Ten years ago when Stephanie Wagner turned 40, it was a cruel year. She watched her dad suffer from an illness that made her want to spend almost every day at his bedside in the hospital. During that heart-wrenching time, Wagner came to a realization that one day, she too could be in the hospital bed, fighting for her life, if she kept living the way she was, indulging her unhealthy habits. "I was stressed, sleepless, anxious, overweight," Wagner recalled during a conversation over Zoom. "My doctor told me I was pre-diabetic." That was enough.

Motivated by the fear of getting sick, she made a decision to make some lifestyle changes, starting with a few key habits, and get healthy, once and for all.  The next day, she decided to visit the fitness center at work and try something she'd never done in her life – exercise. Just a few weeks later, after consistently walking for up to an hour first thing in the morning, Wagner found even more motivation to change her life for the better.



The Beginning of Wagner's Weight Loss Journey

"I always was someone who meditated, but the process never helped me physically," she says now. She remembered being curious about health and wellbeing, but not motivated enough to actually put in the effort to make changes and create new healthy habits. Her lifelong excuse for eating badly and not exercising was a chronic state of stress.

Wagner had to hit her lowest point before this all changed. Back then, her diet consisted of late-night runs for fast food burgers and fries, unchecked snacking on chips, an indulgence into copious amounts of cheese, and always, simple carbs like bread, pasta, or pizza. "I would get home late from work and call [in] food every night." She worked a stressful corporate job that required her to travel around the world and live in hotels and room service was always a phone call away. "I was teaching people about environmentally-conscious beauty, and yet I was reaching my breaking point."


Healthy Lifestyle Habit 1: Exercise, or Specifically Walking

It all started with the treadmill. Walking up to an hour every day first thing in the morning, with no excuses was the beginning of her journey that led her to eventually lose 80 pounds, without even setting out to do so.

Wagner's initial intention was to get healthy, and that was it. "I never set out to lose weight as my goal," she remembers. It was all about avoiding illness and lifestyle diseases like diabetes.

Yet one week into the new habit of steady morning exercise, simply walking for an hour, Wagner felt so good about her decision to get active that she was inspired to change the way she ate as well. Curious about the best diet for health and wellbeing, she began to research every diet and eventually made the commitment to try eating plant-based, as well as gluten-free, since she knew it would also force her to reduce her calorie intake.

Healthy Habit 2: A Plant-Based, Gluten-Free Diet

Whenever someone loses a vast amount of weight, it's interesting to know what they eat in a typical day. While Wagner didn't start out making her meals or shopping for all-fresh produce, it's encouraging to know that it's possible to eat healthy and not spend a lot of time or money.

In fact, when Wagner made the switch to a plant-based diet, she first did so by eating lots of frozen meals, and store-bought vegan alternatives for meat and cheese. She even ate pre-packaged plant-based snacks and vegan energy bars, simply for the convenience of it, but then she eventually decided to try cooking her own meals – and discovered that she loved it. "I cooked recipes with lots of lentils, rice and beans, tempeh or tofu, and all types of vegetables," she recalls. "I made soups, chilies, protein pancakes, and even plant-based yogurts. Plus I baked lentil cakes and other types of plant-based and gluten-free loaves."

Breakfast: Protein Pancakes

Lunch: Lentil soups, rice, and beans with tempeh or tofu

Snack: Plant-based yogurt with fruit

Dinner: Lentil loaf cake

After a few days of walking on the treadmill and eating plant-based and gluten-free, Wagner noticed a difference in her energy level, her mood, and a shift in attitude – and her physique. "I was losing 1.5 pounds a week," she says now. "And I was living my values."

Healthy Habit 3: Mindful or Meditative Eating

Six months into the plant-based-and-gluten-free diet, Wagner was down 50 pounds. She credits her steady and natural weight loss to not just a consistent habit of diet and exercise but also the technique of mindful eating.

She used a form of meditation that allowed her to slow down while she was eating and really enjoy her food, and savor the taste. "When you think about how satisfying your food tastes you can avoid overeating," she explains now. "I thought about the taste, the texture, the smell," she says. She also listened to the hunger cues that would tell her when she was 80 percent full and then stopped eating. "I tuned into my body and fed it what it needed, instead of it wanted."

How to practice meditative eating

Wagner advised anyone who wants to practice mindful or meditative eating to shut off their phone and be present with their food. "Be aware of your eating patterns, identify what's not serving you, then pause, and set an intention to check in with yourself. Take a couple of breaths, and ask yourself how you're feeling during the meal, and ask yourself if you're still hungry."

Within a year of her lifestyle changes and eating habits, Wagner lost 80 pounds and learned to trust the wisdom of her body. That meant she knew how she could maintain a healthy weight: "I knew I would stop losing weight at a healthy number," she explained. In addition to the weight loss, her blood pressure came down, she stopped needing medication for her blood pressure and insomnia, and she noticed a positive impact on her metabolism. Her doctor also tells her that she is no longer prediabetic, which is something that brings her relief.  (In America, over 100 million adults have this condition and since it has no symptoms, it can be medically dangerous, since you won't know unless you get tested for it. Ask your doctor to test you.)

During Wagner's health journey, she quit her corporate job to become a mediation instructor, and now she works for Healthy Minds Innovations to help others reduce their stress and find calm in their lives, just as she did. In fact, Wagner just launched a program called "Jump Start" which includes 4 online sessions, daily messages, well-being assessments, and a 30-day meditation challenge.

Wagner wants to share her mantra and the message behind it. "My mantra is 'As it is.' What this means to me is to just be with things as they are. You don't need to fix everything or get wrapped up in things, because this kind of resistance can cause stress."

Bottom Line: To Be Healthy and Lose Weight Change Your Lifestyle Habits

Try eating a healthy diet of mostly plant-based foods and exercise every day, even if it's just walking for an hour in the morning. Choose foods that are healthy and gluten-free if possible. Then as you eat, be mindful of your food and how it tastes, and listen to your hunger cues. If you only eat until you're 80 percent full, you give your body what it needs, not what it wants.

For more great content like this, read The Beet's other Success Stories. Have a success story of your own to share? Head to The Beet's Facebook page where you can post it there and we will see it and get in touch.

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