By Glenda McCarthy
A weight-loss journey that started nearly four years ago has led CNA instructor Andrea Green to the world of television. Embracing a positive attitude, combining it with a balanced and healthy diet and the addition of physical activity, has led Andrea to a 137-pound weight loss. Now, her inspirational success story has earned her a television show called Transform U.
Andrea’s weight struggle goes back decades. And although she was only five to 10 pounds heavier than her classmates in high school, growing up they referred to her as “pudge”, so it’s no wonder she admits to always having body image issues. However, it wasn’t until after the birth of her daughter and subsequent enrollment at CNA as a student in 1996, that she saw a real significant weight gain.
“Most people get the freshman 15, but I got the freshman 50,” Andrea recalls. “By December 1996 I was well over 200 pounds.”
While it would be 15 years before Andrea would start on her transformative journey, culminating in with the eight-episode show airing on Rogers TV, her path to an improved lifestyle started in 2011 with an eye-opening experience.
“I was going to my nephew’s wedding and I got on my sister’s scale and saw that I was 299.6 pounds. I thought ‘oh my goodness’. I was dangerously close to hitting the 300 pound mark. It was just .4 of a pound,” Andrea recalls. “It was an eye-opener for me. At the wedding I was uncomfortable, I had anxiety and I felt really gross. I think it was because of the weight and how it had affected me mentally.”
The very next day, on the heels of that realization, Andrea ran into a person she hadn’t seen since high school who had lost 100 pounds.
“I had seen people like Oprah who lost 100 pounds in the past, but I figured anybody can do it if you have a personal trainer and a personal chef. But this guy was an average person like me and I thought if he can do it, I can do it. I think it was that little spark of belief that was the game changer for me.”
Andrea was teaching the Office Management course in the Office Administration (Executive) program at CNA at the time, and when she came back from winter break of 2011, it was with a new attitude.
“A lot of that course talked about positive thinking and positive visualization. I realized I had been teaching the course, but I wasn’t living what I was teaching about setting goals.”
She started a biggest loser competition in her class and by the time June rolled around, she had lost 70 pounds.
“I believed it, and then I just worked until I achieved it. Once I believed I could do it I just didn’t let any excuse stop me. My mantra was one good choice at a time.”
She also started following Canada’s Food Guide, tracking everything she ate while increasing her level of physical activity.
“I didn’t join a gym. I started doing fitness at home. I wanted to do it as inexpensively as possible so I got all of these free tools like online tracking devices for free and places to get workout videos for free online,” Andrea says. “I did a lot of research for healthy eating and clean eating and what you should avoid and then I started my own Facebook page which really helped me to be more accountable. As I was learning, I was posting on Facebook. I am a firm believer that what you learn you need to share, which I guess is why I ended up being a teacher.”
Once Andrea reached a certain level of success with her weight loss, pretty well everywhere she went people asked her how she did it.
“I would spend a lot of time explaining the process to people. It started with believing I could do it and changing my attitude, then how to eat differently. I would eat like a sumo wrestler where I wouldn’t eat all day long and then have one great big meal at supper, probably enough for three men, so I changed how I ate,” she says.
“In the process of explaining this to people all the time, I realized a lot of people need something. Most people struggle with some type of body image whether they are five pounds overweight or 200 pounds overweight. Most people want to achieve some sort of healthier balance in their lives whether it’s a healthier lifestyle in terms of diet and exercise or it’s positive thinking. I realized people were hungry for that just like I was.”
After realizing there are a lot of people who aren’t on Facebook who might be interested in the information, she pitched the show to Rogers TV. They responded immediately and gave it the go-ahead.
Transform U was born. It’s a show dedicated to discussing positive thinking, healthy diet and physical activity. Hosted and produced by Andrea, it outlines her journey of successfully transforming herself from a self-described “300-pound, smoking, miserable, couch potato”, to a healthy, active, fit person who looks fear in the face and tackles every challenge head-on.
“There is hope for any person who wants to change. Any goal you set for yourself is attainable if you believe you can do it, set a plan for it and then don’t let anything stop you until you get there. This can transfer to many things in your life, not just weight loss.”
But she emphasises that no one can force you to make changes and put the work in.
“One good choice right now. Even though you aren’t really seeing the results right this second, it does all add up in the long run. That’s how I got to 300 pounds. I wasn’t making the time or putting the effort in on myself. I needed time to work out and to meal plan, but I was always putting it on the back burner.”
