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'At 300 Pounds, I Couldn't Carry Groceries Up The Stairs. Then I Learned The 80-20 Rule And Lost 150 Pounds'

Women's Health logo Women's Health 1/1/2020 Amber Clemens, as told to Emily Shiffer

a woman standing in front of a mirror posing for the camera: Amber Clemens weighed 300 pounds when she decided to change her life. She started counting calories for weight loss and used the 80-20 rule and lost 150 pounds. © Amber Clemens Amber Clemens weighed 300 pounds when she decided to change her life. She started counting calories for weight loss and used the 80-20 rule and lost 150 pounds. My name is Amber Clemens (@amber_clemens). I am 29, born and raised in Wisconsin. I currently live in Green Bay and work for a local construction company as an administrative assistant. I lost 150 pounds without fad diets or any gimmicks.

I can't remember a time in my life (until now!) when my weight wasn’t an issue for me. The first time I remember actively trying to lose weight was in middle school. I was diagnosed as borderline pre-diabetic, and my doctor told me to start keeping a food journal and to be active for at least 30 minutes a day. I think I stuck to that for maybe a week.

Being that young, I found it hard to make that kind of change while watching my friends eat whatever they wanted. After that, I tried to lose weight so many times throughout my life but I would always end up in a repetitive cycle of over-restricting my food intake, bingeing, and falling back into old habits. I was the *classic* yo-yo dieter.

My turning point came one night in May 2018, carrying groceries up the stairs.

I live in an upstairs apartment, so I often have to take multiple trips up and down the stairs to get everything. This particular night I had only taken two trips—and halfway up on my third trip I had to stop because I was so out of breath and tired. In that moment I realized I was done living that way. I was 27 years old, somewhere around 300 pounds, and I was having trouble doing basic life things all because of the way I was treating my body.

Also watch: Top diet trends: Mediterranean, Dash, Keto (Provided by TODAY)


I made myself a promise that this time had to be different. I was tired of feeling trapped in my own body and I finally felt mentally ready to make this commitment to myself. I began my weight-loss journey two weeks later, on May 30, 2018.

I first cut out fast food and started incorporating more fruits, veggies, and lean proteins into my diet. Simple, yet effective.

I wasn’t focused on a specific caloric deficit and I was not following a specific weight-loss program. I lost 20 pounds in the first month.

After that, I started to do more research and reached out to the resources I had available in my life to make sure I was doing things in a healthy, sustainable way. That’s one thing I knew had to be different for me this time around in order for this to work; I had to make healthy and sustainable lifestyle changes that I could actually stick to long term. 

Low quality pictures, high quality transformation. . . . Don’t worry y’all, I’ll clean my mirror 😬 but HAPPY TRANSFORMATION TUESDAY! . . Just a little reminder for all of you going into Thanksgiving to give yourself some grace! I’m happy that I am at a place in my journey and relationship with food where I understand that one or two indulgent days aren’t going to bring me back to where I was on the left. . . THE 👏🏻 SAME 👏🏻 GOES 👏🏻 FOR 👏🏻 YOU 👏🏻 One day of eating off track will not derail your progress if you don’t let it! I personally will be going into the holidays with moderation in mind but you better believe I’m going to enjoy all the yummy foods I want! I’m proud that I can look at a table full of amazing food and not want to binge, I’m proud that I can enjoy a proper amount, and listen when my body tells me I’m full. . . I want to enjoy this holiday with my loved ones without giving food all the power! Because yes, I have goals, we all have goals, but should they stop us from being present with our friends and family? Personally, I would say no. Don’t let food have that much power y’all! Listen to your body, remember everything you’ve learned that has gotten you to this point in your progress, and ENJOY YOUR DAMN SELVES!!! . . I’ve lost 150 pounds! 150 👏🏻 POUNDS 👏🏻 Y’ALL 👏🏻 I’ve worked my ass off to get to this point in my life! And an extra piece of pie isn’t going to stop me or cause me go to gain that back! . . Here’s to not letting food have all the power and us flexing our strong, healthy, totally kick ass, goal crushing power that comes from OURSELVES this holiday season! . . Ps- helloooooo flat stomach, nice to meet ya! Can’t believe this is me y’all! But I’m damn proud! . .

A post shared by // Amber // (@amber_clemens) on Nov 26, 2019 at 10:39am PST

Ultimately, this all led me to calorie counting, which is the simple tool to which I credit my weight loss. For me, counting my calories worked because I never had to completely cut out any certain foods if I didn’t want to. If I really wanted something, I could still have it, I just had to learn how to incorporate it into my daily caloric allowance.

