After a major weight loss, it’s normal to celebrate your success, look back on your journey, and remind yourself of how far you’ve come. Jenni Gayden took this theory a step further by turning her success into a tattoo.
On her leg is the image of a chocolate-frosted cupcake wrapped in a measuring tape. The numbers 18, 19 and 20 on the tape represent the years she worked to drop down from a starting weight of 317, and at the top of the tape is 100 — representing when she hit that milestone of weight lost.
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“For me, this represents progress but also balance,” she says. “At one of my past jobs, my passion for baking earned me the nickname ‘Jenni Cupcake.’ I still love baking for other people and yes, occasionally having one for myself.”
The 33-year-old Illinois resident took a while to get to that place. Overweight for most of her life, Gayden was always athletic and remembers being aware of her size on every team.
“I was always the biggest girl,” she says. “Then, in middle school, it became more of a problem because I began gaining more weight.” As happens with many people, it kept creeping upward until she found herself at age 24 realizing she needed to make some serious changes. She tried Weight Watchers and was able to lose 60 pounds within a year.
Then, after a plateau, her weight went in the other direction. Not only did she gain back the 60 pounds she had lost, but ended up 50 pounds heavier than her starting weight. The setback was tough enough that she didn’t try again because she was concerned that a repeat experience would lead to even more weight gain.
Soon enough, however, a little friendly competition proved too tempting for Gayden. In January 2018, her husband’s company hosted a weight-loss competition and he signed up. She, too, decided to join, mainly to support him because she knew weight loss was easier when you’re not doing it alone. His supervisor suggested using MyFitnessPal to track food, so they both downloaded the app.
By the time the competition ended four months later, her husband decided to quit, but she was hooked.
“I realized the app was really working for me,” she says. “Those first couple months were mainly about awareness, because seeing how many calories I was eating every day was eye-opening.”
At the time, Gayden was working about an hour away from home — and as a marketing and accounting professional, she spent all day sitting at a desk. On the way to work, she’d stop for a fast-food breakfast three or four days a week. At first, she’d just get regular coffee, but it soon turned into “I might as well get a breakfast sandwich,” and that turned into a fancy coffee drink, two sandwiches and hashbrowns.
“When I put all that into MyFitnessPal, I found out that breakfast represented all the calories I should be having for the entire day,” she says. “Yet, I’d go out to eat for lunch and have a cheeseburger, fries and so on. It’s such a simple thing, to see how many calories you’re eating, but holy cow, what a difference it makes.”
By simply using that awareness to get her calories down, Gayden lost 70 pounds in 11 months. Then, her husband got her a stationary bike for Christmas, and she began to incorporate more activity into the mix. By January 2020, she was down from 317 to 174.
Soon after that milestone, the pandemic hit, and like many people, her work shifted to a home office. That change brought more sedentary time, relaxed eating plans and weight gain as a result. But Gayden was determined not to have another backslide.
She’d always wanted to try a 5K, so she signed up for a virtual race she could do on her own, and she loved it so much that she’s done 10 in the past year.
“I used to run cross-country in high school, and I never thought I’d try running again, even when I was using the stationary bike,” she says. “But I got to the point in my weight loss where running felt comfortable, and once I started, it felt like there’s no stopping me.”
She also kept baking. Although it’s a hobby, Gayden’s expertise is in such demand among family and friends that she’s often asked to make hundreds of cupcakes for weddings and other events. Whenever there’s a party, people usually greet her by looking down at what she’s brought, she jokes.
“Basically, I’m known as the baker,” she says. “I do have more strategies now that keep me from mindlessly eating what I bake, like making sure I don’t have any leftovers to bring home from a get-together. But there’s something to be said for having just one cupcake, and enjoying it fully.”
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