A few years ago, Hailey Hechtman looked at pictures of herself at a wedding and didn't recognize the woman she saw. She realized that she had turned to food for comfort and put everyone else's needs before her own. Sound familiar?
We can all learn from Hailey's journey; the moment she dedicated herself to her health journey, the weight fell off, and she did it without eradicating major food groups or restricting calories like crazy. Hailey went from a size 22 to a size 8, but what's most inspiring is the joy she's found. Her brave commitment to her health and self-care is an example of how we must better ourselves in order to give to others and live our happiest, healthiest lives.
POPSUGAR: What made you decide to start your weight-loss journey?
Hailey Hechtman: For the majority of my childhood, into my teens and through my early adulthood, I had been overweight. From the time that I was a kid, I compensated for the lack of attention and involvement from my family with food. I am not entirely sure how this started, but there was certainly something within me that felt alone, ignored, and isolated, which for brief moments in time was put to the back of my mind when I ate. When it came to my weight, it was something that I ignored, something that when I looked in the mirror I tried to pretend wasn't real or was OK somehow, even though deep down I knew that I wasn't happy with not only the way I looked but the way I felt.
"I remember sitting on the couch in my apartment almost in shock. Was that me? Is that what I really looked like?"
I was the kind of person, especially as a teen and into my 20s, that would focus all of my energy into other people; their problems, their dreams, their dating lives. All of it was fundamentally more important to me than having to face my own reality. I was the kind of friend that would spend every waking hour trying to help you without ever reflecting on what I needed to be happy, and by virtue of my dedication to others, I thought that I was happy. I got all of my validation from how much people relied on me and none of it from my own accomplishments.
When I was 20, just having finished my second year of university, my perspective changed. I had just gone through a breakup with a long-distance boyfriend who was supposed to be my date to my cousin's upcoming wedding. I went to the wedding alone, enjoyed myself, had a great time . . . but then I saw the pictures. I remember sitting on the couch in my apartment almost in shock. Was that me? Is that what I really looked like? I got up off the couch and for the first time in many years, walked to the scale. I stepped on . . . 287 pounds. I cried and said to myself that day, standing on that scale, that that was the heaviest I would ever be. From that moment on I committed to dedicating my time over that Summer away from school to becoming the me that I deserved to be, that I could no longer just keep hiding from my body and instead owed it to myself to take the time to get healthy, fit, and work on my self-care.
PS: What's your favorite way to work out?
HH: When I first started trying to lose weight, exercise was terrifying. I had never been an athletic person; in fact, I often used to pretend that I wasn't feeling well to get out of gym class and would hide out in the bathroom if a friend asked me to go to the gym with them. I knew though that I would have to work out in order to see results and become a healthier person.
I started simply with walking. The first few weeks I would walk for 30 minutes around my neighborhood and then the next few weeks for 45 minutes. I kept increasing this as time went on. I also tried to incorporate bodyweight exercises like squats and crunches, which when I was nearly 300 pounds left me sore in a way that I had never been before. Despite the level of discomfort, the newness felt like a really nice change of pace and I began to start enjoying my workouts as they got progressively longer and varied.
"I committed to becoming the me that I deserved to be; I owed it to myself to get healthy."
PS: What's your weekly exercise schedule?
HH: Now, six years later, I love working out and have actually found that it replaced food as an excellent way to relieve stress and make me feel in control. On an average week, I work out four to six times and try to keep it as fresh and engaging as possible. Twice per week, I will do strength training with heavier weights, including squats, side bends, kettlebell swings, seated boats with weight, as well as ab training like planks.
Two days per week I do lighter weight cardio workouts with exercises that incorporate getting my heart rate up and using light dumbbells such as weighted jumping jacks and weighted high knees. On the other one or two days per week I work on decompression including mobility flow exercises, foam rolling, and yoga to help with recovery. During the day, I spend a lot of time sitting at my desk, however I am very lucky to work only 15 minutes from my home, which means that I end up walking at least one hour per day between going to and from work at the beginning and end of the day as well as home for lunch.
PS: How do you keep workouts exciting?
HH: It is really important to me that working out feels energizing, fun, and empowering. For me, this has been possible because of all the great resources available online. I have a variety of different people that I follow on Instagram who post new workouts on a daily basis, which really helps to give me ideas for developing my own routines. I am a big fan of supersets and so often I will spend time doing research and then combining moves that I feel will enhance my workout and engage my body in a different way.
PS: How much weight have you lost?
HH: I have lost over 100 pounds and have been able to keep the majority of it off over the past four years; I went from a size 22 to a size 8 to 10. I fluctuate a little bit here and there but focus mainly on being healthy, fit, and strong.
PS: What was the first big difference, other than the number on the scale, that really made you feel proud and excited?
