To answer this question, we sat down with plus size lifestyle blogger Sara Sapora to gather some insights about her wellness journey. We hope her informed perspective will inspire readers to learn from her experience.
Tell us about your health and wellness journey?
My health and wellness journey is a process that comes from the inside out. A lot of people want to sell you on the idea that you'll FINALLY be happy once, and only once, you are skinny. I believe that happiness is a choice we have to make every day. If you aren't able to find happiness when you are heavy, it will slip through your fingers when you are smaller.
I started my journey weighing 356 lbs and unable to walk a single city block without stopping in pain. Taking my dog for a walk was a nightmare, and I was trapped in a body that experienced constant low-level pain; just enough for me to never feel fully comfortable or physically free.
My wellness journey is based on the idea that any change I make in my life has to come from a place of real self-love. It's not enough to just "do stuff that makes you healthy." Rather, I sought to understand why and what led to my unhealthy lifestyle. For example, why did I have such an unbalanced relationship to food? So many people out there don't use food as a way to deal with their emotions, or to prevent themselves from feeling lonely: I did.
Why do you feel that was the case?
I started asking myself - 'What was I so scared of that the best tool I had at the time was food?
Most "diets" focus on process and results. This is why diets fail; because unless you address the root and the cause of your situation, no amount of surface-level fix will work in the long run. I believe in the WHY.
What did you find on your "why" discovery?
My wellness journey is holistic - it includes my relationship to food, exercise, spirituality, and my own personal growth. I work on all of these things at the same time, because they are all related! I needed to understand how they were related in my life.
This discovery of my "why" has produced results. In the last year, I have lost over 77 lbs and gained over 9 lbs of solid muscle. Far more important than that is that I am starting to live and be more excited about my life than ever before. I can hike, run, cross my legs again and go through my life every day without being in pain. I can walk places and not worry about how to get back. I am more present and peaceful than I have ever been in my entire adult life.
What does "being healthy" really mean to you?
The idea of "being healthy" means a few things to me. Mostly, it's a process and a journey; there is no end result or "after" when working towards a healthier lifestyle. There is simply a ubiquitous willingness to keep adapting based on circumstances and goals.
From a physical perspective, it means, first, that my body is strong, mobile, capable of doing the things I want it to do. Second, that I am living in a state of being where my body physically helps me thrive and live the life I desire. My body does not hinder me; it supports me. Thirdly, that I am living in such a way that I am honoring my body by treating it well and fueling it with healthy food.
Being healthy is about a mindset. It means prioritizing my wellness in the long run over my short-term comfort. It means staying committed to continually growing from an emotional perspective. It's a holistic process that involves honoring my body and my mind!
What motivated you to make a change?
I had two real "a ha" moments. In June of 2015, I found myself an only child with both parents in the hospital at the same time. My mom was dealing with some heart-related conditions and my dad was in a hospital in a different state. At that moment, my own mortality became very real; I admitted to myself that I wasn't physically able to walk from the garage to my mom's hospital bed without stopping in pain. That was a big wake-up call for me.
The second moment was when I realized I was putting myself in the same dating situations again and again and not really getting what I truly wanted -- which was to be in a healthy relationship.
I said to myself "Ok, so physically you aren't in a great place… and now you know you're not as HAPPY as you want to be in life.
Did any single change seem harder than the others? Eating right, working out, not hating your body image, etc.?
No. I have found when I approach this from a place of LOVE I never feel punished or deprived making the choices I make. Things that many people view as "challenges" I view more as a small detour. For example, not ordering alcoholic drinks when I go out, or choosing not to eat dessert, or stopping eating when I know I have reached my macros for the day are all detours that are helping me live healthier. The one area that I show a lot of "love" is the loose skin that I now have due to the changes I'm making to my lifestyle. Although I am getting stronger and building real muscle, there is simply more slack in my skin than ever before; it takes constant reminders of self-acceptance to honor the jiggling parts of my body that I never had before. It's such a juxtaposition! I am healthier now than I was a year ago, and yet my skin is more deflated and jiggly. Nobody ever talks about that, and I truly wish they would!
