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After losing 78 pounds, this woman just completed her first marathon 

Finding exercises that she enjoyed and keeping to a calorie deficit fueled Monyka Wood’s weight loss.

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A year and a half ago, Monyka Wood of Richmond, KY, took a look at herself in a dressing room mirror and decided it was time to make some changes. The 43-year-old middle school special education teacher started gaining weight 20 years earlier when she was pregnant with her daughter. She had been watching her weight slowly climb — until she was up to 225 pounds.

At that point, Wood decided to prioritize her health. “I felt defeated," she said. "I wasn’t able to feel good in anything I was wearing. I thought, ‘It’s time. I’ve put it off and put it off. Starting today, this needs to happen.’”

Monyka Wood
"Starting today, this needs to happen," Monyka said about the day she realized how much her weight was impacting her health and confidence. Courtesy Monyka Wood

Today, she weighs 147 pounds, and she has noticed that many benefits that have come along with her weight loss. Her blood pressure and high cholesterol levels have come down, which she had been concerned about. “I was adopted by an aunt and uncle, so I don’t know a lot of my family history, but I know on my dad’s side of the family, most people have not lived out their 50s and 60s. I feel better about my future and how that will probably look compared to other family members,” she said.

She feels better physically and mentally. “If I want to go hiking, it’s easier. When I run, I don’t wake up sore anymore,” she said. “And I have confidence in myself. I feel better in my clothing and better about myself.”

To lose the weight, she changed how she exercised and what she ate. Here’s how she did it.

 Monyka Wood
Monyka has a brown belt in Krav Maga now!Courtesy Monyka Wood

She found a fitness routine that she enjoyed

Wood had joined gyms in the past but never stuck with them. “I would show up for a month and say I was going to make a change, then not continue,” she said. “So, I thought, what can I get into that’s going to keep me coming back?” She started taking martial arts classes, which include kicks, jumps and Krav Maga, as well as fitness kickboxing classes.

“It was a new hobby and a way to keep myself accountable without a boring gym. I used it as a way to get fit—it helped with the weight loss—and it was a motivator for me at the same time. I wanted to get good at it,” she said. Her commitment to improving has paid off—she now has a brown belt.

Wood also took another look at running. She ran track in high school but quit running when she went to college, then picked it up again later. “In my 30s, I was pretty overweight, and I decided to start running. I ran a few half marathons, but I never lost weight from it because I thought if I was running, I could eat whatever I wanted. I was always in the back of the pack — I wasn’t very good at it — but I liked it,” she said.

As she started to lose weight, she decided to try running again and see how it felt. “As I lost weight, my running improved a lot. Now I’m winning age group awards in local races, and I just finished my first marathon,” she said.

She stayed in a calorie deficit

Wood realized that to lose weight, she needed to take an honest look at what she was eating. After doing some research she decided to track her food intake so that she could learn to stay in a calorie deficit. She used the free version of the Lose It! app. “You put in how much weight you want to lose, and it sets an amount based on your goals and how much you’re exercising,” she said. “If I was doing a big run, it would give me more calories for the day, so it took all the guesswork out of it.”

She started with a baseline of 1200 calories per day, plus the calories she burned from exercising. “It was hard at first, so the trick was finding food that would fill me up and still be low-calorie. It took a lot of thinking in the grocery store and a lot of research on food. I had to be strategic about the food I ate and what I could fit in with those calories. I was hungry in the first few weeks, but after that, I figured out what worked for me,” she said.

Monyka Wood
Monyka said that starting with small goals helped her stay on track. Courtesy Monyka Wood

She also aimed for 120 grams of protein per day: “I think increasing the protein really helped me feel full longer.”

Wood said the weight came off quickly at first, but the last 15 pounds or so were harder to lose. “I had small goals — at first to reach 220, then to get under 200, then 190. Every time I reached a goal, I set a new one. Progress and success feel good, so you want to keep going. Within nine months, I met my goal. Since then, I’ve been maintaining,” she said.

She no longer tracks everything she eats, but she starts up again if she feels she needs to. “When I start to get off track, I’ll pull the app back up and start using it again for a couple of weeks to keep myself accountable again,” she said.

Monyka Wood
Monyka uses the Start TODAY group to connect with other people trying to meet their fitness goals.Courtesy Monyka Wood

Here’s what she eats in a typical day:

  • Breakfast: A protein bar or protein coffee shake on school days; a 100-calorie English muffin with eggs, avocado, spinach and pico de gallo on weekends
  • Lunch: Leftover seasoned shredded turkey over spinach with a protein shake or protein yogurt
  • Dinner: Chicken or turkey with vegetables

“The vegetables help fill you up without a lot of calories,” she said.

She connects with others online

Wood joined the Start TODAY Walking Challenge in September when she shared her 1.5-year journey toward weight loss and better health. She turns to the group to get motivation from others’ journeys, give other people hope in their journeys, and celebrate successes.

She said, “It’s such a motivating group, and I can’t help but get excited for other people when they post their progress, or that they just ran or walked their first 5K, or any distance. No matter what stage in my health journey I am in, it will always be a work in progress, and I love the motivation from the group to keep making lifestyle changes."