25 Faces: Danielle Young
The weight loss journey can begin at any age, young and old. For most of us it’s not as easy as simply dieting and watching the weight melt away – it’s an entire lifestyle change, incorporating both exercise and healthy eating. I’ve been following my friend Danielle’s weight loss journey and healthy lifestyle changes for about the last year and she is truly an inspiration and encouragement to those around her. Through social media she has shared her journey and I have watched her become an incredibly confident and happy young woman.
Danielle has always struggled with her weight. Since childhood she was always aware of her heavier weight that made pool parties, trips to the beach, and shopping trips to the mall with her skinnier friends very difficult. Danielle tried restrictive diets and intense exercise plans on and off throughout her life, but ultimately those plans were not sustainable and only worked for a short amount of time. The constant yo-yo dieting and exercising caused more frustration than anything and in time Danielle gave up trying. Flash forward to two years after graduating college. Danielle was struggling with intense anxiety and feeling like she was drowning at work and in her daily life. It was during this time that Danielle realized she did not want to struggle anymore and needed to make a big change. She started out by eating healthier and attending exercise classes a couple times a week with friends, and within a couple months, she started seeing dramatic changes not just in how her clothes fit but also in her outlook on life.
Kate: What made you realize you needed a change in your life?
Danielle: I was struggling at work and my anxiety was out of control. I knew that part of that anxiety stemmed from my escalating weight and that I never felt like I could get that part of my life under control. I have always been an emotional eater, and turned to savory comfort foods to help cope with my anxiety and sadness. I always figured that would be my struggle in life and that I would always be a slave to food. I essentially hit rock bottom when I couldn’t handle the normal stresses of life at work and home. I knew then that I desperately needed to make healthier decisions so that I wouldn’t keep spiraling down. The next day I started doing research on healthy foods and exercise plans to help combat anxiety, and I also reached out to a coach I found online for help. It was the best decision I ever made!
K: Over and over again we hear the mantra, “diets don’t work!” when talking about weight loss. What is your view on fad diets like Atkins or South Beach diets?
D: Personally, fad diets never worked for me. I would lose a bunch of weight, feel overwhelmed by the restrictions, give up and gain the weight back and more. I really don’t like the word “diet.” It creates a mentality that it is a temporary fix, rather than changing your life to be all-around healthy long-term. That being said, every person is different. What works for me may not work for someone else. I know some people that will do a few weeks of Atkins or South Beach diets to kickstart some weight loss and then eat healthy some of the time to maintain the weight. If that works great for them, then that is awesome! I think it’s important for each person to find what really works for them and to stick to it. Being healthy is more than just the food you are eating; it’s also how you feel each day, your energy levels, and the peace of mind you have. If you can find a system that works for you, then go for it! Being healthy is not one-size-fits-all.
K: How have you successfully lost weight?
D: Losing weight has been such an incredible journey! It’s been difficult but insanely rewarding. Right now I am at the lowest weight I can remember and it’s all due to experimenting with different foods, exercise plans, and finally removing my emotional attachment to food. I’ve been working with a health coach who has been my support system and has given me valuable information throughout this journey. It sounds restrictive, but I experimented and realized I have intolerance to gluten, dairy, and processed sugar, as well as an already determined allergy to eggs. I always thought that being tired all the time was normal. I worked a crazy schedule and so figured I would just have to supplement with coffee. I also thought having chronic migraines was normal. My older sister and my mom had chronic migraines, so I thought I would just have to deal with them too. I realized that the gluten and sugar I was eating in my meals were making me unnaturally tired and giving me migraines. The indigestion and acne I was experiencing were caused by the excessive amounts of dairy I was enjoying (extra sharp cheddar cheese and crackers, please!). Through trial and error I figured out that just leaving these foods out of my meals was helping me feel full of energy and focus during the day. Adding weight lifting five days a week and a couple 30 minute sessions of high-intensity interval-training for cardio and I really hit the bullseye on my weight loss.
