Sunshine’s Journey

Sunshine’s Journey

The following is an adaptation of a speech presented in September 2017 in Chicago by Andrea Butler aka Sunshine, From Fat to Finish Line member and popular Instagram influencer, about her weight loss journey. Sunshine is a graduate of FFTFL’s Run Your First Mile Training Program and is training to run her first Half Marathon at the Rock ‘n’ Roll races in Las Vegas in November.

Maybe I’m supposed to be Obese and Unhealthy

If you’re like me in my earlier years, you may have thought to yourself perhaps you were just meant to be overweight. Back then, the end goal seemed impossible. I’d think, “How could I lose weight? There’s no way. Maybe I’m supposed to be obese and unhealthy. It’s just too late for me. I’ve done irreparable damage to myself.” If this sounds like you, I want you to say to yourself instead, “This all changes today.”

Many of us in the From Fat to Finish Line community had to decide that enough was enough. We had to quit saying “I’ll start tomorrow, or Monday, or on the first of next month.” Change starts when YOU CHANGE. There is a perfect day to start living healthier and that day is TODAY.

When people ask how I’ve lost weight, I think they often expect some sort of magic formula. Or that I am some wellness wizard who has all the answers. The truth is relatively simple. You only need to do three things to change your life and we can all do them. Eat better, move more, and figure out how to change your relationship with food.

Looking Back

I’ve been overweight my whole life, and have never weighed under 200 pounds as an adult. My childhood was split between my mother’s and father’s homes. Dad’s was literally something out of the television show Hoarders. I couldn’t have friends over, and we almost never had food in the house. At Mom’s there were full cupboards and a full fridge. Making up for what we lacked at Dad’s, she took us out to eat a lot. I would overeat at Mom’s because I didn’t know where my next meal was coming from once back at Dad’s. He would also keep weird hours, so it wasn’t rare for him to get us in the car at 1:00 am and announce we were driving from our place in Milwaukee to Chicago for gyros.

Over the years, and to this day, I need to remind myself that I am no longer a child. I am an adult, who can buy food anytime I want. Food is not going anywhere and there is no need to overeat. Addressing this has been huge in my recovery and I say recovery because food addiction is a real thing.

In college, I tipped the scales at 391 pounds. A few years ago I decided to join a weight loss challenge at my former restaurant job and took a second job at a gym for women called Curves. During that period of time, I went from 391 to 245 pounds and started my first social media page on Facebook called, Sunshine’s Journey to 199. I created the public page as a way to hold myself accountable and I can still remember how excited I was when I hit 1000 followers. I couldn’t believe it!

Health-sabotaging Relationship

It was around that time I met my ex-fiancé. Being my first real relationship, I was blind to a lot of “the bad” because I was so excited to finally be with someone I thought I would spend the rest of my life with. One of our favorite activities together was eating. About 6 months after meeting him, I quit my job of 10 years and moved with him to Chicago. I didn’t work for the first couple of months and wasn’t as active as I had been. In stark contrast to my kitchen back in Milwaukee, our cupboards were filled with food and not food that was good for us. We’d often go to McDonald’s for lunch where we’d each get a double quarter pounder meal and split a 20-piece chicken nugget order. He was also very jealous, to the point that it had me, someone who talks to everyone, avoiding eye contact with strangers. I didn’t want him accusing me of knowing them or wanting to ‘be with them.’

Things really got bad when I found out he had been cheating on me. We did the whole break up and make up thing several times. In March 2013, we were back together, and I thought in a good place. I went to Miami on vacation and during that trip I got an email at 4:00 am. He said it was over, he had moved out and I needed to find my own way home from the airport. Back up to 365 pounds, I had regained over 100 pounds while we were together. I had a pity party for a few days and then decided I wasn’t going to let that bad relationship ruin the work I’d done prior to meeting him. I snapped out of worrying what the future held and began to get excited about it.

Incredible Loss Didn’t Stop Progress

In 2014, I suffered two tragic losses. My Dad passed away on Thanksgiving 2014 and we buried his ashes on December 29th.  Less than 24 hours later, my Mom passed away unexpectedly at only 55 years old.

