Brianna Oyewo managed the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic working from home, raising a newborn and finding comfort in eating habits familiar to so many working families during the best of times.
“I ate a good Buffalo diet,” said Oyewo, who has spent most of her life subsisting on drive-thru breakfast sandwiches, iced cappuccinos, takeout pizza, wings and steak subs.
The pandemic became an easy adjustment at first. She ordered her food faves delivered, as well as groceries that included packaged pancakes and frozen pizza.
“If I were to continue down that road, there’s no telling where I would be right now,” she said.
Instead, after hitting her lifetime high weight of 281 pounds last June, she chose to use her extra lockdown time to get healthier.
She has dropped more than 130 pounds since.
It may have been easier for many during the pandemic to focus on dropping weight. Instead, the average American added about two pounds a month.
The good news: The steps Oyewo used can be deliberately taken any time by those who decide they are sick and tired of they way they look, feel and behave.
“I was already at a greater risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease,” she said, “but in the middle of a pandemic, and knowing the risks that come with Covid, I definitely knew that I needed to do something to change so that I could be here for my daughter, and for my husband.”
Oyewo has learned over the years that losing pounds and maintaining weight loss takes more than an unsustainable crash diet. Here is the process she used – and you can, too.
Decide – and understand why
Oyewo, 33, grew up in Buffalo and landed her latest job early last year as an employment counselor with the state labor department. She lives in Amherst with her husband, Adedayo, a Nigerian native, and their 18-month-old daughter, Olivia.
Her mother and sister were thin when Oyewo was growing up, while she was almost always overweight or obese. Her mother got so concerned when Oyewo was 10 that she enrolled her in a University at Buffalo weight loss study. That, and a Weight Watchers program she started in her teens, helped bring her weight to 160 pounds by high school graduation day.
The weight went back on when college dorm life began. It continued during a series of jobs in the social services field where snack bowls, food-based celebrations and quick access to traditional Buffalo dishes became routine.
But 281 pounds three months into a pandemic?
“I was thinking I’m almost 300 pounds,” she said, “and it scared me.”
Her latest weight-loss attempt started with a conscious effort to better understand her needs, goals and interests.
“I had to take care of myself better mentally,” she decided, “before I could get to the place that I was going to make healthy decisions with eating and exercise.”
It started in the relative solitude of the pandemic, using what otherwise would have been commuting or TV time to read and start a weight loss journal. TED Talks also were key.
“When I was going to school for psychology, the professors said that journaling is a good way to get out your thoughts,” said Oyewo, who has a master’s in the discipline from Medaille College. “It was almost like talking to like a counselor or a therapist.”
Oyewo started dating her husband after he came to see her do a poetry reading in 2017. They married the next year. She first told him about her weight loss plan in a text message last June that read, “I’m done being fat.”
“I told him, ‘I’m serious. This time, I’m going to do it.’ He was so encouraging, and it really motivated me. She also told several friends about her plan. They responded by working out together online as often as three times a week.
Flexibility in her work schedule, working from home and insight she gained from understanding how she piled on weight all helped with her transformation. Still, Oyewo needed to come up with a daily plan – and stick with it. Her UB and Weight Watchers experiences helped, too, and she went online for other tips. She found SMART goals, which ProMedica Health Connect describes this way:
Specific: “When you say, ‘I want to lose weight,’ you state a desire. A goal to lose 5 pounds is concise.
Measurable: The number on the scale is objectively comparable.
Attainable: A realistic weight loss goal is about 1.5 to 2 pounds per week. It is also easier to wrap your head around a 5-pound weight loss than a 50-pound loss.
Results-focused: A 5-pound loss within one month is reasonable and measurable.
Time bound: By giving yourself a deadline, you hold yourself accountable.
Trips through the drive-thru and quick sit-downs at fast food restaurants stopped and have not resumed. Instead, Oyewo has used healthy cooking websites to plan and prepare meals at home on Sundays with healthy ingredients. She spent $1.50 each to buy several containers to store the dishes and control portion sizes.
The pandemic also helped Oyewo appreciate another tenet of healthy eating: Shopping thoughtfully by compiling a list at home. This continues to help Oyewo keep a better handle on calories and wholesome ingredients.
Oyewo has been vegetarian since 2012 but that does not always equate to a healthy diet. She continues to stick to plant-based meals, but avoids dairy and processed breads, potatoes, pastas, rice and other foods.
Breakfast often consists of plain nonfat Greek yogurt topped with walnuts or berries. Lunch is usually a salad brimming with spinach, kale and other greens, as well as tomatoes and vegetables, topped with a sprinkling of plant-based cheese and healthy fat-based oil dressing. Homemade vegetarian chili, cauliflower rice, or zucchini noodle pasta make up the base of many dinners.
“I tend not to snack,” she said. When she does, unsalted mixed nuts, a half or whole banana, or a tablespoon of almond butter are enough to quell her appetite.
Oyewo drinks no alcohol. She hydrates mostly water and coffee. Gone are the frozen cappuccinos, replaced as a special treat by smoothies she makes at home with a touch of almond butter, a pour or two of oat milk and fresh bananas and berries.
Eat right at work and play
Oyewo and her husband are now fully vaccinated. She is back at work at least one day a week and has been invited to gatherings with friends and loved ones in weeks to come. She has managed to steer clear of the breakfast and lunch nook in her agency building, taken a different route away from the goodie basket in her office, and plans to politely decline unhealthy foods at gatherings. A nutritionist who looked at her eating plan told her it was all right to celebrate occasionally with a treat – but limit her portion size.
Oyewo lost weight without stepping foot in a gym. “I felt like intentional physical activity is super crucial,” she said, “because of how sedentary things have been.”
She started with 20-minute, high intensity interval training in her living room early last summer, turning to YouTube for exercise routines. She gradually bumped that up and now works out at home for at least an hour up to six days a week. She uses light weights that keep her toned. She also has the benefit of a physical therapist husband who can watch her form and help her stretch afterward. The couple also spend time strolling their daughter through their neighborhood.
Her overall strategy has worked.
“I feel so much better physically and mentally,” Oyewo said. “I have so much more peace, just knowing that I’m making healthier decisions every day. And I have a lot more energy. I don’t wake up tired anymore. I just have a lot more hope about the future.”