Jessica Skarzynski spends her free time running races and motivating other women to “make waves” as a Mermaid Club ambassador| but a decade ago she couldn’t even run a mile. Once she vowed to take control of her health issues| however| Jessica found a new hobby in running ¡ª and dropped over 100 pounds in the process. Read her amazing weight-loss transformation below| and check out more of our Before & After success stories here!
POPSUGAR Fitness: What made you decide to start? Jessica Skarzynski: I’ve struggled with anxiety| depression| and my weight since I was young. By 2004| I was on antianxiety medication that packed on the pounds and I weighed more than 270 pounds. Then| that July (right before my 21st birthday)| my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. It turned out alright: after treatment and surgery the following year| she was cancer-free ¡ª and still is to this day! But that was the shock I needed to take better care of myself.
PS: What’s your favorite way to work out?JS: I’ve done everything from kickboxing to hot yoga| but running is my “happy place|” so to speak! It’s when I can shut out everything else that’s going on and just focus on what’s going on inside my head and make room for positivity.
PS: What’s your weekly exercise schedule?JS: Right now| I’m training for the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon as well as the Asbury Park Runapalooza Half Marathon this Spring| so I’m sticking to a five-day-a-week workout plan. Sundays are my long runs of increasing distance (up to 11 miles)| and Monday is a rest day where I focus on stretching and recovering. Tuesday is a four-mile run and strength training| where I focus more on building up my legs| especially since I tore my ACL at mile 12 of a half marathon back in 2012 and had to take off almost 6 months after reconstructive surgery! Wednesday I do 40 minutes of cross training on the bike| elliptical| or in the pool ¡ª swimming is turning into my new favorite thing! Thursday is another four-mile run where I push the pace and throw in some sprints and interval training. Friday is another rest day| and Saturday I do some yoga| walk| and stretch| to prep for my long run again on Sunday.
PS: How do you keep workouts exciting?JS: Music| new gear| and switching it up! When I’m in the thick of a workout and find my energy flagging| I’ve got a special playlist of “pump-up music” that I’ll play to reenergize myself. I’ll also treat myself to a new tank or fun headband to get excited about working out when I’m in a rut. When all else fails| I’ll switch gears entirely and try a new class at the gym ¡ª like just last week when I tried Zumba for the first time in more than five years and loved it!
PS: How much weight have you lost? JS: From 2004 to 2009| I lost more than 100 pounds! And aside from the post-ACL-surgery 10-pound gain and loss| I’ve maintained that loss since 2009.
PS: What was the first big difference| other than the number on the scale| that really made you feel proud and excited? JS: I gained the majority of my weight in college as I was discovering who I really was. So while I was enjoying my new freedom and figuring out what I wanted to do with my life| I always felt physically restrained because I was so much bigger than other 21-year-olds. But once I started to lose the weight| my self-esteem increased| my mood improved| and the only way I can describe it is that I finally felt like I fit my body. And best of all| my anxiety subsided enough to allow me to go off the medication within that first year. That alone was motivation enough to keep going!
PS: How do you track your weight loss? JS: I tend to not weigh myself very often| because I’m the type of person that gets obsessed with the number on the scale which is a bad thing to be! Especially when I’m training (and eating!) more| that number changes so often that it would drive me insane. Instead| I go by how my clothes fit and how I feel. If I overindulge| say around the holidays| I notice an immediate difference in my energy levels and don’t like that. So I tend to keep myself in check by listening to my body and following those signals.
PS: What’s a typical day of meals and snacks? JS: Breakfast is usually a cup of Kashi protein cereal with a little chocolate almond milk| but I also love green smoothies; they’re an easy way to get all the veggies in at once! I’ll add kale and spinach to the blender| with some protein powder| a little splash of almond milk| and some frozen fruit| and voilà: breakfast to go. Lunch is the usual stuff: a sandwich or salad| but I try to stay away from refined sugars| white bread| bagels| and things like that. I’ll always have a little snack between lunch and dinner| too: usually a Quest Bar| now that I’ve discovered the S’mores-flavored one! Dinner is a protein like chicken or turkey burgers (without the bun) with salsa| and for starches I’ll have whole-wheat pasta| quinoa| or sweet potatoes. I’ve also recently discovered roasted veggies and can’t stop making them. Broccoli| kale| brussels sprouts ¡ª you name it| I’ll toss it in salt and pepper and olive oil and roast it!
One thing they probably won’t say in the diet books: I don’t skip dessert! I always have a little something like a Hershey’s kiss or a sugar-free pudding cup. Because once I feel like I’m “dieting” and depriving myself| I totally crash and go the opposite way into binge territory. Other things I like to snack on for protein during the day to keep me full and help stop me from snacking like crazy are salt-and-vinegar-flavored almonds (almost like boardwalk fries!) and almond butter (a big spoonful| straight from the jar).
PS: What’s the range of calories you eat per day? JS: I tend to eat around 1|700-1|900 calories a day| depending on if I’m training.
PS: What are the healthy staples that are always in your fridge? JS: I love snacks that are filled with protein to keep me full| like mini Baby Bell cheeses and chocolate almond milk. I also rely on Greek yogurt and frozen fruit too!
PS: How do you strategize for meals out? JS: When we go out to eat| I generally try to follow the same guidelines I do in everyday eating and order dishes that rely heavily on veggies and protein. But when I feel like splurging| I only have one rule: to make it worth it| I’ll only order something that I don’t know how make at home. That way I’m treating myself to something new and different ¡ª and potentially discovering something that I can then learn how to make a healthy version of!
PS: What advice do you have for anyone starting out on a weight-loss journey?JS: Above all else: don’t compare yourself to others! It’s easy to fall into negative thinking and quit when you’re surrounded by other folks who seem to be doing “better” than you| whether you’re at the gym watching the superfit chick crush the StairMaster next to you| or you’re at a race and everyone else seems to be passing you. At the end of the day| the only competition you should be concerned about is between you today [and] the you from yesterday! I am by no means perfect| and I’m not a health professional either. I used to be the girl who claimed “I don’t run unless I’m being chased|” and I literally trapped myself in my own body with anxiety and weight gain. But 10 years and 100-plus pounds later| I really am living proof: if I can do it| you absolutely can do it too!
Do you have an inspiring Before & After story to share? Message us on Facebook| and give us a few details of your journey. We might even profile you on the site| like Jessica!