Your body IS going to change. You are going to have to commit to learning about it again and again and again. A wellness journey like the one I'm on is not for someone who needs to retain fastidious control of their whole life -- it is for someone who can accept that there are ebbs and flows, and some things that may never be emotionally easy. The important thing to remember is that only WE attach value to things - we determine what "hard" means. Things are only as hard as we allow them to be!
What are some of the best "getting started" workout elements you can recommend?
If you can afford a personal trainer in any way, get one. If the idea of working out intimidates you, or you feel like you would benefit from the accountability of a professional, a trainer can be a fantastic asset to you.
If that isn't doable for you, or if you prefer not to, start with workouts that use your body weight to your own advantage. Resistance bands and squats, for example, can give you an entire workout on its own. I tell people that focussing on building strength was the greatest decision my trainer, Blake Elarbee, and I ever made together. His guidance was to showcase how essential taking a long-term approach to my fitness was, and how valuable it would be for me to build muscle from a mobility and metabolic standpoint.
What were the hardest obstacles when you decided to change your lifestyle? (pain, clothing, access, the gym grind, etc)
The hardest obstacle has been my own desire for perfection, and my own frustration that I could not be "better" at things when I began. Truly, though, obstacles only stop you if you allow them. If you get stuck in one specific path being the ONLY way something can happen, you'll hit roadblocks. It helps to stay open to creative ways for things to play out. For example, if you say "the only way I'm going to be successful is if I work out five days a week and never eat bread" then you're probably going to find yourself feeling frustrated when you are unable to do all of that perfectly. The more frustrated you feel with the process, the harder it is to stay present and dedicated.
What keeps you motivated when you're feeling frustrated or tired?
Faith in the universal timing of things, and faith in my own intention. Also, if I am feeling tired, I acknowledge it and honor it. I never ignore how I feel; doing that creates room for denial. Where there is denial there is no truth. Truth and growth go hand in hand. I also like to say that I "welcome the suck" that comes when I hit roadblocks. If I am challenged when doing something (e.g. an exercise) it is because I am doing something outside of my comfort zone.
Did you experience any negativity in your journey? Cyber bullies, friends who were enablers for bad behavior, etc?
When you make a major life change, you are almost always going to experience pushback from others. For me, since I had already been in the public eye, I definitely got some negativity from those who accused me of betraying plus size women. There were people who felt that actively pursuing a healthy lifestyle could not go hand in hand with self-acceptance and body positivity. I don't agree with that. At first, I felt a responsibility to sidestep around those who don't understand my journey.
My motto is to live fully and share my journey without apology. I have received a fair share of internet trolls, but that in itself has nothing to do with my wellness journey and everything to do with being a fat woman online. In fact, when I do get trolled it's people saying "she clearly doesn't respect herself or care about her health" which I always find to be off-putting, yet entertaining.
The real negative things that nobody prepares you for is how some of your personal relationships simply stop working. When friends share the same priorities, it is easy to make things work. When friends share different priorities, relationships often change. And, of course, some relationships may simply no longer be healthy for you. It's hard to walk away from those situations, but you do so knowing that you are making the best choices for yourself in the long run.
Why do you think taking that first step is so hard for most people?
If we're being really honest, I think people are just comfortable with their situation. They may not like the spot they are in, but it's familiar to them. Many people even lean on their discomfort to help make sense of their own life. How do you ask someone to move out of their comfort zone? It's not easy. It's simple, but not easy. The fear of failure can cripple many people into inaction. That's why I try to help women remove the idea of "failure" and replace it with more loving language.
What advice would you have for the person out there who isn’t happy with their health but doesn’t have the drive or motivation to make a change?
