How I'm Doing It

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Experience Life Magazine

Mom of Four Girls Loses 125 Pounds

I grew up on good old macaroni and cheese from the box and hot dogs. I didn’t try a vegetable until I was in my early 20s. If it had any artificial ingredients in it, I loved it. Any food having a shelf life of 100-plus years sounded delicious to me. And what was that you said? Ten for $2?! What a bargain! In my cart it went.

Shaver_BeforeBad habits have a tendency to sneak up on you. One moment I was a voluptuous teenager enjoying a beer and a hamburger, and then before I knew it, I was married and had four beautiful girls. After having my fourth child, I weighed 280 pounds, but I was happy — or, at least, that was what I told myself.

When my first daughter was a few weeks old, and I would wake up numb. I would be in a cold sweat and gasping for breath. This prompted a much-needed physical with my doctor. To say that my insides were screaming for help was an understatement. My cholesterol was through the roof, I had sleep apnea, high blood pressure, anxiety, panic attacks, heart palpitations, and depression.

I was 36 years old.

I will never forget what my doctor told me that day. She said all of these conditions could be reversed. I said, “Wow, sign me up! What do I have to do?” She said I had two choices: First, I could go on a list of medications. Or, instead, I could change my diet and start moving my body. Use food as nutrition and fuel, and not as entertainment. The right foods have the power to heal the body. The idea that food could be medicine was so foreign to me, but I was not ready to give up. I knew that this was not how my story was going to end.

Shaver_BeforeAfter2I started walking that night, just around the block. My body ached and my heart pounded, but I knew I had to keep going. I did my research, read the books, spoke to my doctor, and came up with a plan. First, I cut the soda, junk food, and fast food. With these changes, along with walking every night for 30 minutes, I lost 50 pounds.

Then the dreaded plateau happened.

I had to shake up my routine. I set a goal for myself, which was to run a 5K. I trained for this race using an app on my phone called Couch to 5K (C25K). I started by running for 30 seconds and then walking for four minutes and 30 seconds. Every week I added 30 seconds to my run. I ended running my first 5K and finishing in 30 minutes! I ran the entire time. Not fast, but I ran. I continued my training, setting new goals, and I never looked back. (You can follow my progress on Instagram; my username is momoffourchicks37.)

Today, I have lost 125 pounds. I am now a Beachbody Coach, working on my personal trainer certification, and looking forward to taking holistic nutrition classes in the summer. I am no longer a passive participant in life.


My diet consists of lean proteins, vegetables that are in season, and no white carbs or simple sugars. Everything in moderation. If I want a brownie, I eat a brownie. But I may eat half of one, not three. I don’t deprive myself.

My exercise plan consists of weightlifting, running, and pushing play on my Beachbody workout DVDs. Being a mom of four busy little girls, I can’t always get to the gym, and working out at home makes it possible to stay on track and get in a killer workout.

My advice: Many people still think you have to eat less and go on a “diet.” But what we all need to do is eat right, do something that makes us sweat every day, and don’t ever diet. I have made this a lifestyle change. If not now, when?

Shaver_BeforeAfterSuccess Summary
Stacy Schmidt-Shaver
Special-education teacher for Nassau Boces
Wife and mother to four beautiful girls
37 years old

Before Weight: 280 pounds
After Weight: 155 pounds
Total Loss: 125 pounds

Experience Life Magazine

Body Pride at Every Stage: Brooke Birmingham and Her After Photo

Image via; original from

This week, a blog and photo that was meant for a popular women’s magazine went viral: Brooke Birmingham had been interviewed by a freelance writer for Shape magazine’s online “Success Stories” section. When she submitted an “after” photo of her in a bikini, the writer asked her for another photo of her wearing a shirt, citing “editorial policy” (which the magazine later denied, stating this was a misunderstanding with the freelance writer).

Brooke was, understandably, hurt by this request. She had lost 172 pounds, sharing her story along the way on her blog. Her new body was the result of her hard work, and as she pointed out in her blog post (which later appeared on the Huffington Post):

I spent MANY years hating and hiding a body I was ashamed of because it wasn’t society’s ideal of beautiful. Being asked to send a photo of myself with a shirt on made me feel like I again should be ashamed of my body. That since I have the loose skin, I shouldn’t be in a bikini. I wasn’t willing to do that though.

