After a dinner out with her family where the staff struggled to find a seat that she would fit into, Jennifer Butters knew she needed to lose weight. At the time, the 5-foot-5-inch woman weighed 410 pounds.
After three and a half years of hard work, she dropped a total of 275 pounds.
"The most difficult part for losing the weight was in admitting to myself that I was out of control with my emotional eating and that if I didn't stop, I was likely going to die from the damage it was causing," Butters, 53, of Lebanon, Pennsylvania, told TODAY via email.
Like so many women, she put on weight during her three pregnancies and failed to lose it. That, combined with a love of baked goods and comfort food, meant Butters’ weight increased dramatically before she realized that if she didn't change her habits, her high cholesterol and pre-diabetes would become bigger problems.
“I’ve learned that whenever we live in an unbalanced way … our lives can’t be truly healthy or happy,” she said.
For the past three years, she’s maintained her weight loss thanks to a focus on mindful eating.
“I hope that people know what seems impossible is possible with God and no matter what our stories have been in the past, we can write a happier ending,” she said.
Butters shared her advice for losing and maintaining weight loss.
1. Start now!
Before losing 275 pounds, Butters tried — and failed — to lose weight many times. People told her she’d “never lose weight and keep it off.” But she started anyway.
“Don’t let any excuses get in your way,” she said. "Choose a healthy, balanced weight-loss plan and surround yourself with as much support, encouragement and inspiration."
2. Find a plan that works with your lifestyle.
Butters keeps a food journal — it helps her make smart food choices and count calories. She also walks and bikes for exercise instead of going to the gym. These changes make sense with her life, so adding them feels easy.
“I focus on keeping balance,” she said.
3. Shop around the outside of the grocery store.
Vegetables, fruits, lean meats, low-fat dairy and whole grains make up the bulk of Butters’ diet. She buys them and stays away from the center of the grocery store, often where processed foods, snacks and sugary beverages are.
“I basically stick to eating foods found in the perimeter of the grocery store,” she said.
4. Remember being overweight is hard work.
While Butters worked hard to lose weight, it did not feel as difficult as being overweight. Feeling exhausted from doing the smallest task or being humiliated when she couldn't fit somewhere took more energy than eating healthfully and exercising.
“Being morbidly obese is harder. Choose your hard. I choose living healthy,” she said. "Staying healthy and keeping the weight off 'tastes' much better than any kind of food."
5. Give yourself off days.
For birthdays, anniversaries or holidays, Butters enjoys foods that aren’t part of her eating plan. But she doesn’t worry about over-indulging.
“It feels so much better to be at a healthy weight and to be free of all the emotional baggage I carried around that I don’t completely enjoy eating ‘off plan’ for very long. After a day or so off, I am ready to get back on,” she said.
6. Be mindful about your eating habits.
Butters gained a lot of weight by simply not paying attention. She’d binge on food without thinking about it. But those habits make living a healthy life almost impossible.
“Continue focusing on healthy, balanced eating and living. Don’t think you can go back to mindless eating and careless living again and stay at a healthy weight and lifestyle. It’s not possible,” she said.
7. Be positive.
“Too often, we view our struggles as proof that we’re weak … and this leads us to more and more negative thoughts and doubts,” she said. “But I have learned that the struggles we go through are proof that we have not given up.”
For more inspirational stories, check out our My Weight-Loss Journey page!