How I Got A Brand New Wardrobe

Or, “How I lost 26 pounds in 14 weeks”. I wrote this article last summer. I intended to publish it here, but then, panicked a little, and just posted it for a smaller audience on Facebook. But if you share nothing with the world, the world shares nothing with you.

How I lost 26 pounds in 14 weeks

Don’t really care? Move along then, nothing to see here! The rest of you (maybe like the two or three people I have been ranting to all summer), read on!

Kids, this summer I lost a lot of weight. In a way, it’s part of a plan for a happier, healthier me and it’s also a way to cross a couple things off my bucket list. Incidentally, so is this post.

My bucket list is not actually that long (this post is though, sorry!), but along with the not-very-original travel destinations, a second tattoo, and the dream of swimming in the ocean at night, I have written down: uber-personal blog post. Here it is.

How much did I lose?

Over 14 weeks, I lost 25 pounds (or 12 kg for most of the world), 6 inches off my waist, 5 inches off my rib cage, and 4 inches off my hips and chest. (All my curvy friends just looked at those numbers and said “Damn girl, that is going to be expensive!”). F&#$in’ eh! I went down from about a size 14 to a size 8 (just barely). In the sewing world, that means 1/2 my patterns are in the wrong size range.

I am almost at the point where when I plug my details into an online BMI calculator, a message does not come up in giant red all-caps saying “Overweight. Take action.” Also whoever programmed that thing is an a$#@#$!

That’s a pretty steep weight loss over a really short timespan. Most people don’t lose that much weight so quickly. So if you are also trying to get into shape, my results are not necessarily typical. Don’t get discouraged!

Shannon (before and after)
Counterclockwise from the top: An old before photo from 2014, a little over half way there, and down 26 pounds. Anyway, in progress people, so try not to be all judgey. I realize I am ridiculously far from perfect!

Girlfriend, what happened?

I was pretty thin in university – maybe a size four or six. But my weight slowly inched up (as it does). Then, I had four beautiful kids, and four unremarkable pregnancies. But I never really took off the weight afterwards, and each pregnancy was followed up right away by another. And for very good reasons, for a long time, my weight just wasn’t a priority. Life was busy!

But then, slowly, life got a lot less busy. Being a mother took slightly less time. My older kids were in school. I wasn’t breastfeeding anymore. I got more sleep and I had a little more time for myself.

And then I had a truly terrible year in 2015. I had the busiest workload I’ve ever had. I applied for, but didn’t get, the job I really wanted. There was a data breach involving some very private information that I really didn’t want to talk about, or even think about. It turns out that trying not to think about horrible invasions of one’s privacy is not especially effective, however. One of my kids had a serious medical incident (which luckily, resolved quickly). But more generally, a large number of things were just not making me happy. It was one of the reasons I took a blogging break. I felt ridiculous posting photos that made my life look happy and perfect when I felt exactly the opposite.

Then things got worse. Christmas was incredibly stressful and I procrasti-baked (and ate) the whole way through. My birthday is right after Christmas, and that was tough too.

And then in February I had a miscarriage. I hadn’t wanted to be pregnant and I wasn’t pregnant for long, but it was unexpectedly devastating all the same. Some days (most days?), I would put my littlest down for her nap and then just sit in the kitchen and cry. Dealing with the miscarriage was really hard. It was hard to deal with. It was hard to talk about. And for the few people I did talk to, it was probably hard to listen to (Sorry!). I felt very alone.

By the beginning of of May I was at my heaviest (non-pregnant) weight ever, and about 50 pounds over my ideal weight.

Hopey-changey stuff

Even though by New Year’s Eve, things were not going especially well for me, I had already decided that I really needed to make a concerted effort to be happier to get more joy in my life. I know, a non-linear narrative, but work with me here! For my New Year’s resolution I wrote up a bucket list and a mini-manifesto to change my life for the better.

By the time February came along, I was already doing some things to make myself a happier, healthier person. I was getting out to see people more often, being more sociable even when it felt awkward, trying hard to make new friends, and taking dance classes for the first time in my life. All things that had been so tough before, with so many kids at home. In the spring I started doing slam poetry (I used to do performance poetry in university).

I also stopped doing some things that just were not working for me (speaking engagements, sitting on boards, organizing events). I am a pretty intense person, but even for me, something had to give. There just wasn’t enough emotional energy left in the bank. So in May, I made room for a new project: me. I know, I wrote that and even I think it sounded cheesy, but what can you do?

