Losing weight is not always about aesthetic — not everyone is trying to drop pounds to fit into a new dress or look a certain way. In fact, many women turn to weight loss as a way to improve their mood and ensure they're living a long, healthy life. Esther is one of those women who, at 300 pounds, knew she had to make a change.
"My motivation to lose weight stemmed from my worsening physical and mental health," Esther told POPSUGAR. "Besides being down about my external appearance, my body was starting to rebel and illnesses related to obesity were beginning to accrue. It was clear that I needed to make a fundamental change. I had been overweight since my teenage years and I was ready to see a different reality for myself as I turned 40."
Esther's weight loss is astounding — her total weight now is less than half of what she was not too long ago. She found a program called Take Shape For Life (TSFL), which turned things around by giving her the tools she needed to change her life and be a better version of herself.
POPSUGAR: What made you decide to start your weight-loss journey?
Esther Hollander: Being overweight was tough in all facets of my personal, social, and work life. I shied away from social activities because I lacked self-confidence. I struggled to build myself up and feel worthy of new friends, career advancement, and general opportunities and experiences. So I pursued very little and stayed behind the scenes in many areas. I was always aware of my size and felt like people were staring at me, judging my 300-pound frame. It was hard for me to feel pretty or feminine and I rarely had the opportunity to wear fashionable clothing. Aside from the emotional aspect, my physical strength and stamina were lessened. I had to nix activities that required too much exertion, or activities where being overweight was just prohibitive. My children were being parented by a mom who was less active, involved, and energized. I was not setting a healthy example for my household.
PS: What drew you to TSFL specifically?
EH: I began the Take Shape For Life Program and was so happy to have found a program with structure and built-in support from the Take Shape For Life community. I never felt alone and was strengthened by the wonderful community. Many people in my area were engaged in the program, and their successes both on and off the scale were inspiring and spurred me to action. My health coach motivated, guided, and encouraged me and made me believe that I could be successful too. I also knew that weight loss could be achieved quickly and consistently on the Take Shape For Life program, which was crucial in helping me start believing in myself.
"My children were being parented by a mom who was less active, involved, and energized. I was not setting a healthy example for my household."
PS: What's your favorite way to work out?
EH: Now that I'm in the maintenance phase, I love working out at my gym. I am comfortable there and it's become a second home to me. There are a few strength-training classes I take each week, where Zumba and Spin are my favorites for cardio. I also like putting my own workouts together and challenging myself to try new machines and other workout equipment. Exercise has become so fundamental to me that right now, I am working to get certified as a personal trainer and hope to inspire others to pursue their health goals through that channel.
PS: What's your weekly exercise schedule?
EH: I go to the gym four to five times a week and generally alternate between strength training and cardio.
PS: How do you keep workouts exciting?
EH: It's important to vary your workout routine to prevent it from getting dull. I find that classes keep my workouts exciting because there is always something new and I am motivated by the energy in the room. I have learned to challenge myself at the gym because I know that when I push just a bit further, that's when I will see change. It's motivating to see how much stronger and more accomplished my routines get so I enjoy challenging myself to achieve my full potential. When I am working out on my own, I like to try new exercises. I know that I have had a successful workout when I leave the gym feeling great but with a sense that I kicked my butt.
PS: How much weight have you lost?
EH: One hundred and seventy pounds from my highest weight, including 137 pounds on the Take Shape For Life program.
PS: What was the first big difference, other than the number on the scale, that really made you feel proud and excited?
"I know that when I push just a bit further, that's when I will see change."
EH: Since starting the Take Shape For Life program, my life has been transformed dramatically. People tell me that on the outside, I am the person who I always was inside. I am happier, more vibrant, more engaged in all aspects in life. I believe in myself and I am empowered to develop more areas of my life. I am more active with my family and am open to new experiences, ones that I felt were closed off to me prior to joining the Take Shape For Life community. There have been so many milestones and sweeping life changes along my journey. One of the startling moments was when I marched in a parade with my son and his school. I rode on the school bus and wore a size medium t-shirt. The year before I refused to participate because I couldn't fit into the largest shirt and was embarrassed and couldn't be a part of the activity. This moment highlighted how far I had come!
PS: How do you track your weight loss?
EH: Currently, I am at my goal weight. To maintain, I weigh myself on a regular basis. Putting a number on reality helps me stay accountable and vigilant. As it's not all about the scale, I am mindful of how I feel (and look).
PS: What's a typical day of meals and snacks?
EH: I generally eat six times a day, three large meals and three smaller meals. My larger meals — breakfast, lunch, and dinner — consist of portion-controlled servings of vegetables, proteins, and carbohydrates. The smaller meals in between are hearty snacks that have balanced nutrients and adequate protein. I eat treats sparingly and enjoy occasional indulgences.
PS: Do you count calories?
EH: Right now, I don't count calories. After I reached my goal weight, I spent some time meticulously tracking them in an app to ensure that my weight would remain stable as I entered the maintenance phase of my program. After a couple of months tracking, I began to trust myself and lock into the healthy habits I cemented during the weight-loss phase of Take Shape For Life.
Now I track my intake by relying on healthy habits. I learned how to eat six times a day, every two to three hours in a portion-controlled manner. I learned to eat lean protein and low-glycemic vegetables and small servings of carbohydrates. I learned to drink around 60 ounces of water per day. I plan my meals ahead of time, I don't let myself get hungry, I stock my fridge, and always make sure I've got Take Shape For Life healthy fuelings accessible that align with my goals. This is just how it is!
PS: What are the healthy staples that are always in your fridge?
EH: An array of vegetables that are washed and prepared, fruits, low-fat string cheese, Greek yogurt, and lean proteins. Having things prepared is really the key.
PS: How do you strategize for meals out?
EH: Dining out takes a little planning. I will check a restaurant's menu before going out to get an idea of might work. I generally stick to simpler meals with fewer ingredients like grilled meats and vegetables or big salads with lean proteins. Or if it's a treat meal, I will plan it in advance, be mindful of my choices earlier in the day, and will apportion it when it comes to the table.
"I am happier, more vibrant, more engaged in all aspects in life."
PS: What role did Take Shape For Life play in your journey?
EH: Right from the beginning of my Take Shape For Life journey, I was buoyed by its tremendous support network and was strengthened by the wonderful community. You are never alone — there are like-minded individuals ready to support each other on their shared journey. Many people in my local community were engaged in the program, and their successes both on and off the scale were inspiring and spurred me to action. My health coach motivated, guided, and encouraged me and made me believe that I could be successful too. I also knew that weight loss could be achieved quickly and consistently on the Take Shape For Life program, which was crucial in helping me start believing in myself. While I started the program at 284 pounds — down from my peak of 320 pounds — I knew I needed a program that could surround me with motivation and positivity. In addition, the structure of the Optimal Weight 5&1 Plan, with portion-controlled Fuelings eaten at regular intervals, was very appealing to me. I learned how to eat all over again! I have become a Take Shape For Life health coach, which is something that I could previously not have envisioned. I am so excited I am able to pay it forward and motivate others on their journey to health.
PS: What advice do you have for anyone starting out on a weight-loss journey?
EH: It can be done. It's not easy, but it's possible. You have to stop getting in your own way. You have to find a way to engage with it so you really can internalize what you want to accomplish. You have to stay connected with the big picture of why your life depends upon it. And that "why" is different for everyone. You can have a whole other reality and future. It's worth it. Believe in yourself, believe that it's possible.