Log in to your account

Not a member yet?

Subscribe now

A-ha moments that made a difference

We asked Healthy Food Guide readers to send us their life-changing moments and received stories full of hope, determination and inspiration.

Our lives are often so busy that it's easy to live day-in, day-out, without actually tending to our own, personal needs. When our health and diet aren't given the attention they deserve, our body suffers. Then, out of the blue, there comes a moment when we are forced to take a good hard look at ourselves.

This a-ha moment can be anything from a major family event to catching oneself in a shop window reflection and thinking, 'Is that really me?' These a-ha moments remind us that to look after and love ourselves means treating our body with care.

"My dad passed away a year ago. His death was sudden and I lost six kilos in two weeks just from the shock and coping. Over the past year, my body has made its way back to its 'comfortable weight'.

Life is very busy – my husband and I have owned a business for 20 years and we have two lovely kids – and I got bigger over this time by forgetting me!

My dad always used to worry about me and tell me to slow down and take time out for myself, and that's what I've started to do. A few months down the track and I have almost lost that six kilo gain – and in a much healthier, productive way.

I now eat more regularly and think about what I'm eating. I also exercise almost every day. I have stopped doing as much voluntary work as I was doing and I have stopped 'feeling selfish' about that. I wish Dad could see what I have achieved!

All my family have said they are pleased I am taking time for myself for once. I still have some weight to lose, but it doesn't seem such a chore any more. People keep asking me what diet I am on and I feel good that it's not any diet, just me making better choices." – Mary Clarke, Napier

Expert comment

What Mary did: Gave herself permission to do something for herself.

Why it worked: "Mary, like many other women, has 'burned chop syndrome'," says consumer behaviourist Angela Hook. "This includes all kinds of behaviour stemming from the need to put the needs of others before their own. Often, when women hit their mid-40s and their children become more independent, they rediscover their own needs. This often results in lifestyle changes such as joining a gym and changes to eating habits. This makes for a positive change."

"My clothes were becoming uncomfortably firm, I was 'muffining' over the top of my pants, and I was going to have to go up a size – a size I had never been before.

My a-ha moment was when my blood sugar level was borderline for becoming out of the 'normal range'.

Type 2 diabetes features significantly in my family history, and I was faced with a choice: do I become a diabetic with all the health issues which go along with it? (Being a nurse, I have seen those health issues and they ain't pretty.) Or do I manage my diet now, become healthier and avoid diabetes? I know I'll have to watch myself for the rest of my life as far as my weight management is concerned (my weight has a hormonal component, not just food choices or overeating), but I will be able to have little 'holidays' where I can break out and go wild with food choices without devastating results.

I've lost 16 kilos so far and well on the way to losing the next 10 kilos." – Sharon Hawken, Nelson

Expert comment

What Sharon did: Created 'good restraints' for herself that she can easily live with.

Why it worked: "Sharon's a-ha moment is one which many of us can relate to," says Angela. "I remember the first time I turned around and saw my muffin top. I was horrified. Our waist measurement is such a visceral indicator of our changing body shape and an important indicator of our health. Sharon also demonstrates how some of us are happier with temperance than absolutes when it comes to creating good constraints. She has taken ownership of the issue, thereby taking control of that influence on her behaviour, and she has put in good constraints she can live with. As her self-regulation strengthens, she will also find it easier to maintain these new patterns."

"Most people think it was turning 40 which kick-started my health-phase. But it was something else.

A month or two before I turned 40, I asked my (then) 10-year-old daughter to go and buy some milk from the shop. I told her she could also choose a treat for us. She came home with a family-size pack of Maltesers for herself – and one for me. She thought that was normal. I was horrified. But she was simply behaving the way I had taught her.

I knew something had to change. I didn't want to be this type of role model for my kids. I had been overweight all my life. Both my husband and I were at least 40 kilos overweight. I'd done every diet under the sun. I would lose weight, then regain it every time.

We decided this time, there would be no quick fixes. This time, we had to dramatically change our lifestyle. My husband and I did it together, which helped. We changed our diet. Our meals now focus on protein, fruit and vegetables. We cut out white bread and changed to whole grains. And we discovered exercise – we joined the gym.

