From weathering the pandemic to navigating economic uncertainty, 2020 was a difficult year for countless people. For Alisha Small, the tumultuous time also included a move from Brooklyn to Germantown, Maryland, and, more importantly, a health scare. A biopsy in February found slightly abnormal cells, and a six-month follow-up appointment showed the cells had gotten worse, requiring surgery.
“At this point, I was 330 pounds, the heaviest I’d been in my life,” says Small, who gained about 60 pounds between the two doctor appointments. “After the second cancer scare, I decided to make a change.” She had the surgery and decided to go vegan the same day.
Today, more than a year later, the 37-year-old is still following a vegan lifestyle, noting it’s the first dietary change that’s stuck. “I tried all the diet fads, including Atkins,” she says. “Nothing worked long term; I was always up and down and never made a true lifestyle change.”
Like many people, Small was an emotional eater. “I battled this for about 15 years,” she says, adding it was a coping mechanism following her first pregnancy, when she gained about 100 pounds. A mother of three, Small would fluctuate in weight and lose 30–40 pounds after having her children, but she never lost it all.
To help with her new eating plan and health goals, Small enlisted MyFitnessPal to count calories. She says it was a big eye-opener. “Before, I would eat without being mindful of my calories. I was eating too much without realizing it.” The app also tracks her walking and activity during the day. She aims for 10,000 steps most days and has been training for her first 5K, while mixing in a couple of days of strength training. “I walk a 5K almost every day, and I’m working up to running the whole thing,” she says.
As part of her vegan diet, Small doesn’t eat any animal products. She also limits gluten and soy and follows a modified intermittent fasting schedule. “I don’t eat any cooked foods before noon or after 8 p.m., but I will eat raw fruits and vegetables outside those hours,” she says, adding she landed on this strategy by listening to her body.
After a full year of healthier eating and exercise choices, Small has lost 70 pounds and hopes to drop 100. But the longer she goes, the less she cares about specific numbers. “Initially, I was really set on hitting 100, but now I weigh myself less because it’s more about how I feel,” she admits. “This is the best I’ve felt physically, mentally and emotionally in all my 37 years. I’m eating well, exercising and able to play with my kids.”
CLICK TO TWEET THIS ARTICLE > Alisha used @myfitnesspal and a new eating strategy to lose 70 pounds in a year. #myfitnesspal
Small also says her blood pressure and heart rate are much better now, and she’s also benefiting from better sleep and less back pain. “When I was at my heaviest, it hurt to walk and stand up to do daily tasks.”
Small credits much of her success to her improved mental health, noting she had to break down mental barriers that had been ingrained for decades. “These topics weren’t discussed in the household I grew up in,” she says. “I had to unlearn a lot of things and heal from past traumas to shift my lifestyle and be consistent with it.” Now, she’s very pro-therapy and says seeing a therapist is one of the best life choices she’s made. Despite her busy schedule as an entrepreneur, certified personal development coach and mom, she makes sure to set aside time for herself each morning to pray, meditate, exercise and read. By putting her body and mind first, she’s ready for whatever the rest of her day brings.
Small offers some advice for anyone hoping to make a positive lifestyle change of their own. “Give yourself grace,” she says. “It’s not easy to break bad habits and make lasting changes. Start small, aim for consistent steps and, eventually, you will get to your goal. And don’t forget to celebrate yourself along the way.”
Originally published November 2021
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