I could have easily let any one or all of these events cause me to spiral back into all of my old habits and gain back up to and over 400 pounds. But I didn’t. I remembered that my current situation is not my final destination, that life is short and we don’t get another shot at it. Diabetes and heart disease and a slew of other ailments don’t care how good of a person you are – they will come for you if you don’t take care of yourself.

Woman's Weight loss transformationSetting Goals and Inspiring Others

Every day is a challenge. I have to remind myself that I’m worth it and that I am inspiring others to change their lives too. It’s important to have long-term goals, but don’t forget to set small ones too; every 10 pounds lost for example. Celebrate all of the wins in between. Non-scale victories for me included returning to Six Flags after staying away for 20 years. I was publicly embarrassed when I didn’t fit in the Batman roller coaster and had to get off the ride in front of everyone. Another victory is not having to worry if my seat belt would buckle on an airplane. And I’m no longer the girl in the hoodie and jeans in 90-degree weather when everyone else is wearing tank tops and dresses.

My weight has been up and down even since then, but what I’ve come to realize is that this is a process that isn’t quick and easy. Once we hit our goals it’s not like we have everything figured out. It’s important to practice making smart choices when it comes to moving every day, what we are eating, getting enough sleep, and everything else that comes along with striving for a healthy lifestyle. We all have bad days. But what makes the difference between the old me and the new me is that when I get knocked down I come back up fighting. I will not allow myself to keep backsliding until I’ve really setback my progress. It’s important to remember how far I’ve have come and where I want to go. We only live once. If we are not here to do something extraordinary then what are we here for? Live every day like it’s your last and never take your life for granted.

“Do it for those who can’t.” Inspiration that I live by. - Sunshine Click To Tweet

Something that has stuck with me over the last several years is a comment someone wrote on my Facebook page when I was at the Biggest Loser Resort in June of 2012. Up in weight again, was finding the daily activity extremely difficult. She wrote, “Do it for those who can’t.” While we are complaining about exercising for 30 minutes, there are people out there without legs, people stuck in hospital beds or without money for any food. There are people battling disease and people who can’t breathe without the help of machines. On days when I am feeling lazy, I remind myself that I have been blessed with a decently healthy body. I have the luxury of having a roof over my head, a gym membership, and a body that works. How dare I be lazy when there are people out there who want nothing more than to have just one of the opportunities I have. Remind yourself of what you have and what you can do.

Step by Step

Full figured woman runningMake deals with yourself. Oh, you want that double cheeseburger, do you? Sure, you can have it. But first, you have to work out for an hour. Chances are, once you’ve busted your butt in the gym for an hour, you are not going to want to ruin the hard work you just completed. Feel like skipping the gym? Tell yourself, “Nope. You cannot skip it. Just go for 10 minutes. If you still want to leave after 10 minutes, fine, then leave.” But you better give yourself that 10 minutes first. Most of the time once you are there, you will not want to leave after 10 minutes. And if you do, you still got in 10 minutes which is better than nothing. Don’t be afraid to make little deals with yourself. I do it all the time.

Ultimately, getting healthy is the biggest gift you can give yourself and you can find motivation everywhere. Do you want to run around with your kids or do you want to sit on the sidelines while they make memories without you? My Mom remains a huge motivation in my life and my wellness journey every single day. She used to tell me that I’m capable of doing everything and anything I want and she believed it. She gave me everything when she had nothing. She was my biggest cheerleader and had a heart of gold. I wish she could be here today to see my accomplishments and yours as well.

Keep in the fight. There are people worse off doing it every day and you can too. Take it day by day, bite by bite and step by step.

Follow Sunshine’s Journey

I want to inspire everyone out there who has lost hope and let them know that it is NEVER too late to change your life. Just because you fail once does not mean that one day you will not succeed. You just have to get up every day and keep fighting!

You can follow Sunshine on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.

Member Spotlight: Ann Paserchia

Member Spotlight: Ann Paserchia

At 64 years old, From Fat to Finish Line’s Run Your First Mile graduate Ann Paserchia wants to tell everyone that it’s never too late to start running.

The journey begins with the first step

social media post about running first mile“I always admired watching other people run. I was kind of envious of them. I would see Jennifer Roe, a friend of mine from my Weight Watchers group and one of the founders of From Fat to Finish Line run races like the New York City Marathon and I was in awe. I would ask her all sorts of questions about running. She told me about their amazing FFTFL community group and that they were beta testing a free Run Your First Mile Training Plan program. I decided to see if I could run too.”

