Find Your Own Way to Weight Loss and Health

(AP) -

People who have worked for years with Monica Esnault passed her in the hallway, at first not recognizing her new, slimmer profile.

Esnault, 46, lost 160 pounds over the last two years after she methodically changed her lifestyle.

From her highest weight of 343 pounds, she now weighs close to 180 pounds and is deciding where she’d like the scale to settle.

“The promise I made myself was to do it in a way I could live with the rest of my life,” said Esnault, an assistant director with LSU’s office of bursar operations.

Esnault said she struggled with weight all her life, but had gotten it under control with diet and exercise in college and into her mid-20s. But, at some point, she began to feel she was losing the battle.

“It just seemed, in my mid-20s, when I started gaining, I couldn’t get things back on track,” Esnault said. “It’s sad in a way. You don’t want to be overweight. Sometimes you feel like you can’t get control again.”

Her turning point came a few years ago, when Esnault learned she was pre-diabetic.

“It was like a jolt,” she recalled.

Esnault had seen her beloved grandmother, who was diabetic, have to go on dialysis at age 88, in the final years of her life.

Today, Esnault has turned her health around. She is no longer borderline diabetic. Her doctor has also dramatically lowered the dosage of her blood pressure medicine, and Esnault hopes to soon be able to get off it entirely.

“I want everyone to know it is not impossible,” she added.

This is how Esnault lost weight and is keeping it off:

MENU CHANGE

No more sodas.

Esnault, who used to drink five or six Cokes a day, went “cold turkey” and now drinks only water.

FIND WHAT YOU LIKE TO EAT

Esnault tailored her own diet, incorporating “only things I like because you can live with that.”

On previous weight-loss programs that focused on high-protein, low-fat or low-sugar diets, Esnault found that eating the same foods all the time (foods she didn’t much like anyway) didn’t last and she regained the pounds.

Among her “likes” are low-sodium turkey sandwiches on wheat bread; fresh and canned fruit; frozen low-calorie meals; lean beef; red beans and turkey wraps.

“I build enjoyment into my meals,” Esnault said.

Esnault avoids fried foods and sweets. She doesn’t often eat between meals, but if she’s very hungry, she’ll enjoy something like a handful of cashews.

DINE IN, NOT OUT

Cut back on eating out.

Esnault, who used to go out for most meals, now dines out just once or twice a week. Her friends at work have begun bringing their lunches, too — one of them sets up a card table in an office, and they visit and enjoy lunch together.

IT’S OK TO EAT

Allow for flexibility.

“If it’s somebody’s birthday, I eat cake,” Esnault said. And if she gets a craving for her favorite candy, “then, it’s on,” she said.

STEP IT UP

Exercise five to six days a week.

Esnault began exercising a couple of years ago by going to a local gym and walking on the outdoor track.

The first time she went to a gym, she told herself, “I’m going to come every day and walk around one time, if it’s all I can do.”

Before long, she was lapping the track several times to make a mile.

Today, Esnault works out at two different gyms, using weight-training machines twice a week at one gym, and doing cardio work on the treadmill, elliptical and bike on the other days.

Her exercise plan has built up and evolved over time, she said.

JUST DO IT ANYWAY

“I promised myself no excuses” to miss workouts, Esnault said, no matter how little time she had on any given day.

“If I had only 20 minutes, if I had 15 minutes, I went,” she said. “I refuse to let circumstances limit what I can do.”

ALL IN YOUR MIND

Take one step at a time.

Esnault said she “never said in [her] mind” how much weight she wanted to lose.

“I could not allow myself to think about it,” she said, “even though I knew I needed to lose 150 pounds.”

That would have been overwhelming. Instead, Esnault said, “[I] always set 5- to 10-pound goals for myself.”

For example, she’d plan to lose a few pounds before a vacation trip.

“Then you get to enjoy success along the way,” she said. “That was key for me.”