Two years ago, Lizz Farrell Lewis, 39, part owner of the Farrelli’s Wood Fire Pizza chain, weighed more than 250 pounds. After her young daughter commented that she was a big mom, Lewis decided it was time to make a change. Since then, she has made significant improvements to her health and lifestyle, including losing half her body weight — no easy feat when you are surrounded by cheesy goodness.
As a child, Lewis was active and loved to dance. As an adult, however, working in the restaurant business took its toll on her health. She ate meals at the DuPont location that she and her husband, Patrick, manage, and because the job is so hectic, she’d often eat standing up. Lewis would wait until she was overly hungry to eat, leading to less-than-ideal food choices. With two small kids, 3 and 5, fast food and processed food also were a part of the family’s lifestyle.
In June 2013, Lewis started her journey back to health, starting with small changes, including giving up wine and diet soda and walking every day. Once she started taking better care of her body, she found she was making healthier food choices. A few months later, Lewis contacted her sister, Katie Farrell, a registered dietician, who suggested additional changes, like limiting her daily calorie intake to 1,800 and recording everything she ate.
“If you bite it, you write it,” she says.
After that, Lewis found that the weight came off quickly, and as it did, she had more energy to cook, exercise, work, and keep up with her kids. Lewis also upped the exercise ante, walking two miles to work and doing cardio at a local gym daily. One of the most successful tactics Lewis used was setting short-term goals for herself like losing eight pounds by her birthday or dropping a dress size for a special occasion. The goals never exceeded 10 pounds at a time, and Lewis created incentives for herself by buying an outfit in a smaller size or cute exercise clothes. Support at home also helped.
“My husband has inspired me,” Lewis says. “He is just the right amount of supportive.”
Last summer, she reached her goal weight, and she stays on track by weighing herself daily. She has not varied from her goal weight by more than three pounds, and she feels better than she has felt her entire adult life. She plans to continue this healthy lifestyle, so instead of talking about “before” and “after,” Lewis says “before” and “during.”
“It isn’t about how you look; it’s about how you feel,” Lewis explains. “My decisions now are based on how things make my body feel. The strategies I’ve developed are totally doable for the rest of my life.”
Throughout the process, Farrelli’s employees noticed Lewis’ weight loss, sometimes asking for advice. Eager to help others, she nudged her family to consider making changes at work. With some prodding, they eventually agreed, so she and Skye Heaton, a friend and registered nurse, are developing a wellness program that will include health, exercise, and nutrition classes. Heaton says this type of program is unique for smaller companies that often don’t have the budget to support employees in this way, but she expects this to change.
“In the future, I see worksite wellness programs being a very integral development for employee growth,” says Heaton.
In addition to sending out inspirational emails, Lewis has started The Fit Club, a voluntary group that works out together on Sundays and supports each other with diet and exercise.
Heather Espinoza, 40, a service manager and bartender, jumped right in. She enjoys trying new fitness classes, like the classes at Barre253, and having the support of her co-workers, whom she considers family. Since starting the program this spring, Espinosa reports she is more conscientious about her eating habits and finds the positive attitudes of the club contagious.
“It’s a fun way to restart and have a group commitment while holding yourself accountable,” she says.
In addition to the wellness program, Lewis worked with Mike Rutledge, Farrelli’s director of kitchen systems, to develop six new menu items, called Farrelli’s Fit Club Favorites. These delicious dishes are available in full or half portions and range from 280 to 570 calories each.
As Lewis guides her staff on their own journeys, she continues to focus on a healthy lifestyle rather than weight loss.
“While I changed my diet and started moving my sedentary body, what I really did was totally change my mindset. I bought healthy cookbooks, fitness magazines, and subscribed to or ‘liked’ motivating and healthy Facebook and Instagram pages,” Lewis explains. “My life was inundated with a message of health, fitness, and overall wellbeing. I cut out anything that motivated me and posted it all over my house, where it remains. I changed every facet of my life from unhealthy to healthy. Slowly but surely, my body caught up to my mind.”
Lewis’ Top 10 Tips for Healthier Living:
- Eat mindfully. Always sit down to eat.
- Never allow yourself to get hungry.
- Drink lots of water.
- Find an exercise you like, and try new things.
- Set small, achievable goals and write them on your calendar.
- Record your food intake daily.
- Create incentives and reward yourself for progress.
- Plan your meals and snacks in advance.
- Follow Jillian Michaels’ 80/20 rule, making healthy choices 80 percent of the time, but allowing yourself occasional treats.
- Focus on improving your health, not on weight loss.