5 lessons from people who lost 80 pounds or more — and kept it off

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Wellness Wins is a Yahoo Lifestyle weekly series profiling people who have lost a significant amount of weight to improve their health.

Over the past year, we have featured people who lost weight by following many different methods. Some focused strictly on eating well; others found a love of exercise — or a healthy combination of both.

One of the main takeaways from the series is that there are a number of different ways to live a healthier life. There is no one path. But even with some vast differences, there are some trends that became apparent throughout the year. Here are some lessons you can learn from people who lost 80 pounds or more — and kept it off.

1. Find your reason

One thing most of our wellness winners had in common was a turning-point moment. Sometimes it’s a serious event, like when Cyndi Ward was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and told her to prepare for life in a wheelchair. Instead of feeling defeated, she became inspired and motivated. “I called my MS doctor and demanded physiotherapy,” she says. “I improved and got functional and progressed enough to the point where I grabbed my walker and walked through the doors of Anytime Fitness.” Ward ended up losing 130 pounds and says she’s physically stronger than ever.

For Eden SanBoeuf, her journey started when she realized her unhealthy weight was threatening her dream of becoming a mother. By focusing on her goal of being healthy enough to have children, along with a lot of hard work, she managed to lose 167 pounds. “What inspires me today is how far I’ve come,” she says.

Sometimes the turning point is a humbling moment, as it was for Trinity Wills, who suffered the embarrassment of not fitting into a ride at an amusement park on a high school trip. She had been unhappy with her weight for a long time and had enough. “Not being able to fit into a ride should not be a problem for a healthy 16-year-old,” Wills says. “Not being able to feel comfortable in your own skin should not be a problem for anyone. I had to make a change.”

Whether for big reasons or small, all of our winners found a compelling reason to take that initial step toward a healthier life.

2. Have a solid support system

Losing a significant amount of weight is a long and arduous process. There are struggles and setbacks along the way, and cultivating a support system was the key to success for many of our winners.

Susan Elizabeth Chaney was struggling with an eating disorder after losing a significant amount of weight, but finding help and support made a big difference. She says, “I was surprised at the amount of support that is out there for people who have or are currently losing weight.” Chaney found support in her now husband, Jourdan, and says, “He taught me how to track my calories and food and understand how weight loss should work, and why programs exist.”

Corey Helms lost nearly 300 pounds and felt that the support of his family and friends was crucial to his success. “One of the most important things I did to stay on track and push forward was to talk about it regularly with the people around me,” he shares. “I was blessed to have a remarkably patient and supportive group of friends and family that would let me talk about all of the things I was doing.”

3. Try out technology

Many of our winners relied on technology to assist them on their weight-loss journeys. There are numerous apps, devices and online communities that can help people lose weight.

Amy Moyta used a Fitbit to track her food intake and exercise, and she also found support on Reddit. “That’s where the Reddit community of r/loseit came in,” she says. “They helped me along my journey.”

The most popular app with our winners is MyFitnessPal, which lets people track the food they eat to see exactly what they are consuming each day. Chase Copley lost more than 100 pounds, and MyFitnessPal was his first step in the process. “I started counting calories and really tracking what I ate, using apps like MyFitnessPal,” Copley says. “This gave me a good foundation to know what I was eating and how much I was putting into my body.”

Getting to a healthy weight is hard, so using all the tools available makes a difference, whether those are apps to log your food, smart devices to track your exercise, or online communities to find the support you need.

4. Prepare for setbacks

The path to a healthier life isn’t without some challenges and roadblocks. All of the wellness winners experienced struggles along the way but managed to stay or get back on track and maintain their healthy habits. This is also where having a compelling reason for getting healthier, along with having a good support system, really comes into play.

SanBoeuf had a particularly difficult road. She lost more than 100 pounds to achieve her dream of becoming a mother but tragically lost her son to a neural tube defect. “I knew I could easily slip back into my old ways and gain all my weight back,” she shares. “Instead I chose to use this as a time for change. I changed my mindset to focus on the positive.”

She gave birth to her second son, Joey, a year later. She even lost her pregnancy weight and is currently feeling great. “I’m so proud of what I’ve accomplished, and mentally I am a much more positive and happier person,” she says, referring to her healthier lifestyle. “I choose to live this way and focus on the good.”

5. Choose a diet you can stick with

The biggest lesson to take away from our wellness winners is that there’s no one magic diet. In other words, the specific plan matters a lot less than the effort you put into it. Some people found success using the Keto diet, while others simply tracked calories. Some used intermittent fasting, while others found eating smaller meals throughout the day to be more sustainable.

James Whipp, who lost more than 200 pounds, summed it up nicely, “I tried most of the diets, like Keto, Atkins and all of the fads too. They all worked when I actually followed the plan.”

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