I weighed 121 kilos the first day I walked into the gym. It was scary. But no one there cared. They helped. We go to our gym or exercise up to five times a week. I have a personal trainer once a week. I don't like going but I have to. It works. I feel better.

Over three years, I've lost more than 30 kilos. My husband has lost even more. I'm still working on it. I've gone from a size 26 to a size 16. The struggle never ends. It is a constant battle. But I've learnt it is a forever thing. I have to watch what I eat every day, and I have to exercise most days. And that's just how it's going to be.

I feel I'm doing the right thing. My blood pressure problems have gone. I no longer have migraines. I can buy clothes in ordinary shops. Airline seat belts fit me. And best of all, our kids see us modelling a healthy lifestyle." – Melissa Thorn, Lower Hutt

Expert comment

What Melissa did: Identified how her habits were affecting her children.

Why it worked: "Melissa realised many of our habits are established in childhood. Melissa is a very determined person, and makes many absolute statements such as 'every time', 'dramatically change' and 'forever thing'. Her flexing of her ever-strengthening 'self-regulation' muscle is now beginning to have positive effects to reinforce her new behaviour. Look out world, when someone as determined as Melissa takes control, there's going to be a shake up! If you adopt a similar mindset as Melissa, don't be surprised if you find yourself making other changes in different areas of your life."

"I've been trying to lose weight for a long time. It's very hard. Every time I decide to lose weight, I always lose interest and the energy to follow through.

My mum, who I love very much, has always been obese. Six months ago, I looked in the mirror (which I hate doing) and noticed I was looking very much like my mother. My clothes were even tighter than usual and my body started to feel very old, if you know what I mean.

I am only 33 and have three daughters, but it suddenly hit me how big I was getting and the bad example I was setting for my girls. That was enough to be my a-ha moment.

This time, I decided to join the gym. I'd never done it before because I was afraid I'd be judged and be the biggest person there. But with the realisation that now is my time to do something for myself, I joined the local gym – and I love it.

I lost three kilos in five weeks. I can't go at the moment because my membership has run out and we can't afford me rejoining, but I've surprised myself as now I'm not going, I really miss it!" – Lydia Smith, Kaiapoi

Expert comment

What Lydia did: Used desire to be a good mother and role model to motivate her to change.

Why it worked: "As much as we love our mums, there are ways in which we don't want to follow their example. Lydia has instigated a new habit and has allowed herself to see the positive outcomes of that. However, Lydia's story highlights an important warning to those wishing to make changes to their behaviour. Lydia has found her first 'opt out' strategy (lack of money) for her new regime. Financial constraints exist, but her statement 'at the moment' (close cousin of 'just this once') is risking her progress. Maybe Lydia could adopt some new good constraints that are not financially dependent such as walking, taking the stairs or getting 30 minutes of exercise each weekday."

"I could never lose more than five or 10 kilos, even though I was always so active. Despite the gym, squash and everything else I did, my weight stayed the same or increased. I had always known I was large but I was happy, so that was okay. Then two things happened.

The guy I had just started seeing said, "Don't worry, I like big girls." I had never thought I was big! The second thing was my insurance premium increased significantly due to my health survey – my BMI was over 40.

I realised that while I wasn't having problems now, I was statistically expected to have problems in the future. For me, it was all about food and changing my eating habits from 'everything now' to 'everything in moderation'. These realisations all culminated with me being in the right head space to make it finally happen – I steadily lost more than 40 kilos over the next year until I reached my goal weight. – Nikola King, Hastings

Expert comment

What Nikola did: Took control of her situation and put some 'good restraints' into action.

Why it worked: "Ouch! Females can be extremely sensitive about their bodies while the mere male can be unwittingly insensitive. I was once told I could have a marriage proposal once I lost my (then tiny) tummy. Said tummy bump is now 15 years older, larger and happily married to a much nicer bloke.

Nikola's term 'head space' is another way of saying self-regulating – accepting her role in the situation, putting in good constraints (moderation) and the strengthening of her newly found self-regulation muscle."

