The Spark

Thanks for all your well-wishes and congratulations in response to yesterday’s almost-there weigh-in, friends! I swear, if I’m not in the 180s by this time next week… hahaha. Although, granted, yesterday probably didn’t help push me in the right direction too much. I was going to try to gloss over the fact that I spent yesterday doing nothing but reading/napping/playing video games and had pizza for lunch and Chipotle for dinner but, hey, this blog is about honesty, right?


So speaking of honesty, I’m curious to know: for those of you on weight loss or health journeys, what was the “spark” that caused you to want to turn your life around? What was the catalyst that made you finally decide that there’s no use in putting it off any longer? A recent exchange I had with a reader has caused me to think about the fact that I didn’t really have a specific thing happen to make me decide to change. No fat photo, no unkind remark, nothing like that. It was just more of a general “hallelujah” moment. I guess what I want to know is, is that weird?

One of the many unflattering “before” pictures that did NOT spark my lifestyle change

I’ve touched on how I got to my journey’s starting point in the past, and how I’ve started and stopped more diets than I can even count at this point. Every Sunday night was a new resolution, and every Monday by lunchtime I’d failed. Being healthy, vibrant, and able to enjoy my life was a pipe dream at best, and diabetes, high cholesterol and a general deterioration of my health (at 22!) was a terrifyingly all-too-close nightmare. Some of you ask me how I finally got the courage to break the cycle of binge eating, food hiding, and occasional purging and I honestly wish I had a more concrete answer to give:

I saw THIS picture of myself, and I knew it was time to change.
I went shopping and realized I was officially THIS size, and I knew I couldn’t let it go any further.
Someone made THIS remark, and I knew it was time to start over.
My doctor told me THIS, and I knew I couldn’t lie to myself anymore.

But… I can’t really say that’s the case. Because I was 22, 246 pounds, a size 20 (I know I say that I was an 18, but I think we all know the truth here), outrageously out of shape, probably pre-diabetic for all I know, and I saw pictures of myself, went shopping, had family members tell me things, and went to the doctor just like any other person. And still didn’t have the motivation to truly change.

Grizzly Gretchen.

Aaaaand yet, here I am today. 23, 190 pounds, a size 12, a 5K finisher (and working towards my first 5 miler at the end of September!), feeling stronger and healthier than, well, EVER. I guess, for me, it was just all about the culmination of stuff: the number on the scale, the clothing sizes, the remarks, the pictures, the way I felt about myself… all of it. Eventually, finally, thankfully I just hit my breaking point.

So, I reiterate: what sparked your journey? What was is that led you to where you are today? Or are you, like me, unsure of exactly what it was that caused you to change, but either way are eternally grateful that you did?


  1. Anniesays:

    Just like you, I didn’t have one thing that made me change, but (maybe) the jennifer hudson commercials on tv! I had always thought if I pretended I like being a “real woman” that the fact that I was overweight wouldn’t disappear. It sounds so silly but seeing those ww commercials made me realize there is nothing to be ashamed about by needing help. I started 4 and a half months ago and couldn’t be happier! Down 22 lbs as of yesterday and feel great! THANK YOU JENNIFER HUDSON! lol

    • That brings up a really good point, what with society and the movement to embrace “real women” and whether or not that hinders women from moving toward healthier lifestyles. I am ALL for the idea that beauty comes in all sizes (I mean, duh, it does!) but I have to say that while at this time last year I would have been touting things like “real women have curves!” and whatnot, I might have just been justifying my unhealthy lifestyle instead. The amazing JHud is a good example of that — she will always be gloriously curvy and bodacious, but she is healthy now and that goes a looooong way. I know I’m never going to be a size 2, I just don’t think it’s physically possible. But I can always be a healthier me, and that’s “real”. 🙂

      • Anniesays:

        exactly what I think! It’s all about feeling good and being healthy! healthy can be many sizes and feeling good is all up to the individual! size 2 will not be in my future either, lol 🙂

  2. Great post!

    I loathe plateaus – LOATHE THEM. Talk about a total mind game. Your 180s are just around the corner!