HH: For me the first big difference was having a different sense of space. I remember when I was overweight, I took up so much more of an area, my arms could not simply sit at my side, they instead jutted out or when I was sitting in class in university I could not put down the little side table attached to my seat as it did not sit flat. Once I lost the weight this changed; I felt more confident when I was walking around and didn't feel awkward about where I stood, or if I was in the way, like I had felt before. I also enjoyed a new sense of self-esteem that I hadn't had; I was able to work on being more assertive and was able to feel worthy enough to start focusing my energy on what I wanted out of life. I overall felt a lot happier and more able to enjoy where I was in life.
Hailey: Before and After
PS: How do you track your weight loss?
HH: When I first started losing weight, I tracked my weight loss using the scale, but as I got more and more comfortable with the process, I started instead to watch how clothing fit me. The biggest difference I noticed was how quickly my old clothing became baggy and how my wardrobe for the first few years was constantly evolving. Now, I do not track weight loss rather I just take time to be mindful to how my current clothing fits me and where progress is happening in terms of my workouts.
"I love working out . . . it replaced food as an excellent way to relieve stress and make me feel in control."
PS: What's a typical day of meals and snacks?
HH: For me, I am a real creature of habit when it comes to food. I usually start my morning off with a bowl of oatmeal made with almond milk that has chia seeds, flaxseeds, peanut butter, blueberries, and a little bit of maple syrup mixed in. A few hours later, while at work I will have a morning snack of half an apple and a small bottle of kefir. For lunch, I typically have a sandwich with either egg or hummus in a whole grain pita, veggies, and a 1/4 avocado mixed with cocoa powder and honey for dessert. In the afternoon, I will have a turkey pepperoni stick and a small container of rice pudding. For dinner, I will have a piece of salmon or turkey, with sweet potato, mini potatoes or brown rice, asparagus and kale with a bit of BBQ sauce, and following my workout I will have a smoothie with berries, half a banana, some whey protein, peanut butter, and spinach. I love these foods and have found that I am always feeling pretty energized throughout the day.
PS: What's the range of calories you eat per day?
HH: Although I am very consistent with what I eat, I still do find it helpful to track what I eat. I use the S Health App on my phone to not only see the amount of calories that I am taking in but the nutritional balance of what I am eating. I aim to have a good balance between carbs, fats, and proteins and get most of my daily vitamins from the food that I eat. I usually eat about 1,800-2,000 calories per day.
PS: What are the healthy staples that are always in your fridge?
HH: In my fridge I always have spinach, lemons (I drink water with lemon, cucumbers, turmeric, and cinnamon every day), kefir, natural peanut butter, and whole grain pitas. I really like keeping stocked on oatmeal, almond milk, and maple syrup in my cupboard.
PS: How do you strategize for meals out?
HH: I don't tend to eat out that often, but when I do, I just make sure to eat proportionally. For example, my partner and I will usually order a pizza on a Friday night and I will have two slices and put them over a bed of spinach. I feel like you should still enjoy the foods that you want and that eating out should be about having flavors that you don't get to experience very often, so I don't tend to deny myself; I just try to keep it reasonable and add it to my phone so that it counts towards my nutritional balance.
"Be self-reflective and focus on what has brought you to wanting to make a change."
PS: Do you use a fitness tracker?
HH: I don't use a fitness tracker, however the app on my phone does count my steps during the day and I usually try to aim for 10,000, which given my walks to and from work is almost always achieved. For me, tracking my fitness progress is more done just by creating workouts for myself for the week and then going through them. Sometimes when it is really busy I will do one less day of high intensity and one more day of stretching, but ultimately I just aim at being healthy and fit on a schedule that works for my lifestyle.
PS: What advice do you have for anyone starting out on a weight-loss journey?
HH: My best advice would be do it on your own terms. I know a lot of people who have found success with a specific diet or exercise program, but for me, as part of my journey to become more self-confident and intrinsically motivated, it was more important to build something customized. I would suggest that if you are trying to lose weight, look at the reasons why you gained it in the first place, take some time to be self-reflective, and focus on what has brought you to wanting to make a change.
It is helpful to take a strengths-based approach to getting healthy by focusing on what you are capable of and what motivates you rather than what your deficiencies have been. I would also say never lose touch with the person you were before you lost weight. I learned after a lot of looking back that my problem wasn't that I cared about people too much or that I was too open; my problem was that I didn't have a balance between myself and others. Now, I focus on nurturing healthy relationships, being a great partner to the man I love, a good friend to those that matter, and work in a field where I am able to use my skills of support and encouragement. We all have great qualities. It is just that sometimes we need to find new ways of expressing them.
Hailey wants any readers who struggling with weight loss to know that she'd love to be your coach or offer support in any way she can. Email firstname.lastname@example.org if you'd like to learn more about her story or her tips.