My weight loss journey: How I changed my focus to keep weight off

*This is an older article but I have chosen not to archive it, as it has been viewed by over 2,000 people in the past year and I hope it continues to provide inspiration and demonstrate that I have been there, still am there, and that my coaching based on a great coaching education, experience and the heart!

My weight loss journey took ten years of small steps forward, largely driven by fear. I now understand that I could have moved more quickly by having positive, forward-looking goals and a vision to motivate me. I went from losing 10 pounds a year to losing an additional 40 pounds in one year once my focus shifted.

I still have a good 30 pounds to go, but I am realistic, positive and happy about my new healthy lifestyle. As I choose my foods carefully, or when I put on my runners, I am moving towards a vision of a happy and healthy me. I am no longer operating on a philosophy of what I don’t want. I operate on what I want.

The concept of “Moving Away – Moving Toward” is recognized by Life Coaches as a powerful tool. Most people who move towards something are able to sustain vital changes. I hope that you find some inspiration in my story.

How did this happen? That was the question I asked every time I looked in the mirror a few years ago when I was close to 300 pounds. I was active! Several times a week I was out in fields training my own dogs and teaching tracking – a dog sport that involves a LOT of walking. When I got home after a morning of training, I had to lie down and elevate my aching legs. It was unbearable.

I wanted to “look” like a tracker, which meant buying outdoorsy hiking gear. This meant buying men’s XXL clothing. Forget any pastel pinks or yellows! I invested in a lot of vests to camouflage (I thought) the extra pounds. But those extra pounds have a way of getting your attention. In my case, it was being diagnosed with Stage 1 Uterine Cancer in 2003. Estrogen has a way of building up in those layers of fat.

I will never forget feeling like I was floating when the doctor told me I would need emergency cancer surgery. My mother died of cancer in 1995. She was only 58. I’ve never worked so hard on setting positive intentions, and talking to my body! The surgery was successful, and today, 11 years later, I am still cancer-free. Below is a picture of me with my 84-year old late Grandma Dagmar Kahara. In this picture I was 290 pounds. If you look closely I have food on my plate, and in my hands! This was taken in 2002, the year before I was diagnosed with cancer.

Donna at heaviest

I knew I needed to make major changes in my lifestyle. But where to start? Plunged into menopause at 43, I struggled as I returned to work, trying to adjust to so many changes. How many changes can one person be expected to make? No one in my circle was going through menopause. I had no mom to talk to. So I began to research supplements and diets on my own.

This was the start of my weight loss journey. As often happens when people experience a health crisis, we later reframe it into something positive, that sounds something like, “That cancer was the best thing that ever happened to me!” It sounds odd, but these crises can motivate us – for a while. Personally, I wish I had found something more motivating before facing cancer.

I started a little walking program. After years of training my dogs, I was startled at my feeble walking attempts. For many years I had been friends with and admired people who ran marathons and triathlons. By comparison, my marathon was to hook a leash onto my dog Thorn and walk to the end of my driveway and a little way down our country road. But it was a start! I felt small victories, and was rewarded each time by Thorn’s wagging tail each day as he anticipated our time together. Walking a dog is great motivation to get out and be active. Here is a picture of me with Thorn taken in 2004. That’s my “men’s XL” barn jacket. One size down from a “men’s XXL!”

Donna and Thorn smiling

Years passed. My strength came back. But the weight really wasn’t coming off as I hoped. But I was getting my health back and with it, I began to feel optimistic about the future. In 2005, I decided to get a Border Collie. I travelled to Alberta in August of that year, and remember the feeling of freedom and joy I experienced as I drove the Cowboy Trail, with the Rocky Mountains spectacular and blue on the horizon. For the first time in years, I felt alive and hopeful about my future. Below is a picture from 2006 of me with my wonderful Jet. I’m still hiding behind her, and I’m wearing a men’s shirt – but it’s orange! I’m making the shift to bright colours…


In 2008 I moved to Alberta! It was at once exhilarating and frightening. I was forging a new life on my own. It was a life full of possibilities. From 2003 to 2008, in five years, I went from 290 pounds to 240 pounds. At ten pounds a year – not exactly “the biggest loser” but I sustained each loss over time. I would say to myself, “I am  now 279 pounds, and I will never be 280 pounds again…. I am now 249 pounds, and I will never be 250 pounds again…” The fear of cancer still loomed, with regular check-ups during those first five years. 2008 marked the magic ‘FIVE years of being cancer-free’ milestone.

In Alberta, something shifted.  For five years, I had been moving AWAY FROM cancer. AWAY FROM poor health, aching legs and a negative self-image. I knew what I didn’t want in my life. I knew who I didn’t want to be and how I didn’t want to feel. I was still size 22. Starting a new job, I found myself wishing I had a whole new look to go with how I felt inside. I’d been stuck at 240 pounds for about a year. I told myself that the stress of moving and starting a new life entitled me to eat pizza and chips. But looking after a new home on my own meant lots of work! I was mowing and trimming and building and cleaning plus training my dogs and working full time.

I had lived in the country for 20 years, and now lived in town. That meant my dogs needed to be WALKED! Having five dogs meant two daily walks. Soon I was walking three dogs half-way around my little town in 20 minutes, as I rushed to get home and walk the other two dogs.

