Wellness Wins is an original Yahoo series that shares the inspiring stories of people who have shed pounds healthfully.
Jacky Hao is 5’9” tall and currently weighs 143 pounds. In 2017, after gaining a significant amount of weight in his first two years of college, he was determined to get healthier so he could fully experience life. This is the story of his weight-loss journey.
The Turning Point
Weight first became an issue for me during freshman year of college. I took on too much at the beginning of school, became stressed and began to doubt my own academic abilities. Being in college, I also had full access to food all the time and no accountability as to how I handled the stress I was experiencing. I began turning to food as my source of comfort. I isolated myself and just ate. I remember staying up late at night and eating an entire Domino’s pizza by myself during a late-night study session. Rather than gaining the freshman 15, I gained the freshman 50 and an additional 30 pounds over the course of sophomore year. I finished sophomore year in a deep state of depressionand anxiety, with zero self-esteem.
The summer going into junior year, I realized that I had already wasted two years out of what were supposed to be some of the best four years of my life. Weight, food and social isolation had deeply damaged, if not destroyed, both my relationships with some of my closest friends and my college experience.
I looked in the mirror honestly, rather than defensively, for the first time in my life, and I was shocked. I couldn’t recognize myself, and although my parents were gentle enough to not criticize my physical change, I could tell they were deeply concerned. I decided that summer that I couldn’t continue doing this. I wanted to really experience college and really experience life. Summer was a great break from school, and having more time to myself, I could begin the process of physical and mental healing I desperately needed.
I knew nothing about losing weight. Weight hadn’t really been a huge issue for me until college, and everything I knew about weight loss was wrong. The first step I took was doing extensive online research, through which I found out that weight loss is actually mostly diet, rather than mostly exercise. I looked into calorie trackers and began usingMyFitnessPal to track my daily intake. I remember being shocked when I first found out how much I had been consuming compared with how much my body really needed. I was initially fairly aggressive in my weight loss and lost about two pounds per week for the first year, before I decided to switch to a more moderate one pound per week calorie deficit.
Eating-wise, I got better as I learned more about what a healthy diet looked like. At first, I simply ate whatever I wanted to as long as I maintained a caloric deficit every day. I began cutting out any liquid calories I was consuming from sodas and sugary drinks. After learning about macros and healthier eating, I began trying to consume less and less processed and fast food and more whole foods, focusing on lean proteins, healthy fats from avocados and nuts, and tons of fruits and vegetables. I strove to maintain an 80 percent healthy diet, leaving 20 percent for other indulgences. This was necessary for me in order to create a long-term, sustainable weight-loss routine, particularly because greater diet restrictions for me resulted in weekly or biweekly binges from all the cravings I would experience.
In terms of exercise, I began by simply doing cardio. However, I later learned that weight loss involved losing both fat and muscle unless I added resistance training, or weight lifting, to my routine. As a result, I began incorporating three to four days of weight lifting, supplemented by two days of high intensity cardio.
As I was making these changes, I felt horrible at times. There were days when I would go to bed extremely hungry or when I would feel like I had little energy. As I progressed, however, I felt better and better, feeling inspired by my own progress. Beyond victories week after week on the scale, what kept me motivated was simply remembering where I used to be. It was extremely important for me to think about just how far I had come rather than focusing on the moment.
Seeing the bigger picture of where I used to be and where I was trying to get to really helped put everything in perspective during the times I was struggling the most. I had to remember that when I wanted to cheat or to take a day off that it wasn’t worth sacrificing the progress I had made. I was open to rewarding myself for progress within my caloric limit, but not beyond that.
I feel like I’m trying to catch up on all the parts of college and of life that I’ve missed for the past couple of years. I’m focusing on socializing with friends, building meaningful relationships, playing sports and being out more. I had neglected myself physically and emotionally for so long, I had to relearn how to not only take care of myself, but also how to love myself, which I was gradually able to do. As a senior in college, I truly feel like I’m now living my best life.
I was surprised by the extent of the confidence that comes with better body image and the extent of what I had been missing out on in life because of weight. You don’t realize the extent of the physical and emotional limitations weight can bring to everyday life.
I’m now happy with my weight, and I’ve moved back to maintenance calories. I eat fairly flexibly, emphasizing 80 percent healthy foods and 20 percent for various indulgences, because for me, it always comes back to having something sustainable for life. I do weights four to five days every week and cardio one to two days every week, depending on my school schedule. My goal from here is less weight-related and more about working toward building a better body composition by improving my muscle-to-body-fat ratio.
I still use MyFitnessPal to track my calories and, more important, my macronutrient intake. I try to make sure I have a healthy split between carbs, fats and proteins, even though by this point, I have fairly decent intuitive judgment when it comes to food and nutrients.
I’m inspired today by reviewing the journals I’ve kept during the process of my weight loss. Looking back on how far I’ve come, especially during a difficult week, is what helps push me forward when I feel stuck. I think being motivated comes down to always working toward something, and nowadays that something is no longer weight loss, but body composition and muscle gain instead.
Something I struggle with today is body image. I often picture myself as way bigger than I am and have a feeling of not belonging due to these body-image issues. I believe that these issues will slowly resolve given more time. I’m also continuing to push myself in the gym in order to reach a better body composition, and just keeping everything in perspective has helped immensely.
My best advice for others wanting to lose weight is to honestly ask themselves how serious they are about wanting or needing to do so. Wanting to “lose weight” or “go on a diet” are phrases that I feel have become so overused that they have begun to lose some meaning as a result. It’s important to realize that the process of losing weight and going on a diet entails much more than ambiguous goals, such as working out more or eating healthier. It entails a fair amount of research and planning, as well as setting very specific goals about what you want to achieve, such as working out for three one-hour sessions per week or eating 2,000 calories a day.
Honestly evaluate your progress each week or each month, thinking about how well you did, and make new, more involved goals to drive more progress. It helps to keep a progression journal that can be looked back upon in times of struggle for inspiration. Despite all of the difficulties, it’s been worth every single sacrifice I’ve made.
Need more inspiration? Read about our other wellness winners!
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