Meal planning became extremely important for Andrea’s weight loss journey and she says she would not be able to eat healthy without it. If you are pressed for time, she recommends choosing healthy selections from the grocery store deli such as baked salmon or baked chicken with grilled vegetables.
“When I lost my weight in the beginning, that’s how I lived – buying a salad and a cooked chicken because I was so busy and didn’t even have time to meal prep back in the early days. But at the end of the day it was on me to make the good choices and choosing the baked chicken breast instead of chicken wings.”
Nowadays she lives on a reduced grocery budget – just $180 a week for a family of four – and she consumes the correct portion sizes.
“When you plan your meals, you buy the salmon when it’s on sale, cook it and put it in containers at the correct proportions. I started measuring and weighing my food and realized we were probably eating twice or three times more than what one serving was. As Newfoundlanders especially, we do eat larger servings. It took a lot of training to retrain my body to recognize smaller meals more often. Right now I’m eating nine meals and consuming 2,000 calories a day.”
For example, one day in Andrea’s diet will consist of a protein shake and oatmeal for breakfast, yogurt, berries and granola snack at 9 am, a wrap with chicken and veggies for lunch. Her afternoon snack would be a peanut butter and banana wrap, and supper may be a lean protein with veggies and a carb such as sweet potatoes.
Andrea is the first to admit that she sticks to a strict meal plan, because this self-professed food addict has triggers that would make her binge.
“For weight loss I had to eliminate the carbs because they were a trigger for me to have addictive cravings for foods, so I cut them out completely.”
Andrea’s diet plan changes based on what her goals are, so now that her goal is no longer weight loss, but fitness and endurance training for speed and agility, she eats carbs with every meal.
“I do still have addictive issues with food and that’s something I have been working on outside of the whole physical transformation. I’ve done a lot of work internally because in order to get to 300 pounds you have to have a problem. If you don’t fix the underlying problem you’re going to cycle from one addiction to another,” she explains.
“I worked on my food addiction, then I quit smoking and then other things came up in life that I had to work on. I sat down and figured out ‘What am I trying to substitute in my life to comfort with food or cigarettes?’, and once I started working on that, then the addictive behaviours began to stop.”
She still suffered from symptoms of dysmorphic syndrome, a negative view of her physical self, even after losing the weight, and mentally didn’t feel as good about herself as when she was at her heaviest. That has been the biggest thing for her to overcome.
“I went out and achieved what most people describe as this monumental thing, but I felt worse about that and I couldn’t understand it. So for me, I really believe that people who have that kind of issue with food, there really is more to it and you really should seek counselling because there are a lot of things that go along with this.”
For people who are morbidly obese, there may be issues they need to sort through when starting this process.
“For me, it’s hard to celebrate the success of what I’ve accomplished when I just beat myself up for letting myself get there in the first place. Some people wouldn’t really understand that. When I looked in the mirror I didn’t see myself as morbidly obese. When my doctor wrote on my blood work test order morbidly obese, I just thought he was being a jerk. I mean I knew I had weight on but I just didn’t allow myself to see it.”
The message she brings with Transform U is it’s possible to make changes and overcome any obstacles in your way.
“Whether it’s five pounds or 100 pounds, to the person trying to do it, it feels insurmountable and it feels impossible because we are all pressed for time and are so busy we don’t have time to exercise and eat right,” she says.
“When I was 300 pounds I thought it was hopeless because I thought I wasn’t financially able to do any of these things and who had the time as a busy mom of two and working full-time? But if I can do it with a reduced budget, two kids and a full-time job, then anybody can do it.”
Andrea says it just means you have to plan more and get up 20 minutes earlier in the morning to get your workout in.
“And that’s all it takes. Go online and find free workout videos and be creative. It doesn’t cost you anything to go for a walk around the park, so just don’t give yourself any excuses and stop being your own obstacle. That’s what I did. I made any excuse in the book. I would do anything to lose weight and be healthy… except diet and exercise,” she says with a chuckle. “And you have to stop that. The internal motivation is in there and you just have to find a way to spark it. Don’t do it tomorrow. Do it right now. That’s the biggest tip I think I can give people.”
To learn more about Andrea’s journey, or for more information about how she achieved her weight loss goals, visit her Facebook page at www.facebook.com/AndreasTransformation.