Linda Youkhan before and after her health transformation.
Linda Youkhan will never forget the moment she realized she needed to take
control of her health. It was a week before her son Logan’s second
birthday when he ran out the front door as they were leaving the house.
At 260 pounds, Linda couldn’t run fast enough to catch her son before
he darted into the street. Thankfully, there was no oncoming traffic at
that time, but it was the wake-up call she needed to make major change.
“After my son was born, all of my focus was on him and I stopped
taking care of myself. I was overweight, out of shape and really unhealthy,”
says Youkhan, 38, who works in human resources at St. Joseph Hospital,
Orange. “But it was that moment when he ran into the street that
I realized I needed to take control of my physical health so that I could
be a better mom.”
That turning point was in September 2013. Youkhan began her transformation
by taking baby steps. In the first year, she looked into
St. Joseph Health’s employee well-being program, called Choose Well, and started attending a weekly weight management program on her lunch
break, where she learned portion control and how to make better food choices—and
she lost a total of 50 lbs. In year two of her transformation, she started
to incorporate physical activity by simply walking.
“I am someone who had never regularly exercised before in my life,
and never played a sport,” says Youkhan. “The Choose Well
program was the stepping stone on my physical fitness journey. It was
perfect for me because I found a great way to start exercising simply
by walking and tracking my steps with my pedometer. I started walking
challenges with co-workers and I even started a Choose Well Health Mile
Walk for other employees to join me during their breaks."
Today, just four years since that frightful day her son ran into the street,
Youkhan has lost a total of 90 pounds and she lives an active, healthy
life with her now 5-year-old son. She goes for regular check-ups to see
her doctor and do her biometrics screening. She walks 10,000 steps a day,
participates in a boot camp three days per week, and takes hikes and beach walks.
What’s been even more impactful than the physical transformation
is the spiritual transformation, she says. “Having my son and having
this experience changed my life. I learned how to take care of myself
and I learned self-love. I realized that my body, mind and spirit needed
to be healthy so I could be there for him,” she says.
“I had spent my life being an emotional eater, and I turned to food
for everything, whether it was my joys or sorrows. Then I would do yo-yo
diets when I needed to lose weight for my wedding or a vacation, but I
didn’t have an understanding of what it truly meant to have a healthy
lifestyle,” Youkhan recalls. “Food really was like an addiction.”
Youkhan offers the following
four tips to others who are struggling to get their weight back to a healthy zone:
Find your “why.” “I had to find my reason why I wanted to do this – for me,
it was my son – and I had to always hold on to that as my internal
motivator. Even though I gave birth to Logan, he is the one who gave me
life,” says Youkhan.
Create a support system. Find family members and friends who are going to support your health goals
and not try to hold you back or sabotage you. “Finding the support
you need can be harder than you think it is,” says Youkhan. “I
couldn’t have done it without the support of my family and friends.”
Learn the basics. When it comes to losing weight and getting healthy, it’s all about
well-balanced meals, portion control and increasing physical activity.
“I had to find something I could do at my level, and it needed to
be an activity I would enjoy,” she says. “It took me some
time to figure it out. In the beginning, it was taking a walk around the
hospital a few times a day, and as I got healthier and more confident,
I began to try other activities, like boot camp.”
Build these changes into your life, permanently. “It was important for me to find healthy foods and activities that
I loved and saw myself enjoying for the rest of my life,” says Youkhan.
“This journey never ends for me. I’m always going to be faced
with decisions about what I want to put in my body.” Linda says
she had to change her relationship with food, and she now sees it as a
form of nourishment for her body instead of a way to self-medicate her feelings.
There are other ways she made permanent lifestyle changes. She got rid
of all the junk food in her house and now only has healthy snacks on hand
for her and her son. When she starts to feel anxious or stressed, she
no longer automatically reaches for something to eat, but instead has
conditioned herself to go for a walk or do some push-ups. Youkhan has
started spending each Sunday preparing healthy meals for the week, and
she’s trying out new recipes at home.
“Somewhere along the way, something just flipped in my mind. Now
I understand that living a healthy lifestyle means making choices, and
every day, I have to make the choice to eat better and move more,”
says Youkhan. “For the first time in my life, I feel like I’m
worth investing in myself.”