Every weight-loss journey starts with a moment of extreme frustration. For Gabriela Portillo, it was the day when she realized she could no longer zip up her winter coat.
“That was my breaking point,” Portillo, 32, who lives in Toronto, told TODAY. “I was like, OK, this is it. Enough is enough.”
It was the fall of 2017 and the avid traveler had just returned from a three-month backpacking trip to Europe — the most exhausting, unenjoyable backpacking experience she’d ever had because of her weight.
Standing 5 feet, 4 inches tall, Portillo reached 205 pounds — a BMI that put her in the obese category. She wasn’t able to complete certain hikes and felt defeated she that couldn’t fully enjoy all the amazing places she’d just visited.
It was a frustration years in the making. The weight began slowly piling on in her 20s when Portillo attended university,
“I wasn't very active and 100% of my eating was horrible. There was also an excessive amount of drinking, so calories just went to alcohol and eating takeout basically every day. I hardly ever cooked my own meals,” she recalled.
Constant yo-yo dieting meant she lost and gained “the same 10 pounds” for 10 years.
Back from that European trip, she was determined to finally slim down. It worked, but there were setbacks, mistakes and a major restart along the way.
Today, Portillo weighs about 150 pounds. She shared the lessons she learned for losing weight and maintaining that loss:
Don’t do anything drastic.
When Portillo first set out to lose a lot of weight, she took it too far.
“I set up horrible, horrible restrictions for myself,” she recalled. That included giving up all sweets, a rule that inspired the name of her Instagram account, @nomorecake4gaby. It was a drastic change for Portillo, who has a huge sweet tooth.
She also cut out all alcohol, ate only 1,200 calories a day and spent two or three hours at the gym most days of the week. She allowed herself “cheat days,” but called them a horrible mindset to have.
Portillo lost 70 pounds in nine months, but wasn’t able to maintain that lifestyle and regained about 50 pounds: “I fell into diet culture’s trap,” she said.
Don’t expect weight-loss to solve your problems.
When Portillo reached her lowest weight of 135 pounds and fit into size 6 jeans, she was shocked to discover she felt miserable.
“(I thought), ‘When I get to that number I will love myself’ and I was completely, completely wrong,” she recalled. “I hated the way I looked… I had more confidence at my heaviest than I did all my lowest.”
The biggest mistake was not putting any effort into loving and appreciating her body, Portillo noted.
She decided fix her mindset and take some time away from social media, which she found toxic because she kept comparing herself to other people.
Create sustainable change.
Portillo restarted her weight-loss journey in the spring of 2020 after she lost her job in the hospitality industry amid the coronavirus lockdowns.
She was determined do things differently this time. Her rules are:
She can eat everything she wants, but in moderation: The focus is on portion control and fixing her relationship with food. She doesn’t shun carbs or fat. There’s no good food vs. bad food — it’s just food, she noted. “When I want to have a treat, I allow myself to have that,” Portillo said. “Before with my restrictions, it was like ‘No, I'm not going to have those Oreos.’ And then the day would come when I would eat the entire box of Oreos.”
She moves her body for joy: Since gyms were closed during the pandemic, Portillo began running and biking. Last summer, she challenged herself to bike from Toronto to Niagara Falls. “I’ve found exercise that I enjoy so it doesn't even feel like a chore anymore,” she said. “I wake up and I want to do it, which is just crazy to me because I never imagined I would want to wake up and run for fun.” Portillo runs five days a week, anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour-and-a-half each time; and does one-hour-long strength training workouts four days a week.
She counts calories and macros: Portillo wants to build more muscle, so she wants to know how much protein and how many carbs she’s putting in her body. Right now, she eats about 2,000 calories a day.
When diets end, people regain the weight, often more than they lost. The key is finding an eating and exercise routine you can do indefinitely.
“I've been consistent, that's the key in all of weight loss,” Portillo said. “I needed to find something that was sustainable for me that I could do for the rest of my life, and this is definitely it.”
Work on self-love.
Learning to love and appreciate her body has been a game changer for Portillo. It’s no longer about a certain weight or jean size, but happiness and confidence. The scale is a tool she uses to monitor her plan, but she’s not overly obsessive about it.
Portillo also feels physically better: She has more energy, her knees and lower back no longer ache and she sleeps well. “Overall, it’s just like night and day,” Portillo said.