My name is Dawn Smith (@thedawnelizabeth) and I’m a 20-year-old student at the University of Texas at Austin and a soon-to-be certified personal trainer. After losing my best friend and a personal health scare, I realized I wanted to live a healthier life. I committed to losing weight and learned how to eat healthy and lift heavy. One year later, I’ve lost 108 pounds.
I was always a plus-size girl growing up. It was really hard for me to be confident with my size because, on TV shows and commercials, I never saw women that looked like me. I struggled to love myself. But I didn’t really do anything about it over the years and just continued living.
That is, until the spring of 2018, when my life took a turn when I went through a personal tragedy and a health scare—and I was finally motivated to change my life. That March, I lost my best friend to gun violence. I felt lost in the world and fell into a deep depression. Then, one month later, I was hiking at the 360 Overlook in Austin, Texas, when a rattlesnake bit my foot. After I was discharged from the hospital, I could barely walk, and it took weeks for me to heal.
As the months went on and I recovered and grieved, I realized that life was too short not to be the best version of myself. I told myself that once my foot healed all the way, I was going to become healthier and stronger. For me, that meant pushing myself past what I thought my limit was. On January 24, 2019, I started my journey.
I didn’t know anything about weight loss and fitness, so I talked to friends, read health articles, and more.
I received a lot of guidance from my friend who was super into fitness, but it still took a lot of time for me to figure the rest out on my own. I read health articles and watched a bunch of Youtube videos to learn how to properly set my macros (the ratio of carbs, fats, and protein to build into your diet). Eventually, I used MyFitnessPal to log my macros and learn to eat with a calorie deficit (or eating fewer calories than you burn in a given day).
When it came to tweaking my eating habits, I knew I had to stop eating out so much and also start cooking instead of buying what was easy and convenient. I started by cutting out my favorite junk foods like candy, Papa John’s pizza and hot wings, Panda Express, and Chick-Fil-A vanilla shakes.
I completely stopped drinking soda and drank only water. Over time, I swapped fried foods for baked and grilled options. I learned to pay more attention to my portion sizes, too. By March 2019, two months into my weight-loss journey, I had lost over 20 pounds.
Here’s what I eat in a typical day now:
- Breakfast: Maple and brown sugar oatmeal with eggs and bacon, or a mini sausage and cheese kolache with eggs and bacon.
- Lunch: Baked or grilled chicken with corn, sweet peas, or green beans.
- Dinner: Steak with veggies or a bacon ranch grilled chicken salad.
I’ve also learned how to make room in my diet for foods I love, like grilled chicken from KFC, chicken nuggets from Chick-Fil-A, and occasionally mini Kit Kats or fried chicken tenders. For me, it’s all about balance—not about being “perfect” with food.
I also began working out two to three days every week at my apartment gym.
When I first started exercising, I couldn’t even run for a minute on the treadmill. But I remained patient and kept working at it. (Now I can run for over a mile without stopping!)
I began with simple workouts. For example, I’d warm-up with a 5-minute walk on the treadmill, followed by three sets of 30 jumping jacks, 20 crunches, and 10 bodyweight squats. After that, I’d cool down with a 1-minute jog. Starting slow helped me learn the motions of working out and build muscle memory. I did this workout routine every day until I could finish it without stopping. At that point, I knew I was ready to do longer, more intense workouts.
I also used YouTube to learn how to lift weights correctly. My close friend also took me to the gym for a whole day so that we could work on my form. He showed me things like exactly how to place my feet to target certain muscles, and what muscles to use to put force behind each lift correctly.
I set small, incremental goals to build up to lifting heavier weights.
For instance, when I was squatting with 10 pounds on each end of a 45-pound bar, I set a goal to be able to do three sets of 10 squats. After that, I’d repeat that weight for one more week, and then I’d add five pounds to the load. As I increased the weight, though, I’d also reduce the number of squats per set in order to avoid doing too much too soon and injuring myself.
Now, I use this method for every lifting workout. I also love to do compound exercises that work more than one muscle group. My favorite workouts include exercises that focus on glutes and legs, like heavy squats, hip thrusts, and deadlifts. Working out is therapeutic for me.
Eight months later, on November 16, 2019, I hit a major milestone: I was officially 100 pounds down.
As a plus-size woman who once weighed in at over 300 pounds, I always encouraged everyone around me to practice self-love. But I had to listen to my own advice before starting my weight-loss journey. So my biggest piece of advice for anyone who wants to start losing weight is to get your mind right first. Learn how to love what you look like *now*—and then allow yourself to change.
I’ve also realized that it can be easy to get distracted by other people who might be fitter than you, look different than you, or who are on their own weight-loss journey and are transforming differently. Don’t pay attention to that, even if that means deleting your social media accounts for a while to just focus on yourself.
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