Leticia Ortega-Duran didn’t always struggle with her weight. Her childhood activities had been enough to keep her slim and healthy for years, but when life crept up on Leticia, so did the extra weight. Here’s how she battled the bulge and won!

SM: What was your biggest motivation for the weight loss?

LOD: My biggest motivation for weight loss was that I really wanted to get healthier. I was tired of living in my fat body and looking back at old pictures of my “skinny days.” I was athletic and active my whole life; my mother started me in dance (ballet/tap/jazz) when I was two and a half, I started playing basketball when I was nine, and by high school I slept/ate/breathed basketball — so much so that I had three knee surgeries because of it so I could keep playing. While at Texas A&M University, I slowly gained about 65 pounds in four years. After graduation, I moved to Houston to teach, joined a Kickboxing gym and dropped about 50 pounds that first year. I loved going out Salsa dancing with friends and that led to me meeting my husband. We had a whirlwind romance and were pregnant within two years. Our daughter was born healthy and strong, and I lost much, if not all, my baby weight within months due to breastfeeding. Nevertheless, I slowly put the weight back on as my role shifted from “hot, young, party girl and professional” to “mommy.” Years later, the chair I was sitting in at a friend’s wedding broke and it hit me how overweight and unhealthy I had gotten. I couldn’t fathom how I had gotten to the weight I was, or staying there, and I knew it was time to do something about it.

SM: What inspired you to continue through the rough times?

LOD: Honestly speaking, probably the biggest thing that inspired me to continue was my stubbornness. I am the kind of person that has to finish what they start and will do whatever it takes to make it happen! Aside from that, though, I would have to say that the support from family and friends were my biggest motivators when times got tough. My husband, who still says he never saw me as overweight (love really makes us blind, doesn’t it?), was my biggest cheerleader! Not only did he verbally cheer me in, he supported me 100% in other ways too. He became a gym rat with me, never complained when I completely revamped our pantry, fridge, freezer and daily meals, and is there to photograph my races, even the early morning ones! Our daughter is my second best cheerleader; although she’s only eight, she constantly tells me I’m the best cook in the world and that I should have a healthy cooking show on the Food Network! Also what inspired me were the friends that motivated me through every step of my weight loss journey, whether it be by coming to work out with me or by the praise and compliments they showered on me when I started shedding the pounds. I am blessed to have this support system!

Leticia before (left)

SM: Can you describe your diet and fitness regimen for us?

LOD: When I decided to get healthy, I knew the working out part wouldn’t be too hard for me. I knew that working out 3-4 times a week was for maintenance and 5-6 times a week was for weight loss. I knew about creating a calorie deficit and that burning 3,500 calories would equal one pound lost. I knew that high-impact cardio activity, coupled with weight training to build muscle and burn fat, was the best way to go. I started doing a variety of different types of workouts so I wouldn’t get bored: step aerobics, spinning, Pliates, body pump, Zumba and running. And I knew, from past experience, that after the first couple of weeks of panting, dying, and wanting to quit, my body would adjust and the physical part would get more manageable.

But it was the food part that had me worried. I love to eat and knew that I would need to control this part the most. So the first thing I did when I decided to get healthy was change my diet because I had heard 70% of weight loss was what you eat. I started eating more veggies, especially green ones because I had read all about the benefits of getting enough fiber. I also upped my protein intake, and started drinking protein shakes and eating Greek yogurt and cottage cheese. I was lifting weights at the gym and knew protein would help that muscle build faster and stronger, and I was looking forward to arms that didn’t jiggle! I started eating lean meats such as fish, chicken and ground turkey, and extra-lean cuts of steak and pork. I added in whole grain breads, pastas, rice, and oats and discovered new things like quinoa and wheat berries. I started drinking lots of water, taking vitamins, and watched my sugar intake. I started packing my lunch – and snacks – for work every day so that I wouldn’t be tempted to get fast food during my lunch break or buy a sweet treat out of the vending machine. Not only did I save my waistline, but I saved some money too! I was realistic, though, and implemented a “cheat day” every Sunday where I could still have the foods and treats that I wanted. As time went by, though, and I started really assimilating my new way of eating, I found that I didn’t need the cheat days as often, and that I actually craved veggies! Not only that, but knowing how hard and how long I had to work to burn off that dessert, was the only deterrent I really needed! I continue these healthy habits to this day, and since healthy eating and exercise have become a part of my daily life, I don’t really even thing twice about them.

SM: What was the biggest challenge on your weight loss journey?

