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Your 30th birthday is one of those big milestones everyone celebrates in some big way. Even if you hate birthdays, you probably remember what you did when you turned 30.
For Brendan O'Donnell, now 34, his 30th birthday was also a wake-up call.
The York, England, resident celebrated with his family by planning a long weekend in London, followed by a trip to Spain for a music festival.
"During the festival, I felt uncomfortable all the time," O'Donnell explained. "It was over 100 degrees and I didn't want to go out and do things. I wanted to stay inside, in the shade. I couldn't sleep. I just remember thinking, you shouldn't feel like this. This isn't right."
It was August 2013 when they returned from their trip, and O'Donnell stepped on the scale for the first time in a long time — and learned he weighed 359 pounds.
He knew something had to change. O'Donnell discussed his feelings with his wife, and together they decided to join a weight-loss plan called Slimming World.
"I wasn't convinced that a diet would work for me in the long term, but decided to give it a try," O'Donnell remembered. He and his wife tried to eat healthier before, but always wound up falling back into their old ways. Before they started on their journey, "cooking" meant taking food out of the freezer and putting it in the oven.
O'Donnell and his wife put together a weekly menu, planning out what they would eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner using new ingredients they hadn't tried before. It worked: In a week, O'Donnell had lost 13 pounds. By week two, he was down another 8 pounds.
Over the course of 10 months, O'Donnell continued to lose an average of 3.5 pounds per week. Overall, he lost 157 pounds, and his wife lost 56 pounds. Here are a few tips that O'Donnell learned along the way:
1. Challenge yourself.
"I never did any exercise," O'Donnell said, but when he started losing weight, he decided to sign up for a couch to 5K app simply "to prove it can't be done." But after eight weeks, he ran for 30 minutes without stopping. Running has become a new healthy habit for O'Donnell, who ran a marathon last year.
2. Try cooking new things.
"We made a recipe during our first week on the Slimming World program and I fell in love with it," O'Donnell recounted. "It's barbecue pulled pork, and if I haven't had it in a couple of weeks, I get upset." Other favorites included curries and lean ground-beef burgers.
3. Read other inspiring weight-loss stories.
"Check out stories from people who have done it before," he said. "They inspired me and made me want to give it a go. They made me think that I could succeed, too."
4. Don't deprive yourself.
"I never felt deprived when I craved something like chocolate or candy. I knew I could have it because I could make an allowance in my plan," O'Donnell explained. "If I wanted to have that chocolate bar or glass of wine or beer, it wouldn't be a problem. Treats were part of the menu!"
5. Find a plan or method. Don't try to go it alone.
Every time O'Donnell and his wife tried to lose weight, they wound up giving up.
"I needed plan and I needed to address my relationship with food," O'Donnell said. "What was so great about it (the Slimming World plan) was the support and the way the plan was structured to encourage people without making them feel guilty."
For more inspirational stories, check out our My Weight-Loss Journey page.