The Plan

I wanted to make healthy permanent lifestyles changes, that made me stronger and healthier, and not just skinnier. Every change except one (more on that later, but spoiler alert, it’s carbs!) is sustainable over time, I think (It’s only been 14 weeks though…). I didn’t go to the gym or count calories or limit my food. But I increased my exercise dramatically and changed everything about how I eat.

I also checked with my doctor and had a full batch of blood and hormone tests done beforehand. I am no health expert and you should probably consult a professional (which I am not) before starting any exercise program. And all the lawyers can stop reading now, ok?

Exercise

1. Don’t pretend you will do stuff you hate
I would love to be one of those people who can lift weights at the gym, but I’m just not. I hate every minute of it for 100 reasons. Once upon a time, swimming would have been my go-to exercise. I used to swim competitively, but getting in a swimsuit when you weigh 50 pounds more than you think you should is very, very tough on the soul. I kept saying I would do it. I never did.

2. Find something you like
Eventually, I found exercise I really liked. I’ve always wanted to be a fly girl, so I started taking hip hop dance classes. I am not a good dancer. I suck. But it really doesn’t matter. I might be the slowest learner in the class, and least successful at the moves, and sometimes the oldest in the room, but I try hard and spend the entire class sweating. And it is fun. I walk to every class, and double my workout time.

3. Do it all the time
I go every week for two hours. Even when I’m sick. Even when I’m tired. I even went the week I had the miscarriage (and cried the whole walk home). But in May I started to work harder and get stronger. I’ve been doing two hours of dance class, practising at home (another two-three hours), and doing one or two hours of speedy walking every week.

4. Mix it up
I also started hiking. I think I have asked everyone I know who lives nearby to go hiking with me at one point (and yes, the invitation is still open!). I tried to get two to four hours of hiking in every week, at least in the beginning of summer, before it got too hot. Hopefully when the kids get back to school I’ll be back to doing that again. It is outdoors. It doesn’t feel like work. There are pretty things to look at. I also looked at online classes, Zumba, planking. I’ll probably try some other things soon.

5. Move as much as possible
I started tracking my steps, and trying to get in 10,000 steps a day. I just use my phone to do the tracking, and it isn’t especially accurate – I don’t have any fancy gadgets. I take the stairs. I have kitchen dance parties with the kids. (Justin Timberlake was my DJ this summer – not even sorry about that). I go for a walk after dinner.

6. Do something that builds muscle
Although I didn’t really think about it at the time, both hiphop dancing and hiking are body lifting exercises that build strength and muscle in a way that is similar to weight training. Research shows that strength training speeds up your metabolism, which makes it a lot more effective than just cardio for losing weight.

There are other non-gym activities like this, if you also don’t like the gym: calisthenics, planking, street workouts, climbing, parkour. I, of course, do none of these things, but they exist. You could Google them.

Eating

1. Make a plan
I decided to try the the Plate Method, which is used to treat diabetes (which I don’t have). It’s also called the Athlete’s Plate and used by U.S. Olympic athletes, apparently (I honestly have no idea if this is actually true). Basically, divide your plate in four. One portion should be lean protein, one portion carbs, and two portions vegetables and fruits. Then cut all the sugar and most fats from your diet.

I picked this plan because it involves eating real food and is really easy to follow without a lot of calorie counting, or food restrictions, or a nutritionist, or a personal chef, or anything involving powders or shakes. There are many other healthy eating plans, but this one worked for me. It is also free and I am broke, so there is that.

Food plan
Ugg. The fonts! The layout! Still useful though.

Ugg. The fonts! The layout! Still useful though.

2. Cut the junk
I cut out all the junk food, and just stopped buying stupid things like chips, cookies and candy. I cook at home whenever I can. I try not to eat out too much and to make smart choices when I do. Rocket science.

3. Double the water
I also doubled my water intake, and cut all beverages that contained sugar or tasted sweet, including juice. Did you know that Adriana Lima drinks 3.5 litres of water a day? I have no idea if this is true, but the internet said it was, and I want to get into a swimsuit, one day, so this is good enough for me! But sometimes dehydration feels like hunger, so it is a really good strategy. I mostly just drink water, coffee and some skim milk.

4. Reduce the carbs (and cut the sugar)
I cut all added sugar – I still eat fruit. I skip dessert. I cut all white carbs, and try to reduce my carb intake below 1/4 of my meals, whenever possible. After about two weeks, I stopped craving carbs and sugar. Limiting carbs this much is sometimes tough and it’s the one thing I might not be able to keep up. We’ll see!