It felt great to sit down without aching legs. I thought about the runners I’d always admired and wondered… could I? Could I run? Being a woman, I followed this through by buying new outfits. I discovered that for the first time in decades, I could fit into women’s large sizes. After years of wearing black men’s clothing, I bought bright purple and green outfits. I mismatched orange with purple gleefully and bought some running how-to books.

I began to envision my first race. And I started to shop for women’s outdoorsy clothes in pale yellows and pinks, as I pictured myself showing up at dog events in pretty pastels. In Alberta, I began to surround myself with fun, positive people, many of whom had been on similar journeys to mine. Now – this picture is not very good quality! But I am sharing it because it is the first picture of me in running gear, ready to head out with my dog Caden.


My interest in healthy eating re-emerged but this time, I felt like I could commit to a change in diet. I’d always been a “double-double” girl at Tim Horton’s Coffee. The first big thing I did was eliminate sugar. Like magic, 20 pounds melted away almost overnight. I visited a holistic pharmacist and was placed on a supplement program for adrenal fatigue and tried my first-ever detox.

I was about to turn 50, and decided to celebrate with two vacations. One was to San Francisco for my birthday. The next was to my very first winter beach holiday in Maui.

I will never forget how it felt to put on a bathing suit and walk the endless miles of beach with confidence I’d never felt before. Now to put this in perspective – I was still over 200 pounds. But I felt different! I felt light. I felt happy.

And I realize now that the difference was that I was no longer operating out of a place of fear. I wasn’t moving away from poor health any longer. I was moving TOWARDS a future of possibilities. I had plans, dreams and goals for my life. This included becoming HEALTHY – not simply losing weight.

I returned home with so much enthusiasm! My dogs were thrilled to go for fast ‘run-walks’ with me. I began to drop sizes so quickly that I was afraid to buy new clothes. I had my hair dyed bright red. I wanted to be vibrant and attract attention. For longer than I could remember I had always tried to blend into the background. Going through a lifetime of photos from the years I was married, I was dismayed that I could hardly find any pictures of myself, and the ones I found are of me kneeling to hide behind a dog. NO more!

My final turning point was a small (a size small) victory at the local shopping mall. I wish I had taken my measurements so I could share them. I didn’t think to take my measurements until the day I nervously ventured into Le Chateau. I’d always looked longingly into this store on my way to the big girl stores. I felt so out of place as I wandered aimlessly around thinking I might buy a scarf and leave. But I spotted some tank tops in bright colours and could not resist trying them on.

I gathered up some large-sized tops and headed for the cashier. I was intercepted by a pretty young girl who asked, “Would you like to try those on?” BUSTED! I knew it. I did not belong in Le Chateau. I managed to squeak out an answer and was ushered to the change room. I always hated change rooms. Who made them so small? (By the way, I still think they are too small). I tried on a bright orange tank top. It was TOO BIG. “How are you doing?” I heard from the other side of the door. I felt a surge of bravado and said I needed a smaller size. Within seconds she was pushing size SMALL over the top of the door. “I thought so!” she said.

Talk about a REFRAME! Even though I’d worked hard on positive goals, I had not let go of my internal image as a size large. A MAN’S size large at that. And, I completely misjudged a well-meaning young sales clerk.

I am still on a journey – but it is a journey to health. I’m moving towards a vision of a new me.

Time is a great healer. The ability to let go is something important as eating is tied to our emotions.

But the ability to create a powerful vision is just as important to move forward and become healthy. What is your vision of your future-self? Perhaps it’s time to stop focusing on what you don’t want, and start moving towards what you want! I hope that you find some inspiration in my story and wish you great health, and lots of bright clothes!

Size 12…. but more importantly, now I have a size XXXL positive attitude about the future!

Donna 2


16 thoughts on “My weight loss journey: How I changed my focus to keep weight off

  1. I love this! It will be an inspiration to many including myself! Keep it up and I know you will hit your ultimate goal! 🙂

  2. You are an inspiration to to others. Your willingness to put your self out there and share your story will help others to see that they can also accomplish what they desire. A beautiful story of success and overcoming hurdles by a beautiful woman. Keep up the good work.

  3. My sister! So proud! It’s hard to tell the true story but man you nailed it! Coach me please! How motivational you get the star!

  4. To everyone thanks for supporting Donna. As we all know life is hard but when we see how we can be a bull in a China shop and take things by the horn we can accomplish great things !!

  5. Thanks tor sharing your story Donna; you are a strong, intelligent, brave woman and I admire your perseverance and drive! Awesome coaching role model.

  6. Donna; You have a very inspiring story here , we live so close to each other, but hope from reading your story it will inspire me to work harder at this weight loss or get fit as they say. You were very brave to put your story forward, as I would not be able to do this. You are a great neighbor and friend , our family think you are A-OKAY.
    Love you
    Your closest neighbor

    • I could yell out the window but I’ll reply here. I am blessed to have you as my neighbours and friends! Thanks Starr!

  7. Donna, You have always been a wonderful and special person and willing to give so much to others for all the years I have known you..
    You are an inspiration and I feel blessed to know you.

    Gary Roe

    • Gary that is so kind of you to share. I value our friendship and thank you for being a role model and mentor. I know that we share a lot of the same values and beliefs.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s