A Few Minutes With . . .
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AS has been the case for millions of people who try to lose weight, Tory Johnson tried one diet plan after another and failed. But in her case, she finally figured out what worked for her and lost 80 pounds––and a year later, she has kept it off. “Being fat when you don’t want to be fat,” she says, “is like being in shackles.” In her book, The Shift: How I Finally Lost Weight and Discovered a Happier Life (now in paperback with new content, including recipes), Johnson chronicles her yearlong journey of losing a substantial amount of weight and highlights how she continues to drop the pounds. During a book-signing event at Anderson's Bookshops in Naperville, the author, entrepreneur and Good Morning America “Deals & Steals” contributor talked about her weight-loss journey and how readers of her book can reap the benefits of a healthier, happier life.
What was it that prompted you to finally change your mind-set about losing weight and forced you to take a more serious approach?
Tory Johnson: Two and a half years ago one of my bosses at Good Morning America said, "You don’t look your best," and the words I took away were ‘Lose weight or lose your job.’ And fortunately for me, that’s the takeaway I had. Even though she never said I would lose my job or hinted at it, she told me she was going to send me to a stylist. For me, it was that aha moment because I knew I needed to lose weight. I knew things had to change.
What was this new beginning like for you?
Tory Johnson: I had tried and failed at every diet under the sun. And I realized I couldn’t adopt that same diet mentality again, which is kind of a temporary pause on bad behavior to focus on an upcoming event [weddings and other special occasions]. I knew that, for me, that didn’t work. This was about making a lifestyle change, being honest with myself about what worked in the past, what didn’t work in the past and developing a new plan going forward.
In your book, you outline the specific plan that worked for you, but you stress that it’s not easy, and requires a lot of patience and perseverance.
Tory Johnson: The things that I knew that worked for me helped me develop what I call my three-step plan. The plan calls for you to eat less, choose smarter and forget about “cheat days.” Eating less is self-explanatory. Choosing smarter means that I had to eat differently––and this was a big departure from what a lot of the conventional wisdom is, which suggests that you can eat anything you want as long as you eat in moderation. That works for a lot of people, but I wasn’t born with a moderation gene. One potato chip turns into the whole bag; one slice of cake turns into the whole cake. Moderation doesn’t work for me, if it did, I wouldn’t have a weight problem. So instead of thinking I could eat all kinds of things in moderation, I realized I needed to cut carbs. When I looked at all my diet history, the thing that always worked for me in the past was cutting carbs.
There are many diets that allow followers to have so-called “cheat days,” but you strongly disagree with that concept.
Tory Johnson: A lot of dieters look at “cheat days” and say they can’t imagine never eating French fries [or some other treat] again. I talked to so many people who had given up smoking and drinking, and one of the things that is consistent with them is you can’t give up smoking three packs a day and when you get to the one-week mark you celebrate with a few cigarettes. It doesn’t work because you’re back on the same hamster wheel. And the pain of quitting is so much stronger than that pleasure of that cigarette. Then you have to restart all over again. It’s the same with food. An alcoholic can’t celebrate a month of sobriety with a beer or two. For me, my addiction was bad foods, and I didn’t want to reward a week of healthy eating with a cheat day that allowed me to have whatever I wanted because every single time in the past when I did that it didn’t work.
How long did it take before people began to realize your body was changing?
Tory Johnson: Nine months into this plan of mine, I was doing a segment on Good Morning America and Sam Champion (former meteorologist on the show) came out of nowhere and said, "Do I see s slimmer Tory Johnson? You look great!" So with that, the floodgates opened. I started getting a lot of emails and tweets from people, asking me to tell them what I was doing. They wanted me to share my secrets. People sent me heart-wrenching emails about their struggles while trying to lose weight. Because of all those letters, I realized that I had a chance to share my struggles and successes in hopes that my sharing could help other people to overcome some of the same challenges and burdens we’ve all been through with weight.
The book has proven to be a favorite among readers. Why do you think it has resonated so strongly with your fans?