5. Cut the fat
I cut all the fats I could that don’t contain any nutrients (no mayo, no salad dressing, no butter, but avocados are fine). I make my own cajun spice mix and put it on everything that tastes boring. I add two vegetables to every meal, that I hadn’t included before. I eat my fruits and veggies raw or lightly cooked whenever possible, so I get a lot of fibre. A high fibre diet also means that you ingest fewer calories from your food.

6. Make a small calorie reduction
I reduced my portion size, but not by a huge amount. And if I’m still hungry after I eat, I eat more veggies. I never skip meals. I’ve been doing between 3 and 8 hours of hard, sweaty exercise a week and that takes fuel. I eat a lot more protein than before and I don’t worry about eating healthy fat. I’ve just been really mercenary about cutting all the empty calories I can, especially sugar and unhealthy fat. And I stop eating when I’m full.

I eat around 1800 calories on days I work out and around 1500 calories on lazy days. But I don’t actually count them up on any kind of regular basis, mostly because that would suck the life from my soul but also because my kids would never give me the time to determine whether the coffee I just made was closer in calories to the Starbucks non-fat venti no whip, or the Tim Horton’s medium mocha, no whip. I honestly don’t even have time to scroll to those options in my app before someone empties the entire box of cereal onto the table.

I could cut my calories more, but then I would spend more time juggling my moods and my hunger. In any case, I’ve been losing a steady two pounds a week for 14 weeks (except the one week I ate an entire box of chocolate), so it’s hard to argue with success.

7. Have treats
After a couple weeks on this eating plan, I ate a lemon tart and it tasted like the best thing I had ever had in my life. Life is no fun if you never, ever, get the things you want. But, at least for me, it has to be much, much less often, and it has to really count. I don’t waste my imaginary treat points on a crappy chocolate bar. I buy the one thing I really, really want and eat it sloooooow. And I Instagram it cause that’s how we live now and it is fun, and I will not apologize for that.

Basically, this is common sense eating that I can do for the rest of my life. No gimmicks.

Psychology

1.Heartbreak can be very motivating
Not that I think you should organize an emotional crisis in order to lose weight, but if you happen to be completely devastated, it is a great time to start a weight loss plan! If you feel nothing at all, exercise feels like, well, like something. It doesn’t feel like joy, but it gives you hope that you might feel joy again.

Feeling completely alone makes monotonously walking just a little farther, a whole lot easier. And anything that sort of approaches anger or that sort of angsty frustration that the world is horribly unfair can get you a lot of motivation, and energy for your workout! In any case, once you get started on an exercise program you can sort of just keep going without really thinking about why the sky has fallen in and the distraction is good change of pace from despair. Or so I hear (ahem).

2.Measure things
I started measuring and tracking my weight. I used an old mechanical IKEA scale that barely worked. Recently, I got a better one, with decimal places even! It cost 24$ (I’m such a big spender).

One day I measured my waist, and was surprised to see I had lost inches, so I started measuring my waist, my hips, my rib cage, my chest. I made an Excel chart. I am an intense person, so it has trend lines, projections, and confidence intervals, but these are all unnecessary. Did I mention I used to be a statistics TA in grad school? Hmmm, well, yes. If you want me to like you more, you can ask to see it.

I also took some terrible bathroom selfies so I could see how different I looked, and eventually I posted one online, and probably only some people were annoyed. Those people will never read this far, so I feel pretty ok pointing out their indifference to my well-being. I figure as long as one of the things I am measuring keeps changing, things are going well.

3. Find new rewards
Food tastes good and makes you feel good. I needed other things that do that. I bought some new clothes. I bought new makeup. I got some pricy hiking boots. I cut my hair and went blond. I took a million selfies to make up for that 10-year period when I was always on the other side of the camera and barely had time to brush my hair – judge me if you must. I went to a hipster bar and drank a fancy cocktail that cost 10$ and tasted like soap. I read my poetry to strangers. I organized a trip home to Vancouver for the first time in 7 years. I did more of the things I like to do.

4. Set goals
I had a couple of big events over the summer, so I set weight loss goals for each one. I missed them both. But it didn’t matter. I came really close. I felt a lot more confident. I got a few great compliments (Thank you!). I kept trying.

