Shelby Sacco is a 25-year-old from Michigan whose TikTok video about her weight loss and healthy eating journey is going viral.
In the video, which has over 2.5 million views and 444,000 likes, Sacco breaks down how she lost 25 pounds and has maintained her weight loss for over a year by eating healthy 60% to 80% of the week. Her advice is approachable and her delivery upbeat, but just two years ago, she was in a very different place.
“I was extremely sad. … My mental health was terrible, my physical health was terrible,” Sacco told TODAY. She'd graduated with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and criminal justice the year before, and was working at her first job out of college.
“I struggled with disordered eating for eight years,” Sacco said. In college, she said she began abusing prescription amphetamines to lose weight, which led to a habit of not eating during the day. After she stopped taking the drug, she started binge-eating.
During that first year out of college, Sacco said she gained "a lot of weight" and struggled with dieting and negative thoughts about her self-worth. “I knew I wanted to be healthy so that I had energy during the day, so that I was confident in myself and I was doing the right things for my body," she recalled.
One day in July 2020, Sacco decided she needed to make a change. “I was like, I’m going to figure it out for myself and teach my sisters,” said Sacco, who is one of six children. “So I started by learning about habits, and it completely changed my world.”
Sacco said she's always had an interest in behavioral sciences, and started reading every book she could find about forming habits. “I basically rewired my thinking completely,” she said. To reshape her approach to eating, she started with small changes.
“What I learned from researching habits is that for someone to actually make a change that’s sustainable … it has to be something that’s easy to do. So I looked at my own life, and I factored in the realistic things,” Sacco explained.
Eating healthy 60% to 80% of the time
That’s how she landed on the 60% to 80% method that ultimately helped her lose 25 pounds.
“If you’re eating healthy a majority of the time, over that 50% line, you’re eating healthy,” Sacco said of the mindset she adapted. She knew she would not give up family dinners, pizza nights and drinking wine with her roommates. “But I could eat 60% to 80% healthy each week while still doing all the things I love, healing my disordered eating and not restricting myself,” she said.
In her viral TikTok, Sacco shares two ways she guarantees that 60% to 80% of her weekly meals (about 13 to 17 meals) will be healthy.
Healthy breakfast every day (7 meals)
“I know that I can keep my breakfast consistent,” Sacco said, because she often likes to go out for lunch or order dinner. So she plans out what she will make for breakfast each week, such as eggs or avocado, and sticks to it every day.
“If I can eat seven healthy meals for breakfast, I’m already in a great place,” she said. She added that making the same meal of the day healthy every day of the week — whether it's breakfast, lunch or dinner — makes a big difference in hitting the 60% to 80% mark.
Prep a two-serving meal two times a week (4 meals)
Sacco’s second strategy is cooking two healthy meals each week that are two servings each, adding four healthy meals and bringing her total to 11.
“I created this little habit that I do in the mornings so when I make breakfast, I’ll meal prep one thing,” Sacco said. Whether it’s chicken and veggies or salmon and rice, Sacco said she always makes two servings so she can have the meal for lunch and dinner or leftovers for one meal the next day.
When Sacco was trying to form this habit, she ensured the prep was as easy as possible. "I’ll literally put salmon and precut vegetables in the oven, and it takes me two minutes,” Sacco said. Another tip: Choose foods that can be easily heated up or added on top of a salad the next day, and keep prepped meals easily accessible.
With these two strategies, "I’m already eating 11 healthy meals a week, which means I only have two more to go to get in that 60% to 80% range,” Sacco said.
To get there, she'll usually cook one more meal with two servings or choose two other meals to eat healthy.
On Sundays, she creates a grocery list with all the ingredients for the meals she wants to prepare that week, plus snacks. “I just try to make sure that I have healthy options in the fridge ready … and options that I actually will eat,” Sacco said, adding that she usually buys a mix of veggies, protein and carbs. She also learned about the correct portion sizes for meals so she doesn't count calories.
In addition to her meals, Sacco keeps healthy snacks on hand, like cut-up bell peppers or grapes, and leaves them out as a visual cue to remind her to fuel herself between meals.
Sacco's small, consistent changes have added up in the long run. “I’ve kept this off successfully without one problem for over the last year and a half, because the changes are ... sustainable," she said.
Walking and self-love
Sacco said she used this same approach to create habits around exercise. She started with walking but eventually realized she loves strength training, which she's been doing consistently for the last year. But it took a lot of trial and error to figure out what she likes.
“The way I framed it in my mind was you’re never failing anytime you do something that you don’t like. … You’re actually learning what’s going to work for you,” she said.
There was one more habit Sacco picked up that transformed her life: loving herself.
“I was really cruel to myself. I would look in the mirror and just pick myself apart,” Sacco recalled. Instead, she "created the habit of saying something kind" to herself and writing affirmations each day.
“It feels weird to be kind to yourself or to build yourself up,” Sacco said. "(But) the more I told myself that I’m capable, I’m making healthy choices, I love my body, all these things, I started to believe it. And I started to make choices that reflected it."
Self-love also helps Sacco be kind to herself when she falls out of her routine, which happened last December when she was sick with COVID-19 for a few weeks. “I was like, I love myself, I’m giving myself grace … it’s OK,” Sacco said.
Sacco started sharing her journey on Instagram in 2020, but it wasn't until January this year that she began making TikTok videos about the power of habit to change your life. She now has almost 437,000 followers on TikTok. “I love talking about habits. It’s like my purpose and my passion,” she said.
Recently, Sacco quit her full-time job to focus on TikTok, and she's said she's getting certified as a nutritionist, personal trainer and behavioral change specialist so she can teach and uplift others.
Ultimately, Sacco said she hopes sharing her story can help others going through similar struggles feel less alone — and realize it’s possible to turn things around.
“I truly believe that everyone is capable of changing their lives. They just need to be aware of how to do it,” she said.
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