What started with a simple change to Stephanie Engblom's coffee order has turned into a combined weight loss of nearly 200 pounds for Stephanie and her husband, Brandon.
Stephanie, who lives in Duluth, Minnesota, says she and her husband of two years woke up one morning in January 2020 and decided something had to change.
"We looked in the mirror, looked at each other and said, 'You know what, this is one of our lowest lows,'" Stephanie told TODAY. "We were both over 300 pounds, Brandon had just gotten diagnosed with sleep apnea and I was just feeling awful. My whole body ached every day."
"We needed to make a change if we wanted to live a long, happy, healthy life together and maybe someday start a family," said the 25-year-old.
In less than a year, Stephanie has lost 116 pounds. Brandon has lost more than 80. The couple says there's been no fad diet or extreme exercise plan involved with their success. Instead, it's been about revamping their entire lifestyle into something they can keep up with forever.
"I've been overweight my entire life," said Stephanie. "I have early memories of trying fad diets like Weight Watchers or low-carb and I would initially lose a little bit of weight, but I would never be able to keep it off long-term. I’d always gain it back plus five pounds."
The couple says sustainability was key as they mapped out a plan for better health.
"We wanted this to be something where we could not only see results immediately," Stephanie, who works as a photographer, continued, "but something we could stick to for ideally the rest of our lives so we wouldn’t have to keep playing this game."
Stephanie and Brandon shared their keys to sustainable weight loss with TODAY.
Stephanie says step one was cutting out little things that added up to an unhealthy lifestyle.
"For me, that was cutting out my sugary coffee and replacing it with lower-calorie options," she said. "I'm still drinking coffee — I still have my lattes — but instead of whole milk and chocolate and syrup, I’m drinking almond milk and just espresso."
They still enjoy their favorite dishes like pizza and tacos, with a healthier spin.
"For tacos, instead of cooking with ground beef we use ground turkey or chicken, and we use Greek yogurt instead of sour cream and a little bit less cheese with more veggies," she explained. "For pizza, we make it at home and use turkey pepperoni."
"You can eat everything you want still, just in moderation," she continued. "It's more about portion size and being mindful of how much you're eating rather than completely restricting yourself of certain foods."
For Brandon, a 29-year-old attorney, it's all about focusing on protein.
"It was a big shift away from really carb-heavy pastas and things like that, and shifting into a much more protein-based diet because protein keeps you fuller for longer," he told TODAY. "You can have really good meals that are based heavily in different types of protein and not feel like you're missing out or depriving yourself of a meal you really want to have."
Brandon's tip for protein-packed comfort foods?
"We use things like chickpea noodles for example rather than traditional pasta — the difference in calorie load and protein you get out of that is just astronomical."
Stephanie and Brandon found greater success in having each other as weight-loss partners.
"It's strengthened our relationship," she said. "I feel like we’ve only gotten stronger together and doing this with him has made it more possible than doing it alone."
Stephanie also found accountability on social media: Between her TikTok and Instagram accounts, she has more than 120,000 followers supporting her and finding their own motivation from her weight-loss journey.
Stephanie says journaling has also been a way to stay accountable to herself for her health goals.
"I keep a weekly log of everything," she explained, "what I’m eating, my emotions, why I’m wanting to eat. Journaling is something everyone can do because everyone should have a pen and a paper."
Stephanie used to think in order to lose weight, you had to do intense workouts at the gym every day of the week. Now, she's learned it's about finding sustainable ways she enjoys moving her body.
"We've been walking about a mile every day with our dog and we make an effort to make sure we’re doing something active," she said. "It doesn’t have to be an actual workout each day, sometimes it’s cleaning the house or going outside or playing with the dog. It’s something that we’ve built into our routine so we’re not really viewing it as exercise, we’re viewing it as just our routine now."
"We do go to the gym every now and then," she added, "but we’ve really just been doing very light workouts — nothing crazy, just moving more."
Exercise isn't the only routine the Engbloms have built into their lives.
"Stephanie puts it pretty well when she tells people if you’re going to lose weight, you can’t do it from a place of motivation because motivation is a very fleeting experience," Brandon explained. "Maybe you have it for a couple of days or a month if you’re really dedicated, but that motivation will fade, so you have to ground it in routines."
The duo has made daily tasks like drinking water, movement and making healthier food choices part of a routine they hope to keep up for the rest of their lives, rather than planning to follow a restrictive diet to get fleeting results.
"In the past, I'd wake up dreading the fact that I couldn’t have certain things or that I needed to restrict," Stephanie added. "But this time around, it’s just a normal day, it’s just a routine now. Even on the days I’m not motivated, I’m determined to follow my routine."
So what advice would the Engbloms give to others who are just starting out on a weight-loss journey?
"Make small changes: It doesn’t have to be complete restriction from the get-go," she explained. "Something new each day that leaves you one step closer to your ultimate goal, whether that’s drinking more water today than you did yesterday or skipping the ketchup at dinner — just little things you can modify every day rather than completely cold turkey all at once because that is where you can run into trouble."
For Brandon, who works as an attorney, it's all about knowing there's no going back.
"Be open to changing your mindset that this isn’t just you dieting, this is now your life and who you are going to be going forward. You have to know you’re going to alter your life in a way where this is your new normal."