After Shannon Mariano saw a picture of herself with her family, she was sad. She didn’t like how she looked and believed the photos would look better without her.
“I went through a really painful moment for me looking at the pictures of my own family. I wished that I hadn’t been in them,” the 33-year-old stay-at-home mom from Tracy, California, told TODAY. “It caused me to look at my purpose.”
Frustrated with her weight, she decided to join WW (formerly Weight Watchers) to develop healthier eating habits and lose weight. But she didn’t tell anyone — not even her twin sister Brytni Soto. She worried she might fail again and didn’t want anyone to know.
“I have tried so many programs, just a lot of different techniques, things ... to lose weight quickly,” Mariano said. “They didn’t work for me and so I knew this was my moment. 2020 was my chance. You couldn’t gather so no one could watch me fail. Nobody could have a lens into what I was trying and wasn’t working.”
As the two were FaceTiming in May 2020, Soto noticed something new with her sister.
“I said, ‘There is something different? What is different about you?' And she shared with me,” Soto, a division administration official for a national security institution, told TODAY. “That day I signed up and I was fully committed.”
Soto had started to gain weight after having a baby. Long work days and a stressful commute meant that she didn’t have time to make healthy meals and often went out to eat for lunch.
“I realized at the start of the pandemic that things had to change,” Soto said. “I didn’t know what those things were at the time, but I knew I had to make a difference.”
Mariano’s starting weight was 184 pounds and Soto’s was 179. They both set goal weights. While they worked toward their goals, they focused on non-scale victories to keep them motivated.
“(One) was being able to put on a pair of thigh high boots — that was a big deal for me,” Mariano said. “I couldn’t even get regular boots on.”
Soto remembers when her wedding ring fit again.
“My wedding ring actually didn’t fit me and I had to go out and buy a costume ring that was bigger,” she said. “When I was able to put my actual wedding ring back on and have it be too big that was one of those things I was really surprisingly proud of.”
Both reached their goal weights — Mariano lost 57 pounds and Soto lost 54 — by eating healthier foods. They incorporate more fruits and vegetables into their diets, even when they go out to eat, and make healthy swaps when they can.
“We’ll make worthwhile trades,” Soto said. “We might change a pizza sauce. It doesn’t mean we don’t eat pizza. It just means we make changes that are worth it to us.”
They appreciate the help they receive from the WW app and community.
“You are so incredibly empowered to do the things you’ve always loved. Perhaps it’s a little different but delicious, healthy option,” Mariano explained. She added that one tool in the app she used a lot was the recipe builder, where you can enter foods that you have and it will provide recipe options.
Throughout this experience the twins feel like they’ve learned a lot about themselves.
“I quit everything I’ve ever started and it was not until WW that I realized that I don’t have to be that anymore,” Mariano said. “I realized that I am powerful. I can make a change that’s difficult, like losing weight.”
For Soto, losing weight has helped her set healthier boundaries and thrive.
“What I learned throughout this process was the process for becoming well rounded and how that starts to take shape in all different areas of my life, remembering what is important to me, setting a good example for my daughter,” she said. “I really want to understand what a healthy, balanced life looks like.”
Both women are lifetime members, meaning they lost the weight and maintained it for six weeks. Soto reached her goal weight in September and Mariano hit her goal weight in October.
Here is their advice for others hoping to adopt healthier eating habits.
1. Take pictures.
Sometimes the number on the scale doesn’t change when trying to lose weight. But there might be other wins that people experience. Mariano often looked at before pictures to determine how far she had come.
“Take those before pictures. You’re going to hate them but you’ll thank me later when you can have those to look back at how far you've come,” Mariano said. “Pay close attention to the other things that can tell this bigger part of the story.”
2. ‘Don’t do it alone.’
Soto felt lucky that she could talk to Mariano about what they were eating and share scale and non-scale victories. But she also was glad to rely on the WW community too.
“Don’t do it alone because there are lots of people, whether they are in the WW community (or) people around you that may be going through the same thing,” she said. “I learned a lot from Shannon, going through this journey and I know I could not have been successful this far along and sticking to it without her.”
Mariano agreed that having her sister helps as well as using the WW “Connect” platform, a site where people using WW can get support.
“I have made lifelong, lasting relationships,” she said. “Connect has been a source of power for me. It’s been a source of accountability for me. It has allowed me to build, generate, foster relationships with people.”
3. Focus on the small changes.
When thinking of weight loss it’s easy to feel overwhelmed trying to reach a certain number. But making a lot of small changes can make weight loss feel easier.
“The other thing for me was to focus on making small steps in the right direction and just committing to those small steps,” Soto said. “Just find something that you want to commit to, small goals in the right direction and just celebrating when you accomplish those.”