Chicago native Erika Schnure, 29, knew she was overweight—and she didn’t want to become like her diabetic mother. “I saw how much she was struggling,” says Erika, “and I didn’t want to go through that as well.” So in November 2011, the 5’6″ Erika decided to start trimming her 230-pound frame.
Initially, she lost about 50 pounds by making simple tweaks to her eating habits—like cooking more meals at home instead of taking trips to Five Guys or Chipotle. Then, when Erika hit a plateau, she incorporated more exercise into her routine, running and participating in races like a 5-K turkey trot. “I liked the runner’s high that I got,” she says. “I liked the competition and challenging myself to constantly do better.” In April 2013, Erika weighed about 140 pounds—and she’s now maintained that weight for more than a year.
But dropping 90 pounds didn’t make Erika feel happy, as she’d expected. In fact, her weight loss spurred a bout of depression that she’s still dealing with today. While the exact connection between weight loss and depression is still unclear, some research does indicate that there may be an association between the two.
Here, Erika opens up about the emotional battle she faced after finally hitting her weight-loss goal.
WH: What do you think occurred after your weight loss that led to your depression?
Erika: One thing I think contributed to this was that [during your weight-loss journey], you’re working for something for so long. And then when you’re done, it feels like, “Well, what now?” Losing weight was my life for about 17 months, and I didn’t know what to do [without that goal in my life.]
[Weight loss] was like a mission for me. I had to set another goal, but I had no idea what that would be. Losing weight was something I did for such a long time that it felt like I lost a friend. This [journey] made me really happy—to see myself losing weight—and when it was over, there was nothing else there.
I was still obsessed with weighing myself every day even though I was already at my goal weight. Any time that scale moved, I got upset about it. I had worked so hard to [meet my goal] that if I gained two pounds or something, I thought [my weight] would spiral again.
WH: So how did that affect your day-to-day life?
I stressed over maintaining my weight. Around [the time I reached my goal weight], I was training for a half-marathon. But I freaked out every time I gained a little bit of weight—which happened because I was eating too much for what I was training for. There’s a delicate balance there that you have to figure out.
At a certain point, I also lost all of my motivation to do anything. I was still eating fine, but I pretty much stopped exercising—which could’ve also been due to the Chicago winter. But I wasn’t interested in exercising. I’d come home and watch TV.
I tried to do some workouts at home—like DVDs—but usually I wanted to just sit around. Exercising was my productive way of de-stressing. If I had a really bad day at work, I would look forward to coming home and running because I could “run” that stress and anger out of me. But then I wasn’t relieving my stress in a productive way—or at all.
WH: You mentioned you’ve cleaned up your diet, but do you still allow yourself to indulge now and then? Is that hard?
I don’t do it often—maybe once a month—but if I do go out to a nice dinner, I’ll order a steak and potatoes. I watch my portions when I do [indulge] so that I don’t feel completely stuffed or uncomfortable.
There is a little bit of guilt because I think, “This is what got me [to my previous weight] in the first place.” But when [these indulgences] are so sporadic, you have to train yourself to learn that this one meal won’t make you gain five pounds. You have to get over it.
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WH: So you definitely have a lingering fear about gaining weight?
Oh, yeah. I’ve gained a little bit back, but there’s a huge fear of going back [to the way I used to be]. I still keep a pair of size 18 jeans [as a reminder] that I can’t go back to that weight. I can’t do it.
WH: That must be emotionally taxing to worry about. But what’s so frightening about the idea of going back to your old life exactly?
I was so unhappy and uncomfortable [in my body]. I didn’t get out much; mainly just stayed inside. I wasn’t living my life. Last year, my mom and I took a vacation to Hawaii. I was climbing all over the volcanic rocks, which I would not have been able to do before because I’d get tired or not be able to lift my legs as high [to climb].
WH: What about your new body image? Does that also play a role?
There’s a part to weight loss that people don’t tell you about: It’s that you aren’t going to look like a supermodel afterward. You may have skin issues that you wouldn’t really think about.
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WH: What do you mean by that exactly?
It’s really all of the excess skin. Of course, it’s different if you lose 20 pounds versus 100 pounds. I have a lot of sagging skin on my stomach that puckers a little bit. It doesn’t look awesome. It’s the same thing with my upper arms. I do love some parts of my new body—like my runner’s legs—but it’s really about my stomach. Someone close to me said that I couldn’t wear a bikini because of it.
WH: How do you cope with hurtful comments like that?
Yes, sometimes I’m self-conscious about [my stomach]. But everyone has their imperfections. People have said, “Oh gross, look at her stomach,” but I don’t care. I earned the right to wear a bikini, so I’m going to do it.
WH: Is there anything else that you’re insecure about?
Definitely my stomach—but my boobs sag a little bit now. That’s generally it. It’s really just the skin that hangs around that you can’t really do much with. It would’ve been really helpful to know [before losing weight] that I wasn’t going to look exactly the way that I wanted to.
WH: You’re so brave to admit all of this. What have you done to fight depression from taking over completely?
It’s something I still struggle with. But if I think about how I felt back then, I realize I don’t want to feel like that again, and I know what I have to do to not go back there. I have to stay active. A few weeks ago I started paying for a fitness program because if I pay for something, I’m more likely to stick with it. Plus, my boyfriend [encourages me], so that helps, too.