For Samantha Morrison, rock bottom was in 2009 when she was strolling through a mall in suburban Milwaukee and overheard two teenage boys making fun of her weight. “She’s your girlfriend,” one said to the other. “She’d be so much prettier if she were skinny,” his friend replied.
She was only 21 at the time, 5-foot-2 and 256 pounds, and she felt a rush of emotions: self-loathing, shame, anxiety about her health and, spurred by the boys’ mockery, a determination to lose weight and feel better about herself. That, she figured, would be the cure-all for her esteem issues.
If only it had worked out that way. Morrison, like many people, was more interested in the fast track to her target weight. She tried fad diets that included shakes, pre-purchased foods, SlimFast, Atkins, meal replacements, pills, Paleo and other shortcut approaches that promised success. But none were sustainable for her, and for various reasons, she couldn’t make any of them stick. She stopped trying to diet when she got pregnant with her first child, and her focus shifted to growing a baby, but resumed again in the fall of 2010.
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At the time, she hosted regular dinner parties for friends, and one of the women told her about a colleague who was using MyFitnessPal and had lost about 20 pounds. Morrison was intrigued and decided to check it out. One evening, after her guests left, she stayed up most of the night reading the forums — especially the success stories. As she recalls, her big takeaway was that she needed to start recording and calculating how much she was exercising and how much she should be eating. She bought a food scale and promised herself she wasn’t going to stop until she hit 127 pounds.
“It was really eye-opening to see how much food I was consuming at the time and how actually weighing my food resulted in different portion sizes,” she explains. “For the first week, I didn’t change anything. I just weighed everything I consumed and logged it.”
Once she became familiar with the optimal portion size for her goals, she decided she was going to eat at her maintenance level for a few weeks to really get acclimated to eating less. “I didn’t want a huge shock to my system, so it was helpful for me to do this slowly,” she says. “I also promised myself that, in parking lots, I would always park in the most distant spot and would take the stairs as much as I could.”
She began cutting her caloric intake slowly: 5% became 10%, then 15, then 20. In essence, she’d given up the fast-track approach and figured once she’d hit her goal, her self-esteem would kick right in. But by the time she made her target weight in 2013, she was shocked to realize she didn’t automatically love herself and her new body.
Even after she began losing weight, Morrison didn’t view herself with affection. When she looked in the mirror, her body just looked “saggy” to her and her skin had “lots of ugly marks.” “Unfortunately,” she says, “I neglected to appreciate the way my body revealed my journey — where I was and how far I had come.”
“Learning to love myself at face value isn’t dependent on my relationship with gravity.”
It took a lot of reflection for her to realize she needed to love herself for who she was and not how her body looked. When she was able to do this, she began to feel radiant: “My body shows perseverance, determination and strength,” she says, “and while it doesn’t look like the the body most people in the magazines have, it is my own. I love my body because I’ve decided it’s good enough.”
Today, Morrison fluctuates between 130 and 133 pounds. Since her MyFitnessPal journey began, she’s had a second child, and while she only gained 19 pounds during that pregnancy, she was able to lose it quickly by maintaining her rituals around weighing and logging her food.
She recently added strength training to her exercise routine, and she’s just gotten the best lab results from her routine blood work in years. Despite the fact that she was diagnosed with kidney disease in 2014, her cholesterol and triglyceride numbers have improved, too.
An added bonus are the many friends and mentors she’s made along the way, some who’ve supported her through challenging times, and others to whom she offers support. She tries to help people understand that our bodies don’t define us, and she encourages those struggling with weight loss and body image to divorce themselves from society’s unrealistic beauty standards, not to embrace them as ideals, but to define health and beauty for themselves.
“Learning to love myself at face value isn’t dependent on my relationship with gravity,” she says. “It’s accepting my body for what it is, what it looks like and how far it’s taken me thus far. That has to be the most challenging aspect of all of this, not the physical part, but the mental piece.”
The next milestone is 30, which is just around the bend.
“I want to be strong, I want to be healthy, and I want to be happy with myself,” she says. “I’m excited to see where this vessel known as my body takes me and how far I can push it.”