It may be the laziest timesuck ever, but Facebook saved Sonya Jones’ life. As the Illinois-based PE teacher scrolled through her newsfeed one March afternoon in 2014, she came across an open casting call for season 16 of The Biggest Loser. Weighing 283 pounds and suffering from high cholesterol, hypertension, arthritis and low self-esteem, she thought “what the heck” and decided to apply for a spot on the show. What she didn’t know then was that her snap decision would change her life forever.
“I had watched The Biggest Loser since season one, and secretly always wanted to be a contestant,” Jones tells Eat This, Not That!. “And here I am, six years later, 104 pounds lighter, having completed one of the greatest journeys of my life. I feel like I could conquer the world.”
But Sonya didn’t just experience rapid weight loss and pile it all back on, she’s kept it off—which is arguably the hardest part. Jones and the other season 16 finalists, Rob Guiry and Toma Dobrosavljevic (who ended up taking home the crown) had their final weigh-in nearly a year ago. And Sonya is only slightly heavier than she was on the season finale. “When we taped the finale, I weighed 139 pounds. That’s about 20 pounds lighter than what the show’s medical team recommended, but I was trying to win the competition. I knew that I would never maintain that weight. I’m 179 pounds now and I feel great. I’m healthier and happier than ever,” says Jones.
Curious how Sonya maintains her trimmer, healthier figure? We sure were! Her 15 go-to tips below are sure to help you lose weight and keep it off for life! And once you see how simple it can be to stay lean and healthy, be sure to check out these 44 Ways to Lose 4 Inches of Body Fat!
TAP INTO YOUR EMOTIONS
With the help of a friend, counselor or journal, get to the root of your weight issues and how they make you feel. Once you understand your emotional connection to food and how you became heavy to begin with, it will be easier to keep the weight off long term. “The hardest part of my weight loss journey was discovering how I let myself get to 283 pounds and talking through that,” says Jones. “It was hard for me to verbalize how much I actually disliked my physical appearance and how I let the effects of being overweight control how I viewed myself for so many years. But working through these issues helped me see how I relied on food for comfort and to break free of my food addiction.” For more out-of-the-box diet hacks, check out these 20 Weight Loss Tricks You Haven’t Tried.
REALIZE THAT DIET IS EVERYTHING
Diet is everything when it comes to weight maintenance and weight loss, says Jones. “Although your favorite boot camp class can help you build muscle and improve your cardiovascular health, it cannot undo a bad diet. In fact, you can undo two hours in the gym with one bad snack or meal. If you’re trying to maintain your weight loss, recognize that it’s a daily battle, but always remember that you’re worth the battle! No piece of food will ever compare to how well you feel when you’re healthy,” adds Jones.
PUT ON AN APRON
Since her big television debut, Sonya dines out far less often than she used to: “I cook at home so that I have more control over what I put into my body,” she says. If you like to dine out on occasion, consider it a “cheat” and stick to healthy homemade meals like these 20 One Pot Dinners for Weight Loss to stay on track and satisfied throughout the week.
And speaking of cheat meals, if you want to maintain your newfound flat abs, don’t go overboard. “I have concentrated times when I am 100% on course with my diet, but even when I’m not so on track, I don’t let myself go crazy,” says Jones. If you’re going to indulge in a cheat meal, make sure it still has some redeeming nutritional qualities that your body can benefit from. If you’re craving ice cream, for example, top your scoop with some fresh fruit. And don’t forget to stick with a kiddie-sized serving. All you need is a little taste of your go-to treat to kick a pesky craving to the curb. Looking for even more cheat clean inspiration? Check out these 21 Healthy Cheat Meal Ideas from Amazing Chefs.
PREVIEW THE MENU
Dining out doesn’t have to be synonymous with filling out. If you’re going out for a cheat meal, that’s one thing, but if you’re trying to stay on track with your diet, you should plan ahead. “When I know that I’ll be dining out, I’ll look over the menu before I arrive at the restaurant and decide what I am going to order,” says Jones. “I’ll look for a meal comprised primarily of whole food like steak, fish, sweet potatoes or other veggies. I always try to avoid the processed foods as those tend to be less nutrient-dense and have more calories.” If you eat out alot—but still want to maintain your weight loss—be sure to check out these 25 Things Fast Food Chains Don’t Want You to Know.
AIM FOR 4/44
“On the Ranch, I worked out up to 8 hours a day because I had to lose a lot of weight in a short amount of time. Thankfully, I don’t have to do that to maintain my weight,” jokes Jones. “Now, four days a week I’ll use a cardio machine for 44 minutes—I love the number four—and then get in some strength training. Or if it’s nice out I’ll just pop in my headphones and go for a jog or a walk in my town. I also like watching reruns of The Biggest Loser while I do running intervals—it’s really motivating to relive the transformation process.”
FORGO THE FRIED
Once a lover of all things crispy and battered, the one category of food Sonya won’t allow into her home since her weight loss is fried fare. And we’ve got to say, it’s a smart move. When food is dipped into vats of oil, it soaks up tons of calories and artery-clogging fat, which isn’t what you want in your body when you’re trying to eat for better health or a zap away a pair of love handles.
