Tuesday, June 18, 2024

A woman lost 200 pounds over 2 years. It started by walking for 10 minutes and eating one nutritious food a day.

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The first time Leah Mancuso was called chubby was in third grade.

Mancuso, now 35, told Business Insider that she had been overweight her whole life until two years ago. She decided to begin a weight-loss journey that would see her lose 200 pounds.

The turning point? A family trip to Disneyland in March 2022 that was far from magical. At 388 pounds, Mancuso found it hard to walk around, she got a migraine, and had to spend most of the day sitting down on her own.

She knew things needed to change. Mancuso started making small tweaks to her diet and lifestyle, stayed consistent, and the weight came off.


Leah Mancuso

Mancuso on the Disneyland trip which became a turning point (left) and returning with her family nearly 200 pounds lighter.

Leah Mancuso



Now 188 pounds, Mancuso, a photographer based in Scottsdale, Arizona, feels like a new person.

“I now have the freedom to choose what I want to pursue rather than the size of my body or the limited endurance it had making the choice for me. And that is priceless,” she told BI.

At a time when many people who struggle with weight loss are turning to drugs like Zepbound and Wegovy, Mancuso has been sharing her story online to help people try to develop healthier lifestyles without medications, like she did.

Mancuso had always been overweight

Getting her driving license as a teen had played a big part in Mancuso’s weight gain. She suddenly had the freedom to get fast food whenever she wanted, she said.

She graduated from high school weighing around 300 pounds and gained about 100 more in the 14 years after.

Mancuso wasn’t a chronic dieter but tried plans from WeightWatchers and Jenny Craig. She always regained any weight she lost.

Up until March 2022, an average day of eating for Mancuso would start with a Starbucks venti caramel macchiato, a blueberry muffin, and a cheese Danish pastry for breakfast, but that wouldn’t keep her full for long. For lunch and dinner, she’d go to In-N-Out, Taco Bell, or Chipotle, or have a frozen meal, such as 12 taquitos or a pizza.

“I put no effort or thought into what I ate except for thinking about what I wanted to eat,” she said, and she moved as little as possible.

Comfortable in her discomfort


Leah Mancuso before losing weight.

Leah Mancuso before losing weight.

Erica and Jon Photography



Being overweight was all Mancuso had known, so in many ways it was her comfort zone.

While she faced issues due to her weight, such as not going on rollercoasters or booking flights because she needed two seats, it seemed easier to continue as she was.

“I was comfortable in my discomfort in my body because it was familiar to me,” Mancuso said.

Looking back now, Mancuso realizes she felt “weighed down” by her size.

She started immediately

The prospect of changing her lifestyle was daunting, but the Disneyland trip felt like rock bottom, she said.

Becoming an aunt had been “the greatest joy” of her life, she said, so when her sister, brother-in-law, and nephew invited her to Disneyland, she agreed.

“Within just a few hours I got a migraine, my feet hurt, my back hurt, I was profusely sweating constantly, and I just didn’t get to enjoy the day,” Mancuso said. “I had to spend half of the day by myself at a table with my head down and eyes closed because the migraine was so bad and I was trying not to throw up.”

On the drive back, she decided this wasn’t the life she wanted.

For the first time, Mancuso didn’t wait for a start date, she just started.

One nutritious food per day

Instead of trying to overhaul her whole diet, Mancuso started small by eating one nutritious food every day — the first was eggs.

Mancuso then started moving her body every day.

“Even just being on my feet for 10 minutes of walking was hard for me,” she said.

Walking felt sustainable, and sometimes Mancuso just walked on the spot at home: “​​I started walking in my backyard because I was too embarrassed to walk in public,” she said.

Mancuso’s focus was on building the habit, rather than the results. 10 minutes of walking grew into 20, then 30, then a daily goal of 8,000 steps.


Leah Mancuso

Mancuso gradually increased her walking.

Leah Mancuso



“It was still hard for me, but as it felt doable, I continued to add more on,” Mancuso said.

As she got fitter, Mancuso took up more activities she enjoyed, such as swimming and pickleball.

“All or something”

Mancuso had been an “all or nothing” person.

But this time, she changed to “all or something.”

“I really held onto that and was like, if I can’t do everything that I planned for the day, I can do something, I could take a five-minute walk. And that is building the habit,” Mancuso said.

Nutrition-wise, Mancuso progressed from eating one nutritious food a day to keeping a food journal.

After about six weeks, Mancuso started counting calories. Paying more attention to the nutritional content of different foods helped her learn how they affected her body and mood.

“I can understand a calorie deficit, and once I understand something, it’s so much easier,” Mancuso said. “It’s hard to continue to do something that you don’t understand or don’t have an explanation for.”

Her aim was not to eat as little as possible, but enough that she didn’t feel deprived while still losing weight sustainably, an approach recommended by experts. Mancuso didn’t drop her calories too low because she wanted to be healthy and keep her metabolism as high as possible, she said.

The scale is not the be-all and end-all

Mancuso weighed herself every four to six weeks because she didn’t want to risk feeling disheartened, she said. Experts have previously told BI that scale weight should always be taken with a pinch of salt because the number can fluctuate for reasons unrelated to fat loss or gain.

Mancuso journaled to remind herself that slow progress was still progress.

One month, Mancuso lost 14 pounds, another month, she lost five. She couldn’t notice anything obviously different between her lifestyle between those months, but learned to stay consistent and trust the process.


Leah Mancuso

Leah Mancuso on her weight loss journey.

Tara Dunn Photography



Weighing herself monthly helped Mancuso adjust her calorie intake as she lost weight — she started off eating 2,600 calories a day, but needed less as her body got smaller.

Mancuso focused on eating more healthily without cutting out her favorite foods and started saving fries or ice cream for social occasions.

At home, Mancuso tried to eat minimally processed foods, but she stuck to easy meals because she doesn’t like cooking, she said.

She returned to Disneyland 200 pounds lighter

In December 2023, Mancuso went back to Disneyland nearly 200 pounds lighter than her previous visit.

Her sister, brother-in-law, and nephew were there too — along with her second nephew who was born since.

It was “amazing,” she said.

“I was like, ‘Wow, this is what it’s like to be able to go somewhere and not be burdened by your body or your energy or your endurance level,'” Mancuso said.


Leah Mancuso

Mancuso has now changer her focus to maintenance.

Leah Mancuso/Tara Dunn Photography



She walked around with no issues and enjoyed the day with her family.

“Honestly, it just felt very freeing, and that’s what this is about for me: being free and just having the choice to decide what I want to do rather than having my body make the choice for me,” Mancuso said.

Mancuso said she has a lot of loose skin and may still decide to lose a little more weight, but she has moved to maintenance now.

“I don’t have a goal weight. I’m not trying to get to a specific pants size or be thin even,” she said. “I just want to feel good in my body and be able to do all the things that I want to do.”

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