"Weight-loss has been an issue for me since I was 11. But the real a-ha moments were when my parents died.

My 64-year-old father died of a heart attack, and my mother died of a stroke, aged 67. They were smokers, overweight, and they had weight-related illnesses before their deaths. My father was a diabetic.

I was heading for an early grave as I was overweight, glucose intolerant, and I had high blood pressure. I really worked hard to lose weight and change my lifestyle so I would live past 65 years old. An operation did help me drop 65 kilos, but I still had to eat healthier and start going to the gym.

Now, four years later, I feel attractive, slimmer, and more confident. I have a better, more positive lifestyle and enjoy great health benefits – I no longer have high blood pressure or glucose intolerance. I'm also more energetic and I don't think about food all the time. I have far better eating habits, no depression, and I enjoy life." – Trudie St John, Hamilton

Expert comment

What Trudie did: Realised a change of habit was within her control.

Why it worked: "Trudie is a great example of the old adage 'you can't get a different result from repeating the same action'. Her situation and her actions were equally drastic and showed great commitment. The most heartening aspect of this story is how Trudie never saw the operation as the solution – it was rather the springboard to her own, internal solution. Since she owned the solution, she can rightfully claim ownership of the rewards."

"New Year, 2008. I did what every woman does – made a New Year's resolution to lose weight. I jumped on the scales. Hmm. Sort of heavy but sure, I can fix it. I then checked the BMI index on the internet: it told me '32' – obese.

'No, no. What a load of cobblers', I thought to myself. 'Must be wrong.' So I tried a different site. Guess what? BMI, 32. Not only that but, you guessed it, I was considered obese and at serious risk from heart disease and obesity-related illness.

So I do more investigation. Tape measure: obese. Mirror: obese. Jeans I used to wear two years ago: obese. My a-ha moment was quickly becoming an 'arrrrgh' moment. At this point, the message was clear.

My lovely father died of a heart attack this year, and I know for sure he doesn't want me to join him just yet. So there was nothing else for it: I went on a low-GI diet and to date have lost 10 kilos.

I'm no longer obese, only overweight, but I'm getting there. My husband also joined me in the weight-loss crusade and has transformed himself from a Chubby Hubby to a Not-Too-Bad, Spunky Hubby.

I feel safe to say we have learnt the error of our ways from having too much of what's 'bad' for you, and now enjoy a little of everything that's good for you." – Chris Thomson, Christchurch

Expert comment

What Chris did: Replaced negatives with positives and reframed her thinking.

Why it worked: "This story shows the infectiousness of positive outcomes and reframing the way we act on those around us. Most relevant, though, is the reframing of the negative to the positive in Chris' last statement – learning to recognise, seek out and enjoy the positive rather than run about with a head full of 'shoulds' and a heart full of guilt."

"My a-ha moment was realising that as long as I cared what other people thought of what I looked like, I would not be focusing on who I really am and what I want. And I really wanted to be fit and healthy and eat good food, and it came so easily from there!" – Sarah

"The thing which truly helped me lose weight was having to account to someone else every week for what I had eaten, what exercise I'd done and, of course, what I weighed. I paid a professional for this, but you could also pair up with someone." – Megan

"My a-ha moment was when I had difficulty doing up my airplane seatbelt. It made me realise I needed to change my eating habits – fast." – Janet

"My a-ha moment came when I looked in the mirror and saw my MOTHER! It was like a bolt of lightning." – Gina

"My main lesson to be learnt this time around is that it's okay to throw food away. I know it's wasteful and I try to cut it down by cooking less and serving smaller portions and so on, but ultimately, I've had to learn that it's less wasteful to throw it away than it is to eat it when I'm not hungry and don't need it! I can now stop eating hen I stop feeling hungry, and if that means a few tablespoons of rice goes in the compost bin, it doesn't seem like the end of the world." –Amy

"My a-ha moment was when I went to a murder mystery evening and I had to dress up as a man. It was the hottest day of the year and I had to keep my waist jacket on all night because the biggest shirt I could find didn't fit me,  and I had to rip it up the back to get it to do up around the front!" – Margaret

Some names have been changed to protect privacy.
First published: Jan 2009