Would you believe the girl in the pink (and red) shirt was me just over ten years ago? I had just moved to Redondo Beach, CA from Washington state in the year 2000 and spent much of my time at the bars, drinking. I had gained nearly 33% of my normal body weight in fat and was almost unrecognizable to my mom (and even to my friends who've never seen me overweight).
I didn't do anything drastic, no crazy diet or exercise. Because I was sedentary to begin with, I simply started walking 30 minutes daily on the treadmill and every other day, incorporated circuit training after a 10 minute warmup on the treadmill. Slowly I started to cut my food intake by a little bit and made better food choices (more vegetables and less rich food with sauces). As my physical health improved, so did my taste for healthier foods.
The irony of the largest weight gain of my life was that I was already thin to begin with but had started to gain weight from eating butter and richer foods (not normally part of my diet which was introduced to me by the boyfriend I was dating at the time). Confronted with needing to lose a few pounds, I didn't know a thing about dieting and exercise because it was something I never had to do before. Instead of cutting out the foods I didn't normally eat, I took up a strict diet and crazy exercise program for a solid month. When I didn't see the results I had expected on the scale (it budged one measly pound), I went off the deep end--in the other direction eating anything and everything I felt I had deprived myself of -- Whoppers, french fries, Twinkies, chocolate, donuts, etc. until I ballooned by 20 pounds. At some point I stopped and realized what I had done to my body and I tried every diet there was to lose weight, with no success. Every failure led to more frustration and weight gain--up another 20 pounds. Then after moving to Redondo, it didn't help that I started drinking and I drank in excess (mostly mixed drinks which no doubt had lots of sugar). Finally I had reached a weight gain of 43 extra pounds and realized I needed to change my habits, a sedentary life and cleaning my plate of rich foods.
Ironically when I finally started to lose weight, I didn't go on a crazy diet (my diet didn't change drastically) and I didn't exercise like crazy. I ate the same things, just a little less and I started walking on the treadmill every day for 30 minutes. My pace wasn't very fast; it was at a speed I was comfortable with given my fitness level. Every other day, I would warm up on the treadmill for 10 minutes and then do circuit training (three rounds of upper and lower body strength training with no rests in between). As my physical health increased, my taste for rich foods changed and I preferred healthier foods. The weight started to drop off after about 3 months. I don't really know exactly when or how much because I stopped weighing myself. Once day I noticed I tried on older pants I had hung on to and was stunned that they were loose on me!
Things continued to improve from there. I learned a lot from my experience. I learned that consistency is the key. If you're eating a little less than you were and exercising a little more than you were doing, it will translate to results but it takes time. By the same token, the results will likely become more permanent because eating and exercising will be part of your lifestyle and new habits. Just like it takes a while to gain weight, it could take a while to lose and keep it off. Sure there are diets and methods that will yield faster results but ask yourself, is it something you can stick with for the rest of your life? Because once you go off the diet and resume your previous way of eating, the pounds will creep back on.
I use the word "weight" but I really mean body fat percentage -- weight is merely a measure of the force of gravity on your body mass. If you're overweight, the scale can be a good indicator of weight loss but once you're at your ideal weight, then looking at body fat percentage is more accurate. I've been leaner at a heavier weight, and I've been "fatter (carrying more fat)" at a lighter weight so the numbers on the scale doesn't really tell me much about body composition, only my weight. If I were to give any advice to anyone who is in the position I was in, I'd say, just be sure you do physical activity every day (I know it's hard to do with our crazy daily lives and conveniences everywhere) and eat foods that are good for your body, for me - they are mostly vegetables, fruits, seafood, seeds, nuts, seeds, fats and oils (from avocados and plants) in moderation, limited dairy, wheat and rarely any meat. Need motivation? Two movies I recommend and can be streamed from NetFlix, "Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead" and "Food, Inc.".