After Hilary Downey gave birth to her first son in 2013, she hoped the pregnancy weight would come off easily. But, she was 30 pounds overweight before she got pregnant and gained 70 pounds during her pregnancy. So, she was carrying 100 extra pounds. “I was a little naive in thinking that it was baby weight and that it would just come off when I gave birth. That did not happen,” she said.
With the extra weight, she felt unhealthy. “I felt like a stranger to myself. I had extremely low energy. My joints ached and I was exhausted all the time. And I thought, this is not a good place to be,” she said.
As a new mom, she wasn’t sure how she could find time to take care of herself. She said, “You’re pulled in so many different directions. I thought, ‘Am I taking time away from him? Am I being selfish?’”
But Downey realized that when she felt good and was thriving, that made her a better mother.
By the time she got pregnant with her second child, born in 2015, she was at a healthy weight and returned to that weight soon after her son was born.
How this young mom lost 100 pounds
Downey wasn’t sure where to begin in her weight-loss efforts. “I was starting from ground zero. I had no knowledge or background in nutrition. I was almost finished with my psychology degree, so I understood behavior change, but not the nutrition side of things,” she said.
Here’s what she did:
She paid attention to what she was eating. She was in some mom health support groups where she saw people talking about counting and logging calories, so she decided to try that. “From day one I started logging my food in the Lose It! app, before I jumped into changing my diet or exercising,” she said.
The first thing she learned? The calories in Coca-Cola, coffee creamer and fast food add up quickly. “I realized you can eat your entire day’s calorie allowance in one sitting.” She started drinking a lot more water and swapped Coke Zero for full-sugar Coke.
She also realized that she didn’t have a big calorie allowance to spend. “Filling up on foods that were more like treats added up fast,” she said. She replaced those foods with more healthy fats like nuts, seeds, avocados, good oils and fatty fish.
She made similar changes to her carbs, adding in more vegetables, fresh fruit, whole grains, and fiber in place of refined carbs. “I felt better and more satisfied when I was adding in more vegetables and whole grains with fiber,” she said.
She started measuring her macros, or how much protein, fat, and carbohydrates she was getting with every meal. “I was never going to be able to do a diet where I had to eliminate whole food groups or eating out. So, I set healthy boundaries around how I was doing that.”
She set small, manageable goals. “Each week I used goal setting, where I focused on these small bite-sized nutrition goals,” she said. And slowly over time, her changes built up: “I look at my diet now and I would have never guessed that I’d be eating the foods that I eat now and be satisfied with them.”
She added in some exercise. At first, a slow walk pushing her baby in the stroller was all she could manage. “That led to walking faster and longer, and eventually to running. I’ve run lots of 5Ks, and I started strength training in my garage,” she said.
Downey’s weight dropped from 245 to 145 pounds, which felt a little low for her. She feels comfortable at 155 pounds, a weight that she has maintained now for three years.
Downey wanted to share her success with other people, so she went back to school to add a nutrition degree to her degree in psychology.
“I learned that I loved helping women ditch the all-or-nothing mindset around dieting and the old-school methods of eating really low amounts of calories. I saw so many women jumping on these extreme diets and then ending up in worse places,” she said. She launched Balance by Hilary to help women lose weight and improve their health in a maintainable, balanced way.
Mother points to daughter’s weight loss as inspiration
Bridget Shinn, Downey’s mom, faced her own struggle with her weight. She was always overweight, and gained even more weight with menopause.
“I was the queen of fad diets. Whatever there was, I tried it,” Shinn said. By age 60, her health had taken a back seat. “I drank three large Cokes a day. I ate fast food all day long. I never moved off the couch. I had a very sedentary lifestyle. I would sleep 12 to 15 hours at night. I slept all weekend because I had such low energy,” she said.
She needed to take a lot of medication — she had high cholesterol and triglycerides, she was prediabetic, and she had diverticulitis, which required surgery to removed nine inches of her colon.
“My doctor was very honest and said, ‘If you don’t make some changes, we’ll just keep doing this. And I did not want to do that,” she said.
Inspired by Hilary’s weight-loss success and encouragement, after her colon surgery Shinn made some changes.
She tracked what she was eating. Like Downey, she used an app to track her food and macros. “I saw Hilary using the macros and I thought, ‘With some coaching, I could do that.’” She said counting macros was a game-changer for her.
She dropped her excuses and started walking. She said, “I told myself, ‘You have all the time in the world to sit on the couch and watch television. You can take a walk.’” She started out slowly walking a couple of blocks. She was so out of shape she was in pain. But every day she walked a little faster or a little further.
Her exercise habit grew. She joined a gym and started working out with a trainer. She took some exercise classes, and she loved Zumba so much she got certified as an instructor. She ran 5Ks and even one 10k. She started taking spin classes.
She built in accountability. At first, Shinn didn’t believe she could lose weight or feel better. Downey’s encouragement motivated her to try. “I could not have done it without her. The accountability and support is definitely a game changer,” she said.
Shinn is now 65, she’s lost 110 pounds, and she works with Downey in her business. And all that medication she needed? It’s gone. “I’m on nothing. People can’t believe it, but it’s true,” she said.
She’s thrilled with where she is today. “It has been a wonderful journey. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. It gave me back my life, and I didn’t realize how much of my life I had lost.”