    My “spark” was OF COURSE via a New Year’s Resolution. But it didn’t really hit me until I started being totally honest with myself – the way I was eating and drinking, the very little time I put in at the gym, etc. That is why I absolutely believe in scales and weighing yourself every week, versus those who say they just go by how “their clothes fit.”

    That may work for some people, but I need the unveiled, cruel honesty of the scale!

    • I think that it’s amazing that even though your “spark” came via NY’s res, you’ve stuck with it! I can’t even tell you how many new year’s were wished in with thoughts of healthier, skinnier times, but you can believe that nothing came of it. Go you!

      (I also totally concur on the necessity of the scale. I know that you risk becoming a slave to it, and letting it determine your feelings, but if you’re actively trying to lose weight, how else are you going to know that what you’re doing is really working?)

  3. Ai Reisays:

    In terms of choosing a healthier lifestyle, it was my family’s health history that did it for me. Two of my uncles got diabetes from being over-weight, my father has back problems because he doesn’t exercise enough, and there’s high blood pressure from quite a few relatives. I could see these problems eventually rearing their ugly head my way, so I decided to start my fight against it as soon as I could. Granted, my health will deteriorate with age, but I didn’t want it to start happening in my early 30’s.

    • I think that our future health is one of the reasons why so many “young” people don’t bother worrying about their weight and lifestyle now. It’s in the future, right? But I have the same worries as you. Diabetes runs in both sides of my family, and my mom has back and knee issues that are probably hereditary, knowing my luck. Consider it insurance against your future!

  4. A doctor’s visit right after my wedding. It was a new doctor and I was just testing him out with a physical to see if I wanted him to be our primary care physician.

    He came back after looking at all my stats from my blood test. Looked up at me and said, “Do you have anyone in your life? Spouse? Significant other?” And I said, “Yes, I just got married this year.” And he said, “You are being selfish. If you keep up with this, you are going to die young and leave him all alone. You have the cholesterol of a 50 year old man.”

    I was 24.

    He spent 45 more minutes trying to convince me I was unhealthy (I falsely believed I was healthy-fat, even though I never worked out and ate fast food all the time). I walked out of that office angry, pissed, crying. But inside I knew he was right. And it clicked. I’ve “only” lost 40 pounds in those 4 years, but that is not a gauge of how much healthier and happier I am.

    My other “spark” came when I read In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan. I suddenly went from eating to lose weight to eating REAL food. And being really obsessive about what I put into my body. That is when I had that major change in perspective.

    • Whoa, harsh doctor. Did that win him your patientship (? haha) or did you move onto another doctor who was a little more forgiving?

      Also, Michael Pollan is the man. And you’re the WOman. “Only” 40 pounds. PLEASE! Celebrate your awesome accomplishment!

  5. Marysays:

    This was such an awesome post, Gretchen! You are so open and honest that it’s really inspiring! I love these little glimpses into your mind! Truly inspiring. You’re doing a great job 🙂 I can’t wait to take on the 5 miler with you!

    • Thanks friend. 🙂 Hopefully I’ll be up to snuff (and your speed!) by the time September rolls around. 😀

  6. There were a few things – the biggest being that I split a pair of jeans.
    I tried to stuff myself into a pair of jeans that were close to two sizes too small; while I was trying ti shimmy my way into them the entire leg just split. I couldn’t believe that I let myself get like that. I called my fiance and told him what happened (through the tears of course). I made slow changes and so far have lost about 20 pounds and am working on the last 10 or so. I still have those jeans though – just to remind me of how far I’ve come!

