“I’ve always been a chubby girl,” said Henderson resident Sharda Smith-Stevens. “Junk food was my No. 1 best friend.”
A typical day would have her eating a McDonald’s bacon McGriddle, two hash browns and a large orange juice or, if she was on the go, a caramel Frappuccino with extra drizzle and some type of pastry for breakfast. That was followed by a mid-morning snack of Dr. Pepper or Sprite and either a candy bar or a cheese Danish.
Taco Bell’s Mexican pizza with extra sour cream, two crunchy tacos and a caramel empanada were lunch. If guilt kicked in, she would get a crispy chicken salad from McDonald’s (with two packets of ranch dressing), an apple pie and a diet soda.
And for dinner?
“I would try to cook if I could, so I would make fried chicken with homemade fries, Hamburger Helper with Texas toast, or grab a footlong meatball sub from Subway,” she said. “Of course, with the heaviness of the food, I would fall asleep and wake around midnight or 1 a.m. and … drive to a 24-hour fast-food restaurant for the fourth meal.”
She was also combining fast food to make a meal: three chicken rolled-up tacos from Roberto’s, a large order of fries from McDonald’s and two apple pies from Popeyes, washed down with a Sprite or Dr. Pepper.
“If I felt I needed more energy, my go-to thing was Dr. Pepper and a Snickers bar,” she said. “Every time I wasn’t energized, it’d be, like, ‘OK, food will energize me.’ “
By 23, Smith-Stevens weighed 245 pounds and wore a size 16/18, moving into the 20s.
“I felt like the only thing I had control over was my weight,” she said. “Being that heavy, I’d wake up with swollen feet. If you walk around too long, your feet would swell, so I have to elevate my feet at night. I knew if I’d been out at the mall with friends that the next day it’d have to be just flats.”
Her energy level was up and down. She’d have spikes of energy followed by wanting to “veg out” in front of the TV.
Then, a life changing event occurred. Her mother, Janet Smith, died in 2010 from hypertension. She was 48.
“What sums up the relationship with my mom and I? A bond that could never be broken … I carry her in my spirit,” Smith-Stevens said.
She said she knew she was headed down that same road to an early death, so she made a change. She began dieting and walking. She lost about 50 pounds. Her progress stopped there.
“I was, like, I can’t diet forever,” she said. “And I was still grieving from losing my mom. But it got so the scale wouldn’t move.”
In January 2014, she got a personal trainer, GayLynn Byrd. Working out with her, Smith-Stevens’ plateau was broken, and the weight began dropping off.
Byrd said it is important that the client make that head-heart connection and be committed to losing the weight. They’re at a point, she said, where they’re tired of being tired and feeling poorly.
“There are going to be obstacles; it’s not easy,” Byrd said. “If you’re diligent and dedicated, it’ll pay off.”
She switched up Smith-Stevens’ routine to keep her body from becoming complacent, changing workout intensity levels, duration and exercises. She also had tips for everyday life: Put down the fork after every bite; chew thoroughly; and keep hydrated.
“So many times, you’re thirsty, you’re dehydrated, it sends a signal to your stomach that, ‘Hey, I’m hungry,’ ” Byrd said.
At first, it was slow jogging, jumping jacks and resistance bands for Smith-Stevens.
“We’d work 35 to 45 minutes together, and she’d show me little movements,” she said. “Treadmill to (Byrd) was old school, so we didn’t do the treadmill. We’d do the bike, and she’d say, ‘Go as fast as you can for 30 seconds, then 30 seconds, go slow again.’ Now, she makes me run and do sprints. She started me off with 5-pound weights and doing lateral movements. I moved up in weight. And we do kettlebells. I started with 5 pounds; now I use 35 pounds.”
As the weight came off, Smith-Stevens said, “It was amazing, not just getting on the scale and seeing the weight had come off, but she would take my measurements … seeing those numbers go down was (more satisfying) than seeing the weight. It was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, I’m fitting into a size 8; oh, my gosh, I’m fitting into a size 6.’ Now, I wear a size 4. I had been a size 16/18, moving into those size 20s. So, being able to fit into a size 4 dress is amazing.”
She said she focused on inches, not weight.
The toughest part was not comparing herself to other women. “I learned to be the best version of ‘you’ instead of trying to be someone else,” she said.
She said she’d seen herself heavy for so long, when people would come up and compliment her on losing the initial weight, she’d smile and say to herself, ‘No, I don’t look great yet.’ So, even though you’ve lost 80, you’ve lost 90 (pounds), you’re (not satisfied). … You still look in the mirror, and go, ‘Look at that roll right there,’ or, ‘ You can tighten this up a little bit more.’ “
It took three years to get all the weight off. Now, the 5-foot-5-inch-tall Smith-Stevens, age 29, is a size 4.
She has sensible meals in smaller portions with the focus on protein and vegetables. Breakfast now consists of a protein shake or some eggs/egg whites with veggies, such as spinach, kale, mushrooms and onions and some whole grain oats with fresh berries. Snacktime sees her consuming a dozen roasted almonds (no salt) along with some freeze-dried cranberries or raisins or an apple with peanut or almond butter and some Greek yogurt. A typical lunch is 4 ounces of salmon with asparagus and half a cup of quinoa. Dinner could be steamed veggies and a protein shake or two cans of tuna packed in water with a salad topped with tons of veggies and vinaigrette dressing.
On July 22, “Good Morning America” had her busting through a picture of her old self.
People Magazine learned of her accomplishment and included her in its Aug. 3 issue.
Her advice to others: Take it one step at a time, and don’t beat yourself up for a minor lapse. Go slow because the weight’s not going to come off overnight.
If you have a bagel with cream cheese at work, follow it up with a salad for lunch.
“Don’t beat yourself up and say, ‘I”ll start my diet on Monday,’ but start today and get back on the wagon,” she said. “People keep saying, ‘I’m going to start that diet on Monday,’ and Monday never comes.
“I never did it to be in any magazine. I did it because of my mom.”
— To reach Summerlin Area View reporter Jan Hogan, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 702-387-2949.