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When it comes to weight-loss journeys, it often takes a significant life event for a person to realize they need to make a change. Sometimes it’s a health crisis — or the health crisis of a loved one.
For Toronto native Yovanka McBean, it was the death of her mother before she could reach her 60s. McBean had struggled with her weight since she was a pre-teen, attempting to work out from time to time with her late mother as an adult to turn things around. However, grief exacerbated the issue. She slowly started gaining more weight, turning away from the scale after she saw that she had managed to reach 250 pounds. She realized that her mother would not be proud of the ways in which she was letting herself go, so she stopped doing so. Approaching her 40th birthday, she decided to follow through with a goal she set for herself in her twenties, which was to run a marathon. Beginning in 2015, she battled through depression, workouts indoors (to avoid going to the gym, which made her think of her times exercising with her mom), and grueling runs to accomplish her goal. Four years later, the 44-year-old has lost 100 pounds naturally, and become a bonafide runner. She is on track to have run 13 virtual half marathons this year and to log 1,000 running miles before ringing in 2021. She is also in the best shape of her life, and the best space mentally that she’s been in a long time. So how did she do it? With small but substantial changes to start, discipline, and a belief that it’s better to get moving in the now than to watch yourself waste away and physically fall apart later.
“You have to do the hard things,” she told me over the phone.
“We’re just heading down this train where we’re letting things kind of happen to us as opposed to being in control of that train,” she added. “We’re given the idea that so much of our health is out of our control when the actual opposite is the truth.”
Learn more about her journey.
MadameNoire: Before starting your journey in 2015, would you say you were active and enjoyed exercising in any way?
Yovanka McBean: Oh no no. I was a fat kid [laughs]. I mean, my first exposure to Weight Watchers was when I was about 10 or 11.
So weight was an up and down kind of battle for you?
Yeah. It was probably something I struggled with from my pre-teens all the way into adulthood. And you know, it’s not that it yo-yo’d drastically, it was just that it was always there. Omnipresent. I think I probably started dieting as a kid back in the low-fat days [laughs]. And then you had the portion control days. Then you had the calories in, calories out. Then you have the exercise to lose weight thing. I’ve even done fat blocker pharmaceuticals. But I made a promise to myself, mainly inspired by Oprah when I was in my 20s, that I wanted to run the Marine Corps Marathon when I was 40. It was a quiet little thing that was in the back of my head. Then life happened. My mother got sick and I think in grieving her loss, I just continued to slowly gain. When I decided to make a change I tried Isagenix mainly because they adopted intermittent fasting into their program. Although I know I’ve done different programs, I thought, well, I could do it by building it myself or I could do it within a known structure and work within that structure. I just figured now is the time to start picking out something I could work within. So I did that and it was incredible in terms of the results. They were fast and furious. I think the first month I lost 20 pounds and then I consistently lost 10 pounds a month after that until I reached about a 100-pound weight loss. In 2015 I was 38. At 40 I ran the Marine Corps Marathon.
Were you ever nervous about how your body might react to your efforts as you got older? People always talking about how metabolism slows down and they say weight loss can be much harder as you age.
Oh absolutely. I think that was what motivated me to start. I knew if I was going to run a marathon at 40, even though I know it’s completely possible to run a marathon 100 pounds overweight, I didn’t want to [laughs]. I just thought, that sounds even more difficult than what running a marathon is supposed to be to begin with. So I wanted to set myself up for the best possible way to do it. I wanted to get to a place where training and getting fit made the marathon easier as opposed to the weight being another hurdle. I found myself at that age where everybody’s talking about their ailments and “oh I have high blood pressure,” and “I’m on cholesterol medication” and “I have to take this for me knees and my back.” I thought, what are we doing? We’re just heading down this train where we’re letting things kind of happen to us as opposed to being in control of that train. We’re given the idea that so much of our health is out of our control when the actual opposite is the truth.
How did your grief impact how you went about your efforts?
I was dealing with depression in my own way. I got a dog to keep myself from not leaving my apartment. I knew it would at least get me walking and some fresh air if I had to take the dog out. Subconsciously, I think I was trying to tell myself that I know I’m going to need to keep from isolating myself and becoming a hermit. But it’s easier to force yourself to do that if it’s for something or someone else versus for yourself. Getting a dog made it my responsibility to make sure I was taking good care of the puppy, and so I would have to take him out for a walk, versus trying to motivate myself to go out for a walk. And then you know, just taking care of someone when they’re ill and suddenly just being on your own, you end up rudderless. I think it was a part of me wanting to nest too, so looking after a puppy and taking care of something helped me to be motivated. I don’t have kids so it was a way of taking care of that need.
How would you say your diet changed?
I really had to focus on things like whole foods and no microwave dinners. It didn’t have to be crazy labor because I’m not a natural chef. I would buy fresh bagged salad and even if it meant paying a little more for chopped, pre-chopped vegetables, I would do that. I’m fortunate because I live in an area that has lots of vegetable markets and great natural food stores and I have access to these things. For others in more urban areas, now you’ve got these things like these HelloFresh food delivery boxes and organic delivery and I think we focus sometimes on cost in terms of the up front. But I had to shift my mind toward the cost long term in regards to my health versus financial cost. It’s all about priorities. Do I need to go to Starbucks or do I spend an extra few dollars getting fresh food? You begin to re-prioritize things like meal prep and what you’re prepared to spend on food.
How did you from working out at home, in order to avoid the gym, to running? I know you had the goal with the marathon, but did you have an interest in running outside of that beforehand?
I think it’s because I knew I had the goal. I didn’t actually foresee it as something that would transcend meeting that accomplishment of running that one race. It became a thing where I have mileage goals per year. I try to increase my mileage every year. I try to run a certain number of races at a certain distance. I’ve fostered a network of friendships through running. I’ve been able to help encourage others that I work with through running. It’s just become a thing and I get to share it with my sister because she’s not a runner, but we’ve done 10ks and 5ks together now. She’s gone from waiting at the finish line to joining me for events, which has really been nice. Even when I’ve occasionally gone to the gym over the last few years, it’s still a thing where I find I still can’t mentally focus on what it is I’m there to do as much as I’d like to. It might be a question of if it’s because it’s indoors. I really enjoy exercising outside now. I really find the fresh air and sunshine does a lot for my mental health. And I can focus.
What advice would give to women nearing and over 40 who might feel like starting a weight-loss journey would be too hard for them based on your experience?
I would say do it. Even if you’re intrinsically aware that there may be challenges as you get older, because even for me, my running isn’t as speedy from when I started. I’m not working out with the same intensity. But I’ve maintained my 100-pound weight loss and I’ve found more enjoyment in running. And I think my exposure to people who started their journeys even later than I have gives me that belief as well that you can do it. It may be challenging, but growing old sick is probably harder than getting healthy as you age. You would only realize that in retrospect so you have to keep that in the forefront of your mind to really help you push past the doubt.
You can follow Yovanka on Instagram, and be sure to check out the rest of our Fitness Fridays profiles here!