Before, when I would try and lose weight, I always categorized food as “good” or “bad”—and now my outlook has totally changed. I realize now that there are foods that are more nutritious and make my body feel better when I eat them, and there are foods that are less nutritious but just taste really good.

I’ve found that what works best for me is focusing on fueling my body with foods that are nutritious and make me feel good when I eat them 80 percent of the time, and incorporating those other foods 20 percent of the time. Over-restricting never worked for me before, so I’m thankful I’ve found balance.

I’ve always loved an all black outfit, even at 300 pounds. 🖤 . . Happy Transformation Tuesday y’all! . . It’s crazy to think that in the picture on the left, I am almost exactly DOUBLE the me in the right picture! I weighed close to, possibly even was, 300 pounds on the left and now I’m here on the right, at 150 pounds! . . The physical changes I’ve gone through are clearly obvious but to me, these pictures represent a journey that has changed me and made me stronger than just the way I look on the outside. . . I found me while losing 150 pounds! I found things out about myself that I didn’t even know! I found my light! My confidence! My courage to be unapologetically myself! My worth! My self love! My knowledge that even at 300 pounds and every where in between, I was and always have been good enough just the way I am! It took losing half of me to bring all of this into focus, but I’m a better Amber for it! . . Will losing weight fix all of your problems? No. It definitely won’t. Especially if you go into this journey not willing to confront other things about yourself besides your want for losing weight. BUT, if you’re open with yourself and allow this change to help you grow in other ways, it will make you so much stronger in the end! . . Weight loss isn’t about FIXING yourself. It’s about loving yourself enough to make this change for YOU! I knew I was harming myself by living the way I was, so, I changed! I made myself and my health a priority, because I wanted to! And I’m forever grateful to myself for finally believing in myself enough to get to where I am today! . . .

A post shared by // Amber // (@amber_clemens) on Nov 12, 2019 at 10:48am PST

Here’s what I typically eat in a day now:

  • Breakfast: A yogurt bowl with Greek yogurt, berries, chia seeds, powdered peanut butter, sugar free jam, and cinnamon. I also enjoy an iced coffee with a scoop of protein powder.
  • Lunch: Typically I eat a huge salad with chicken, peas, cucumbers, spinach, kale, romaine, broccoli, croutons, cheese, and a low-calorie dressing, with a side of fruit.
  • Snacks: Quest protein bars are my favorite snacks. I also like veggies with some kind of healthy dip, rice cakes, fruit, or other protein treats.
  • Dinner: I love to cook and try new recipes, but there’s typically almost always some kind of lean protein and veggies incorporated somehow into my dinners.
  • Dessert: Any kind of low-calorie, high-protein ice cream does the trick for me. My favorites are Enlightened and Yasso.

Next up in the “Date Night” dinner series...”Juicy Lucy” Bison Burgers. . . . Okay y’all, the boy and I are kind of genius at whipping up last minute, healthy meals! The other night we were looking for recipes to make with the ground Bison I bought at Target the other week for a BARGAIN and ultimately decided to try our hand at Juicy Lucy Burgers! . . If you’re not from the MidWest, a Juicy Lucy Burger is a burger with the cheese stuffed inside of it, and yes, it’s as amazing as it sounds! . . I had never tried Bison before one of our first dates when he ordered a Bison burger and let me try it and it was SO good! So when I found a pound of it on sale for $3.99, I knew we had to try and make our own! I have to admit, it’s so fun being with someone who loves to cook with me! We have so much fun! . . Bison is surprisingly lean for red meat which is great for me! Plus it’s packed with protein! My entire plate came to 320 calories! FOR A BURGER Y’ALL! . . Breakdown of my plate: • 4oz of ground Bison split into two patties (190 calories) • Roasted broccoli and bell peppers (about 50-60 calories) • 1 Crystal Farms light string cheese ( 50 calories, used as the cheese inside of the burger) • Spinach • Pico De Gallo (because it’s yummy) I roasted the veggies at 425 until they just started getting crispy and seasoned them with garlic powder, onion powder, Italian seasoning, and Everything But The Bagel Seasoning We stuffed the patties with the cheese and baked them at 350 for about 20 minutes and they turned out great! Next time we’ll cover them to keep them a little juicier but they were still tasty! . . For our first time ever cooking with Bison, I’d say we did an amazing job! The flavor was delicious and we both really liked them! There’s a couple things we’ll tweak when we make them again but, if you’re a burger lover, try them! . .

A post shared by // Amber // (@amber_clemens) on Nov 1, 2019 at 10:22am PDT

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I started going to the gym the very first night of my weight-loss journey.

My friend had a gym at her apartment complex and we went there together. I had no idea what I was doing—all I knew was that I was determined to move my body for at least an hour.

