After losing 124 pounds by taking a selfie a day, Justine McCabe "chose to live." She tried things she couldn’t do when she weighed 313 pounds, such as snorkeling, cliff diving, hiking and sky diving. While she embraced life, an unexpected injury forced her to slow down and find balance.
“I learned a very valuable lesson,” she told TODAY. “You have to listen to your body, what it’s telling you.”
After her mother and her husband died, McCabe, 34, used food to cope. Her friends and family noticed that she had gained weight and seemed unhappy and hounded her to exercise. In April 2015, the single mom went to the gym “out of spite” and took a picture of herself. That started a habit that helped her drop pounds: Posting a daily selfie on Instagram as Hairstargetsfit. But, facing herself wasn’t always easy.
“I didn’t like what I saw,” she said. “I feel like I look so broken and lost and sad and that’s the reason why I started taking a picture a day. I wanted to see myself change, see if my expression would change.”
After shedding the weight, McCabe enjoyed activities she couldn’t do before, including obstacle course races, traveling and horseback riding, a hobby she had loved since childhood. But, one day when she was riding in late 2018, the horse reared up and she fell off, “blowing out” her knee. She continued her rigorous pace and self-challenges until, eventually, her body couldn’t keep up.
“I kept saying, ‘No I’m fine. Keep pushing. This is what I do,’” she explained. “I still wanted to seem like I was the same and I was so great.”
When the pain became too much and she finally visited a doctor. McCabe learned that she had torn her meniscus and ACL. The doctor recommended surgery, but still she balked at the idea.
McCabe kept up her intense workouts until she eventually fell ill and was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. Now, she wonders if her constant high-intensity routines pushed her too far.
“I was never really letting my body have time to heal and recover,” McCabe said.
Once she began to focus on her health, she started learning more about her own limits.
“It's so important to not sit and pretend that we are perfect, that we always have that same motivation and energy because it's not (sustainable),” she said. “Things in life happen and we have to accept that.”
Since then, she’s learned to adapt and find balance. Now, she focuses on low-impact exercise, such as swimming and Lagree workouts, that allow her to be active without injuring herself.
“It’s really easy to modify,” McCabe said. “It just helps me stay in shape.”
Now that she's more focused on maintaining her weight loss, she's adjusted her eating habits. While losing weight, she was eating six small meals and low carbohydrate options. Currently, McCabe eats more traditionally, enjoying about three meals a day. She doesn’t beat herself up about snacking on foods she loves and finds that eating them in moderation keeps her from binge eating.
“I definitely try to stick more towards the intuitive eating,” McCabe said. “Listening to your body truly is the best way to maintain your loss because your body's going to tell you what it needs.”
At the end of October, McCabe opened The Magnolia Rose Hair Studio, a salon in Burbank, California, with friends. Even with the stress of starting a new business and the changes that come her sons now being teenagers at 15 and 13, McCabe’s mindful approach has helped her stay healthy and maintain her weight.
“It's hard to make those good, positive choices especially when life is not going exactly as planned,” she said. “Every choice that I ever make it's always based upon that idea that I'm choosing to live. I'm choosing to live my best life.”