Like many women, Morgan Mitchell struggled with her weight from the time she became a mom: “It wasn’t until I started having babies that the weight gain started,” she said. “I never lost what I gained with each child.”
After her third child was born in 2016, she struggled with postpartum depression. To deal with her feelings, she ate. “I used food to cope with how I felt. If it was a good day and I felt happy, I wanted to eat. If it was a hard day, I wanted to go get fast food,” she said.
Over time, the depression eased up. But the extra weight didn’t go away. And one day, as Mitchell watched her children play in the park, she realized something. She didn’t want to watch them play, she wanted to play with them. And her weight stood in the way.
By making slow, gradual changes and figuring out what worked for her, she’s lost 65 pounds and gained a career as a fitness instructor, teaching Zumba, Aqua, and strength training classes at a gym near her home in Arizona.
She is aiming to lose another 40 pounds, but she’s more focused on what she can do and how she feels than she is on the number on the scale.
Here’s her weight-loss strategy:
1. She makes exercise work for her
At first, Mitchell tried going to a gym. But with three kids in tow, getting there felt overwhelming. So, she started using Beachbody home workouts instead. Once her kids got a little older, she returned to the gym and started taking group exercise classes. “They never felt like a workout. They just felt good,” she said.
She enjoyed Zumba so much that she got certified as an instructor, and eventually got a job teaching at Life Time, her gym. “Being a Life Time instructor was top-of-the-line for me. It was on my vision board. When I got the job, it was mind-blowing,” she said.
Along with teaching, she works out on her own five to six days a week. But she points out that she gradually built up her fitness routine. She recommends that people start with a walk every day, or a 10-minute quick workout. “Something so small will start the change. It has a compound effect. It just blows up over time,” she said.
2. She holds herself accountable and tracks her progress
Mitchell shares her story on social media, to make herself accountable and to help other people who are also trying to lose weight. “I think photos are everything,” she said. “I’ll notice my stomach looks smaller or my face looks leaner. I can tell I am making progress. It may not show on the scale, but I can see it.”
She also weighs herself weekly, and measures her fat, muscle, and bone once a month.
She likes to judge her progress by how well her clothes fit. “When I’m talking to my members, I always say, choose a piece of clothing that you want to fit into and put it on every week. And if it’s tighter, we need to adjust something. Or if it’s looser, you’re crushing it,” she said.
3. She made incremental changes to her diet
“I started off really small. I tried to incorporate a veggie with every meal, and to drink a lot of water,” she said. She tracks what she eats with MyFitnessPal.
In a typical day she’ll eat:
- Breakfast: High-fiber toast with eggs and a protein shake.
- Lunch: A big salad with lots of fruits and veggies, topped with protein.
- Dinner: When she has time to cook at home, she’ll make a protein and a veggie, like chicken stir fry. When she’s teaching, she often picks up fast food, but she’ll cut back on the carbs. For example, she’ll have a burger on lettuce instead of a bun. Or, she’ll have a bun and choose a salad instead of fries.
4. She learned what works for her — and what doesn’t
Mitchell found that building habits through slow, steady changes worked best for her. She gradually drank more water, ate more veggies, and worked out more often and more intensely.
Just as important, she learned what doesn’t work for her. She found she doesn’t do well with anything that feels restrictive. “If there’s a ‘no’ in front of it, I just don’t do it,” she said.
For example, she and her husband followed the Whole 30 diet for a month. “We felt really good. But I learned when I eliminate things out of my diet or I tell myself I can’t have something, I want it more. Then I’ll binge on it. I’ve learned to have it in moderation,” she said.
5. She is rebounding from the pandemic
Mitchell gained 10 to 15 pounds during the pandemic. “I have three kids and all of a sudden I became a teacher. I fell back into those habits of sneaking food when I was stressed and drinking a little more wine than I should have,” she said.
And even though she was exercising at home, she missed in-person group workouts. “That is my community and energy. It is everything to me,” she said.
Now her gym is reopened and she’s back to teaching the classes she loves, working out with groups, and making progress toward her weight-loss goals.