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Emily Conley Baker, a 34-year-old mom in Queens, NY, felt like being overweight was her destiny. “I thought it was genetic. Everyone in our family was overweight, so I just felt like that’s who I was,” she says.
Throughout the years, she tried many different weight-loss strategies, but nothing worked: “I felt kind of hopeless with the whole situation.”
But her father’s death pushed Baker to rethink her relationship with her health. He died at age 61, three weeks after her youngest child was born. Baker has three children, aged 3 to 9, and when he died, she realized that she didn't want her own children to suffer the fate of losing a parent young. “The thought of my children losing their mother — it was a wake-up moment,” she says.
Baker’s two brothers had succeeded with weight-loss surgery. So, in May 2021 — weighing 320 pounds — she decided to give it a try. The surgery worked well for her, too. Baker lost 30 pounds in the first month post-surgery. After about a year, she reached a weight of 185 pounds that she has maintained since: “I feel like the surgery saved my life. It really helped me get my life back on track.”
Losing weight has helped Baker feel better in her body from the inside out, and it's also helped her shift the way she thinks about herself. “Mentally, before, I had conversations in my head about my physical body and appearance. It wasn’t good,” she says.
Baker is no longer burdened by the negative self-talk and body image issues she once was. Plus, she’s no longer resigned to an early death — she has hope for her future. “For the first 33 years of my life, I would have told you I was going to die young. I don’t have that feeling anymore,” she says.
She took her runs from 15 seconds to 26.2 miles
Baker started running in early August 2021, after recovering from weight-loss surgery. At first, she was a bit daunted. “I was really intimidated by running — I was scared to death — so I started on a treadmill.”
Baker began with 15 seconds of running — which was all she could do at the time — and combined it with walking. “That 15 seconds turned into 30 seconds, and then it turned into a minute. You just work up slowly,” she says.
She took virtual running classes on her treadmill and discovered she liked them! It turned out that running class was good for her mental health. “It was giving me goals, and I was reaching those goals. That felt good,” she says.
She challenged herself to run a 5K on the treadmill by her birthday on August 22. “It was awful. I was absolutely miserable. But I finished, so I was proud of myself, and I wanted to keep going,” she says. The benefit of feeling good helped her push past the discomfort.
That 15 seconds turned into 30 seconds, and then it turned into a minute. You just work up slowly.
From there, Baker moved her runs outdoors. She was a New York City transplant and wanted to use her runs to explore the city. By Thanksgiving 2021, she ran her first 5k, a turkey trot.
After that, a neighbor recommended she join a group run. Initially, Baker felt unsure about the prospect of running in a group. “That was really intimidating, because I had the mentality that I was such a newbie and I was going to go run with other people. It was a lot for someone who came from a mindset of being ashamed and upset with my physical body. But something inside me kept saying, ‘You gotta do it,'” Baker says.
Gradually, she increased her running to walking ratio so that she could run a half-marathon in March. “That was the worst run of my entire life. But I learned so much from that. I had to use each experience when I wasn’t necessarily happy or proud and grow with it,” she says. Again, Baker found that the long-term gains she was experiencing helped keep her going when she was uncomfortable in the short-term.
Baker got the opportunity to run the New York City marathon in early November as a fundraiser for Be the Match, an organization that helps match bone marrow donors and recipients. “I felt like, ‘What did I get myself signed up for?’” she says. “But deep down, I wanted to do it, and I knew I was doing it for an amazing cause.”
She created a training plan that worked for her busy life and added a few miles every weekend. “I still had to go to work every day. I still had to take care of my children, and I still had things to do, so I knew I had to tailor my plan,” she says. “I work out a lot, but it helps me be a better mother, a better nurse and a better person.”
She pays attention to her body when she eats
When Baker was training for the marathon, she was eating a lot of carbs, but now that she’s running shorter distances, she’s balancing her proteins, fats and carbs: “I allow myself to eat what I want when I want, but I listen to my body.” She aims to eat whole, nutritious foods most of the time.
What she eats in a typical day
Baker prefers to have smaller, more frequent meals. Here’s how that might play out:
- Breakfast: Baker is on the go in the mornings, so she’ll often have a protein shake. She’ll make overnight oats or cook two eggs if she has time.
- Midmorning snack: One or two protein balls.
- Lunch: Stir-fry with chicken, veggies and rice.
- Afternoon snack: Beef jerky or yogurt.
- Dinner: Chicken with a vegetable and rice, or mini-pizzas.
Baker has learned that while something like mini-pizzas might not be the healthiest choice, it can be a part of her overall diet. “It doesn’t work in our house to have multiple dinners, so I make sure I’m eating something the kids will also eat. We’re not perfect 100% of the time. That was a mindset I had to change — before, one bad meal would have derailed me,” she says.
“Now, I don’t even want to call it a bad meal. I’m allowed to eat something that might not have as much nutritional value and still have a nutritious meal the next time. I’m looking at food differently. It’s like I’m taking the power away from the food.”
She connects with in-person and virtual support
When Baker joined the running club, she met her coach — they’ve been training together for a year: “She’s not just about the workout. We work on my mind, my body, and everything in between. With her help, I was able to shed some of my negative thoughts and patterns.”
Baker also finds support in the Start TODAY Facebook group. “For so long, I felt so alone in my struggle with my weight and how I felt,” she says. “Now I’m in an environment where people are motivating and encouraging and feeling the same way, and that’s what’s helped me more than anything else,” she says. "I couldn’t get enough of it because it was just people exactly like me ... it kind of lights a spark within you, you have this moment of like, wow, they’ve made themselves and their movement a priority today. I want to go and do that for myself."
“They’re total strangers, but they’re rooting for you. There’s so much value in that,” she adds.
She prioritizes herself, so she can be there for others
“I’ve learned that when I make myself a priority, it allows so much more room for me to then make my children a priority, to make the people I care for a priority, and to make my goals a priority. You have to care for yourself. It’s not selfish. You can’t pour from an empty cup,” she says.
Baker, who is now a running instructor and a certified personal trainer, also wants her children to learn from her example: “I want my children to understand you can make good decisions about your health and you can change your life at any point. You just have to be willing to put the work in.”