    • Guff! I’ve been there… except all my splits have been in the crotchal (not a word, I’m still rolling with it) region. It’s a terrible, terrible feeling, I know, but I guess it’s that eye-opening thing that you need sometimes! Unless, of course, you’re me, and you just get rid of the evidence and pretend that it never happened… and then go to Wendy’s to bury your shame with a Baconator. Look at all that progress I’ve made! 😛

  7. After I graduated college I put on about 15-20 lbs. I had recently quit smoking and I wasn’t working 2 jobs + school (AKA I had time to actually eat meals!). My dad asked me to train for a 1/2 marathon with him (he knew I was bored after college: I had moved home and none of my friends lived around there anymore) — I didn’t train and the race was awful (but I finished!) — after that, I put more thought into what I was eating and how much I was exercising. Slowly the extra weight came off (I think it took almost a year).

    • Man, the boredom is I think what I succumbed to the most. Before, I just didn’t really have a life! I had a job I hated, I had TV, and I had food. It was just all around bad news bears. Now, between blogging and meeting new people and cooking and working out (er, sometimes. HA!) I simply have less time to kill by eating junk food all day. Plus I feel more fulfilled. Win-win.

  8. I KNEW I needed to do something, was well aware that SOMETHING had to be done. But the real catalyst was a weekend with girlfriends, very skinny (VERYSKINNY) girlfriends. I was three times their size and knew something had to change. I also had a slew of bad boy interactions around that time too that contributed. It wasn’t really and AHA moment, but at the same time, it was.

    • So that’s much more like me then. It all builds, you know? And even though we get really good at only looking at our faces in the mirror, and posing with our arms away from our bodies, and dressing certain ways, eventually it catches up. I used to play this “game” where I’d walk past store windows and try to see how my silhouette lined up with other (skinny) women who were walking past as well, just to see how I compared. Sigh.

      • No comparison, you clearly rock way harder my dear! You’re doing SO well! I’m virtually borrowing some of your MOJO!

    • Oh man, weekends/nights out with VERYSKINNY girlfriends…don’t I know! That’s when you suddenly become “the sassy one,” and dress in all black. Hah.

  9. My weight loss journey happened in two stages. The first one was when I changed my diet from processed, junk food to whole, plant based food. In other words, I became vegetarian. The first 20 lbs literally melted off in just five months! I was still a little overweight back than, but much closer to a healthy weight. I plateaued for a while.
    Then I met my current BF. He’s a very fit, active, handsome guy, and I wanted to look good for him (so vain!), and be fit enough to survive a bike ride with him. So I joined Weight Watchers and started working out regularly. That way I lost another 20 lbs, but waaay slower.
    I’m still not at my goal weight, but closer than ever. Now I know what I have to do to lose the weight, I just need to do it, which is not as easy as it sounds. Oh, ice cream …

    • Oh, I knooooow that feeling! Sometimes it’s just about the fact that you know you’re going to get there though, not the speed at which you do. I maintain that I’d rather it take me a year to lose these last 15 – 20 pounds than lose them in 3 months of pure, unadulterated misery.

    • Haha, I think that is a TOTALLY legit “spark” — not vain at all! 🙂

  10. i was going out to dinner for my anniversary with my boyfriend. i stood in the bathroom at the hotel we were staying at and wanted to cry because i was, well, fat. i didn’t like the way i looked and was determined to get in better shape.

    • I feel like my problem now is that I have so much regret over being as big as I was for such important milestone moments in my life. I hate that I’m so big in my sister’s wedding pictures, in photos with the boyf, etc. All the “if only”s I’m still trying to work through…

      • Jen Robinsonsays:

        It’s important to keep looking forward and just use those old photos as a reminder of how far you’ve come and how awesome you are doing!

