These 7 Small Changes Helped Me Lose 110 Pounds

By embracing one new habit at a time, I’ve transformed my health and lost an average of 25 pounds per year for the past four years.

a collage featuring a woman making a salad at home, a tomato plant, and a pair of running shoes

Design elements: Getty Images. Collage: Cassie Basford.

In 2015, I sold everything I owned to travel the world. Already at an unhealthy weight for me, I believed traveling would help me “get fit.” Daily, for four years, I awoke in incredible spots in 25 countries around the world, but I struggled to explore them. Being 5 feet, 5 inches tall and 350 pounds made simple routines a challenge, let alone exploring new worlds. My nomad dream ended in 2019 in a Sicilian rooftop terrace apartment, where the 88 steps up to my suite left me in agony daily. I realized I needed to stop traveling and change my life.

I had a new dream: staying alive. I wanted to be healthy. My mother died when she was 57 years old, and here I was at age 46. Was I nearing my final chapter, or could I change my future? I decided I could. My goal was to be healthier at 50 than I was at 40. It was a hell of a mountain to climb, but I started with one good new habit at a time, starting with moving back to Canada.

So far, I’ve lost 110 pounds and I recently bought my first large-sized shirts in 15 years, after previously reaching size 4X. Once unable to walk a half-mile without breaks, now I can walk 7 miles or more without pain or consequences. I’ve got further to go, but I created a healthy lifestyle I enjoy, and I look forward to decades of new adventures. Here’s how I got here:

1. I live a walking lifestyle.

Like many others, I moved in the early months of the pandemic. I went home to Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, and now live a 15-minute walk from downtown and shops, and just 5 minutes from a park and the ocean. My feet take me to most places, but I supplement my lifestyle with a car-share membership and buses. Shopping is a breeze with my “granny cart,” which painlessly hauls a week’s groceries home in a single trip. I stretch and do light qigong while watching TV, and I’m fitter than I’ve been in 15 years.

2. I don’t drink calories—or count calories, for that matter.

I love eating, but living in Europe for two years and guzzling wine like it was my life force is partly how I reached my heaviest weight. Not “drinking calories” means I don’t fret about counting them either. Smoothies might taste good, but they never satisfy my hunger. I don’t tend to worry about day-to-day totals because I find my consumption tends to work itself out over the course of a week. I may eat lighter vegan meals one day and have a rib-eye steak the next. That’s where the next point comes in.

3. I cook almost everything I eat.

Years of traveling without having access to a proper kitchen and constantly eating out left me longing for a well-stocked kitchen. When my nomad life ended, I dove into cooking. I learned to make pasta in Rome, so when I came home, I made pasta from scratch. I kneaded and shaped loaves of bread while stews simmered all day on my stove. From there, I stumbled into a passion for scratch-made food—everything from yogurt and salsa to chili crisps and complex curries. And when I recently realized I was gluten-intolerant, I saw it as a challenge to find a few good recipes—not a radical new lifestyle designed on deprivation—and I’ve had great success. The additional time I spend in the kitchen may be comparable to time others spend in the gym, but it’s something I enjoy—and a habit I can keep for life. 

4. I am always watching cooking shows.

We weren’t all born with the gift of parents or family who appreciated the finer points of vegetable cookery. I grew up in a ’70s meat-and-potatoes home. Eating boiled veggies was the way to eat veggies. While travel helped open my eyes to new vegetables and preparations, my real inspiration has been cooking shows. At the start of the pandemic, a Portuguese Twitter buddy got me hooked on MasterChef Australia, with its 50-plus episodes a season set in a vegetable-loving nation. It helped me think of meat as the side and vegetables as the star. Recently, I seared harissa-rubbed cauliflower steaks in a cast-iron pan and served it with a walnut-and-parsley salsa, inspired by recipes by Simon Toohey (one of the Aussie MasterChef finalists) and famed cookbook author Yotam Ottolenghi. Afterward, I immediately had an identity crisis. Who have I become? Someone healthy, it turns out.

5. I started growing my own herbs.

My 5-by-15-foot balcony is home to a mini-jungle of 20 herbs, salad greens, ever-bearing strawberries and a few 10-gallon bags of tomatoes. All I have to do is step outside and snip chives to sprinkle over scrambled eggs, or tarragon to rub over a chicken before I roast it. For a few months each year, a fresh salad is always at my fingertips. It feels fancy, but it’s so easy. Plus, nothing recharges me more when working from home than five minutes on my balcony in the spring and summer surrounded by my container garden of produce.

6. I’m mindful about what I eat or drink after dinner.

I’m not strict about an end-time for eating because life is beautifully inconsistent, and flexibility is important. But if I eat at 9 p.m. or so, I won’t nosh till 10 or 11 the next morning. (I work from home, so I have that flexibility.) Call it intermittent fasting if you want, but for me it’s less about cutting calories than it is about ending destructive behavior. For example, as a traveler, I drank a bottle of wine a night, which led to “a little taste won’t hurt” attitude when it came to snacking along with my vino. Today, I may have fruit after dinner or bitter hot cocoa, but that’s all, if I want good digestion and peaceful sleep.

7. I focus on feelings, not numbers.

The scale isn’t my friend. The wrong meal, the wrong calibration, and suddenly self-worth can go out the window because of a number. If I worried about the scale, I’d have given up long ago! My weight can fluctuate as much as 5 pounds in a day, and it took years to understand why—and to stop judging myself for it. Instead, I focus on how I feel: how walking feels, how roomy that chair is, how my clothes fit. That feeling is what success feels like.

I’m glad I allowed myself to be present in the worst of how I felt, before my fitness journey began. I’ll never forget hitting my rock bottom that sunny day on a rooftop in Palermo, Sicily, overlooking a centuries-old world with a broken heart because I was in far too much pain to explore it. There, I gave up on what was then the adventure of my lifetime. 

Today, I have a new life. I long to return to that city, those cobblestones and the possibilities within those twisting old alleys, because the joy of exploration never needs to elude me again. 

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