When Andie Mitchell lost 135 pounds — half her body weight — she was surprised to find she was more depressed than happy. Mitchell, who recounts her weight loss journey in the new book “It Was Me All Along,” explains the challenges that awaited her after slimming down. As told to TODAY’s A. Pawlowski.
I was always the chubby kid. As I grew up in Medfield, Massachusetts, I had a difficult childhood and I only learned to use food in ways that were unrelated to hunger. I ate for fun, for comfort or out of boredom.
I started dieting in eighth grade. I tried Atkins, Weight Watchers, Slim Fast, the South Beach Diet. Nothing worked because it comes down to: Are you ready? Do you want to do it now? So much of it is not just finding a plan that works, but just being ready and committed.
When I turned 20 and realized that I weighed 268 pounds, I decided I had to change. I was prepared for a big number, but 268 was startling because it was so close to 300. Having known that I’d only ever gained weight up until that point, I could just see that I would eventually be 325 or 350 pounds and it would never stop.
I just knew at that moment that it was now or never.
I set a loose goal of 140 pounds. At first, I just started trying to eat healthier on my own. I cut way, way back on all the sweets, I stopped drinking soda, I made a real effort to eat a lot more fruits and vegetables. I joined Weight Watchers for about five months and really enjoyed the way it helped me to get a handle on serving sizes and portions and taught me about nutrition.
I finished the rest of the weight loss on my own. I just kept the calorie counting, which I really liked. I tried to shoot for 1,600 calories a day. It’s like a game. I’m a numbers person and I also really liked that sometimes a calorie is just a calorie. I like trying to eat in the most healthy way — but sometimes you just want 250 calories to be a cookie.
I jogged probably six days a week. Running was something that I never thought I’d be able to do because it was always such torture, but it was something that I really got into.
It took 13 months to get down to 133 pounds. I thought there was a finish line at some point, but there’s no finish line. It’s been almost 10 years now since I’ve lost the weight and learning to maintain is its own journey.
After I slimmed down, it was a really hard process for me to get acclimated to my body and figure out, OK, so this is a new normal, and to try to find a way of eating for the long term.
I thought problems that had existed in my life would be better once I lost weight, but I was still the same person. I had the same fears, the same hang-ups about myself, and life was still coming with its own challenges. Now I couldn’t turn back to food, which had always been my comfort.
I had to recognize I won’t be able to emotionally eat for the rest of my life if I want to maintain a healthy body. Coming to terms with that was kind of like grieving and that was really hard. I had to find ways to fill my time or things to do, like going out with friends more, in order to feel OK without food. Writing became a big thing for me.
I also felt this pressure because I just became more visible to everybody. I felt like more people were aware that I lost weight and I didn’t want to fail them. I didn’t want to fail myself.
It felt nice to receive attention and to be thought of as attractive. But at the same time, I realized I’ve only changed this one part of my physical being and that’s getting me all of this praise. That’s very sad; it’s a sad truth of our society.
I felt a lot of anxiety about food and I was just so scared that eating anything beyond what I had set as my calorie range.
Therapy helped for a bit. I also met with a nutritionist who really encouraged me to learn to re-integrate slowly the foods that I once loved.
I feel good now and I weigh 150 pounds. I eat healthy during the week and then maybe go out to eat on the weekends, or get a great dessert or bake something that I love. I don’t count calories anymore. I really believe in everything in moderation. I never wanted to stay in some sort of dieting mode or cut out food groups.
For exercise, I love walking. Being in New York City, I walk everywhere. I weigh myself once a week.
My advice to people is to become more aware of serving sizes. What is a serving of chicken? What does a cup of grains look like? What are servings of your favorite foods? That was eye-opening for me. I never knew any of that.
For weight loss, counting calories was everything. I believe what you eat is almost all of the equation. The exercise piece is really helpful because I felt good and you start this healthy cycle of, “I’ve just done something good for my body, I’d like to continue that by eating well,” and food becomes this nourishing fuel. But I think so much of it is just what we eat.
You really have to take it one day at a time and just do your best. It makes everything easier and more optimistic.