My name is Caitie Dunser (@gettinghealthyinmythirties), and I am 31 years old. I am an attorney in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I wanted to be present and active with my son, so I started tracking my calories and running—and I've lost over 83 pounds and feel like my strongest, most capable self.

I have struggled with my weight for as long as I can remember (like so many people who have been on journeys like mine). I remember in the fifth grade sitting in a Gap fitting room with my mom trying on jeans that all the girls I knew had—I wanted a pair so badly, but the biggest size they had in pre-teen sizes didn't fit me. I remember sitting on the bench in the fitting room, with my mom trying to come up with a solution because she was heartbroken seeing me cry over the seemingly silly issue of not getting a pair of pants. It was obviously so much bigger than that.

I was athletic and had always been into sports. I played basketball and volleyball, which definitely helped keep my weight down. When I was 15, I tore my ACL and my meniscus, and was out of sports for the remainder of my high school years as a result. That's when my weight really started creeping up.

The first time I tried losing weight was the summer before my senior year of high school.

I remember being 186 pounds and feeling totally out of place. I started WW (formerly known as Weight Watchers) and got down to 149 pounds before my senior year. Over the years, I yo-yo dieted, tried Atkins, Nutrisystem, Medifast, name it. I have looked into or tried just about any diet you can think of. None of them stuck.

I went to law school, and my weight continued to creep up. After getting a hectic and stressful job, then getting married, losing weight became even harder. After we got married, my husband and I decided we wanted to start a family. I was 250 pounds at the time, and I had my yearly exam with my doctor. During our visit, she started discussing weight-loss surgery with me and asked if I had ever considered it. Rather than encourage me to lose weight, it pushed me into a depression.

I was able to get pregnant, and after giving birth to my son in July 2018, I was roughly 300 pounds.

I hovered right around that weight over the next year or so. But I had a tough pregnancy. My water broke at 31 weeks, and I was hospitalized for three weeks in an attempt to delay labor. My son was born six weeks early and had to spend his first 10 days in the hospital. It was traumatic, and despite doctors telling me it had nothing to do with my weight, I couldn't help but feel responsible for it all.

My weight also caused severe lower back pain. I could not lie on my back for more than a few minutes before it would become excruciating to move. I remember blaming our mattress and a prior lower back injury for causing the issue—but I always knew the real cause was my weight.

In late July 2019, I was at my family’s cabin, and someone in my extended family signed us all up for a 5k race.

I walked the entire time, pushing my son in his stroller, and I was exhausted at the end of it. I remember feeling so out of sorts and having a moment where I thought to myself, what has my life come to?

I couldn't push my son's stroller for three miles. I felt like I was failing him as a mother. I never, ever wanted to be a mother who was unable to do things with her kids. That was the turning point for me. On August 12, 2019, at 31 years old, I decided to take the plunge and finally get healthy once and for all.

I decided to start counting my calories with the MyFitnessPal app.

I knew if I truly wanted to make this a lifestyle rather than a diet, I needed to do something that would work for me forever. With calorie counting, I've learned basic knowledge about which foods are lower in calories and which are not, so I don't really have to spend much time thinking about food at all. I also like the flexibility of being able to eat whatever I want, just in moderation. There are certain things I won't ever give up, like chocolate. I will eat chocolate every single day for the rest of my life.

I also taught myself to love fruits and veggies. When I was a kid, we only ever had boiled veggies. (Yuck!) So I taught myself some easy tricks for cooking veggies, like roasting and throwing some feta cheese or pepitos on them. Every meal of mine now has a huge serving of veggies—and they are so low-calorie and filling.

Here’s what I typically eat in a day:

  • Breakfast: "Proffee" (a.k.a. a protein shake mixed with an iced coffee to make a decadent iced coffee drink) and an apple with a tablespoon of peanut butter powder mixed with ½ tbsp. of sugar-free syrup to make a delicious peanut butter alternative.
  • Lunch: A turkey and ham sandwich on light wheat bread with some light mayo, mustard, and pickles. I'll also have a sliced apple or orange, or a serving of pretzels, reduced-fat Cheez Its, or Skinny Pop on the side.
  • Snacks: Popcorn, literally every day. I have a silicone microwave popcorn maker that is a game changer. I spritz the popcorn with some butter-flavored cooking spray and top it with low-calorie popcorn seasoning (my favorite is a combo of white cheddar and kettle corn seasoning to give that sweet and savory combo). I also am a big fan of light string cheese, fat-free Greek yogurt, or a piece of fruit.
  • Dinner: Tyson blackened chicken tenders (these are a staple in my house), roasted veggies (I just throw some carrots, broccoli, and cauliflower on a baking sheet for 20 mins or so with a spray of olive oil and salt and call it a day), and a baked potato with some fat-free cheese and plain nonfat Greek yogurt on top.
  • Dessert: A sweet s'mores trail mix made with a tablespoon of chocolate chips, half a serving of mini marshmallows, and a half serving of honey Teddy Grahams.

I usually work out five days a week.

When I started this journey, I would do six days of exercise weekly with the Bikini Body Mommy program. I did weight training three days a week, and cardio the other three days.

After about three months, I wanted to try a little bit more when it came to cardio, and I began the Couch to 5k program and started running on my cardio days. Over time, I decreased the weight training and stuck to running

I am now running about five days a week, and I recently ran a half marathon! I have always wanted to be a runner. I attempted running when I was nearly 300 pounds, and it hurt. I was slow, my knees felt every step, and my back throbbed. Now, I am able to run longer and longer. It is truly amazing to me what our bodies can do when we fuel them right, and treat them right. I am planning to run my first full marathon in October 2020.

These three changes helped me see the most noticeable results in my weight loss.

  • Change one: I made this a *lifestyle* change. Weight loss is not achievable via a quick fix—it is a marathon, not a sprint. If you treat it as a diet and not as a lifestyle change, you will not be able to sustain it.
  • Change two: I found my Why. In my opinion, you need something bigger than yourself to motivate you to make a change. For me, it is my son. I never want to stop being a better version of myself for him. Having this "why" pushes me every day.
  • Change three: I have a treat meal every single week. When I have a craving in a week, I write it down and tell myself that I will treat myself to it for my treat meal. This journey is about balance, and I need to treat myself every now and then!

I have lost a little over 83 pounds in less than a year.

I have a little less than 40 pounds to go to reach my goal weight, and my goal is to lose it by me and my husband's sixth anniversary on October 4, 2020.

There will always be a reason not to start your weight-loss journey today. But don't wait to start! One of the most powerful things I read when I started this journey was this line: "A year from now, you will wish you would have started today." Think of where you want to be in a year, and just start.

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