Edmonton couple Brian and Erin LeBlanc have lost a combined 200 pounds over about two and a half years, by cutting portion sizes, introducing exercise into their lives, and putting a stop to emotional eating.
Losing weight is simple in theory, but hard in practice.
“Growing up — we’re both from Nova Scotia — part of East Coast culture is, you know, food around celebrations and things like that. So food and emotion was a big part of our life before, and trying to sort of decouple that, or create new habits around how we viewed food was very important,” Brian LeBlanc said.
The heartbreaking revelation
The couple met when they were in junior high, and started dating a few years later. They got married young and tried to have a family — but it just wasn’t possible.
“We had gone through a really rough couple of years,” Erin LeBlanc said. The couple had two miscarriages, including an ectopic pregnancy. Afterwards the couple found out it wouldn’t be safe for Erin to risk another pregnancy. “Which was really rough and just, like, medically terrible.”
Erin said it was a difficult thing to accept, especially being a woman because “there is so much pressure to be a mother.”
“So we fall into the ‘child-free by circumstance’ group. It took a whole lot to work through that but we are so much happier now,” she said.
The moment everything changed
The couple had always yearned for adventure. When they moved to Alberta, they fell in love with Jasper National Park.
“Erin and I had always wanted to have fun adventures together, and had always had these dreams of being very physically active and climbing mountains, doing things like that, but our weight had always sort of held us back,” Brian said.
“At one point, something just clicked and we decided to make a big change.”
After learning they couldn’t have children, The LeBlancs were left trying to figure out what was next. Erin said the “aha” moment came while watching the Disney-Pixar film Up.
“The first three minutes will just like rock you to your core,” she said. “But that’s our story: the couple who meet young, get married young, and they hope for a kid and they can’t have one, and then they live happily together — but they’re always like waiting to go on their big adventure.
“So after crying for, you know, a good half an hour, I re-watched it and at the end of the movie I was like, ‘We need to adventure now.’ So that became my theme.”
Instead of mourning the children they would never have, the couple decided to embrace being “child-free by circumstance.”
“From there it’s been about two and a half years and together we have lost a combined 200 pounds and honestly, it feels like we have a whole new lease on life,” Brian explained.
How they lost the weight
Brian said he struggled with his weight his entire life, but it really started creeping on in his 20s when he was in college and graduate school. He said his bad food habits carried on after graduation, and it wasn’t until getting settled into a career in Edmonton that they began making small, sustainable changes.
“I would say the biggest change, for the both of us, was around how we viewed food,” Brian said.
The couple began following CiCo, which stands for calories in, calories out. They logged everything they ate in MyFitnessPal, weighing and measuring all their food. Among the changes: cooking more meals at home, restricting alcohol to special occasions, and drinking more water.
Brian said they switched their mentality on food: instead of it being tied to celebrations and emotional events, the couple began looking at food as fuel.
“What I want to stress too, is that it wasn’t sort of a ‘light switch,’ right? We’d always, throughout our lives, we’re looking for this big ‘light switch’ moment and I think that’s what led to a lot of sort of, false starts — a lot of starting and stopping on different diets and things like that,” Brian said.
“The approach this time was really around making a lot of small changes over a long period of time. So those new habits around weighing and measuring food — we still enjoyed the same food that we always had, we still ate ice cream and potato chips, just in smaller portions — and over time we switched to those more healthier foods, more filling foods, incorporated fitness and exercise into our life.”
Erin said she no longer comforts herself with food.
“So if I’m sad, I let myself be sad. If I’m angry, I let myself be angry. The food is just an aside, it doesn’t help me cope with my feelings anymore. I figured out how to deal with that on my own.”
The couple said there is still room in their lives for celebrating with food or eating with family, but they are much more mindful of what they are eating.
“It’s been a long series of small changes and seeing the numbers on the scale going down, and seeing what we call and have experienced as ‘non-scale victories’ (NSV) as well, have been extremely motivating,” Brian said.
What about the exercise?
In two and a half years, Brian lost half his body weight — going from 250 pounds to 125 pounds. He got into running in early 2015, and said after his first run his lungs and heart felt like they were going to explode. But he continued, and completed his first half marathon in two-and-a-half hours.
Running is a high-impact exercise that can be hard on the lower body. “When you’re running you’re hitting the ground at about double your weight,” Brian explained. He was still over 200 pounds when he started long-distance running and ended up getting a stress fracture in one of his feet.
Instead of stalling his progress, it fuelled his drive.
“Not only was it sort of a performance thing for me — that I want to be lighter so I can run faster — I want to make sure that I’m injury-free going forward. I want to keep running for the rest of my life. It’s something I really enjoy, something I love doing, so that’s a motivator as well.”
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Erin said she was bored of sitting at home when her husband was always going to the gym, she she joined him about six months later.
“So I started counting calories along with with Brian and going on runs.
“And it turns out I’m not the biggest runner in the world. I will run, but I’m very resentful while it’s happening to me. He gets a runner’s high. I do not. It doesn’t happen to me.”
She reluctantly ran for a year, until she injured her hip and upon the advice of a sports physical therapist, started lifting weights. She joined an eight-week Woman on Weights program through the City of Edmonton.
“To get you from walking in the gym to going on your own, and I fell in love. I haven’t stopped. It’s my favourite thing!”
Erin has lost about 70 pounds, going from around 200 pounds in 2015 to her current weight of 130 pounds. She lifts three to four days a week, along with 20 to 30 minutes of running beforehand. She also does one long run a week as part of training for her first half marathon.
On top of the regular discomfort from delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), Erin dealt with the pain of fibromyalgia. She said losing weight was the best thing for managing the chronic illness.
“I just kind of powered through and listened to my body and after about two months most of my symptoms were gone,” she explained.
“When I’m reaching a new PR (personal record) for weights, or the first time I could do a real pushup by myself, I cried because I was so excited, because I always felt weak. And now I can feel strong.”
Erin said the illness forces her to rest more and can lead to frustration, but having Brian there to listen and support her has made the journey much easier. “He has always encouraged me to do better.”
Erin’s goals include squatting her own body weight, performing an unassisted pullup, and holding a plank for over a minute. Brian’s goal are to increase his core strength to help with running, and complete his next half marathon in under 90 minutes.
Now they literally climb mountains and save thousands
The couple had a list of adventures they were working towards — but Erin’s biggest was to climb mountains in Jasper.
“Because we had been there once and I had fallen in love. And we were at the bottom of a mountain and I was like, ‘I want to climb this mountain, but I can’t walk for more than 10 minutes.’ And since we’ve started, we’ve climbed lots of mountains and it’s our favourite place to go. So it all kickstarted with the movie Up.”
“We’re doing those fun things, we’re climbing those mountains, running those races and doing all sorts of fun stuff together,” Brian said.
One other non-scale victory? Big savings in the bank account. Brian and Erin have been saving more than $600 a month by not eating in restaurants. They have paid down over $22,000 in student loans early and are saving for a vacation home in Phoenix, Ariz. To learn more about Brian and Erin’s journey, visit their blog.