Get really honest with what is making you unhappy in your life. Change is never going to be long-term unless you are willing to be wicked honest with yourself about what your fears are. What isn’t working for you in your life? Do you know why? A wellness journey is as much (if not more) about the “why” than the “what” of the process.
My other piece of advice is that once you are willing to acknowledge what isn't going right in your life, you have to be willing to believe that an alternative is possible for you. Just start with being willing to believe a different version of your life might be possible. You don't have to know what it looks like, but all change starts from a place of willingness. For me, I didn't know what the journey was going to look like, but I had to be willing to do something different than what I had been doing. Willingness paves the way for love, and then love (for yourself and the possibility of your life) fuels the changes.
Next, we talked to Breanne Brown, D.O., primary care physician, Providence Medical Group, Bridgeport Clinic discusses the multi-faceted aspects of weight loss.
What are some good ways to get started on a health journey when you have significant weight to lose?
Here are some tips:
- It's best to approach weight loss from a few different angles. Results start to take shape when you incorporate exercise, diet and behavior modifications together. Understanding this upfront is important– tackling just one piece is not likely to give you the results you desire.
- Keep a journal of what you eat and drink - many people are surprised. Don’t forget about alcohol - those are calories a lot of people don’t think about as well as juice and soda.
- Focus on making exercise enjoyable – sign up for a class that looks like fun
- Hiring a trainer can help you understand any limitations you may have and what is safe
Why is the health journey not just about eating or fitness (i.e., spiritual, mind, strength)
You need also to feel good about yourself. Having a positive outlook, support from those around you, and family and friends "cheering you on" makes a big difference.
What are some good learning places to get started (providence website, a class offering, etc.)
Providence has a number of classes to help. In Oregon, you can find classes ranging from weight management to yoga to joint health education. Providence Basecamp Cardiac Prevention +Wellness also has exercise, mindfulness and nutrition classes.
Why is behavioral modification so important to weight loss?
Behavior modification or behavior therapy is one cornerstone in treating obesity. The goal of behavioral therapy is to help patients make long-term changes in their eating behavior by modifying and monitoring their food intake, modifying their physical activity, and controlling cues and stimuli in the environment that trigger eating. These concepts are usually included in programs conducted by psychologists or other trained personnel as well as many self-help groups
Emotional eating is a topic we often hear associated with people who are overweight. What is this exactly?
From agony and boredom to grief and worry, eating in response to your feelings — and not in response to hunger — is considered emotional eating. Stress, sadness, boredom and depression all can be triggers for seeking comfort in food. If you're not aware of what you're doing, you may be unknowingly sabotaging your best efforts to maintain a healthy weight. Your first step toward freedom from emotional eating is to realize that you are using food as a crutch to cope. After that, you can explore what works for you to help fend off the need to feed your feelings and to begin to cope with the powerful emotions that lead you to eat.
Here are some tips to fend off the desire to feed your emotions:
Follow these tips:
- Be aware of your stress.
- Fill your time with activities you enjoy.
- Try yoga, go for a walk or meditate.
- Ask yourself if you are really hungry before picking up that next square of chocolate, handful of pretzels or bag of chips, and wait a while to see if the craving will pass.
- Write down what you eat and when. You may see a pattern and can use that to change your behavior.
- Remove unhealthy foods from your home, and give practicing moderation your best shot.
- Get adequate sleep.
- Talk to someone. Whether it's a family member, friend or health care provider, opening up to someone you trust about what you're going through can relieve the feelings of guilt you likely carry.
- If the urge to eat around your emotions persists, reach for something healthy instead of junk food.
- Find support and encouragement with others in your same situation.
To learn more about weight loss and fitness visit these sites:
Providence St. Joseph would like to thank Sarah for being a paid partner with us on this important topic.
Providence is pleased to share the stories of great people who have overcome health conditions. As part of our population health program, we want to share insights and stories that help bring awareness to common health conditions. Not all the people featured in our stories are Providence patients.