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5 steps that helped a teacher shed 70 pounds, transform her life in 2 years

After seeing a widely-shared picture of herself, Jordan Kohanim realized she was unhealthy and needed to lose weight.
/ Source: TODAY

Winning the teacher of the year award at Northview High School in Johns Creek, Georgia, should have been a happy day for Jordan Kohanim, but instead she felt profoundly sad after seeing a picture of her with the award. She couldn't believe how overweight she was.

“I was mortified about how unhealthy I looked. It was time that I admitted that what I was doing was not working,” Kohanim, 38, told TODAY via email.

While Kohanim struggled with her weight most of her life, she did occasionally work out and follow crash diets to try to be healthier. But most often, she went home and crashed on the couch.

“My diet consisted of yo-yo and guilt,” said the language arts and debate teacher from Atlanta. “I was overweight because I believed the narrative that society taught me: I was big because I wasn't worthwhile enough not to be.”

After struggling with her weight all of her life, Jordan Kohanim started tracking what she ate and exercising, starting with 15 minutes at a time. In two years, she lost 70 pounds.Courtesy Jordan Kohanim

These bad habits led the 5-foot-tall woman to gain weight until she reached 190 pounds. After seeing her unflattering picture, which the school shared on its social media accounts, Kohanim realized she needed to change. She asked her father, Brian Aiken, for advice and he shared the 15-minute rule.

"Go to the gym and work out for 15 minutes. If you still feel like not working out, go home. If you go home after 15 minutes, you are not allowed to beat yourself up about it. You tried. You weren't feeling it. Try again tomorrow," he told her.

Kohanim often used crash diets and sporadic exercise to try to get healthier. It wasn't until she changed how she thought of food that she was really able to lose weight.Courtesy Jordan Kohanim

So, she attempted the 15-minute rule. For a few weeks, she worked out 15 minutes a day, twice a week. Then, she started going to the gym three, then four, then five days a week. She discovered she enjoyed it and before she realized it, she was exercising for 60 minutes.

“I vowed to do my at-least-15-minutes workout five days a week. Once the habit was made, I was able to stick to it,” Kohanim said. “I work out in the morning before I am exhausted from teaching and tutoring.”

While exercise helped her transform her body, making better choices when it comes to food made the biggest difference. When she first started, she simply tracked her calories. Now, Kohanim follows a macros diet, where she counts macronutrients, which include carbs, protein and fat, to make healthy meals. It’s a different way of tracking what you eat.

“People don't realize just how much of weight loss is what you eat. The truisms are truisms because they are — surprise, surprise — true,” she said.

When Kohanim hit plateaus during her weight-loss journey, she'd try different types of exercise.Courtesy Jordan Kohanim

She faced challenges when shedding pounds and transforming her life. But when she felt frustrated or hit plateaus, she asked for help.

“I felt discouraged all the time, but that's when you reach out to your network. You seek out motivation,” she said. “People admire perseverance, and they will root for you when you feel discouraged.”

In two years, Kohanim lost 70 pounds and now weighs 120 pounds, a weight she has maintained for over a year. While she’s happy with her body, she is also pleased by her emotional changes.

“Before this journey, I felt like my weight was all a product of my own laziness. I worked out to punish myself for that laziness. It wasn't until I started viewing my weight as a health issue, that real transformation took place,” she said.

Kohanim provided tips for others hoping to shed weight and become healthier:

1. It’s mostly what you eat.

While Kohanim works out by doing HIIT training, cardio and weight lifting, her weight loss started simply by tracking what she ate.

“It really is 80 percent kitchen, 20 percent gym,” she said.

2. Value yourself.

“Start by realizing that you are worthwhile — that any time you take for yourself: working out, food-prepping, hiking in the woods — is not being selfish. It is how you ensure that you are here for a long enough time to take care of those people you constantly sacrifice yourself for,” she said.

Kohanim has maintained her 70-pound weight loss.Courtesy Jordan Kohanim

3. Try adding not subtracting.

By including more healthy foods to your diet, people are less likely to turn to junk food.

“Consciously eat five cups of veggies a day — add them to your diet. Then you will have less room for the other stuff,” she said.

4. Share your failures.

It feels frustrating when the number on the scale goes up instead of down. Or you haven’t lost any weight in weeks. But asking for support can help.

“Don't be afraid to tell people that you are struggling. That's okay. They aren't going to condemn you for it,” she said. “You'll be amazed at how many people will reach out to encourage you.”

5. Mix it up.

After the body becomes familiar with certain activities, it slows the metabolism, Kohanim said. So, when long distance running didn’t seem to have the same impact on her body, she tried different workouts.

“I had to change it up. I had to cut my cardio back and scale up my weight training,” she said.

For more inspirational stories, check out our My Weight-Loss Journey page.