How one woman hit the "life reset" button

February 20, 2019 Providence Health Team

Mary Renouf wanted to improve all areas of her health and wellness, including her weight.

By cutting calories and starting an exercise program, she has lost 110 pounds so far.

Everyone has the power to change — they just need to get started.

Everyone's wellness journey is unique. Mary Renouf prefers to call hers an "overall life reset." The executive director of social and influencer strategy for Providence Health & Services wanted to improve her physical, emotional, spiritual and mental health. Now, 18 months after deciding she needed a change, Renouf's weight is down 110 pounds and counting. Here is her story of how she got healthier in every aspect of her life.  

What motivated you to start your journey? 

I was at a Fourth of July barbecue and had an epiphany.

I’d talked with friends who were all going through some kind of emotional or physical issue, or coping with work stress, and I just thought to myself, “Has everyone reached their limit these days?  It feels like everyone is on the brink of a breakdown.”

The final straw came when a friend showed me a photo from my birthday dinner and I didn’t even recognize myself.  And then, instead of voicing what I was thinking, I ate. I ate a lot. I ate so much that my stomach still hurt the next morning.

That’s when I realized that I’m an emotional eater. I eat when I’m stressed, I eat when I’m being social, I eat to reward myself. I realized I was out of control with my weight, and I was not in control of my eating. On July 5, I decided to make a major change. I was going to do a whole wellness “reset.”

What are your goals?

My overall goal for the weight loss is 120 pounds in 24 months. I’m down five dress sizes, which is awesome. My goal for working out was to start with two days a week and then add on from there. I currently exercise five days a week.  My goal for my spiritual wellness was to take at least three to four hours a week and really focus on me — that could be yoga, meditation, getting a massage or having lunch with a friend. It has been tough to find that time, but I make the effort and so far, I’m hitting about three hours a week of “me” time.

What weight-loss strategies did you use? 

I knew I needed to lose weight, eat healthier, work out more and feel better overall. But I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. I was working crazy hours, spending so much time sitting in meetings or traveling, which is never good for my health.

Work travel is hard on your health — rushing from place to place, eating at airports or lobby snack bars when you actually get a chance to stop and eat. Finding time to work out on the road is hard, too. I had to get past all that, and I had to be dedicated. I knew it couldn’t be a fad diet, and I knew I couldn’t set an unrealistic goal and fail like every other time.

So, I made a plan that I could stick with! I broke out the fitness tracker that was sitting unused in a drawer for over a year and a half. I downloaded the Lose It app so I could make healthier food choices and be accountable. I set a workout plan that wasn’t impossible to do. I could do it in a hotel room if I needed to, I could take weekends off if I wanted to, I could gradually go longer and get stronger without feeling like it was an impossible task.  

How did these strategies guide and change your nutrition and exercise habits?

I focused a lot on my eating. I started by trimming my daily caloric intake to 1,700 calories a day for the first month, then 1,600 after I had gotten used to less calories, then 1,500, until I got down to about 1,200 calories a day. I also set weight-loss goals in increments that weren’t out of reach, starting at 5 pounds at a time.

It’s so important to remind yourself at each increment what that feels like. I would go to a grocery store and pick up a 5-lb. bag of sugar, then a 10-lb. bag of potatoes. For me, those 5-lb. increments made it easier to stay excited and feel like I was accomplishing something. My goal of 120 pounds suddenly didn’t seem so unattainable.

When it comes to working out, I had been fairly sedentary, so I needed to start slow and be realistic. I began walking 10 to 20 minutes a day for two or three days a week for a month. Then I increased it to 30 minutes a day for three or four days a week.

Eventually I added in different workouts, such as kickboxing and HIIT exercise. After I lost the first 50 pounds I started running. It was more of a jog in the beginning, but I used the C25K app so that I could get started the right way.

Now I can run three or four miles a day, and it’s been amazing. It’s funny because I used to think runners were a bit crazy or obsessive about it, but now, if I can’t run for a couple of days, I get a little stir crazy.

I use my runs as “me time” a lot. I really try to clear my head and think about non-work things. I use them a lot to count my blessings in life and be grateful that I’m healthy enough that I can run now.

