Fifteen years ago, as her weight was at an all-time high, Stacey Barga hit rock bottom.
“I was mad at myself for getting as overweight as I was. I was extremely limited in being able to do day-to-day activities, including with my kids, and I was usually the largest person in the room,” said Barga, a senior manager who works in Coverage Review Operations for pharmacy benefit manager Express Scripts, which is part of Evernorth (Cigna Corporation’s health services division). “I had essentially just given up – which is what fueled my anger, and in turn fueled my motivation to start doing something about it.”
Once motivated, she never turned back. “This journey is a lifetime commitment, and it will never be over,” she said. “It has taken me years to get to the right mental and emotional mindset to lose weight, exercise, and love myself. While losing more than 220 pounds through eating and working out, I have found that perseverance, determination, and a never-give-up attitude can take you a VERY long way.”
We asked Stacey about her journey and for her advice to others who want to improve their health.
How close are you to your goal weight, and what are your plans when you get there?
I have 10 to 15 pounds to lose to get to my goal weight, but currently, I’m focusing more on continuing to eat healthy and to keep moving. When I got to my highest weight, one of the things I promised myself is that I would donate food, clothing, etc. to others as I was able. When I hit 150 pounds lost, I donated 150 pounds of food to a local food pantry. When I hit my goal of 230 pounds lost, I plan to donate 230 pounds of food. When I maintain my loss for six weeks, I will donate $230.
I was quite poor growing up and had very little. I believe this "pay it forward" mentality can make such a difference in someone's life.
How have you lost so much weight – and kept off?
I use WW [Weight Watchers] as my main tool for learning strategies to eat right, such as portion control and healthy food choices, and for adjusting the way I view things in this journey. I attend weekly WW meetings in person to meet with likeminded people who share the same struggles and help to support each other through it all.
Taking care of myself includes working out a minimum of three or four times a week with cardio and weights. During the warmer months, I prefer to do all or most cardio outside in the form of walking, cycling, and hiking. For downtime, I very much enjoy reading, all things art oriented/creative, and going to flea markets.
I’m honest with myself about what I eat, so I’m never surprised by what is on the scale. I’m trying to learn to use the scale as a tool, and not the end-all as to whether or not I had a successful week. Even the best weeks, food-wise, sometimes don’t equate to what you think you should see on the scale.
I allow for a weekly food treat – typically on Sundays – which can be anything. This approach to eating helps to keep this journey doable for life. When I go off track, I allow for it; then I get right back to business. I remember how miserable I felt at my heaviest, the health issues I had, the lack of enjoying life – and I push myself to get up and move, and to start back with eating healthier. The food will always be there, but my health can easily go downhill if I’m not careful.
Cigna has provided some tools and programs that help, too. I have been a team captain for Cigna's Global Wellness Challenge for a number of years. Having a competitive nature, this type of challenge motivates me to push even harder toward my wellness goals (physically and emotionally). In addition, Cigna has provided me with access to the Foodsmart app, and I’ve spoken with registered dietitians through the Cigna program.
How has your overall health improved?
So many things have changed physically, but also emotionally. Physically, I can hop on a bike and not worry that I weigh too much; I can walk 5ks. (I don’t run due to a full knee replacement surgery in 2021.) I do at least five or six 5ks a year, and I cycle regularly during the warmer months – from 15 to 20 miles to as many as 50 miles a week. I can hike, and I can lift weights. My only challenge is getting fatigued from the workout – which is awesome!
I used to be on a blood pressure medicine, and I had to stop taking it when my blood pressure began dropping too low because of how much weight I’d lost and how active I had become. My doctor told me I’m the exception, as most patients need blood pressure meds for life once they start. He was so impressed!
I can buy whatever clothes I want. I’m not limited anymore by what plus-sized clothes are available, and it’s opened up a whole new world in terms of where I can shop. When I travel, I no longer require seat belt extenders. I fit into movie seats with no problems.
Emotionally, I am much more positive, confident, and willing to try things that I was scared or embarrassed to try before. I truly love myself, and I know that I am capable of doing so many things, which fuels me to keep pushing.
How do you stay motivated?
Motivation is a funny thing, and it can come in waves. I am often told I am an inspiration to others, which means so much to me. I know what being miserable in your own body feels like, and I know what feeling free – with fewer physical restrictions – feels like. The difference is night and day. I hope my story will give someone else the motivation to get to that point, where they love themselves enough that they will keep fighting the good fight until they reach their goals.
Do you have advice for people trying to make a big lifestyle change?
Take the time to live your life. Remember to NEVER give up. Have confidence in yourself. Always do the little things that have a positive impact to someone else – you never know how much a small gesture on your part can make a huge difference in someone's day – or in someone’s life.
Related: The Fundamentals of Effective Weight-Loss Management
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