Having struggled with my weight, I applaud Brooke for standing by her story — and for being so brave. Even after losing weight and reaching a goal, there are still hurdles to overcome, not just in maintaining weight loss with all the unhealthy obstacles in the world, but also in reframing our body image. There are comments from loved ones, good and not so good, so for Brooke to receive this feedback from a total stranger was completely uncalled for. And deserved her pushback. As she stated in her email to the writer: “I feel like the industry is teaching us to be ashamed of our bodies, even when we have done amazing things.”

Image via; original from

Isn’t it time that we nix the notion of “ideal bodies” and love our amazing bodies at every stage of our lives? It’ll take demand from consumers, and more magazines like ours that are ready to do away with the “Six Packs and Sex Lives” cover lines that sell those magazines. (Check out a Q&A with our creative director, Lydia Anderson, on how we present images in the magazine.)

We’d love to hear from you: How did you feel about this story?

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Experience Life Magazine

Inspiration: Chef Rocco Whalen’s Weight Loss

Managing a healthy relationship with food is tricky enough when you’re trying to lose weight, but imagine being a chef who has to make rich, sugary foods for his patrons nearly every day. You want to know if a dish is good? Well, you’ll have to taste it. And then taste that. And then you’re pushing meal after meal out of the kitchen and what happened to your time for dinner?

Unless you work at a restaurant expressly focused on preparing and serving only healthy food, it’s no doubt a challenge to maintain your weight when working in the restaurant industry, as chef Rocco Whalen from Cleveland’s Fahrenheit Restaurant shares in this video below from Nightline.

If you work in a restaurant, what are your tricks for staying slim? Can you identify with Chef Whalen’s struggle?

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Experience Life Magazine

Kathe Yamagata: Weight Loss & Life Lessons (Audio)

I hope you’ve been enjoying hearing more from our January/February issue’s featured How I’m Doing It writer. I had a chance to catch up with Kathe over the phone recently, and she spoke about her strategies for success, the unexpected lessons she learned as she lost the weight, and the surprising challenge of weight-loss maintenance.

Listen to the podcast below for more.


Experience Life Magazine

Kathe Yamagata: Video Interview

It was my pleasure to meet Kathe Yamagata, the author of this month’s How I’m Doing It, in person. I traveled to Washington, D.C., to spend the day photographing her, and conducted a short interview as well.

As you can see from the video, Kathe is the real deal. Her commitment to her new healthy lifestyle is truly inspiring.

Thanks to Kathe for her hospitality, and for sharing her story with our readers.

Experience Life Magazine

Inspiration: LaKeisha Shurn’s 100-Day Video Diary

For those of you looking for some motivation to exercise this weekend, check out LaKeisha Shurn’s story: She took on a challenge through to go to the gym for 100 days in a row. Not only did she lose weight, but she reveals that she learned so much more about herself.

Why is she sharing this? “I want you to see how one person really changes everything about their life.”

Perhaps you can relate if you’ve shared your story here with Experience Life readers. If you haven’t and this inspires you, we loved to cheer on your own personal successes, too!

Experience Life Magazine

Temple Restoration, Temple Maintenance

It started in June 2010. I was attending the Prayer Quake conference in Phoenix. On the morning of the second day, a man I didn’t know said he had a word for me from God. This is what he said:

“Steve, you say you love Me yet you don’t love yourself. You will never be able to fully love others until you start truly loving yourself as much as I love you, and by the looks of your body, my temple, you do not love yourself. You really need to learn how to love ‘you’ as much I love you. Then you will be able to truly love others for me.”

Wow. I had no idea what to say as the gentleman hugged me for God and then walked away. I began to ask God if this was from Him or if this was a very rude person who has issues with overweight people. Later that morning and throughout that day, God made it clear that it was a message from Him.

First, God spoke through another conversation I was part of, about Israel defiling the temple of God and needing to restore it. Later, I had it come up again in my own devotional readings. Yes, you guessed it: Israel’s King had defiled the temple by putting in Asherah poles.

So by now, I realized I had an issue to deal with. Taking care of me! I began to ask God for his help in knowing where to start and for his strength to be able to stick with it. It was then God led me to an endocrinologist named Dr. Chung.

