I Lost 80 Pounds By Following This Super-Popular Eating Plan

Dani Holmes-Kirk transformed her relationship with food, exercise, and her body.

Dani Holmes-Kirk before and after weight loss
Dani Holmes-Kirk

BEFORE: 235
AFTER: 155

At my heaviest, between 2004 and 2005, I weighed 235 pounds. I was lazy with my eating. I didn’t care or love myself enough to make a change for a long time. It was so much easier to shove my emotions down with food than to deal with them. I lost weight in 2006, but in an extremely unhealthy way. I was both anorexic and bulimic. I thought I was hiding it pretty well, but two friends I was living with at the time came to me and told me they knew what was going on. They told me that they loved me and were there for me, and that support helped me take a step out of my own brain to curb the habit.

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With their help, I regained control of my eating disorders—but not with healthy food. By 2008, I had ballooned back up to around 220. I had moved for Chicago for work that year, and delicious unhealthy food was everywhere. I had never had tater tots so readily available to me, and I felt like I had to take advantage. I ate out for most meals: a bagel for breakfast, a sub sandwich and chips for lunch, and takeout for dinner. I snacked on whatever was around the office: M&Ms, chips, pretzels, you get the idea.

The change

Dani Holmes-Kirk

In fall of 2009, I hit my breaking point. I was tired of being unhappy within my own body. I was tired of sitting on the sidelines of my own life. Whenever I went out, I would take people's photos in order to avoid being in them. If friends were going to the beach, I'd turn down the invite. I didn't feel comfortable exploring the city for fear I would be too big to fit certain places. I picked the safe things to do where I could hide in the background or be one of a group. Avoiding photo opps backfired that Halloween. After looking at a picture of myself from a Halloween party, I walked into my first official Weight Watchers meeting on November 2, and never looked back.

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If you're over the age of 40, you need to do these 6 things to lose weight:

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The food

Dani Holmes-Kirk

I joined Weight Watchers and committed to going to a meeting every Monday night—even if I would just weigh in and go back to work. I chose Weight Watchers because I liked the aspect of the meeting rooms. That made the big difference for me. Even if I had ups and downs, being able to go back into a meeting and immediately feel like I wasn't alone was what I needed. I used to feel like people weren't going through the same weight-loss journey as I was. Maybe they were, but I didn't really see it among my friends. Going to a Weight Watchers meeting and being able to say "I ate an entire box of Cheez-Its last night" and having people understand instead of hearing "Why didn't you stop?" made me feel normal. I made friends at meetings that I would look forward to seeing week after week.

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The first few weeks were a wake-up call. I had been way off-base with what a real portion size was. I was eating the recommended amount of daily points in a single meal! Seeing the calorie and nutritional value laid out this way really helped steer me to healthier options like fruits and veggies.

My goal with Weight Watchers was to never cut anything out. I didn’t want it to feel like a diet, but a lifestyle change. I would still drink beer, eat tater tots, and go out to eat—just not as much as before.

The Weight Watchers system taught me to really ask and answer, "Am I hungry?" before making a food choice. After making these changes, a typical day of eating for me would be oatmeal for breakfast, a turkey wrap with chips and veggies for lunch, and chicken and veggies or a salad for dinner. I started seeing results right away. The first week I was down 4.6 pounds (yes, I know a lot of that was water weight!), and I lost consistently for the first eight weeks.

MORE: The 8 Best Bedtime Snacks for Weight Loss

The workouts

Dani Holmes-Kirk

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I was always an active kid: swimming, dancing, and playing softball and volleyball. Even as I continued to gain weight in college, I played rugby. But as the old adage says: "you can’t out-workout a bad diet." I was the prime example.

I worked out before starting my journey in November 2009, but it wasn’t smart. I would go to the gym for hours, spending time on the stair climber or elliptical until the calories burned allotted to over 1,000—and follow it up by bingeing on junk food as a "reward."

Once I joined Weight Watchers, I started working out smarter. For the first three weeks of the program I focused on getting my eating habits in check. Then I gradually added in 45 minutes on the stair climber, elliptical, or treadmill three times per week to earn my WW activity points.

