,200 calories a day. For the last year, she’s been eating the same breakfast and lunch that's prepared for the kids at her school. She likes that she knows the exact calorie counts and portion sizes.

This month’s menu for elementary school students in her district includes items such as a cheesy egg biscuit or cereal, accompanied by fruit, for breakfast. Lunch might be chicken salad or turkey & cheese wrap.

For dinner, McRae tries to stay with items on the school menu, eating cereal or a fruit parfait, or taking a school recipe home and preparing lasagna, for example.

“It was just what worked for me, it may not work for everyone else,” she noted.

Related: Her weight spiked after marriage — 9 tips on how she lost 56 pounds

Courtesy Tammy McRae
"Don't wait another day and say I'll do it tomorrow. Do it today," McRae says about weight loss.

How she deals with setbacks and cravings

She’s had plenty of moments when she’s given into cravings — it’s human to do so, but the goal is to just not give up, she said.

“If I have a craving for chocolate, I will eat it. I just don’t eat a large quantity. I’ve learned portion control,” McRae added.

Finding a support group is a big part of success, she found. The ladies who work with her in the cafeteria would often say “You can do it,” which helped her stick to her plan. If you can’t find support around you, look for it online.

“Don’t listen to any negativity. No haters,” McRae advised. “It’s not for them, it’s for you.”

How she feels today

She continues her cafeteria eating plan and is happy with her weight.

“I’m very satisfied at 165 pounds. After you’ve been almost 300 pounds, you’ll take anything in the 100s,” McRae said.

Her approach isn’t for everyone, so she advised others who want to lose weight to find whatever works for them.

“Don’t wait another day and say I’ll do it tomorrow. Do it today,” she said.

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