Ann signed up for the program and began her running journey. Week by week, she completed the steps that Head Coach Rik Akey sent. She not only enjoyed the plan but also credits the support she received from the group for her success in keeping going.

“There’s no stopping me now. I am feeling stronger and seeing changes on the scale. It has boosted my confidence and self-esteem.

Proud Graduate

Ann is not only a proud graduate of the Run Your First Mile program but went on to complete the beta test of FFTFL’s Run Your First 5K Training Plan program as well. She is now currently one of the beta testers of the FFTFL Run Your First 10K Training Plan program and is looking forward to a healthy future that includes a running lifestyle. “There’s no stopping me now. I am feeling stronger and seeing changes on the scale. It has boosted my confidence and self-esteem. ‘I know I can’ has been my mantra since starting this journey.”

Ann believes that getting fitted for good shoes, setting small achievable goals, and listening to your body is key. She says, “I would’ve never imagined that at 64 years old I would start running and loving it. You can do it too. Ease into it slowly and just take one day at a time.”

'I know I can’ has been my mantra since starting this running journey. - Ann Paserchia Click To Tweet

Congratulations, Ann!


From Fat to Finish Line Run Your First Mile Training ProgramWant to give our free Run Your First Mile Training Plan a try? Enroll today!

How to Overcome Self-Sabotage while Traveling

How to Overcome Self-Sabotage while Traveling

Greetings from Bucharest!

I’m fresh off an evening run and felt compelled to write this post immediately. Why? Because my routine changed, the conditions changed, and I was starting to let running take a back seat. And from past experience, I recognized that this was a huge warning sign. It also doesn’t help that I’m annoyingly picky when it comes to running as I only like ideal conditions. I mean, who doesn’t right? The early morning dewy air, a cool 60 degrees, maybe a slight overcast, and on a tried-and-true trail is the absolute best!

But everything about my “conditions” was not ideal. I’m in a new country, I don’t know my way around, and it’s hot and humid. Yes, these are all lame excuses but that didn’t stop me from trying to rationalize why I shouldn’t run today. But I knew that if I allowed myself to make these excuses like I have in years past, I would eventually find myself getting nudged off course.

Accountability Matters

This was one of those times when accountability kicked in at the right time. I don’t exactly know why being accountable to someone else is so powerful, but it is, and I’m glad for it. What kept me from missing my run was reaching out to a friend, FFTFL teammate and FFTFL’s Head Coach, Rik. We check-in with each other almost daily to make sure we’re staying on course, or rather, I’m staying on course. I can be the problematic one of this accountability duo. LOL!

I texted Rik to tell him I’m leaving work and heading back to the hotel to run on the treadmill. I thought detailing out the plan would help somehow… Plus, he already knows I don’t like running in the evenings. And the last time I said I was going to run in the evening, I didn’t, so I wasn’t going to lie this time!

Try Listening to a Podcast

The run itself felt easy enough but also seemed unusually long. I’m convinced the distance on the treadmill display never really moves! I decided the music I was playing wasn’t going to cut it this time and switched to a podcast. If you guys haven’t tried listening to a podcast during a run, I highly recommend it! When I start to struggle, listening to a story shifts my focus away and my legs naturally go into auto pilot mode.

Change Your Perspective

Before I knew it, I was done, and that felt incredibly satisfying. Wins come in different forms and this time it came in the form of recognizing that I wasn’t going to let the change in my environment affect the goals I had set out to do. The truth is, we’re constantly hit with distractions and changes in life, but it’s how you respond that makes the biggest difference.

Hope everyone is having a great week! Talk soon.

Follow My Marathon Journey

I’ll be chronicling my journey back to the finish line and I hope you’ll join me! And if any of you out there are looking for a little impulse in your life, I will happily volunteer to give you a little nudge. We can do this together!

Ada Wong was an original FFTFL Team member Runner#4. Learn more about her original journey and being on The Biggest Loser. 