As I got more comfortable in my body and the weight came off, I decided to try a cycling class with a friend in summer of 2010. I was down over 30 pounds by that point, and was able to get myself through the door because I had a friend with me. I had a great time and loved the class. I would go three to four times per week around my work schedule. I would also try workouts like Zumba and dance (hip hop) occasionally whenever a friend wanted to go. One friend and I found a Zumba instructor we really liked, so we made a habit of going to class every Tuesday for a while.

(Sculpt a strong, beautiful body with six different 20-minute workouts and a simple clean-eating plan with Prevention's Toning Transformation!)

In December of 2010, I herniated a disc and had to stop working out, but I still lost weight by following the Weight Watchers eating plan. During this time I started my blog, Weight Off My Shoulders, as a place to chronicle what I was going through, and built an online support system through my readership.

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While I was laid up my wife decided she wanted to start running, so I decided to join her once I was recovered. In June 2011, I was cleared to start running again. I did seven runs total over that month. I wasn't supposed to push it too much, so the distance ranged from two to seven miles. From June through the end of 2011, I did 15 races, mainly 5Ks and some 10Ks. I was hooked.

My workouts today really depend on what I am training for. Since 2011, I have completed 58 half marathons, 12 marathons, 15 triathlons (including two half Ironmans), and an ultramarathon (40-miler). If I am focusing mainly on a marathon, I run three to four times per week (which includes a long run on the weekend) plus cycling class, boxing, Pilates, and even swimming. I love to get together with friends to try new classes so I'm constantly trying new, fun things.

Sticking with it

Dani Holmes-Kirk

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Maintenance, for me, has been harder than losing the weight in the first place. When I was losing weight, I was motivated by seeing a lower number on the scale. When I hit maintenance in January 2012 and wanted to see the same number, I lost some of the drive.

I successfully kept the weight off for a few years before I had my first setback. I changed jobs and was moved to a desk. Being back in the corporate world threw me for a loop. I had to adjust to a new normal and struggled.

Luckily, I have a great support system that constantly has my back and helped push me to get back to goal. I have friends at Weight Watchers who will check up on me if I miss a few meetings. I have friends that I go to fitness classes with who keep me motivated. I have the virtual community of Weight Off My Shoulders. I can send out a tweet asking how many points a Guinness is, and have someone from Ireland who follows the program respond to me in seconds.

When I am stuck and need some quick movement, I use office workout tricks: I go to another floor for the bathroom, find a printer farther away from my desk. If I'm at home, I turn to YouTube for a quick 10-minute workout video or use the Peloton subscription that I got last month.

As far as eating healthy, I now know what foods are lower in points and satisfying. I keep that mental list stored, so when I find myself at the airport I can steer myself to the fruits and veggies and away from the bagels and fries.

MORE: The Secret Ingredients That Helped These 5 Women Lose 20+ Pounds

The reward

Dani Holmes-Kirk

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I finally feel like I am worthy of the journey to stay healthy. To this day, self-love is one of my biggest hurdles that I face. But the thoughts I have about myself have grown from shame to like to love.

For so long I believed that if I just lost 50 pounds everything would be great. But unfortunately, once you lose the weight, you have to deal with why you're unhappy. Negative self-talk is a big thing that I struggle with.

In Weight Watchers I learned helpful strategies such as flipping to a positive thought when you have a negative one in your head, or if you think you're going to weigh in heavier, telling yourself three good things that went right last week. I can’t thank this journey enough for giving me that.

MORE: 'I Lost 150 Pounds Thanks To This Exercise Routine'

Dani's number-one tip

Dani Holmes-Kirk

Find your tribe! You do not have to do this journey alone. Use social media, use a support group, find a friend. Whatever you need to do, know there are people in your corner rooting for you to succeed. If you can’t think of someone, reach out to me and I will be your cheerleader!

The article 'I Lost 80 Pounds By Following This Super-Popular Eating Plan' originally appeared on Women’s Health.

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