Tory Johnson: The book chronicles this one-year journey, warts and all––the good, bad and ugly. Everything from how I did it to why I did it. I realized I had to go a lot deeper than the conversation with my boss, but I had to admit to myself that I hadn’t gone to the doctor in more than 10 years because of my weight, and realizing I sort of avoided the doctor. I thought I don’t want to be that person anymore, and if losing weight is what it’s going to take to go to the doctor, then I have to do this. I have 17-year-old twins; I realized that my daughter Emma had never seen me wear a dress. I said that’s crazy. I want to go dress shopping with my daughter. I started thinking about all these things, significant and insignificant, big and small, and thinking about all those things regularly and repeatedly is what I think sustained me through some of the hardest parts when the scales weren’t moving fast enough. Ultimately, what I think did it for me was giving myself the luxury of time. We are impatient, want instant gratification, but unfortunately weight loss doesn’t happen like that.
Losing the weight has brought about what kind of changes in your life?
Tory Johnson: I feel better; I went to the doctor; I got a mammogram; I did all the things I was kind of terrified to do. I used to get an invitation to a wedding and instead of being excited, I was like ‘Oh, my God, it’s black tie, everyone’s going to wear dresses and I don’t wear dresses. How am I getting out of this? I’m not going.' I put good energy toward bad stuff like trying to get out of doing certain things––opposed to being happy and confident, celebrating and living, and it feels so good to not have to do that anymore.
What about exercise, and where does it fit into this plan?
Tory Johnson: The myth for most people is if you exercise, you can eat anything you want. That works for so few people. The reality is exercise helps, I think, less for the weight loss and more for the mental sanity and making you feel great. I think what you eat accounts for the vast majority of what you are going to weigh. Before, I never wanted to exercise. I discovered when I was losing weight that I wanted to move more, I wanted to exercise, I wanted to reap all the benefits of that. Just feeling great. It’s not that I suddenly expected that was going to suddenly melt away the pounds. It made me feel better, and so exercise became a big piece of what I would do.
What do you do when you are tempted to have something that you know you shouldn’t have?
Tory Johnson: There are times when I want to have late-night snacks. The way I overcame it is by using clear nail polish. If I think about getting out of bed to get a snack, I will put on a coat of clear nail polish, and I’m not going to ruin a manicure! When my nails are wet, I won’t dare touch any food. I didn’t use quick-dry nail polish. I used the kind that took a long time to dry. So I would kind of have wet nails all of the time. Sometimes in five days I would have 10 coats of nail polish, but that worked for me. Everyone needs to know their go-to thing that works for them––make a phone call, walk the dog, what is that thing that I’m going to do to make that 9 o’clock panic pass. For me, it was clear nail polish.
In the end, what do you hope is the takeaway for those who read The Shift?
Tory Johnson: I start the book saying I’m not a doctor, trainer or nutritionist; I’m just an ordinary girl who figured it out for me. Everyone sees themselves in my story. Aside from losing the weight, the takeaway is that when we really want something, we put our all into it, not just hope and pray that we get it, but when we put consistent action behind that every single day, we can make amazing things happen for ourselves. That was a really powerful message for me, my kids and the naysayers. I don’t tell you what your weight-loss plan should be––Weight Watchers, vegetarian, Paleo, etc.–– but nothing is going to work until you are fully committed to it. That’s what I discovered, and that’s what this story is about. I’m still very much a work in progress. I have no idea when I’ll get to the right place, but I know for sure, more than anything, that I’m on the right path and this is with me permanently. Most diets are temporary, but the shift [mentality] is for life. I tell readers to figure out what their shift is because it’s different for everyone.
Tory Johnson, a contributor on Good Morning America, talks with fans about her weight loss.
In a "Deals & Steals" segment, Johnson is joined by Good Morning America's Robin Roberts.
At Anderson's Bookshops in Naperville, Johnson signs a copy of her book, The Shift, for a fan.