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Stephanie Relied on Friends, Family and a Sustainable Eating Approach to Change Her Life

by Mackenzie L. Havey
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Stephanie Relied on Friends, Family and a Sustainable Eating Approach to Change Her Life

Calories in. Calories out.

At 286 pounds and on the brink of her 30th birthday, these words were the oft-cited fitness advice that guided Stephanie Buller in her newly adopted quest to lose weight.

She was tired of feeling limitations while being active with her three children and working as a paraprofessional at a local high school in Hastings, Nebraska. Most of all, she was sick of being unhappy with her body.

“It went well at first,” she says, of her initial attempt to lose weight in 2012. She had downloaded the MyFitnessPal app and quickly discovered how unhealthy her diet was. “I realized almost everything I ate was bad — burgers, roast, baked goods — and I had no idea what portion control was,” she remembers.

While this was an important revelation, she admits to relying on unhealthy tactics to address weight loss — not out of a desire for a shortcut, but rather, due to a lack of education about healthy habits.

My first #facetofacefriday #hardwork #progress #damn

A post shared by Stephanie (@smbuller) on

So, with the mentality of “calories in, calories out,” she began severely restricting the foods she ate and sometimes running upwards of three times a day. This method was initially effective, helping Buller lose almost 60 pounds. But, she said, “I lost the weight in a very unhealthy way and the weight loss was short-lived.”

Over the next two years, Buller’s approach was unsustainable and she slowly put the weight back on. When she got pregnant with her fourth child, her weight-loss goal slipped further from her grasp. She began to accept her weight, telling herself she was naturally “big-boned, chubby, thick, plus-sized and sturdy.”

Then, around the time her youngest child turned 1, Buller encountered a breaking point. In addition to being unhappy with the excess weight she was carrying, she was having trouble sleeping at night and her hormone levels were out of whack. It was then that being overweight went from being a burden in her mind — something that limited her from going on certain amusement park rides and playing with her children — to a health issue. This was something she wasn’t willing to accept.


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“When I hit the reset button on my health in July 2016, this time I didn’t go into it trying to lose weight,” she says. “My goal was simply to do anything and everything I needed to do to get healthy.”

At first, she fell back into some of her old habits, restricting calories and over-exercising. She quickly lost 10 pounds, but then stalled. Nothing seemed to get her back on the weight-loss train. It wasn’t until she allowed herself to be vulnerable and ask for help that she uncovered a path toward sustainable health. That help came from a friend — a dietitian and personal trainer — who reviewed Buller’s MyFitnessPal account.

“She told me I wasn’t eating enough — that I was essentially starving myself,” she says. “I was only eating things that had the word ‘healthy’ in big bold letters on the packaging, which turned out to be a lot of processed food.”

Buller promptly began educating herself on which foods were actually healthy. She pored over articles in magazines, newspapers and online as she worked to separate fact from fiction.

“It was a shock for me — I found that I didn’t really know what healthy food was,” she remembers.

Finally made cauliflower pizza crust! It was yummy #eatclean #sogood #myfitnesspal #fitfam

A post shared by Stephanie (@smbuller) on

She cut out red meat, dairy and soy and focused on taking in more clean protein, fruits, vegetables and lots of water, being careful to track everything she ate. She also started preparing meals on Sundays for the entire week and almost completely stopped eating at restaurants.

Who knew I’d ever get so excited about a turkey burger. #mealprep #yummy

A post shared by Stephanie (@smbuller) on


In just a couple of weeks, the weight started to fall off again and her energy levels soared. Making sure to no longer over-exercise, she began swapping some of her cardio training for weightlifting.

“In January [2017], my husband and I started lifting weights together three times per week,” says Buller. “I had never lifted weights before — I had to Google how to use machines and have my husband show me. It was really far outside my comfort zone at first.”

In the first six weeks of weight training, she noticed that although the numbers on the scale were holding fairly steady, she had lost nearly five inches from her waistline.

“That’s when it dawned on me that it’s not all about the number on that piece of equipment on the bathroom floor,” she says. “It was a big educational moment for me. Plus, it’s been a really cool thing for us as a couple to do together.”

I took a long look in the mirror. I took a reality check. I took a huge leap of faith.

It’s been just a year since she recommitted to better health. The 35-year-old Buller now weighs 174 pounds — 112 pounds lighter than her heaviest weight a few years ago. Perhaps even more significant than the physical transformation, however, has been her journey of self-discovery.

“Learning about who I am through this process has been the greatest thing I’ve ever done for myself,” she says. “I always felt like I wasn’t good enough, but this has taught me self worth — that losing weight is about good health.”

Occasionally, Buller has days she struggles, just like the rest of us, when she feels tired, unmotivated and looks for excuses.

“But then I remember something I once read about how we all have 24 hours in each day and it’s all about how you’re going to use those 24 hours,” she says. “I like to tell people to just start small — don’t try to change everything at once. Take things one day at a time and believe in yourself.”

I think Ben’s face says it all #notrunners #getshitdonebun #fitish

A post shared by Stephanie (@smbuller) on

Aside from feeling proud of the prospect of being able to offer advice about adopting a healthier lifestyle, she says one of her favorite questions she gets from people curious about her extreme weight loss is, “What did you take to lose all that weight?”

Her answer: “I took a long look in the mirror. I took a reality check. I took a huge leap of faith.”


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Written by Mackenzie Lobby Havey, a freelance journalist and coach based in Minneapolis. She holds a master’s degree in Kinesiology from the University of Minnesota, and is a USA Track and Field certified coach. When she’s not writing, she’s out biking, running, and cross-country skiing around the city lakes with her dog.

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  • Margie Williamson Dewey

    Great job! It’s all about eating a healthy long term lifestyle! You look great, and I’m sure you feel great!

  • Dan

    What a great story about determination and the blessing of a friend that wasn’t afraid to jump in and help. Stephanie clearly had the willpower to make the changes needed, but at first her willpower was misdirected. Thank you for this encouraging article Mackenzie!

  • James Williams

    That’s so awesome you look great ..congrats to you and family on the weight loss …look great again