The first thing Dr. Chung told me to do was journal everything I put in my mouth. That sounded simple enough. To my surprise and horror, I filled three pages in one day. If I didn’t realize it before I did now: I was in serious trouble. I was living to eat. Eating had become my coping mechanism. I would need God’s help to change.

By this time, my diabetes was out of control. My A1C was 13. My average sugar reading was around 225. I was taking 100 units of Lantus insulin a day plus five oral medications. My weight was in the 345-pound range. I felt awful.

So the journey began — or rather, my Temple Restoration project, with God as my guide and source for strength.

I started to cut down on how much I ate, keeping my food journal to a half-page each day. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to realize that I needed to make some life changes, not just go on a diet. What made it more difficult was that we would be traveling from September 2010 through the first week of November 2010. After three months (from August to November), my insulin was reduced to 80 units a day and I had lost 24 pounds. By November 9, 2010, I weighed 321 pounds.

Then God gave me an extra source of help. I found a free app and website to track food intake called SparkPeople. The tools they provide were just the tools that I needed to help me change my life as the Temple Restoration continued.

From November 13, 2010 to March 30, 2011 — just four months — the results were amazing. I’ve lost 83 pounds total since August 2010. My doctor took me off one of my diabetic medications completely, and I was down to 17 units of Lantus insulin a day. (My goal was to be off insulin by the end of April 2011.) Each day starts with my restoration workout, both physical and spiritual. I’m eating much healthier and I’m also walking every evening. I still have another 80 to 90 pounds to go to reach my goal weight, but I know with God’s help and strength, it will be realized.

Through it all, I pray that God is glorified and for others who are challenged to start or continue their own restoration project. Start loving yourself as much as God loves you.

Loving Me and Restoring My Temple
As of June 21, 2011, I will have been on this Temple Restoration journey for a year. For the first month and a half I was trying to do it with little results. It was only after my first endocrinologist appointment that I began to understand just how messed up I was, not just physically but mentally and emotionally. You see, I am an emotional eater. I use it to cope with stress and other difficulties, but I also use it to celebrate victories and to have quality family time. And when it was all said and done, I would feel so guilty for eating that I would eat again to comfort myself. (The refrigerator became my therapist.)

Sounds crazy, I know, but that is the vicious cycle I was in.

All the while I would blame my medicines for my weight gain. In reality, a portion of my weight gain was due to my meds, but 80 percent was me and my dysfunction. As best as I can remember, it all started while in college. I never admitted I had a problem but I did. I know that you can’t live in the past, but one can learn from it and grow. That is what I’ve chosen to do. In short, I am a foodaholic. I lived to eat when I should be eating to live.

It was only after my encounter at Prayer Quake, where I was confronted with God’s truth about me and my lack of love for myself, that I realized I needed to make some radical changes in my life. I would have to rely on God for strength and a daily renewed purpose. That is where the Temple Restoration came in. I realized I had defiled His temple/my body because I wasn’t loving me enough to take care of my life and my health, the greatest gifts God had given me. I knew I had to make changes and that I needed His help.

We Americans tend to look for the easiest and quickest way to accomplish everything, and the same is true when it comes to our health. We want to be in good health and have our cake, too. We look for the “magic pill” that will allow us to keep on doing what we enjoy but still make us into a better person. I wanted to find a quick and easy fix to get me off my insulin and other meds. I begged God to heal me yet I was unwilling to do anything to change my destructive habits.

I have news for you: There is no magic pill or quick fix. It takes determination, discipline, and a desire to care for yourself. The great part is that, as I made my effort, God met me halfway and provided the strength and purpose I needed to make the changes. I’m not on a diet: I’m making life changes!

The day God directed me to SparkPeople was the day that my restoration kicked into another level. It helped me learn more about the foods I ate and their nutritional value for my body. It helped me see that just 10 minutes of activity here and there will add up and make a difference in your health: parking farther from the store and walking, taking the stairs when possible, just getting yourself moving more than you do now.

