Bailey Ryan transformed her life after she lost an impressive 120 pounds without surgery or fad diets — she started eating whole foods and put in the work to change her life. Documenting her progress and sharing delicious, good-for-you recipes on her Instagram page paleobailey, she has inspired thousands to start their own healthy-eating and weight-loss journeys. POPSUGAR caught up with Bailey to hear why she decided to make the change, how she stays motivated, and what's next. Read on for the full story.
POPSUGAR: Describe your weight-loss journey. How much weight have you lost and how long did it take?
Bailey Ryan: My weight-loss journey began when I realized how isolating my weight was making me. I was refusing invites to go out with friends and avoiding my family because I felt so horrible about myself. I was exhausted all of the time, and I was getting out of breath just walking into work. I'd spend my days off recovering from work on the couch and alternating between sleeping and binge eating.
The first month I decided to cut all processed foods out of my diet, I lost 23 pounds. I was sleeping better, had more energy, and started seeing a life beyond the one I had let my weight corner me into. I went on to lose 120 pounds over the next year and a half.
PS: How did you lose the weight and how was Whole30 instrumental in your weight-loss journey?
BR: My best friend and college roommate came home from her hair appointment one day and told me about this crazy thing her hairstylist was doing. It was the Whole30. With nothing else to lose, and knowing I'd have her support, we decided to go for it together.
That month truly changed the trajectory of life in every single way imaginable, and even all of the ways I couldn't imagine. It was the turning point that ended up bringing me back to life and back to myself. Whole30 was so instrumental in my weight-loss journey because not only did it help me avoid any type of yo-yo dieting, it showed me how to eat, how to shop, and even how to cook.
Previously, I was relying on drive-throughs and packaged, frozen, or boxed foods. My cooking skills included dumping noodles out of a box to boil and then adding jarred pasta sauce while my frozen garlic bread was in the oven. Whole30 changed everything and showed me how simple just eating real food can be, while still being delicious. Whole30 allowed me to open up a difficult door and start being honest with myself about my binge eating and my relationship with food — and then start changing those habits. Through the Whole30, I found Paleo, or just real food — whatever buzzword you want to call it — and my life has gotten better every day since.
PS: What does a typical day of eating look like for you?
BR: I start off with a breakfast of scrambled eggs, protein usually in the form of a chicken apple sausage, half an avocado, and veggies, typically spinach, broccoli, or sautéed peppers. The rest of the day I continue to focus on whole foods and basing my meals around proteins, healthy fats, and vegetables. I keep my meals fairly simple, like grilled meat and veggies using different marinades to keep it interesting, and one-pot meals like pot roast and veggies.
PS: Do you track calories or try to stay within a daily calorie budget?
BR: I don't, and never have, counted calories. I feel fortunate that I learned at the beginning of my weight-loss journey that just eating real foods was the most sustainable for me. I've avoided the diet culture in the sense that I don't rely on an app to tell me how much my body needs to eat; my body does. I think this has taught me much more about how to make this into a long-term lifestyle because I've learned how to use food as fuel and then seen the true results of that.
I couldn't imagine five years from now still having to count calories or record every bite of food to determine if it was a "good day" of eating or a "bad day" of eating. Real food has become sort of a home base for me for everyday life because it's uncomplicated and makes the most sense to me and for my overall mental and physical health.
PS: What is your workout schedule like?
BR: My workouts started off being all over the place as I started losing weight and becoming more comfortable within my own body. I tried everything, because I finally could! I swam laps, I started going to yoga, I tried Spin, I bought a bike and rode like the wind. I started running, trained for and then completed my first half-marathon. I joined a gym and did weight training, I rock climbed and kayaked. It was so freeing to see everything my body was capable of, and I had always been so insecure exercising in front of anyone before at 300 pounds. I wanted to find something I truly loved, and through each new type of workout I tried, I became more empowered and proud of my body.
I finally settled into a routine that now includes a mixture of yoga, cardio, and weight training three to four times a week with active days with my two dogs between them. It's become my favorite way to start the day, and I'm sure my dogs are happier than ever to have someone to go on hikes with them too.
PS: What are some nonscale victories you've experienced?
BR: There's of course a huge sense of accomplishment with the number on the scale not saying you're morbidly obese anymore. There's a whole different sense of accomplishment when you get to live the results and rewards of being healthy. The life I've gained from losing weight has allowed me to be so much more present and involved in my own life. The nonscale victories I've had are experiences that, at one point, I never thought I'd be able to do.
Some of my most meaningful nonscale victories are things like getting to kayak for the first time once I was below the weight limit, completing a half-marathon, actually enjoying hiking, instead of my back and ankles hurting. I can finally go shopping with my friends and fit into clothes at regular stores instead of just awkwardly standing there while they shop, knowing nothing in the store would fit me. Or, worse, having the store employees ask me in front of everyone if I was shopping for a gift for someone else. Now, they treat me like I belong there.
I traveled overseas for three weeks by myself. I fit into a dry suit to explore the continental divide in Iceland, hiked a mountain solo in Italy, which I never would have mentally or physically been able to do prior to getting healthy. One of the nonscale victories I'm most proud of is that my family is now getting healthier as a result of my own transformation.
PS: How do you stay motivated?
BR: I stay motivated by setting little mini "stepping stone goals" for myself. I knew that if I looked at the big-picture goal of having to lose 120 pounds, I would get so discouraged and feel like it would take too long, or I'd never get there. I've been setting smaller, more attainable goals for so long now that it's become second nature and I know it works for keeping me motivated and inspired to keep moving forward. Some of the smaller goals used to be weight related but, now that the weight isn't as big of a priority for my health, have become things less tied to the scale and more about improving in other fitness or wellness areas.
PS: What are some of your favorite indulgences?
BR: My favorite indulgences are a good craft beer or some ol' fashioned Kraft Mac & Cheese.
PS: Any advice or tips for people on their own journey?
BR: My biggest piece of advice is to find a way to stay accountable. It's really easy to get discouraged, distracted, or overwhelmed when you're dealing with all of this alone. Having someone who knows what your goals are and can help you get out of your own head can be so important on those hard days. I made an accountability partner out of the internet on Instagram, and sharing my struggles instead of keeping them to myself was the best decision I've made. I lost the last 80 pounds by using it as a tool to stick to my goals. Having that accountability means you have someone there to cheer you on or cheer you up whenever you need support or just a shoulder to lean on.
PS: What are your next health and fitness goals?
BR: I'm planning a trip next Fall to hike to the Everest Base Camp in Nepal, which is a country I've been fascinated by for as long as I can remember and a goal I've had for years but never been physically fit enough for. My overall goals for my health and fitness won't ever be something competitive, because just getting to live fully and not sit on the sidelines of my own life anymore is something I'm so grateful for these days.