How Julie Got Her Groove Back (And Kept It!)

Unfortunately, the deck really seems to be stacked against those of us with slender ambitions:  approximately 80% of dieters go on to regain all the weight they lost – and then some.

julie_oneIn defiance of these depressing odds, last year a 47-year-old American everywoman managed to lose 62 pounds in just over 6 months – while also juggling her career, three teenage children, an adoring husband, countless mountains of laundry, several pets, elderly parents and active involvement in her church.

Just imagine her daily “to do” list. No need for cardio, right? Well, not exactly…

Ultimately, she dropped 10 ten dress sizes  – without the help of radical surgery, fancy personal trainers, vegan gurus, ritzy spa vacations or masochistic detox regimens.

Feeling skeptical? You have every reason to be.  Now meet Julie Mills! Please read on to learn how this former homecoming queen got her groove back – and kept it.

You had dabbled with dieting many times before, right?  

Oh God, yes! When I was about 12 years old, my mom put me on a pretty drastic low carb diet. All I can remember was grapefruit and tuna – it was horrible! And it just didn’t work.  When I hit my teens, I really slimmed down. I started eating better and became a cheerleader – all that exercise really helped! Then I went off to college and gained the famous “freshman 15.” That summer, my friends and I formed a little weight loss support group. I completely cut down on portions and tried to be more active. I lost the “freshman 15” and then a bit more.  And I kept most of it off through the rest of college.

By the time I married my college sweetheart in 1991, I was so happy  – and hyper! –  that I dropped 8 pounds right before our wedding. Although I quickly re-gained my “hyper bride pounds,” I felt very comfortable as a size 8 throughout the rest of my twenties.

And then you started having babies…

Right! Pregnancy #1 was perfect. I gained less than 25 pounds and bounced back within a couple of months. Over the next few years, I put on about 10 pounds.  Then I had another baby. Looking back on it, my problem wasn’t the pregnancy weight at all — it was the weight I was gaining between pregnancies. Soon I had 3 small boys, and I was eating most of my meals in a hurry while standing at the kitchen counter. Not good! After my youngest son’s 4th birthday, I went on a diet and lost 27 pounds. Then Halloween came, and the house was full of candy. Between Halloween and Christmas, I gained all 27 pounds back plus a few more. And from that point on, my weight just kept going up.

You decided to make a major lifestyle change in December of 2011. What was going through your mind at that time?  

Having failed at dieting so many times, my self-esteem was really low.  I was out of shape and worried about heart disease –  I’d be out of breath just from going up one flight stairs. Then a friend of mine joined a well known weight loss program and lost 20 pounds. When I saw how beautiful she looked, something inside me just snapped. Two or three days later, I joined the same program.

Are you cooking differently for your family?

Not drastically differently. I knew from the very beginning that, if I was going to make a permanent change, I had to be able to eat all the same foods as my family. Now I put ground turkey into chili instead of ground beef.  I also add extra vegetables  – especially zucchini – to recipes. Zucchini is so great for adding bulk. Half the time my kids don’t even realize they’re eating it!

As a busy working mom, you’re often pressed for time. What’s your family’s favorite healthy weeknight dinner?

My family loves “Julie Burgers,” which I make from a combination of ground turkey and ground beef. I serve them with a giant salad. Turkey kielbasa is another favorite. I quietly made the switch from beef kielbasa to turkey, which has less calories, and my family never really noticed. Shhhh…

What are your favorite healthy snacks?

Snacking is key! I’m always hungry in the grocery store. In the past I would consume a bag of Hershey kisses while shopping, but now I munch on baby carrots instead! At home we snack on bananas, grapes, apples, or any kind of fruit. Sometimes granola bars or popcorn chips. If I’m too rushed to chop vegetables, pickles are a great option.

I should probably confess that, the whole time I was losing weight, we had junk food in the house. We still do. I never thought I could keep myself away from it, but I’ve learned to practice self-control.

What are your go-to sources for healthy recipes?

Honestly, I don’t have time to read many recipes!

Are there any particular foods that you’ve given up, or do you focus primarily on portion control?

Mainly portion control. The only thing I’ve really given up is full fat ice cream. Now I buy the “light” kind. I still love “naughty foods” like chocolate and fettucine alfredo! The difference is that now I eat a lot of veggies so that every once in a while I can indulge in a dessert or pasta.

What’s your position on breakfast?

I’ve always eaten breakfast!  These days I eat a bit less in the morning.  I try to keep it simple – like a bowl of cereal with fruit.

How often do you weigh yourself?

Once a week, at my weight loss support group. Shortly after I joined the group, my husband Gary hid our bathroom scale because he didn’t want me to become obsessive about weighing myself.  It was the best thing he ever did! You can get addicted to that stupid scale. Weighing yourself too often can ruin your mood!

Did Gary or any of your sons lose weight – either because they were inspired by you, or because you’re buying healthier groceries?

Gary hasn’t changed at all. Although it makes me a little sad, I leave him alone. I don’t want to be a killjoy or a nag. I would rather focus on modeling a healthy lifestyle.  My kids still have a few bad eating habits, but little by little they’re getting better. My eldest son went off to college this year, and I’ve challenged him to achieve a “negative freshman 15.” I’m also encouraging my middle son to take up a school sport.

What role did exercise play in your weight loss strategy?

Exercise was huge! Two years ago, I was praying for the willpower to get myself healthy. Within a few weeks, an exercise studio actually moved into my neighborhood! Before I knew it, I was taking exercise classes there five times a week!

What types of exercise are you doing now?

Zumba more than anything else – usually three classes a week.  I also take a long walk with my dog every day, no matter what.

You’re a former cheerleader. Who was cheering you on as you were losing weight?

My husband was extremely supportive, and my kids were awesome too. The people in my weekly weight loss meetings were incredible. The team dynamic really worked for me  – I still meet with my support group every week, and I know I couldn’t have done it without them. 

What advice would you give to others who are trying to lose significant weight at midlife?

Find a support network, and don’t give up!  If you have a bad day, just get back on the horse. Someone once told me that being thin won’t make you happier. Actually, I disagree!  Now I have enough energy to keep up with my kids! And I can go shopping for pretty clothes! It all feels so amazing.

Did you ever hit a plateau or “relapse” in some way?

Not yet, thank goodness!

How has your new shape impacted your marriage?

In funny ways! And in lots of affectionate little gestures. My husband, who is usually rather low-key, actually put a bumper sticker on his truck that says, “Zumba changed my wife!” I’m really fortunate to be married to someone who has always made me feel appreciated and loved, no matter what the scale says.