We did all cardio that first night. I walked on the treadmill for 30 minutes. I also tried the elliptical but couldn’t last longer than 30 seconds. I switched to the stationary bike and did that for 15 minutes, too. We finished with some bicep curls.

That night, I went home and looked up gym routines that incorporated cardio and strength training and I stuck to those routines I found online (e.g., workouts on PopSugar Fitness on Youtube), while making adjustments to push myself as I lost weight. 

August 2018 -> October 2019 . . . The left picture is from 3 months AFTER I had started my weight loss journey! I was down about 40 pounds from my starting weight and I was already feeling SO MUCH BETTER! At this point I had gone from a size 22 in jeans to an 18, and from a size 3x in shirts to a size 1x, maybe even a couple xxl’s. Lol. I was about 250 pounds. . . . Fast forward a little over a year later and I’m here, the woman on the right! I’ve lost 100 pounds since the picture on the left! I’ve gone from a size 18 in jeans to a size 6 and a size 1x to a size small! I’m living my best weight maintenance life, I’ve made a lot of progress mentally AND physically, and I’m happier than I’ve been in a long time! . . . Progress takes time. Getting to your ultimate goal, if that’s even really a thing, will take more work than you realize. But, if you commit to you, yourself, your health, and your future, you’ll get there! I’m still working on me. I have goals, dreams, fears to conquer, accomplishments, and so many other things I’m working and focusing on. That doesn’t stop just because I’ve lost the weight. This journey is a lifelong commitment to MYSELF! Celebrate all of your milestones because they deserve to be celebrated! I was SO proud of myself at the point on the left and it makes me even more proud of myself now! You’ll grow and change in more ways than you know on your journey, but ultimately, you’ll find exactly who you’re meant to be. . . .

A post shared by // Amber // (@amber_clemens) on Oct 29, 2019 at 10:55am PDT

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TBH, physically going to the gym five nights a week became unrealistic for me, which is how I developed a love for home workouts. I could still get three to five workouts in per week, and it was much more convenient.

Currently I workout three to five times a week at home but I am going back into the gym in the new year. I am going to start focusing more on strength training—and being in a gym with tons of equipment will allow me to accomplish that better than I can through my home workouts. I am seriously so excited to get back in the gym and challenge myself.

I went from never working out to running a 5k this past August. If you had told me that I would run a 5k before the start of this journey, I wouldn’t have believed you.

From May 2018 until now, I've lost 150 pounds. I’m *so* much happier and stronger today than I ever thought was possible.

I am not a nutritionist. I did not study exercise science in school. I am just a woman who had a poor relationship with food her entire life. I used to eat fast food every day, sometimes multiple times a day. I was a secret binge eater. I would sneak food into my room/car/pockets and eat alone so no one would see. I knew I was harming myself but I didn’t understand how and wasn’t ready to change. Until one day, I was. 

I started slow, made simple changes, and things started to click. I am the epitome of, "If I can do it, anyone can do it." I changed for me and no one else. I embraced all the changes, both mental and physical, that this journey has brought me, and I’m healthier and happier than ever before.

There were times I wanted to quit and go back to my old lifestyle. But on my worst days I would remind myself of why I started and how miserable I felt that night on the stairs bringing in groceries. 

6 months at my job, 6 months of progress, 44 pounds lost, same bathroom mirror that so many of my coworkers have caught me taking selfies in. . . Well y’all, I’ve officially been at my job for six months! So I thought I’d share this side by side to show how much I’ve changed since my first week, until now. . . On my first day I weighed 194 pounds (thank you MyFitnessPal and me for keeping diligent track of these things), and I currently weigh 150.8 pounds, as of this morning! . . I’ve lost 44 pounds since starting here and it definitely shows. I’m just so much, for lack of a better word....smaller. My waist, my STOMACH 😱, my boobs, and you can even tell in what little of my face is showing (still waiting on a lesson on how not to cover your face in a mirror selfie). . . Just as important as the physical changes that I’ve made in this six months are the mental ones I’ve made as well. This has been such a time of learning, change, and growth in my life and I’m thankful for it all! I’m happier, stronger, more focused, and more sure of myself than I’ve ever been and I’m so proud to say that! . . As someone who has notoriously been kind of a doormat for people in the past, I’m really proud of myself for finding my voice, and my backbone, and realizing my worth and standing up for myself and what I want! . . I’ve always been nice, I’ve always been an optimist, I’ve always been an awkward, doesn’t like confrontation Introverted Extrovert, and I’m still all of those things, but when you start to truly value yourself, you realize that you also have to make yourself and your mental and physical a priority! . . Embrace change y’all! It brings great things to you and your life!

A post shared by // Amber // (@amber_clemens) on Oct 15, 2019 at 10:56am PDT

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