Back to the Finish Line

Back to the Finish Line

Woman Smiling Ada WongHi Everyone! Ada Wong, here. I know I’ve been pretty quiet these past few years and I guess you could say life has kept me busy! Anyway, I’m ready to head back to the finish line and thought reconnecting with this amazing community would be a great place to start!

From Ragnar to IronMan

So what have I been up to? Well, right around the time I was running Ragnar with the team, I was also in the middle of training for an Ironman which the at the time, had no idea how I was going to pull that off! The thing about me is that I’m pretty impulsive. I always sign up to do things on a whim and tell myself I’ll figure it out as I go along. I know that doesn’t always sound like the right approach but for me, it’s worked out more often than not. Impulse gives me courage so without it, I would be too afraid to accomplish anything. My friends (lovingly) call me a scaredy cat, and I don’t disagree. 

Anyway, fast forward to the Ironman…I did it, yay! And from that point on, my running came to a screeching halt. It started as, “oh, I just finished an Ironman and I need a recover to… there aren’t any races in my near future so, why run?” When I finally decided to go on a fun run, I found it to be 100X more difficult than I remembered. I was back at square one again and stayed there for a very long time.

What’s Next?

A few months ago my friends asked if I wanted to run the Chicago Marathon, so naturally, I said yes without giving it much thought. For those of you who don’t know, the Chicago Marathon is a lottery and you first have to sign up to see if you get selected. I was secretly hoping I wouldn’t.

When I received the notification several months later, I didn’t have to read past the first word. It said, congratulations! I decided it was a sign that I should jump back into running. I remember loving the sport and I want to feel that joy again. So here I am again, at square one, taking it one mile at a time.

Follow My Marathon Journey

I’ll be chronicling my journey back to the finish line and I hope you’ll join me! And if any of you out there are looking for a little impulse in your life, I will happily volunteer to give you a little nudge. We can do this together!

I look forward to connecting with all you. Talk soon!

Ada Wong was an original FFTFL Team member Runner#4. Learn more about her original journey and being on The Biggest Loser. 

Body Shaming and Changing the Name of the Game

Body Shaming and Changing the Name of the Game

Recently, a company that shall remain nameless (no need to give them extra publicity), posted one of those “caption this” photos for a contest. The picture featured an overweight athlete in a cycling kit that was ill-fitting. With the man’s belly exposed and the outfit’s jersey riding up, it seemed obvious to everyone what this picture was meant to invite their athletic-based consumer to do: “Let’s have some fun laughing at the fat guy.”

This picture stirred up a storm of a bee’s nest within our own From Fat to Finish Line tribe. Many of us have been fat-shamed at some point in our lives so this picture struck a nerve. The issue then took an even deeper dive downward because instead of acknowledging the (maybe even innocent) ignorance in posting the photo, after many people called out their unkindness in posting it, the company chose to defend it. They claimed there were other ‘silly things’ about the picture including the color of the kit which was blue with a few pink accents. “And, the pink is funny!” And, pink is funny on a guy, why? Don’t get me started on that one! The picture was also supposedly funny because “Look at his feet! The guy is wearing sandals!” Sandals? His sandaled feet could barely be considered part of the picture as they were mostly cut off in the Instagram picture. Interestingly, no one “captioned this” with mention of the hilarious (not) sandals.

The company further argued that the man featured in the picture was OK with how the picture was being used, and even thought it was funny himself. They couldn’t understand why people would be “so sensitive” and thought that all of us ‘sensitive’ folks just got it all wrong. Their blind, unwavering defense and inability to sincerely understand why this might be hurtful was perhaps even more offensive than the actual picture itself and speaks to the greater issue here. Their message is clear, “What’s the big deal of making fun of a fat guy? I mean, he knows we love him. It’s just funny. Lighten up, you.”

This incident, the picture first and the dismissiveness of how upset people got by it second, was a huge trigger for many of us in our community. I heard from members who were so upset that it brought them right back to their feelings of being bullied and pushed into lockers in high school. Once again, many of us were hurt by something that seemed cruel and then further injured when told our feelings about it just didn’t matter. It even unexpectedly brought up my own memories of my own body-shaming moment from grade school.

