Sandra Elia has lived two lives. One as a morbidly obese woman, completely out of control, experiencing paralyzing depression.
But she rebuilt her life from its lowest point and transformed from being morbidly obese to running a half marathon. Result? She lost over a 100 pounds!
If you are looking for some inspiration to change your unhealthy lifestyle, then you must read her story.
You began your fitness journey 13 years ago when you went on to lose 100 pounds and have successfully kept it off. What motivated you to embark on this journey?
My journey began at the age of 29 years old, at this point my life was spiraling out of control. I was classified as morbidly obese, I wish I could say my weight was my only problem. I was a full-blown food addict and it affected every area of my life. I was in a bad marriage, I was clinically depressed, I was on an extended sick leave from work and I was in a codependent relationship with my mother who suffered from morbid obesity and bipolar disorder. My weight and my eating made me suicidal. The pain was the driver in starting my journey, however, my success was built on self-acceptance, self-love and setting myself up for success. I had spent decades trying to control my weight and my eating, failing at every attempt, and over time I felt like a complete failure. What I’ve since learned is all I can do is control my behavior, I cannot control the number on the scale. I remember the exact moment I decided that it didn’t matter if I lost another pound ever again, I just couldn’t keep eating the way I was eating. Processed foods were killing me, and making me horrifically depressed. Paradoxically NOT caring about weight loss was the first step in losing over a 100 pounds, I don’t know the exact number. Today my weight is none of my business, my business is to eat whole real foods and move my body in fun ways. My weight takes care of its self.
In the course of your fitness journey, what were the milestones that you had to overcome?
The biggest milestone to overcome was the self-hatred, self-judgment, the constant tape that ran through my mind that I was fat, ugly and stupid. I felt like an outcast, as though I had no right to be a part of this world that values beauty so highly. My worth was somehow measured by my size, the bigger my size that less I was worth.
I began an unconditional love affair with myself. UNCONDITIONAL – meaning I loved myself exactly as I was with the stretch marks, lumps, and cellulite. It had to be the same love I felt for myself at a healthy body size, UNCONDITIONAL is unchanging.
I shed the self-hatred and punishing thoughts that consumed the energy I needed to take care of myself. I created new mental tapes that would inspire me and help me believe I could be a healthier person. Nourishing and caring for your body is an act of self-love. If you are practicing self-loathing, the chances of recovery are low. I’ve learned hateful thoughts will drain me, and love is energizing and I needed all the energy I could muster to lose the weight.
What is your fitness regime like now? And how was it back then?
Exercise began from a very humble place for me. I had to become willing to exercise, all I could do at that time was walk for 15 minutes. Then the 15 minutes turned into 30 minutes. My walking progressed into jogging, and then one day I ran a half marathon!
Today, I like to keep things fun and interesting. I try out new activities and know I will suck at them in the beginning and I’m totally OK with that.
About a year ago I started doing hot yoga, I could only do about 50% of the poses and there was nothing elegant about my poses! Today, I can do all the poses and the best part of yoga is… you never master it, you just keep going deeper into the practice.
On the flip side of yoga, I do 3 kickboxing classes a week and just LOVE them. It is a high-intensity workout and super fun.
I still jog about once a week, it’s a form of meditation for me and my original love.
You have conquered your battle with compulsive eating beautifully, how were you able to do so?
I didn’t have another diet in me, I gave up on finding the magic cure. I took a simple approach and eliminate my trigger foods that would inevitably set off a binge, and if I could stop bingeing, I knew I could be healthy. Trigger foods are generally foods high in sugar, salt, fat or are flour products (bread, pizza, pasta). These are food that once I started eating, I found very hard to stop or control the portion.
My recovery was based on three pillars:
- Eliminate foods that acted like a drug in my body (once I start on them, I couldn’t stop). Doing this one meal at a time.
- Found a support network, proximity is power. I had to be connected to people getting up every morning trying to do the same thing. We could support each other through struggles and celebrate our success.
- Developed spirituality and mindfulness. In order to eat addictively, I need to go mindless, I could not be present. Mindfulness was the antidote to this. In early recovery, I could not trust my thinking when it came to eating (or should I say overeating), so how do I outthink my thinking? The way only way is to go inward, tap into my inner wisdom and select food from that place.
In a typical day, what do you take for breakfast-lunch-dinner? And what are your go-to healthy snacks?
I like to keep things simple, numbers make me crazy! I don’t want to count calories, I don’t want to count carbs, and I don’t to watch the numbers on the scale.
I create a plate of food at each meal, I make sure nothing has refined sugar or refined flour on my plate. As long as I stay away from my “drug” foods my appetite is under control, I don’t have cravings, and I am safe and neutral around food.
This simplicity allows me to travel, handle parties and holidays with ease.
With so much happening in and around the world of fitness, tell us about your 2018 Fitness goals?
My fitness goal is to be better then I was yesterday. I want more strength, more flexibility, and more endurance. I know that these qualities will lead to a healthy and happy old age.
I have a 7-year old daughter, some of my greatest joys are giving her a piggy-back ride, getting on the slide together at the park, and having her hang out at the boxing gym while I work out. My biggest goal is to live the life I want my daughter to live. A life where she puts her well-being first, I must show her the way.
Share with us your top 5 tips for someone who is looking to lose weight, say about a 50 pounds.
- Throw the scale in the trash, focus on eating whole foods and moving your body. When you tie the way you eat or exercise to the scale it becomes a dangerous game of “I’m only going to eat this way if the scale goes down if not, I abandon all efforts”.
- Radically reconsider how you view certain foods Know that processed foods are highly addictive, chemically engineered foods. They are not treats, they will rob you of a healthy life.
- Take it one meal at a time, don’t think in terms of the rest of your life. Just for breakfast, can you eliminate all refined sugar and refined flour products? Then ask yourself the same question at lunch and dinner. This will quiet the voice in your head that says “really, you aren’t going to have cake for the rest of your life?”. The answer is always just for this one meal.
- Start with self-love, we all flourish in an environment that is kind, nurturing and gentle. You need to set up an internal environment (i.e. your thinking) that makes success possible. How you treat yourself in a setback will determine whether you’ll reach your goal. Do you take out the shame stick and beat yourself up for a mistake
- Challenge yourself to be kind, nurturing and gentle during those times. The results will amaze you!
Move your body in fun ways, allow yourself to suck at the beginning. Drop the “if I can’t do it perfectly, I’m not even going to try” – this is a childlike view. Set yourself up to win, have goals like: elevating your mood; increasing flexibility; increasing strength. You’ll hit the mark each time, which will make it more motivating!
Know more about her story and journey on .