LOD: The biggest challenge I have faced on my weight loss journey also happens to be the most rewarding part of the whole experience!  That would definitely be the maintenance. It’s tough work to bust your butt and lost 75 pounds… but it’s just as hard to not gain it back! The truth is, anyone can lose weight but it takes a completely committed person to keep it off. I knew three things going into this: 1) that I wanted to get healthy, 2) I wanted to lose weight, and 3) I wanted to stop the lifelong yo-yo weight cycle that I had fallen into. The problem (actually, I don’t see it as a problem – never did – which is what led to my real problem) is that I love to eat! I am a foodie at heart and have never been good at denying myself and have been guilty of over-indulging a time or two (or two-hundred). Looking back I realized that my whole life I had gained and dropped, gained and dropped, gained and dropped weight. I also realized that as I got older, each time the gains were a little bit bigger and a whole lot harder to work off. I knew that I wanted to stop that vicious cycle for good and that the only way to do that – and achieve permanent health – was to change my lifestyle. So that’s exactly what I did, in every sense of the word. I started by getting informed, which I think is the biggest problem that we all face; we simply don’t know just how bad half the stuff out there is for us! I read everything I could get my hands on that had to do with fruits, vegetables, protein, grains, calories, portion control, fiber intake, vitamins, water, healthy recipes, running and weight training. I changed what I ate/when I ate/how I ate, and I drank more water, got more active, and got smart about portion control and calorie awareness. I still love food but make smarter choices, because at the end of the day I want to remain healthy more than I want that second slice of chocolate cake!

SM: What’s the best thing about being in shape now?

LOD: The best part about being in shape now? Everything!! I love the way I can run three miles without even really breathing hard. I love that I can lift weights at the gym with all the big boys and they leave me alone because they can tell I know what I’m doing. I love the way my arms look in sleeveless shirts and the way my legs look in a dress. I love that I can walk into a store, see something I like and try it on, and that it actually fits the way it’s supposed to. I love knowing that I finally have my mojo back! I love the way my husband can wrap his arms all the way around me now when he hugs me. I love that I see my former students at the store and they are shocked and they compliment me tell me that I look younger than I did when I taught them years ago. I love that I can still eat what I want – in moderation, of course – and not feel guilty because I know that I will work it off anyway. And above all else, I love that I am setting the example for my daughter of what healthy living looks like!

SM: Any advice for other moms out there struggling to get back in shape with limited time and resources?

LOD:

  • Get informed. Read everything you can about health/food/fitness and you’ll not only feel empowered by your newfound knowledge, you’ll be shocked by what you learn! Sometimes the things we think are healthy and the habits we think are beneficial are actually not, but knowledge is power! And having this knowledge helps you make better decisions that will make you and your family happier and healthier.
  • Find time every day to workout. I read somewhere recently that there are 1,440 minutes in each day. Sometimes, as busy moms, we think it’s impossible to find the time to workout. When you put things in perspective, however, there actually is time, even if it’s just 20-30 minutes. Any kind of physical activity counts, too, even if it’s just pushing the stroller around the block a few times. Nevertheless, sometimes getting those 20-30 minutes in means you may have to get up earlier than everyone else. I’ve found that this works really well for me. On the weekends I run early in the morning, before my husband and daughter get up and moving. I do this because I know that once they’re up, family time starts, and there is no telling what we’ll be doing or where we’ll be going. During the week, I also run before work but don’t feel too bad if I sleep late because we have gym time worked into our schedule in the evenings. Healthy living has become a family affair!
  • If you don’t have access to a gym, make your own gym at home! Running and walking are free, as are pushups, crunches, squats and lunges. And all of these can be done at home or around the neighborhood. But beyond that, it doesn’t take much to build up a sweaty, heart-pumping, gut-busting workout! All you need is a couple of dumbbells, a resistance band, and a chair – or a good workout video! There are countless “at-home” workout ideas available on Skinny Mom and other great sites around the web. All it takes is a little research and some creativity.
  • Find a support system. You’re going to need support to keep you going, especially for those days when you just want to quit and eat some cake. Nothing’s better than knowing your husband, children, family and friends are in your corner cheering you on! It also helps knowing they’re there because it helps make us more accountable… and less likely to cheat our diet and ourselves. Most importantly, however, is being your own cheerleader. You are embarking on a difficult journey – and yet you are brave enough to do it – so do whatever it takes to keep yourself motivated and inspired.
  • It’s going to take time, so be patient with yourself. You won’t get in shape overnight but you can do it! Your body is different now and what may have worked before may not work now. Find what works now.

Leticia’s journey may not have been a fast one or an easy one, but she’s proof for moms everywhere that if you just believe in yourself, anything is possible!