I have no idea if I will actually lose all 50 pounds. I like having some curves, ya know! I hear some guys like those. (I’m married, so I can’t confirm, but my girlfriends tell me this). And I expect that all the exercise will eventually make me more muscular and I will gain weight, while losing fat, but we’ll see! Life is not actually an Excel spreadsheet! (My spreadsheet is super hawt though, so this would not be the worst thing ever.)

5. Get the fear
I have diastasis recti, which is when, often after a pregnancy (or four), your stomach muscles don’t quite join up again. It’s pretty common. It makes you look a little pregnant, even when you are not. There are two ways to fix it: surgery (a medically warranted tummy tuck, essentially) or by strengthening your core muscles.

So naturally, I did a very, very thorough Google search of all the truly horrific complications that the internet says can, and will, occur from the surgery. I even read the comments. They were traumatizing. After that, the related image search seemed like complete overkill (literally! ha!). For good measure, I also did an equally horrific Google search on doing absolutely nothing for diastasic recti. As you probably know, all medical searches end in “you are already dead!” Strengthening your core is definitely the way to go!

Anyway, this is all the way at the bottom, but having my body work properly is important and this is probably the single biggest reason I decided to lose weight.

6. Find people who support you
Tell everyone you know what you are doing because some people are just good at helping you and you need to know who they are. How else will they know you need help? And it will not always be the people you think.

Change scares people, and some people just won’t or can’t support you and that is just how it is. I try to be generous and to think of them the way I think of my preschooler who does not always deal well with change either. At the end of the day though, no one else has to live in your body and you only get one, so you may as well improve it, if that is what you want to do (loving it the way it is is also a good call, though).

7. Get more sleep and reduce your stress
Just like that. Honestly, I have four kids and run my own business, so I have no idea how you do this. But when it happens, it is very helpful.

Anyway, that’s it. I still have a lot of weight to lose, so we’ll see how that goes.

Shannon
Me, hiking.

Mini-Update

So that was a really long preamble for a sewing blog! But now that I have no clothes, and the weight has stayed off these past eight months (I’m down over 30 pounds), I guess it’s time to start sewing.

I sized out of all of my me-made wardrobe, and about a third of my patterns (expect an Etsy sale soon!). Not only did I have to scrap my clothes (all gone to a new home!), but my plans have to all be revamped too. Things that looked good before don’t anymore.

And anyway, I think maybe I would like to be a little more fun and cool and maybe I should dress that way too. Stick around and you’ll find out what happens!

Author: Shannon Smith

Sewist, quilter, fabric lover, and pattern hoarder in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

14 thoughts on “How I Got A Brand New Wardrobe”

  1. Awwww Shannon, you are awesome!!!!!! This has given me more inspiration than you can ever imagine. Thank you! <3 <3

  2. Inspiring. I went to my doctor last week and will be getting blood tests too. I love your common sense approach. I too plan to hike on the mountain but find it hard to do alone. Keep up the awesome work! I can’t wait to see your new projects.

    1. Thank you! I used to find hiking alone scary, but then I did a whole lot of it, mostly because no one else was available, and now it makes me feel pretty brave.

  3. Hi Shannon,
    Great approach! It’s basically what works for me, too. Moderation in eating real food and doing exercise that enriches my life most = walking and yoga. I especially like the part about doing things that you love. This shows your true spirit which in turn brings light to other people. Good job!!

    1. Awww. What a nice thing to say. And yes, small changes all add up, and it’s easier to make changes when they make life better both in the long run and on their own.

  4. Congratulations on your weight loss journey. I too am on one and as a senior it tough mentally and physically to keep up. Wonderful to read inspiring common sense approaches. Thank you.

  5. Congrats on your journey. Congrats on how far you’ve come. Good luck with how far you want to go. Glad that you are taking care of you and doing more of what makes you happy.

  6. I don’t know you that much Shannon, but I’m so impressed by all these changes that you’ve managed so well (excel charts and all). Wish you the best of luck and tons of happy (sewing) hours!

  7. Wow. R-E-S-P-E-C-T! So impressed with your attitude and common sense approach. It’s incredibly encouraging to read, and no BS, which takes a lot of guts. You will reap the benefits not just in extending the years of your life but also the quality of life in your years. I can totally relate to the part about no “time to determine whether the coffee I just made was closer in calories to the Starbucks non-fat venti no whip, or the Tim Horton’s medium mocha, no whip.” I love that you did not use any fancy gadgets, just your phone, because it makes it see much more do-able.

    1. Thanks for the encouragement! And yes, you don’t need fancy gadgets, or menu plans, or apps (although, whatever works!), just a lot of determination.

Comments are closed.