I met Jen Duncan when we both worked on a weight loss clinical trial team a few years ago. She is a clinical psychologist with a specialty in weight management. She is also an enviable athlete, posting updates on Facebook about battling the rain, snow and wind for marathon training. One day when I posted a Real Life Biggest Loser story on Facebook, she said “I’m a real life biggest loser!” I couldn’t wait to hear the story behind the marathon running clinical psychologist. Turns out her expertise is based on a lot more than studying, doing research, and seeing patients. It’s based on life in the trenches. No such thing as permanent weight loss? Guess again. She lost 100 pounds and has kept it off for 17 years….
Name: Jennifer Duncan
Occupation: Clinical Health Psychologist
All time high weight: 230+ (I didn’t weigh myself very much)
Current weight and height: 138 lbs, 5’6”
Total weight loss: Around 100 lbs.
How did you gain the weight? Overall unhealthy lifestyle. When I was old enough to make food choices, I opted for fast food, desserts, very little fruits and vegetables. I didn’t exercise at all, and spent a lot of time in front of the TV.
When did you begin your weight loss journey? My senior year in high school. I knew that going away to college was the start of something new for me. I anticipated that losing weight and being active would help me to be more outgoing and thus happier with the way I was living my life.
How long have you kept the weight off? Well, I went through a period of ups and downs, but I have been working at living a healthy lifestyle for 17 years! The most weight I have regained was about 10 lbs., nothing too drastic.
What motivated you to lose weight? I had a friend in high school that wanted to lose some weight too. I became interested in being healthier, and I started walking and cutting out fast food.
Did you have an A-HA moment? I distinctly remember talking to her on the phone, and we were planning on exercising. After I hung up with her, I put on my walking shoes and went for a walk. I don’t think it was long or far, but I remembered saying to myself, just get out there and do it.
To what extent had your weight affected your physical health? Being that I was only 17, I think I had youth on my side. I wasn’t aware of my blood pressure, or any other metrics of health. I am sure that it would have only been a matter of time before I was diagnosed with prediabetes or hypertension. I didn’t know my limitations since I was never smaller.
How did you lose the weight? Tell us about your diet and exercise regimen. First, I started out simple. Just cut out the big after school snacks (which would be a McDonalds burger, fries, and soda). I made it a priority to walk about 2 miles a day, for most days of the week. I then switched to workout videos at home, like Tae Bo or I remember these awful Tony Little videos. Cheesy, but they worked! Little by little, I started eating more lean meats, and opting for the lower calorie and low fat foods. I didn’t try anything drastic, it became a habit.
Who was the most influential person/people to you during the process of losing weight? My sister Michelle also lost a lot of weight. I had her support and we shared our struggles. She helped me to feel comfortable in a gym, and taught me a lot about exercise. She got me into running!
Have you ever lost weight and then gained it back? If so, how was this time different? I didn’t. I did lose a lot of weight and gained about 10 lbs back. Any time I have tried to be too drastic, it backfires. It’s not sustainable. I had to find something that works for me.
It’s easy to let your diet drift or slowly stop exercising. What do you find to be the key to STICKING TO IT? Be consistent. Push yourself to get out there, you’re never going to regret getting your exercise in, or eating a healthy meal. Also, be realistic. I know that I won’t jump out of bed and smile through my entire run, or crave salads every day. But, I remind myself how good I feel being healthy. Signing up for something keeps me working towards a goal (and motivated). It’s not only in your behaviors, but also in your frame of mind.
Just starting off, losing weight is hard. Tell us, did it get easier or harder for you over time? What is the hardest part for you now? It got easier, it all became a habit. Making small changes, and knowing which ones I could stick with were key. The hardest part is getting it all in some days. I have to wake up really early to make it to the gym before work.
If you could tell your former self anything, knowing what you know now, what would you say? Losing weight won’t MAKE you happy automatically, that has to come from within. Do it for you!
Do you worry about gaining weight back? How do you prevent yourself from gaining it back? I do. I keep track of my foods to this day (I recorded my foods on paper when I started). I use the Lose It app now. I know my weaknesses (dessert, wine). I try to keep everything in moderation, and I love to cook, so I experiment with healthy food substitutions.
You are a health psychologist, counseling others on healthy lifestyle, how has your own experience with weight loss informed your work? My personal experience influences my work more than I realize. I try to help my patients find what works for them, and narrow down the barrage of information out there, myths and all. I know that weight loss is difficult, it doesn’t happen overnight, and the motivation has to come from within. Keeping it simple is a mantra I try to stick with when designing and delivering interventions. If it’s too complicated, it won’t work. Being healthy has to become part of who you are and just what you do. I love seeing when people just get “it.” I’m trying to pinpoint what that “it” is!
Can you tell us how your participation in technology and/or social media has impacted your weight loss journey? I didn’t have any of that when I started, but I use the Lose It! app every day. It makes it so much easier to be accurate and get in the moment feedback on my calories and exercise. I use Facebook and Pinterest for healthy recipes and workout ideas.
What is different (if anything) about your life (and/or health) now that you have lost the weight? I am much more goal oriented in regards to exercise. I find that this keeps me motivated. I enjoy cooking, so making healthy recipes is something I like to do in my free time. I’m definitely more self-assured and confident about my abilities.
If we want to follow you, where do we find you? I’m on Facebook!
Jen lives in Akron, Ohio with her boyfriend, Ed and her black lab. She is employed as a clinical health psychologist, devoting her life to helping others live healthy lifestyles.
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