By: Jamie Morgan
I’m writing this today, thirteen years after I began a journey to transform all aspects of my body, mind, and spirit. I sit here now– full of energy and positivity with a calm, clear mind, but I very clearly remember how I felt most of my life before my transformation. I was exhausted, achy, often sick, irritable, depressed, and anxious. And I was ALWAYS craving food. I knew I had so much to offer in life and relationships, but I couldn’t get out of the swirling vortex of food obsession, moodiness, and fatigue to fulfill all the things I knew I was capable of.
Today, I’m 240 lbs. lighter, free from pre-diabetes, joint pain, cardiovascular issues, sleep apnea, high blood pressure and many other co-morbidities (including depression and anxiety). Just as important, though, I’m confident, calm, joyful, clear-headed, and passionate about spreading the message that it’s possible to overcome severe obesity and lifestyle disease one day at a time.
I’m often asked how I did it. It’s not a simple answer because every aspect of my life has changed since I began… and I realize now that that’s exactly what needed to happen. Here are the steps I took on my journey—perhaps they’ll provide some inspiration or guidance for anyone who’s looking to make similar changes.
#1 Find your why
I started by figuring out why I wanted to change my life and gain my health after a lifetime of unhealthy choices. My “why” back then was very simple: I wanted to live past my 40s. That may sound rather uninspired, but I assure you, at the time, it didn’t feel that way. I truly didn’t believe I would make it to the age of 40, let alone live longer than that! I also knew I had a purpose for my life, and I didn’t want to die before I could fulfill it. Back then, I couldn’t tell you what that purpose was, but it felt like a deep, gnawing feeling in my soul. It wasn’t hunger (though I’m sure I ate over it sometimes) …it was determination. I wanted to be healthy SO much more than I wanted anything else. My “why” made me cry (in a good way) and that was the motivation I needed to keep going in those early days.
#2 Get support
The next step was assembling my support team. It included a dietitian, counselor, cooking and fitness mentors and, eventually, a personal trainer. When I began, my social circle was filled with folks who were driven to eat or enjoyed food and a sedentary lifestyle as much as I did. Though they looked like friends and family, the biggest thing we had in common was our love of eating. My support team helped me see that there was so much life to live outside of the food. They taught me that my days could be filled with life-affirming experiences and didn’t have to center around food or my next meal. I began to see a life filled with possibilities, instead of one that revolved around eating.
I learned the environment I created for or found myself in was the biggest predictor of my success, so I stocked my home kitchen with whole, unprocessed foods. The years of struggle from moderating processed and ultra-processed foods had taken its toll on me and I realized that those foods meant days, weeks and months of food obsession, weight issues and other stress-filled experiences.
I also learned that movement was a daily, non-negotiable habit for me. I surrounded myself with others who found joy in moving, challenging, and embracing their bodies and soon I did too. Thirteen years later, there has not been a day without some form on intentional movement, even gentle stretching. The mental and emotional benefits are greater than I could have imagined, and they keep me coming back for more each morning!
#3 Focus on emotional growth
Four years into my journey, I had lost 200 lbs. and I was feeling like a new person in so many ways. But I instinctively knew I had to reinvent myself again if I wanted to get to the next level of health. For me, the next level meant an emotional and spiritual transformation that complemented my physical one. This meant I had to be willing to look in the mirror at more than just my body’s reflection. Who was I? What did I want in life? And how was I going to become the person who could achieve and receive it?
By this point, my career was evolving too, and I found my way into the Leadership Development side of Human Resources. I was learning how to train leaders and transition teams from low-functioning to high-performing. I loved the work I did, so I immersed myself in all kinds of leadership theory and practice. I learned how the best leaders used vision, values, goal setting, integrity, and recognition to focus and motivate the people they led. I immediately saw how these behaviors could have great impact on the changes I needed to make in my life, so, that’s when I began the practice of self-leadership!
#4 Set your vision and realistic healthy goals
I took my new role very seriously, approaching it as if I was a newly appointed leader of my own company: Jamie, Inc. I set my vision for all the areas of my life I wanted to grow in and kept it in front of me every day on a vision board that included motivational phrases. These words and images kept me focused on where I was going and how I needed to think while I got there.
After creating my vision, I wanted to find out who I had to become to achieve it. So, I found a list of personal values and started circling ones the woman in my vision would have. After several list revisions, the values of discipline, service, abundance, gratitude, and authenticity came into focus as those that would serve best.
Instead of bigger, long-term goals (like “I want to lose my last 20lbs by the end of the year), I set realistic daily goals that kept me focused on the small, important steps I needed to take each day to get closer to my vision. These goals revolved around water intake, movement, food preparation, social connection, and stress management. Then, I set one BIG, HAIRY AGGRESSIVE GOAL (BHAG) that my newfound physical body and better health allowed me. These related to fitness competitions, travel, educational pursuits, and career goals. My BHAGs all had daily tasks attached to ensure I didn’t get too intimidated by the bigger goal not to take any action at all.
Integrity was the next leadership attribute I needed to work on and, frankly, this one was huge for me. After years of letting myself down in all areas of my health, the idea of self-integrity eluded me. I had integrity in my relationships and at work, but to myself? Nada. I learned the definition of integrity meant to “do what you say you will do.” Well, that was easy! Each day, in my morning goal setting, I made a mental list of all the actions I needed to take to fulfill my goals. Then, I simply promised myself I’d do them, NO MATTER WHAT. There were many mornings I woke up and didn’t want to take any action, believe me! But I promised myself, so I did. Once I became the last person I wanted to let down, progress towards my goals accelerated.
#5 Learn self-love
I’d spent many years rejecting just about every part of my body and personality, so I wondered how I could possibly love any part of me when I didn’t even like myself very much. I had to put the work in, one day at a time, but learning to love myself has been the single most rewarding aspect of my leadership walk.
I now know how valuable, worthy, and lovable I am, and this belief empowers me each day to choose the habits that keep me healthy, especially when I don’t feel like it. And, to be honest, there are still many days I don’t feel like it! But they remind me that to love myself is to take care of my health, no matter what! And today, I have a life ahead of me that I’m truly excited about. My biggest lesson? Self-leadership makes all the difference!
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