Jen Bowman of Laveen had packed on the pounds. A stressful career as a mortgage writer, the birth of her son, then a layoff during the failing housing market period—which drastically cut the family income—combined to create a sedentary lifestyle full of calories and devoid of exercise.
But when she became pregnant a second time with twin girls, Jen realized she wanted to raise her daughters and her son with healthy body images in a home where nutrition and fitness took high priority.
Talk about how your relationship with food developed as a child.
My mom and dad owned their own business. A lot of times, we would grab fast food because of convenience. I could have soda whenever I wanted, cookies, candy—there was really no editing.
So you had free reign in choosing what to eat. Were you overweight?
I hit high school and realized I was chunky. Then I went the opposite way. It was either overeating and indulging in garbage, or fad diets and starvation. I could never find that balance.
And once you left home, married—did anything change?
I had a really stressful career. I was grabbing food that was convenient, never paying attention to what was healthy. If we did cook a meal at home, it was processed. It wasn’t really good for you—full of salt, out of a box.
Then you became pregnant and your son was born. But the joy of the new baby’s arrival was punctuated by the anxiety of a layoff not long after you returned to work after maternity leave. Not an easy task to revamp diet routines during all of that.
It was the roller coaster ride of taking care of a new baby. The stress from work, the guilt of having him in daycare—I’m a stress eater. My eating habits didn’t change until I started staying home and realizing that this was getting out of control [and was] really unhealthy.
What was the turning point for you?
When I got pregnant and had my girls. That really flipped the switch for me. Thinking about how I grew up, and the self-image that I had, and the struggles that I had with confidence and food. Knowing what girls face today as far as media images and struggles with eating disorders, and what I wanted to pass down to them. The only way for me to do that was to get myself in order so that I could set a good example for them.
OK, so how did you do it?
There’s no magic bullet. I counted calories and I exercised. That’s it. I cut out fast food completely, cut out soda completely, cut out processed foods. I found out how many calories I needed per day for my basic metabolic rate, for what I need to breathe and blink. I did the math. Staying home, I had extra time on my hands. I realized that I liked to cook. It became a hobby.
You make it sound simple. But with the ups and downs of life, raising twins, the boredom that can come with staying home, feeding a family on a tight budget—how did you stay motivated and away from the fast foods?
The number one trick was probably just eating better food: whole grains, lean proteins, vegetables, fruits. You’re literally not hungry and you’re eating all of the time. I eat three full meals a day and two snacks. I never feel hungry.
What do you feel now when you look at your “before” pictures?
Jen: Shocked. Just shocked. When I first looked at the pictures, I was sad, because I was literally abusing myself. It made my heart hurt. I can’t believe I was treating myself that way and I didn’t realize it. I cannot believe that I let myself get to that point.
Do you feel differently about yourself after such a dramatic weight loss? What has changed?
I’m more active, I have more energy, I’m happier, I’m more confident. I used to dread getting pictures taken of myself. Clothes shopping is so much more fun than it used to be. I’d go in, grab something off the rack, not even try it on. Now I actually have fun with it.
What words of wisdom do you have for others who feel ready to make a change?
It might seem like a huge task, but if you chip away at it, it becomes easier with each little step. That is how I see this weight loss journey: It’s one bite at a time. And if I could do it, anybody could do it.
Jen shares recipes and healthy strategies at http://notesfromthetable.blogspot.com.
Multimedia journalist Vicki Louk Balint produces audio and video stories for Raising Arizona Kids and through her own company, Small Change Productions. This interview first appeared in the July 2011 print magazine.