I was in the seventh grade and I had this “cool” teacher. He rewarded the “pretty girls” with lots of special privileges. In hindsight, this teacher was a creep of the extreme kind, but at the time we didn’t see it that way. I was not considered (nor felt like) one of the pretty girls. I had unruly hair that neither myself nor my mother knew what to do with and I was chubby. At twelve, you’re just kind of learning about yourself. I was already aware that I wasn’t a thin kid but this teacher found a way to make sure I knew it and humiliate me. I found myself remembering the day he told me, in front of the whole class, that I was fat and my jeans were too tight and that I should go on a diet ASAP. The class laughed. I felt the judgment, my own disgust, and I could’ve died. The seventh grader in me was so embarrassed, so ashamed. I was too fat. I felt less-than, not as valuable, or important as the girl sitting next to me. I was second rate if that. The message was clear, because of this body I had, I was not worthy of the special attention of this (creepy) teacher and my peers laughed their agreement with him. I didn’t want to cry in front of the class so I went to the coat closet and tried to cry as discreetly as possible. When I emerged he teased me for crying in the coat closet. He later tried to brush it all off. I was “too sensitive” he was just trying to “give me advice.”

Too sensitive,” my teacher said.  “Too sensitive,” the company mentioned above said. They claimed we got it all wrong. I don’t think so.

It didn’t occur to me at the time but the company was wrong. My teacher was wrong. I believed him and blamed myself for being unlikeable because of my body. For years, I’ve buried this memory and it came flooding back to me last night, days after the “caption this” post went up. I wonder how much of the ‘body shaming’ that happened to me when I was 12 really went on to shape how I see/saw myself. I mean, I’m 44 years old and still want to wear my clothes just a little too big, afraid for people to see my ‘fat’ or be accused of wearing something too tight. All my adult life, I would slink into a bathroom stall to get changed rather than in the open because I’ve always had a deep shame of my body (even at my thinnest). When friends would question my shyness I chalked it up to modesty but it was always because I carried a deep shame of my body. The cellulite, the stretch marks, and the fat; I was convinced it was ugly and embarrassing at best, laughable at worst.

This is why we have to change the narrative and this is why our FFTFL’ers were riled-up enough to stand up to the fat shaming they saw happening with this picture. No one should feel bad about their bodies. I’m learning to love mine. I love this body that has carried me thousands of miles. It is strong, it works hard, and it has put up with a ton of bad choices ranging from the mental beat-ups to the crappy food, cigarettes, and alcohol I once overdid. My body is my friend, not my enemy and I’m sick of feeling shame over it. I am ready to defend it and defending it means not only will I not allow myself to shame my body – I will not allow anyone else to either.

Thankfully, we have so many new role models and movements that are empowering people and challenging attitudes. Thanks to models like Ashley Graham and people like Sunshine, who bravely stood in the middle of a busy street in Chicago in a bikini at 250 pounds, minds are changing. I can’t help but think that if, as a little girl, I saw more positive images of all body types instead of being taught that I was ‘less than’ good enough because of my body, how different things could’ve been. If only I saw people like the FFTFL community, out there running, being strong and accepting themselves, curves, hips, fat, tight pants and all –  I might’ve felt confident, secure, and loved myself enough to look that teacher in the eye and defend myself instead of let him make me crumble in the coat closet. Maybe, more importantly, I wouldn’t have handed him, or anyone else, the power to define me for years.

Woman in bikini in downtown Chicago - Sunshine no body shaming

Sunshine in her bikini in downtown Chicago

Perhaps the best way to stand up to the fat-shaming bullies is to just take that power away. Let’s be badass, proud of who we are, and what our bodies look like. They are our bodies to own and love and they are remarkable. The shamers only win if we allow their opinions to be more important than our own. If we allow the ignorance to continue to wound and win, then that truly is a shame.

Share your thoughts about body shaming in the comments below.

Saying Goodbye to Idealistic Expectations

Saying Goodbye to Idealistic Expectations

It’s my birthday and birthdays are always cause for reflection. Especially when you most likely have more years behind you than in front of you. Two years ago, my then 50 year old body carried me across the finish lines of 2 marathons and a half Ironman distance triathlon. There were so many reasons to rejoice over my accomplishments, and for the most part I did, but the accomplishments were overshadowed by something many of us suffer from: Idealistic Expectations.

