At 54, Heidi Olson Jones had never worn a swimsuit in her entire adult life.
Overweight for decades, she was used to wearing a T-shirt and shorts when she went swimming. At 5 feet, 9 inches tall, she reached 309 pounds — a BMI that firmly put her in the obese category.
But today, she’s the owner of two swimsuits after losing 115 pounds.
“It feels really good… I'm not at my ideal weight yet. I’m not skinny by any means, I'll never be skinny, but for me, I just wanted to be comfortable. I didn’t want to cover up my body,” Jones, who lives in Oregon City, Oregon, told TODAY.
“I'm never going to wear a bikini, but I'm at least not hiding behind clothes.”
When Jones recently posted about her weight loss online, the tweet went viral. Jones heard from lots of people who hadn't worn swimsuits for a long time, too, she said, noting most everyone could relate to her story.
As the many extra pounds accumulated gradually over the years, Jones became frustrated that she didn't have good range of motion and didn’t feel good. Food was comforting and addictive.
“It was just a long slow process of weight gain and just general unhappiness,” said Jones, who works in the health care industry. As she approached her 50th birthday, she wasn't happy with many aspects of her life, so this was one area she could do something about.
Jones started her weight loss journey in 2018, calling her approach “really boring — people roll their eyes when I tell them in person how long and how I do it.”
“The weight loss was not rapid, but just one pound kept reinforcing it,” she noted. “I literally went pound by pound.”
Here’s her successful strategy:
Give up refined sugar.
Jones had never tried any fad diets, but she remembered that when she stopped eating sugar for a while in her 20s, she felt much healthier. Making that change again kick-started her into the weight loss.
“Sugar is my nemesis,” Jones said. “I looked at those empty calories and they were easy to give up.”
She eats no added white sugar, skipping sugar in her coffee, and no foods that contain a lot of sugar, like donuts, cake and cookies. That’s her one steadfast rule.
Jones still eats fruits and carbohydrates, and knows added sugar hides in foods that don't taste sweet, but she just focuses on giving up all obvious refined sugar.
Pay attention to serving sizes.
Jones started watching her portions, eating most everything she usually enjoyed, but being mindful of how many calories were on her plate.
“That was radical for me because I never was consciously consuming. I just ate, ate, ate,” she said. “The sugar is addictive, I'll say that for sure, but it was also just the mindless eating.”
At breakfast time, for example, she measures half a cup of oatmeal, a quarter cup of nuts and adds one banana. She knows the caloric content of everything and keeps count of how many calories she eats with a fitness tracker. Jones estimated that on average, she eats fewer than 1,800 calories per day.
Listen to your body cues.
Jones pays careful attention to when she’s hungry and when she’s full.
“I think there was some irrational connection for me with hunger. It's like being hungry was bad. Well, being hungry is actually good because it's my body telling me what I need and what I don't need,” she said.
“I just remember that being too full doesn't feel good.”
Get smart about snacking.
Intermittent fasting wasn’t for Jones, who eats three meals a day and enjoys snacks if she gets hungry between meals.
But her snacks are different now: She might have half a cup of edamame, which is satiating and contains protein; popcorn, which is filling and has fiber; or a mozzarella stick. The choices are satisfying and have caloric content Jones can keep track of easily.
Jones doesn’t shy away from fat, enjoying butter, mayonnaise and full-fat yogurt.
If she’s craving something sweet, she’ll eat a piece of fresh fruit or dried apricots, figs or plums. If she must have potato chips, she’ll get a little chip bag so she can control the quantity and caloric intake.
“I don't deny myself. I figure life is short, I'm not going to be miserable,” she said.
Jones calls walking her salvation. She tries to walk at least five days a week for about 30 minutes — just regular city walking that gets her out of the house.
“It just helps me feel good. It gets me moving. It's free, I can do it with the dog, I can do it with a friend, I can do it by myself,” she said. “It's a stress reliever. It's everything.”
Focus on your health
After losing so much weight, Jones feels “fantastic.” She reversed her hypertension and prediabetes. Her cholesterol has gone down 29 points over the last five years and her back doesn't hurt anymore.
She now weighs 194 pounds, with her goal weight of 170 in sight. She’s planning a trip to a warm place where she will have a chance to wear her new swimsuits.
“I want to be healthy first and foremost. The added benefit of feeling better — having more clothing options — is fun. The swimsuits are frivolous, but very fun, and just in general enjoying everything a lot more,” Jones said.