With Small Steps Came Big Rewards

sternquist_thumbby Amanda Sternquist, Marketing Assistant at Southwest Health

All my life I’ve struggled with my weight. I’ve tried countless diets and programs which have inevitably failed me, never losing more than 10 or 15 pounds each time. I’m the type of person who vehemently despises working out, and I love food.  At one point, after nearly 10 years of marriage and two very difficult pregnancies, I had resigned myself to the fact that I was just going to be above average in size and shape for the rest of my life. I was going to struggle with my health and I was never really going to feel “great” doing anything. After all, I had too much going on in my life to ever make it to the gym. I was working a full-time job, going to school [online] full-time, working a part-time job on nights and weekends, and most importantly, being a mother – the idea of taking on anymore felt utterly insurmountable.

And then something happened. As I watched the people around me find motivation and happiness in the things they were accomplishing in their lives I realized that I, too, needed to find that motivation. I needed to find balance. And as I came to the decision that my life was not where I wanted it to be, I needed to find my happiness. But knowing where to start was not easy. I mean, like I said before, diet plans just did NOT work for me. I love tasting food, cooking food, and sharing food with others. No way was I going to give up eating – because, after all, that was one of the things that made me happy.

So, if I wasn’t willing to give up eating and if working out was the bane of my existence, then how would I do it?

What got me started on the right track was a wellness initiative program here at work called ‘Passport to Health’. This program was designed by our athletic trainers, personal trainers, practitioners, and dieticians to promote wellness across the organization. Back in October of 2016, I weighed in, got my lab work drawn and reviewed all of my options for living a better, healthier, life. At first, I didn’t understand what all of the lab results meant. But I did understand very quickly what morbidly obese and pre-diabetic meant.

No longer could I tell myself that I was just “solidly-built” with a BMI or Body Mass Index over 50% [cringe]! And even worse, my cholesterol, triglycerides, and LDL (low-density lipoproteins) were creeping towards potentially dangerous levels. All of this meant that if I didn’t make a change, and make it soon, I may not be around long enough to meet my future grandchildren. And that, folks, is a scary thought. Scarier yet, was the idea that I had to weigh in again, six months later, at the conclusion of our Passport to Health program. Now that I knew the facts, I couldn’t consciously let myself or anyone else down.

So here’s where the fun begins. Eating – how do you curb your appetite for the most delicious things in the world (and I’m not talking vegetables)? It’s all about the portions. Each morning I would hustle to get myself and my two girls ready for work and school. We’d rush out of the house in a frazzled daze because the perfect dress was in the dirty hamper or the world was literally going to end by wearing the wrong shoes. I had no time to think about breakfast, much less packing a lunch. It was a glorious day if I remembered to throw dinner in the crockpot (and turn it on – yeah, that’s happened) on my way out the door. So most days I’d skip breakfast and eat a gigantic lunch because I was clearly starved to death by 11 am, and then I’d go home to find that I had botched dinner somehow leaving me to turn to something easy, which was inevitably never healthy. Don’t judge, we’ve all been there.

“I know I’m no expert. I’m just an average woman hoping to inspire change in others.”

In addition to changing my eating habits, I finally found a workout routine that I could get on board with. It’s called Piyo. What I love about it is that it uses the techniques of yoga to help you clear your mind, find balance, re-focus your energy and let go of the day. That, I have found, is very important in helping me destress and wind down after a long day. It also blends the strength and fitness of pilates, which is designed to improve physical strength and flexibility. Both of these methods combined, increase mental awareness and improve your posture. And, ladies, improved posture and balance mean we can go buy that awesome pair of heels and actually wear them without tipping over…another win! So at least 4 nights a week, I do 30 minutes of my Piyo workout after the girls go to bed and then I have enough energy to stay up and do my school work, or laundry, or whatever else needs to be done. I walk or spend some time on an elliptical the other days for some cardio activity. And, though I hate doing it, I allow myself one cheat day where I don’t have to exercise, however, I find myself doing housework most of that day. I mean, mowing the lawn and carrying laundry up and down the stairs all day can give you a serious workout! What I learned was… in order to make a difference, I needed to start caring about myself. I needed to take the time to make myself a priority. If I could do that, I’d have breakfast and lunch every day and my kids would get a healthy dinner – therefore, I’m actually making them a priority – winning! I found that if I could force myself to eat breakfast followed by a small mid-morning snack, then I would eat a smaller lunch. If I was still hungry by 2:00,  I’d have a small afternoon snack. Dinner would then be a much smaller portion because I felt like I’d been eating, literally, all day. And when people give you that look for being the fat chick that’s always eating, you can quite simply say “it’s my new ‘diet’ plan,” and smile knowing that it’s not a lie!

Now, as the end of my Passport to Health challenge drew closer, I really buckled down and focused on the type of food I was eating. I had my portion sizes right, I just needed to replace the bad with a suitable alternative. That led me to read the book Body for Life by Bill Phillips. They also have a women’s edition by Dr. Pamela Peeke. The book taught me how to cater my diet and exercise plan for the different stages of life. It also gave me encouragement knowing that I’m on the right track and I will get to my goal weight by the end of the year. And, when I went to my final weigh-in last month I was down 36 pounds, 6% body fat, my cholesterol dropped 14 points, triglycerides went down 26 points, my LDL (bad cholesterol) dropped over 23 points and my HDL (good cholesterol) went up 4 points. In addition, I went from a fasting blood glucose of 108 (pre-diabetic) down to 86 (totally normal).


Before (September 2016)



After/Current (April 2017)


A sample daily menu for me includes: approx. ½ cup cottage cheese with a handful of berries for breakfast, an apple or a Cutie and a cheese stick for a morning snack, a chicken Caesar salad for lunch (I buy a cooked rotisserie chicken each week and pull it apart to use for my salads – it saves a lot of time). For an afternoon snack I eat a protein bar (it’s got chocolate in it -still winning!) and for dinner, I prepare a healthy protein. I’ve replaced ground beef with ground turkey or chicken, steak for fish filets, etc. I still have ‘Taco Tuesday’ every Tuesday night, but I try to eat more guacamole than sour cream, corn instead of flour shells and have switched to leaner meats over beef tacos. If I’m really having a hard day I’ll have a few jelly beans before bed (post-workout of course). I drink plenty of water and have cut back my diet soda addiction by more than half. The biggest thing to remember is that it’s okay to reward yourself with things other than food!

This change didn’t happen overnight, and it wasn’t easy. I wanted to give up and grab a giant cheeseburger every step of the way. Heck, I still do! I have a long way to go to reach my goal weight. But I know that I’m doing good for myself, for my children, and for the people around me. I have much more energy and a whole new outlook on life. I even have more money in my bank account now that I’m planning meals out a bit better. Just know that no matter what you’ve tried and failed at in the past, you will always get there if you don’t give up on yourself. Do it for YOU!


A few of my favorite recipes

Tex-Mex Scrambled Eggs and Veggies (Migas)

Pesto Zucchini Noodles with Chicken

Shrimp Scampi 

Leave a Comment