PLAN. PLAN. PLAN.
It may sound cliche, but if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. “Make sure you know what you’re having for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks to reduce the risk of unnecessary caloric intake,” suggests Jones. Not sure what to munch on? Check out these 50 Snacks With 50 Calories or Less.
REMEMBER YOUR WHY
“As my Biggest Loser trainer, Jennifer Widerstrom said, ‘Remember your why!’ Why did you lose the weight in the first place? Why did you decide to get healthy? Get back to your why and remind yourself of it every day,” says Jones. “This simple exercise can make it far easier to stay on track with your new healthy lifestyle.”
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CRACK AN EGG
Eggs are a mainstay in Sonya’s kitchen—and it’s easy to see why. Not only are they extremely versatile, they’re filled with nutrients like choline (it’s found in the yolk) and protein that aid lean muscle growth and accelerate fat loss. Use a sliced hard-boiled egg as a slimming sandwich topper or make an omelette or a frittata to reap the benefits. The options are endless! And to learn more about the wonderful weight loss benefits of eggs, check out these 12 Things That Happen to Your Body When You Eat Eggs!
KEEP IT REAL
Weather you’ve lost five pounds or 150, keeping it off isn’t easy—and it’s okay to let that show through sometimes, says Jones. “Be real, be transparent and be accountable. Don’t act like the struggle isn’t real because it is! If you’re struggling, tell someone you’re struggling and ask people for help and let them hold you accountable.”
STOCK UP ON GREENS
“My fridge is always stocked with leafy greens,” says Sonya. Not only are they low-calorie yet super filling thanks to their high fiber content, they can also be enjoyed a million different ways, whether eaten raw or cooked. Don’t love the idea of living off kale? There are plenty of other greens far easier on your wallet and taste buds. To find out how all of the leafy greens stack up, check out these 10 Greens Healthier than Kale.
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AVOID LIQUID CALORIES
“If I could tell people one piece of diet advice, it would be to never drink your calories! That means soda, milkshakes, coffee beverages and other favorites. Since the calories from sugary beverages aren’t accompanied by other nutrients, they often just leave you feeling hungry. It’s far more satisfying to eat food—and it’s healthier, too,” adds Jones. If you have to have a flavored drink (which we don’t endorse, by the way) at least check out our exclusive report, The 38 Top Diet Sodas—Ranked!, to find out which is the least detrimental to your health and belly.
PICK UP SOME PISTACHIOS
Pistachios are kept in ample supply at The Biggest Loser ranch and Sonya still snacks on a serving every day. “Pistachios have helped me maintain my weight. They’re the perfect post-exercise snack. They supply me with energy and I feel full and satisfied longer,” she says. But those aren’t the only reasons to stock up on the nut: Studies suggest having to manually remove the shell helps people eat more mindfully and slows the rate at which they nosh, helping to reduce portion size and calorie intake.
LIGHTEN UP YOUR CARBS
“I love pasta so I’m always looking for ways to make it healthier. If I’m going to indulge in a bowl, I always make sure to ditch caloric add-ons like cream sauce and sausage. It all about picking your battles,” says Jones. Consider yourself a carboholic? Then be sure to check out these 40 Ultimate Pasta Tips to Stay Skinny. They’re some of the best very ways to eat your cake—er, pasta—and have it, too!
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AND NOW, THE TOP 5 WEIGHT LOSS FOODS…
…courtesy of The Biggest Loser dietitian, Cheryl Forberg:
It’s finally time to give the humble blueberry proper praise—and add them to your daily diet. What makes them so great? Blueberries may help blast away stubborn belly fat by turning on your get-lean genes, according to University of Michigan researchers. After a 90-day trial, the rats fed a blueberry-enriched diet showed significantly reduced belly fat than the control group. But that’s not all! The sweet fruit also contains compounds that ward off and reverse age-related loss of memory and motor coordination.
Though the farm-raised variety falls short in the health department (more on that here), wild salmon is a nutritional star. Not only is it rich in omega-3, a healthy fat that fights off metabolism-slowing inflammation, but it’s also a great source of protein, a nutrient that increases post-meal calorie burn by as much as 35 percent!
Greek yogurt packs two times more protein than the other kinds in the refrigerator section. Choose an unsweetened, low-fat container and look for the phrase “live cultures” on the label, which means it contains probiotics. Aside from aiding digestion and boosting immunity, these healthy bacteria may help you fit into your skinny jeans. Mounting research is drawing a connection between gut-health aids like probiotics and weight control.
Vegetables are the cornerstone of a healthy diet. And veggies with a high water content—like cucumbers—are among the best for weight loss because they fill you up for very few calories.
Regularly eating olive oil has been shown to boost levels of adiponectin, a hormone that breaks down fat. Beyond being an ally in the battle against the bulge, EVOO is a go-to pick for total health thanks to its heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. Make it your go-to cooking companion. Can’t wait to see that washboard stomach?