      • i think the “if only’s” are the hardest to deal with, but i/you/we need to plug forward to ensure that we feel more comfortable for future important moments – ie our own weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, etc. we can’t change the past, but now we have more control on the future. 🙂

  11. I knew I had gained quit a bit of weight after I got married, but ignored it. I had a baby then tried a few diets. I had gestational diabetes with all three of my pregnancies and was told if I didnt keep my weight down I would end up being diabetic. Honestly even though I Knew I needed to lose some weight I just didnt see it when I looked at myself in the mirror so I thought I was ok. One night my husband came home from work and said his company was having a biggest loser contest and he wanted to it and he wanted me to do it with him, his company recommended the site Sparkpeople so we joined it. I lost ten pounds right away and it took no time at all for my husband to get to goal. After i added exercise I lost more weight, I then went back and looked at some old pictures and saw it, I couldn’t believe I was really that heavy and never noticed, that was my aha moment when I knew I wanted to be healthy and never be overweight again. I still have a ways to go and I’ve even had a big setback because of not exercising, but I won’t ignore it and I’ll get there soon enough. Thanks for the post, reading your blog always makes me think, and reminds me of what I want. keep up the good work.

    • Thank you, Annette! Your story is really inspiring as well — and a great argument for workplace “Biggest Loser”-type contests! I know the feeling about being stuck in the “accomplished a lot, still a ways to go” place cause that’s obviously where I am too, but you know you’re going to get there eventually, and you’re going to do it right. Which is really all the matters, in the end. 🙂

  12. Hmm…no big spark for me either. I mean, its always something I knew need to happen. I just kept putting it off or messing around not fully committed to it. There are several photos that have definitely knocked me down so I guess combined with how I was feeling that was my overall spark.

  13. I have so far never managed to keep the weight off, so in a way you could say I haven’t had that moment yet. But whenever I started losing weight, I can’t remember there ever being a moment like that either. I guess it just clicked and I decided to do this and did this. Unfortunately I have yet to find out how to keep going and do it indefinitely, but in a way I am in the process of having a major wake-up call regarding my health, so things will have to change, for good.

    • I always say that I’ve always known the HOW of losing weight. I always KNEW what to do, I just didn’t DO it. And the time it takes from knowing to doing varies for everyone — the important thing is just getting there eventually. Which you know that you will. 🙂

  14. I just didnt want to put up with my eating disorder anymore. Simple as that. It was ruining my realtionships and those are finally more important to me than making sure I “work out for 1 hour 32 minutes to burn this off. and then add (insert whatever exercise here) for toning.”

    • Good for you in making that realization. I guess that may have been a contributing factor for me too. I had kind of the opposite kind of disorder, where instead of working it off I just wanted to eat more, but it was just a socially paralizing. Food should never be a priority over frienships. Now, put those things together and you’ve got perfection… 🙂

      • Its definitely a work in progress. For months I went eating 300 calories a day. Thats it. So, naturally, I was saying no to going out with friends becuase I still had to work off that canned Tuna with mustard I had for lunch that day. Mentally exhausting but I am determined to beat it and find my happy weight the healthy way!

  15. What a neat post, Gretchen! I almost think it shows that, even at a larger size, you still had a pretty strong sense of self and good self confidence…Definitely not everyone has that “spark” moment.

    I think mine was realizing that I had had so many “sparks” before…Even though I was uncomfortable with my body and how I felt about myself, I was generally pretty happy with my life. It was only when my life started to take a somewhat unhappy turn (in this case, a huge conflict with a roommate) that I realized that taking charge of my happiness was the only was I could turn around how miserable I had started to feel every. single. day. I was tired of coming home from a long day of work, plopping on the couch, eating somethign that didn’t nourish my body, and continuing to feel unhappy because of a nasty person.

    That’s when I realized that I could not only escape said roommate’s negative vibes by heading to my nearby gym, but also that working out and eating well gave me a sense of control in that I had the power to make my life as happy or as unhappy as I wanted it to be. After looking back at how out of shape I had been, I realize that it was probably a long-time coming, but blogging is what really propelled me into sticking with my goals.

    Aaaaand that was a novel, haha — sorry!