I crossed those finish lines at roughly 165 lbs, resulting in a sense of failure that I had not met my 140 lb weight goal. I won my division in that 70.3 triathlon but I joked that it was the chubby, old lady division. The couple years I competed in triathlons I also won the Athena division (165 lbs+) in 2 sprints and an Olympic distance race and I placed 2nd at the Challenge Family US Championships winning a cash prize of $250. Every time I won I’d discount my accomplishment by saying, “Yeah, but I won the fat lady division.” The thing is – I WASN’T FAT. At 165 lbs I look, and more importantly feel, just fine. If fact, I’m a bad ass.

Like so many women, I’ve gained and lost more pounds than I can count. My freshman 15 was more like 30. In my late 20’s, after moving to NYC for a high pressure, 60+ hour a week job, I gained 50 lbs. That’s when I found running. I ran in high school and in college did a 10k for charity where an 80 year old woman beat me, but that running was done against my will. Those years in NYC, logging excessive hours in a soul sucking job while getting yelled at, running was my solace. The only time I can completely quiet my mind is on a long run. It was, and still is, the place I solve most of my problems. Racing with colleagues, we completed the 5 boroughs’ half marathons. Back then there were no finisher medals, you had to be satisfied with your accomplishment.

The next decade of my life was a cycle of being overworked, gaining weight, getting back to running and losing it. I’d get down to 140 lbs then slowly work my way back up before hitting the pavement again. Rinse and repeat.

Then in early 2005 I finally left my job and moved back home to Los Angeles. I started a production company with my brother and we made 2 movies. Movie making is HARD WORK. The hours are insane and when you’re an independent producer you don’t get paid until it’s finished. After the 2nd film I collected a decent paycheck and embarked on a mental and physical health sabbatical. For 4 months I exercised, ate right and spent some time in therapy. Hello 140! In fall 2007 I ran my first races in over a decade. Now they gave you a shiny medal when you crossed the finish line. You could run in Disneyland! It was a new day. But as usual, 140 lb Angela didn’t stay around long. As soon as I started working again a few lbs began creeping their way back in.

I’m not sure why it has taken me so long to realize that 140 Angela is not my friend. She’s a tease and an idealistic expectation. She demands that I exercise too much and walk around hungry and grumpy. Quite frankly, she has probably completely abandoned me in middle age, yet I still yearn for her return. Please, come back. I even saved those crystal emblazoned jeans I had made for you in 1996!

But today, for my 53rd birthday, I’m breaking up with her once and for all. So bye bye 140 lb Angela. Let’s all take a minute and admire her. She was hot.

I’m giving away those crystal emblazoned jeans and that snowboarding outfit on the right. They’re out of style anyway. The number on the scale is bullshit. The numbers that count are numbers like blood pressure, cholesterol, and resting heart rate. Too many of my badass girlfriends are stressed out about some idealistic number on the scale that just isn’t reasonable. We are normal people with normal jobs and regular people metabolisms, not movie stars. So why do we hold ourselves to movie star body images? A good friend of mine quit running a couple of years ago because despite all of her friends saying she looked just fine, after years of training and multiple half marathons she could never lose that nagging 10 lbs. Well guess what happened when she stopped running?

The other night I was talking on the phone with another friend. Sunshine has very publically been on a quest to reach 199 lbs for a few years now. Along the way she has gathered a following in the hundreds of thousands. No pressure, right? Down over 150 lbs, ONEderland seems in sight, but as she gets closer, although not abandoned, it’s becoming less and less important to her. She’s more interested in what her body can do as she gets stronger and healthier and how it’s changing shape as she builds muscle and reaches goals on her journey.

So, I’m taking a page out of Sunshine’s book and focusing on finding balance and goals I can live with long term.

My birthday pledge to myself:

  1. Run! Do it because I love the way it makes me feel, not because it burns calories.
  2. Eat better! Because healthy food fuels my body and gives me energy.
  3. Enjoy treats! Allow myself balance and no guilt when I slip up. That just starts a vicious cycle.
  4. Abandon a weight goal! Who cares what the scale says? My goal is to look good and more importantly, to feel good.
  5. And finally, get back into good enough shape to keep up with FFTFL teammate Teri Brown when we run the Surf City Marathon next February. Because FRIENDS, FITNESS & FINISH LINES are what From Fat to Finish Line is all about.