I don’t count calories and I don’t feel restricted at all. I am constantly trying to find new recipes for meals I can try and I don’t get the same urge to binge after a stressful day. Instead, I go to the gym and let out all of my stress there. It’s taken me awhile to change my mentality but that single action of removing my emotional attachment to food changed everything. I view food as a vessel for nourishment and to make me feel like a million bucks all day. I eat carbs (brown rice and quinoa are my favorite), some animal/fish protein during the week (otherwise vegan meals), a lot of delicious vegetables and fruits, and I make sure to take my vitamins. After working through the cravings of ice cream, cheese (which I still sometimes have), and potato chips for 21 days, it became second nature to me. Now I search for healthy versions of foods I enjoy if I feel a craving for anything. I just tried a recipe of vegan mac n cheese and it was so good! I’ll never go back.
K: When you first started losing weight, did you have a particular goal, like an ideal weight or running a marathon?
D: My initial goal was to look good in dresses and a bikini when I went to Vegas with my best friend. I felt an intense pressure to fit into the dresses and look good in the bikini, which made me stress out more. After I got back from that trip, I realized losing the weight alone was not enough of a goal – I wanted to be healthy overall. I wanted to be able to walk up the staircase in my office building without being out of breath. I wanted to stop having migraines. I wanted to have a lot of energy and decrease my debilitating anxiety. I wanted to have glowing skin and a constant smile on my face. It’s the “non-scale” victories I have set out to achieve, and I’m proud to say that those goals are the reason I keep going. I make a few specific short-term goals with my coach every two weeks and a reward I will give myself if I have achieved those goals. I look forward to smashing those goals every day and I don’t feel overwhelmed by trying to tackle these huge long-term goals like I did before! They range from cleaning out the clutter in my room to going to the gym or doing exercise five times a week. I can’t tell you how incredible it has made me feel and how strong I feel I have become since starting to create those short term goals. It’s a way I can show myself that I am strong enough and powerful enough to accomplish anything I set my mind to.
K: What happens when you want to eat out with friends? Does eating healthy and maintaining this lifestyle ever become a chore or something you don’t want to do?
D: To be honest, it definitely felt like a chore at the beginning. But once I changed my mentality on food and removed my emotional attachment from it, I started getting excited to eat the healthy foods. When I go out with friends to eat (which is quite a bit!), I just make sure to stick to what I know will make me feel good and to stay away from the foods I know will make me sick. I’ve never had an issue. Not even when I went on a business trip for two weeks to the Oregon Coast. I can always find something on the menu that will be delicious and provide me the nutrients I need. Sometimes I even bring my food with me! I’ve realized that I enjoy social settings more because I am focused on the people I am with, versus the food I am going to eat. I’ve also found a love for cooking and finding new recipes online that exclude the foods that make me feel badly. It’s been really fun!
K: Do you feel that losing weight has changed your outlook on life?
D: Absolutely. When I was at my darkest point, I felt lost and that a normal life was out of reach. Once I started losing weight I realized that “I could do this, I could lead a healthy life,” which gave me an immense feeling of hope. That feeling started trickling down into other areas of my life. I started thinking that if I could get through this struggle, I could get through any struggle! I started tackling things in my life I always put off because they were too overwhelming. I feel more positive, I have higher energy, I feel more connected and clear-minded at work, and I have a huge sense of self-worth. I love who I am, which is not something I could say 8 months ago when I started this journey. I get up excited to continue this journey and see how I have progressed! I have also found a passion for fitness, healthy living, cooking, and helping others find their inner warrior to start on their journey towards a healthy life. It’s brought so much joy to my days. The other day I was driving home from work after a particularly stressful day, thinking about what I needed to get from the store and it hit me. I felt free. I am no longer a slave to food, I love going to the gym to work out my anxiety, and I know what I want in my life and am willing to fight for it. That alone has made all of the hard work the past 8 months totally worth it.