When I started out, I was doing 10 to 15 minutes of exercise or walking. Over the past year, I have discovered that I am looking for more and more ways to move. I am now walking 3 to 4 miles each morning. That has required me to rise earlier, but I really enjoy walking. I am currently walking at a pace of a mile every 13 minutes. And I still find myself looking for ways to move during the day. Beginning in August, I will start to train for my first half marathon.

OK, I realize some readers will think I am judging others. That couldn’t be further from the truth. My heart is crying out, longing to see people love themselves as God loves them. I like the phrase in the scriptures that says we are to love our neighbors as much as we love ourselves (Matthew 19:19; 23:39, Mark 12:31, Luke 10:27, Romans 13:9, Galatians 5:14 and James 2:8). Now, I’m not promoting an unholy pride but a love that longs to care for one’s self. The question that I was asked was, How can I truly love others if I don’t truly love myself? Ouch!!! No, I’m not perfect and I still need to continue working on this.

Luckily, my wife, Debbie, has being on the same lifestyle journey with me — without her, it would have been a lot harder. Together we have dropped 260 pounds. (Editor’s note: Read Debra’s story here.)

2008-2012 pics

My weight-loss in pictures (May 2008 to June 2012). Click to enlarge.

Experience Life Magazine

The Power of Momentum

I think the key to getting healthy is momentum. Every little thing you do to change the momentum in your favor gives you the spark you need to make the next change.

My story is one of bad momentum turned around.

My husband, Steven, and I were both overweight diabetics with high blood pressure and a myriad of other concerns. His story is a miracle in itself: He lost half his body weight, down to 170 pounds; rid himself of every diabetes medication and other prescription; and, in the process, went from his first 5K as a walker to a full marathon. (Editor’s note: Read Steven’s story here.)

2b Debbie 11-7-11aBut this is my story. Not as spectacular but every bit as big a turnaround. I’ve gone from an exhausted couch potato to an active, healthy person carrying 85 less pounds, all in a span of just a few years. My concerns over my husband’s failing health and extremely expensive medications woke me up to the truth: I was at a point of no return. I either changed the momentum in my life or I would be on those same expensive meds with multiple side effects and damage to our pocketbooks.

I needed to change for him, but mainly I needed to change for me. I was worth it.

A website and phone app called SparkPeople got me over my excuses that counting calories was too hard. It also gave me a cold dose of reality: I wasn’t eating halfway healthy like I thought. I was eating 3,000 or 4,000 fat-laden calories a day and moving very little. What else did I expect to get from that besides sluggishness and added pounds year after year?

I made the decision to change just days from my 48th birthday and during Thanksgiving week. I felt if I could succeed on a week like that, the following weeks would be easier. During that week and the many weeks following, I gained momentum. I saw that if I can change, then I truly believe anyone can if they really want to be healthier.

How I did it:

  • I was determined to take as long as I needed and refused to starve myself, following a moderate-calorie diet and never going below 1,200 calories. I logged my food every day, and I’m so glad I got in the habit because it has helped me to maintain what I’ve lost and even keep on losing those last stubborn 20 pounds.
  • I also refused to swear off any foods. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to think about anything but chocolate if I told myself I could never have any. (That said, there were a number of things I only had rarely, including fried foods and rich desserts.)
  • I began to move more. I started with 10-minute walks and light strength training, then added more activity as I started to feel better and have more energy. My 10-minute walks became 3-mile walks to the grocery store and back. (I love exercise with a purpose and reducing my carbon footprint was a great purpose!)

me ready for aids walkIt feels great to be active now, free from diabetes and blood-pressure medications, and to be able to sign up for a 5K on a whim and not even have to train extra because I can already do it! I also love my new app, Charity Miles, because my miles can go toward a great charity. (Exercise with a purpose again!)

My weight loss has slowed to a pound or two per month and I still have 15 pounds to go to reach my goal, but I’m not discouraged. I know, whether I get to my “scale goal” or not, that my goal has already been reached — I’m healthy! I even got through breast cancer and radiation exercising all the while, and I’m convinced I won’t be hearing that “C” word again.


With my husband, Steven, in May 2009 (left), April 2011, and October 2011.

Experience Life Magazine

Kathe Yamagata: How My Holidays Are Different

Walking around the jovial holiday party, I suddenly realized the rookie mistake that I made by not eating before I arrived.

