Last year I interviewed Valerie for the Palatine Journal in Illinois. I totally respect all she has done to improve the quality of her life. Not only did she set goals, but she reworked her lifestyle and motivated her husband to do so as well. Valerie’s story is a must read for anyone experiencing the same path. Read on to learn how far she’s come in her journey.
- It’s clear that your book “Two Hundred to Grapes” is about your personal journey to a healthier lifestyle. What led you down the path toward weight loss?
I had had enough of being fat. I was tired of not liking the way I looked and feeling bad because of my appearance. I felt unattractive. I felt self-conscious. I felt like I had used to be so cute and normal-sized. Now I had a double chin, no definition in my face, and a huge bra-strap roll around my back. Weighing over two hundred pounds did not look good on me. I cried in department store dressing rooms because I felt so fat in everything. I avoided old friends because I didn’t want them to see how big I’d gotten. I remember once even a male co-worker commented about how much weight I’d gained, which hurt my feelings tremendously. Being overweight was not easy. Finally one day I decided I didn’t want to live that way anymore and I began to make changes.
- How do you empower yourself to remain committed?
While on my weight-loss journey I was able to stay committed – I believe – because I changed slowly. I remembered that these bad eating habits of mine had taken years to develop; I was not going to change them overnight. Along the same lines, I also set reasonable goals and had realistic expectations. I didn’t ask myself to do impossible things. For example, in the beginning, I didn’t expect myself to go from eating a Big Mac value meal for lunch everyday to eating a salad. All I asked was that I buy something not fried – even a Subway sandwich was fine. And lastly, I stayed on the weight-loss beam because I took it easy on myself. If I messed up, I simply tried again the next day. The great thing about eating was I always got another shot to do better tomorrow.
Today, honestly, it’s not that hard to stay committed. I still have my struggles but overall a healthy lifestyle is something I enjoy. I actually really like the healthy food I eat, which I think is a consequence of moving slowly while I was losing the weight and giving myself the time to find low-calorie foods I truly enjoyed. There’s so much out there that is tasty and good for you, you just have to find it. Like just the other day at Whole Foods I tried a dried fig for the first time – what an amazing idea for a healthy and delicious snack. The fig seriously tasted like a Fig Newton cookie yet was merely a piece of dehydrated fruit! With an open mind, I find new ways to stay slim all the time.
- Did you follow any particular diet or read books specifically on the subject?
No, I did everything on my own by simply trying to eat healthier and incorporate exercise into my life one small step at a time.
- What were the major changes you made in your diet?
The biggest change I made to my diet was starting to cook my meals at home. In time, even the meals I ate at work came from my kitchen. I eventually came to believe that if I truly wanted to lose weight, I needed to make my food myself. (Again, that was over time.) Another major change I made was to the kinds of foods I snacked on. I tried very hard to replace the sweets I used to eat with healthier snacks. Like at work, whereas before I had used to go to the vending machines, now I ate fruit, drank tea or coffee, and if I had to have something sweet then I had a piece of hard candy. Or better yet if I wasn’t hungry sometimes I tried not to snack at all. Honestly though, sweets continue to be a struggle for me, especially at night. So I do my best. Some nights are better than others. It’s progress, not perfection.
- Did you also create an exercise plan?
I did exercise – still do – but I didn’t use a specific plan. Like everything else on this journey my only strategy was to go slow. Truth is I had never been a gym person before; I wasn’t going to turn into a fitness diva overnight, and I didn’t expect myself to. In the beginning, all I asked of myself was to walk my dogs around the block in the evening – that was it. In time, I started walking more; I went for longer walks on the weekend with my husband. And eventually, despite my hesitations, I joined a gym. Turns out, the gym was nowhere near as intimidating as I’d once thought.
- I understand that your husband has also transitioned into your new lifestyle. What changes has he made and how has it improved his health?
My husband’s lifestyle changes have been similar to mine. Like me, most of his meals now are cooked at home. He also packs his lunches for work. He snacks on healthier foods. He eats a lot more fruit. He has incorporated exercise into his life as well. The benefits to his health have been tremendous. He no longer has high blood pressure. He has more energy. He looks younger then he is – yea! And most importantly he is confident and feels comfortable in his own skin.
- When did you decide to write a book about your experiences?
I decided to write a book when, at the tail end of my 70-pound weight loss journey, a good deal of people in my life started asking questions about my transformation. It seemed like so many women and men wanted to know how I lost the weight. There was even one lady who I recognized from the train ride to work – who I didn’t even know – who stopped me mid-walk from the train station to my office and asked me how I had lost the weight. After enough experiences like this, I thought maybe I should write my weight loss story down.
- How did you go about it?
I started writing on a rickety old computer after work at night and on the weekends. Then after I had completed approximately one hundred pages, I bought a small laptop that I could bring with me to work. With that, I was able to start writing on the train ride to my job and during my lunch hour. That was when I really got into it. I began waking up at three-thirty in the morning to get three hours in before work, using my vacation time to write, and so on. It was definitely a huge effort writing a book while maintaining a full-time job, but well worth it.
- Did you have any writing experience?
I was a political science major at the University of Michigan, which entailed loads of papers and blue book written tests; so I learned a lot about writing there. I also went to law school, which likewise was mostly writing. Presently, for my job, I write strategic plans for the government – again more writing. And I’ve written one article for a magazine. As far as book writing though, this is my first experience.
- What was your main goal with this project?
My main goal was to help other women. I could see the struggle and sincerity in the eyes of these women who had been asking me how I’d lost the weight, and it had an impact on me. I could feel their pain. I honestly wanted to be of assistance, in some way. And so, I thought, at least for me, I knew that when people who had been through similar problems shared their stories of success it helped me: It gave me hope. It might even give me some ideas. So that’s what I wanted to do here. Share my success story with the hopes that it might inspire other ladies to start their own weight loss journey.
- Is it a motivational or how-to book?
As I said above my intent with “Two Hundred to Grapes” was to motivate and inspire. Of course, it could be more than that. There are ideas in there that readers could definitely implement for themselves, such as my slow and steady approach and the kinds of food I ate. I think people learn best from those who has been through the same struggle so it makes sense that readers could find a good deal of my story useful. That said, whether “Two Hundred to Grapes” is motivational or how-to or both is really up to the reader.
- How long did it take to write it? How many drafts did you have to go through?
Two years. Each chapter was revised six times.
- Who published it and where is it available?
I am self-published. My book is available in electronic-form only and is available on www.Amazon.com for the Kindle, www.Barnesandnoble.com for the Nook, and iTunes. It is also available on www.lulu.com for all other tablets and eReaders.
- How are you promoting it?
I have an ad on www.self.com. I have been featured in newspapers and one magazine. I have a weekly blog on my own website www.twohundredtograpes.com, and I also have a Facebook page of which I update twice a week with healthy meal posts. People seem to like my ideas, my book is selling, and I’ve really been enjoying helping people.
- Are you writing a second book?
Yes. It will be published online in September 2015.
- Can you provide us with a recipe?
My focus in my book, and on my website, is on easy meal ideas, rather than recipes. Because, at least for me, that’s what I’m going to cook on a regular basis, not a piece-of-paper recipe. One of my favorite healthy meal ideas is the rotisserie chicken / baked potato / frozen corn combo: take the rotisserie out of the fridge, put the potato in the oven, and the corn in the microwave. It seriously doesn’t get any easier than that! This is definitely something I can do on a busy Wednesday night. That’s why I keep doing it.