  16. I think for me it was a combination of things. My boyfriend (now husband) and I both put on some weight, and without wanting to hurt each others feelings we were both kind of dancing around it. Finally he said that he was going to start going to the gym more and I jumped on the wagon with him. It was great because I had someone else that was feeling the same way and was ready to make a change. I also couldn’t fit into any of my pants and was a poor college student, so the only option was to drop a few pounds or not wear pants. The latter wasn’t a good option so I joined a gym. 😀

  17. Love this post Gretchen! I know there’s a spark for a lot of people, but I think I’ve picked up healthier habits one at a time over the course of many years. I might find a cool new exercise to try one week and then months later find a delicious and healthy recipe on a blog. All those little things adds up to being the healthy person I am today.

  18. What sparked my change was the number on the scale. My freshman year in college, I LOST 25 pounds. I was down to an incredible 135 and I looked, and felt, amazing. My sophomore year I stayed around 140 pounds. Then, I transfered schools, lost some solid friendships and hit a very rough point in my life. I gained 25 pounds by winter break and was at 165, which for me and my frame, was very big. I looked at that number, looked at pictures of me at that number and vowed I wouldn’t get there again. When I graduated college, I was 142. 6 months into my job I was 152. After I lost my job, my weight crept up. I’m now at 160 and it’s completely heart wrenching. The number is important, but to me, it’s more about what is associated with that number. For me, it’s the fact that none of my clothes fit, I feel horrible about myself and I have no energy. So now, as I write this, I think I’m having my spark. I’m just tired of letting my emotions take full control of me, who I am. I want to not only be a smaller number for my well being (and my designer duds that don’t fit!) I want to be smaller number to be happier AND healthier.

  19. My best friend’s mother lost her vision in her 40s due to diabetes. It was a huge wake up call for me, watching her struggle through time with her family because of her impairment. That, combined with a frank talk from my (brave) husband, and I joined WW.

    What’s sad to me: best friend still hasn’t gotten the wake up call yet. She is on the same path as her mother, and with 2 young children, she’s got everything to lose by neglecting her health.

  20. My Oh My moment was at a physical. I had learned to tune out the doctor’s speech and “advice” long before. But at 23 when I was applying to seminary and heard I wouldn’t pass the physical I was scared. I always had low blood-pressure and other good numbers despite being almost 300 pounds.

    I worked hard over the next 6 months and made it to the healthy range and continued to reach a healthy happy range for me.

  21. You are so awesome. That is all.

  22. For me the “spark” has been rekindled several times. Sometime around junior high I started emotionally eating and gained weight. This led to me not liking my body which led to more eating and the cycle continued. In high school, my mom and I started exercising together and going to weight watchers but that didn’t last very long. Our schedule got busy and the healthier eating and exercise dwindled. At that time I told myself I would never be as big as my mom. Fast forward to the beginning of college and I was nearing my moms weight without realizing it. One of the gradual sparks was lit when I realized my mom and I could almost fit in the same clothes! That was one of my first wake up calls. Instead of gaining in college I have gradually lost weight. I attribute this to the fact that I was working on a double option in music and barely had time to get my work done and sleep let alone eat! A physical set back my second year of college left me on crutches for a month and after that I started realizing how connected the mind and body was. I started listening to what my body was telling me and started choosing healthier foods and cut out coffee (before that I had become addicted to sugary espresso drinks on an almost daily basis). The third spark was after my dad was diagnosed with prostate cancer. After a few months of my parents looking into treatments and talking with specialists they decided to drastically change their diet. They cut out all meat except certain types of fish, all dairy and sugar. The change in my dad was amazing! He lost weight (in a good way) and both my parents had more energy and felt the change. The noticed a difference especially when they cheated 🙂 So where does this leave me? These sparks I have mentioned have gradually changed my thoughts on health and while I still mess up, I now know when I have messed up! I have also realized that I am stronger than I think I am and am gradually finding my balance in getting my body moving.
    Sorry for being so long winded 🙂 and thank you for writing about this! A very similar topic has been on my mind for a while and it feels good about others experiences!

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