When the COVID-19 pandemic led to statewide quarantines, many people turned to food for comfort. While Brittany Neff had once been an emotional eater, she didn’t use food to cope. Instead, she relied on the behaviors that helped her lose 336 pounds in two years.
“With so many uncertainties and things that are uncontrollable in the world right now, my own health is one of the things that I had complete control over,” the 27-year-old health coach in Pennsylvania told TODAY. “Over the last four years, I've put in so much work when it comes to setting healthy habits whether it's with food or my mind or movement that nowadays that's my current reality.”
Growing up, Neff often turned to food to soothe her feelings. But when she was in 23 and couldn’t fit behind a steering wheel and needed to weigh herself on a fertilizer scale, she knew she had to change. She went from 514 pounds to 178 pounds by following Optavia, a program where people eat packaged meal replacements and rely on personal coaches to develop healthy habits and drop weight. In fact, having that community has helped her maintain her weight for the past two years.
" ... That community was such a big part of this whole journey,” she said.
To maintain her loss, she eats six small meals a day and exercises three to four times a week. She enjoys classes that combine cardio and strength training.
“I’ve learned that’s just where my body blossoms and where my body thrives,” she explained. “I know whatever I’m putting in my body is going to be good fuel and I’m going to run my best if I am doing so.”
After being almost one-third of her starting weight, Neff struggled with excess skin. In January 2019, she had skin removal surgery, which took off 13 pounds. In June of that year, she married her now husband Dwight.
“Whether it was the wedding dress or the honeymoon or just being able to pick the chair that we picked … accommodating our size didn't matter,” Neff said. “It was whatever our little hearts desired we were able to pursue and that was such a freeing experience.”
Growing up with his family pizza shop, Dwight also had an unhealthy relationship with food. But when his dad became sick in 2017, Dwight started trying to lose weight. Before, he’d lose some weight but it wouldn’t last long.
“I lost a good bit of weight and then I would gain it back. I’d lose it and it came back,” the 34-year-old printing press operator told TODAY. “This time it wasn’t going to be 'lose it and gain it back.' It was this is who I’m becoming. I’ve become the person that’s a healthy person instead of just dieting.”
In total he lost 189 pounds to weigh 194 pounds. He shed 57 pounds since the beginning of March when he started following Optavia and credits his success to his wife being his health coach.
“Having that person right there that you know has gone through it and knows exactly how you’re feeling, that just helps normalize everything you’re feeling,” he said. “I can be 100% open with her … having that next level of communication and support, it just flows really nicely.”
The two look forward to traveling and starting a family and they love how life feels so much easier now.
“As somebody who in the past has seemingly tried everything the under the sun, this has been truly life changing,” Neff said.
The couple shares tips on what helped them lose and maintain their loss.
1. ‘Tackling the mental health.’
Eating healthy foods and exercising help with weight loss, but also adjusting how one thinks goes a long way.
“The healthy mind aspect — that really is so important in becoming healthy. It’s something I don’t think a lot of people understand,” Dwight said. “If you are not tackling the mental health aspect of weight loss and a health journey it will just not last.”
2. Find a tribe.
Neff knew that having support helped her lose weight and it helps her maintain her loss and cope with all sorts of stressors. She feels that having support remains essential to people when they are trying to lose weight or maintain.
“It all comes back to that sense of community and to just find one, whether it's in our household, whether it's a virtual community or an in-person support community,” she said. “We've just been able to develop one more legitimate support.”
3. Discover your reason why.
Dwight wanted to lose weight because his father became ill and he wanted to assure his dad he would be OK. Having a sense of purpose helped him succeed.
“Just having that strong reason why this time was going to be different (meant) this time I couldn’t fail,” he said.