What were your breakthrough moments? 

There were a couple of things that have really stood out for me. Once, I was walking through the pet store carrying this 50-lb. bag of dog food, and it hit me that I used to walk around with 50 pounds of extra weight on me all the time. I realized I’d lost FIFTY pounds and how much of a difference that had made for my body. Another moment was the first time I ran an entire mile. I NEVER thought I’d be able to run a mile.  

What about the most challenging moments?

The challenges were more about hitting plateaus, where I’d still be working out and eating right but not losing any weight. It was so frustrating and hard to stay positive. I also have to admit the holidays are hard. I’ve now been through two Christmases on this journey, and the second year was better than the first, but I still had to give myself a couple of days to eat what I wanted to eat, or not work out for a few days so I had more “me time” to enjoy family gatherings.

What I think is important about that is not giving up. You’ll have good days and bad days, but you have to stay positive, stay focused and stay dedicated.

What has inspired you on your journey?

My friends and family have really kept me going.  When you do something this big, it’s not an individual journey. I’m always thankful to the many people who have encouraged me. A simple, "Wow, you look amazing,” said offhand in a hallway at work might have generated that extra push to keep me going that week. The low-calorie recipes my mom finds for the foods I love has made life simpler. The people who didn’t mind waiting for me to look up all the different food options in my LoseIt app so I could stay under calories for the day before ordering at a restaurant, they all helped me keep going.

I’m very grateful to my friends who reminded me that perfection is unattainable, so when you have a bad day you just get back on track again. I actually had a bad week recently, and I just didn’t want to work out. I decided to go for a run and a neighbor I’d never met stopped me. She said she’d been waiting to catch me so she could tell me that she and her daughter had been watching me for more than a year. They had watched when I was struggling just to make it up the hill without having to stop, when I started to jog through parts of my walk, and when I was full-on running past their driveway.

She said the reason she wanted me to know wasn’t just to congratulate me on my progress but that her daughter, who had weighed more than 400 pounds, had been watching and got motivated by it. She started by walking to the mailbox and then up to the end of the road, and she was now walking over a mile at a time and has lost more than 50 pounds. She even started doing more things with friends again because she felt better about herself. That was the best part of my whole journey to date!

Why do you think you've been successful?

I set my goals in achievable blocks. I didn’t think about losing 120 pounds, I thought about losing five and then 10 and then 15. I didn’t think about running a half marathon, I thought about running for 60 seconds and then walking 60, and so on.

I also focused not just on the weight loss, but on eating better, sleeping more, working out and making time for myself. Focusing on physical, spiritual and mental health all at the same time was key.

One other thing that I think made me successful so far is that though I did it for me, and not for anyone else, I decided to share my journey, both the good times (hey, I lost 50 pounds!) and the bad (I gained 7 pounds over Christmas!). Sharing with people who could give me inspiration and keep me honest and motivated was important. But also hearing from them about how my journey encouraged them to start their own was a big motivator for me.

What encouragement would you offer someone who is on their own weight-loss journey?

I think people are always hoping that I’ll have some magic trick they can use, like drink this tea and lose 30 pounds or take this pill and the weight will melt off. I tell people it’s all about calories in, calories out, eating healthy and working out. It’s about being consistent. It’s about paying attention.

So, when people ask me for advice, I can certainly offer tips. For me, it’s about drinking a glass of sparkling water first thing in the morning because it makes me feel full and water is always good for your skin. I tell people not to quit everything cold turkey — if you love pizza, have a piece every now and then. You can’t restrict yourself so much that you become bitter or resentful.

I’d also say it’s not going to be possible to be perfect 100% of the time, so accepting the best you can do is key. Don’t make excuses, but accept your mistakes and move on. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Also, try to make it as fun as possible. For example, I run in the country as often as I can — I love to see farm animals and have peace and quiet so I can think. So I tell people to pick a workout they enjoy — if you hate doing it, you won’t do it. The last thing I‘ll say is you CAN do this. It won’t always be easy, and it won’t always be pretty. Just get started — that’s all you have to do!

Looking for a trusted health care provider to partner with in achieving a healthier lifestyle? Find a Providence St. Joseph Health provider near you:






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