As a recovering food addict with very strict eating restrictions due to food allergies, this is just the type of scenario that can cause someone like me to “fall off the wagon.” The next four hours required intense willpower and the constant reminder to myself that bad decisions are often made while hungry so stay strong!

I am proud to report that I emerged successful — still hungry — but a favorable outcome especially under the circumstances.

Kathe_holidaysThis year, the holidays are very different for me. Long gone are the days of snacking on homemade toffee, white chocolate pretzels, or pecan pie, which would result in a 5- to 7-pound weight gain at the end of each year. Halloween always kicked off my “binging season,” and once I got a taste of my chosen drug of processed carbs and sweets, there was no stopping me. I always entered the new year with regrets and a tighter waistband but also a renewed passion to get healthy and break the cycle.

That lasted until maybe Valentine’s Day, if I was lucky.

This madness suddenly put me 70 pounds overweight, borderline diabetic, depressed, exhausted, embarrassed, and harboring low self-esteem. Eighteen months ago, I finally broke that cycle with laser focus and pre-planning to stay on track, especially during the holidays. Here are a few tips that helped me:

  1. Chose healthy foods and work out before big meals. Ironically, my holiday celebrations are actually more enjoyable than ever because I feel strong and fit; I choose healthy foods like turkey, spinach, roasted parsnips and rutabaga, and treats such as Paleo Pumpkin cookies. I work out five to six days per week, planned in advance of any feast. I am proud to still see my body-fat percentage decrease — even during the holidays.
  2. Bring food to share that’s on your meal plan. This holiday, I’m bringing one or two “Kathe approved” dishes to share with me to any gathering. At recent parties, I’ve simply explained to the “food pushers” that deviating from my approved foods will result in extreme fatigue and sickness, and may kick off a cycle that will undo all of my recent achievements. This direct and honest approach seems to help and I’ve even found that they become more interested in my healthy dishes. For the really severe pushers that don’t get the hint and might even go so far as to be offended if I don’t partake in their homemade treat, I’m not afraid to remind them that they wouldn’t push an alcoholic to deviate from his or her program and that I need the same support. It is with this point that my efforts are truly embraced and met with kindness and appreciation.
  3. Enjoy alcoholic beverages mindfully. I can even enjoy a cocktail on my new plan! Fresh lime juice and agave can easily be mixed in advance and placed in an empty water bottle so you are prepared to combine it with a shot of tequila at a holiday event. This “low-carb margarita” has quickly become a favorite with my friends and family who are making their own healthy changes.

By planning in advance, I never feel deprived, guilty, or out of control, and I always keep in mind that nothing tastes as good as healthy feels!

Happy Holidays, Happy New Year, and Cheers to a New You!

Experience Life Magazine

Kathe Yamagata: Seeing My Story in Print

Pure joy. Deep pride. Raw emotions. Embarrassment. Anxiety. Empowerment.

This is how I felt seeing my story in print for the first time. So many conflicting emotions bubbling up to the surface finally culminating into a deep, primal sob. I never imagined I would actually make it through that hell successfully, let alone see my story in print.

But, there is was, for the whole world to see.


It didn’t belong to me alone anymore. I finally felt pride and validation of getting on the other side of a lifetime struggle — trying to “crack the code” and “solve the riddle” of how to get healthy and stop the madness.

Putting a face on food addiction, food allergies, and a lack of motivation is embarrassing and empowering all at once. But I’ve learned that there is no shame in telling my truth, exposing my soul, and inspiring others to face their own reality. In fact, it motivates me to stay strong, eat clean, and dig deeper in my workouts.

My life experience has helped me realize there is no magic pill or easy solution to being healthy, especially in today’s processed world. It takes focus, dedication, indescribable willpower at times and a belief that you actually deserve to be healthy. Each time I receive a note or nod about my own changes, the tears of joy flow. For so long, I thought I was alone in my endeavor. I continue to be inspired hearing there are so many people dealing with the same struggles that I have faced.

This is just the beginning, I hope, of a fresh start for so many who want to cross over, honor themselves, and get healthy. You cannot fail if you just keep putting one foot in front of the other. — Kathe Yamagata, Fellow Survivor

Read Kathe’s full story here.

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