Weight loss not impossible

After years of struggle, Monica Esnault devised her own way to get healthy

Advocate staff photo by CATHERINE THRELKELD --AFTER: Over two years and by following her own diet and exercise plan, Monica Esnault  has lost 160 pounds.
Advocate staff photo by CATHERINE THRELKELD --AFTER: Over two years and by following her own diet and exercise plan, Monica Esnault has lost 160 pounds.

People who have worked for years with Monica Esnault passed her in the hallway, at first not recognizing her new, slimmer profile.

Others have introduced themselves and asked how she lost weight, because they want to do it, too.

Esnault, 46, lost 160 pounds over the last two years after she methodically changed her lifestyle.

From her highest weight of 343 pounds, she now weighs close to 180 pounds and is in the process of deciding where she’d like the scale to finally settle.

“The promise I made myself was to do it in a way I could live with the rest of my life,” said Esnault, an assistant director with LSU’s office of bursar operations.

Esnault said she struggled with weight all her life, but had gotten it under control with diet and exercise in college and into her mid-20s. But, at some point, she began to feel she was losing the battle.

She enjoyed eating out with friends and, early in her career, she traveled enough to throw off an exercise routine.

Over the next two decades, she’d have some success with dieting and exercising, but it wouldn’t last.

“It just seemed, in my mid-20s, when I started gaining, I couldn’t get things back on track,” Esnault said. “It’s sad in a way. You don’t want to be overweight. Sometimes you feel like you can’t get control again.”

Her turning point came a few years ago when Esnault learned she was pre-diabetic.

“It was like a jolt,” she recalled.

Esnault had seen her beloved grandmother, who was diabetic, have to go on dialysis at age 88, in the final years of her life.

Today, Esnault has turned her health around. She is no longer borderline diabetic. Her doctor has also dramatically lowered the dosage of her blood pressure medicine, and Esnault hopes to soon be able to get off it entirely.

Esnault’s cousin Charlesetta Nganga of Macon, Ga., encouraged Esnault to share her story with others.

Nganga, who has Type 2 diabetes and is trying to lose weight, said that, as Esnault has worked to lose weight, she has reached out and supported others on that path.

“She’s my ‘she-ro,’” is how Nganga put it.

“It can be a lonely journey at times,” said Esnault, adding that her faith helped her through the challenging moments of changing her life. “I just encourage everyone (trying to lose weight) to do it in a way they can live with.

“I want everyone to know it is not impossible,” she added.

This is how Esnault lost weight and is keeping it off:

Menu change

Esnault, who used to drink five or six Cokes a day, went “cold turkey” and now drinks only water.

Esnault tailored her own diet, incorporating “only things I like because you can live with that.”

On previous weight-loss programs that focused on high-protein, low-fat or low-sugar diets, Esnault found that eating the same foods all the time (foods she didn’t much like anyway) didn’t last and she regained the pounds.

Among her “likes” are low-sodium, turkey-bacon sandwiches with fat-free cheese on wheat bread; fresh and canned fruit; frozen low-calorie meals; lean beef; red beans and turkey wraps.

“I build enjoyment into my meals,” Esnault said.

Esnault avoids fried foods and sweets. She doesn’t often eat between meals, but if she’s very hungry, she’ll enjoy something like a handful of cashews.

Dine in, not out

Esnault, who used to go out for most meals, now dines out just once or twice a week.Her friends at work have begun bringing their lunches, too — one of them sets up a card table in an office, and they visit and enjoy lunch together.

It’s OK to eat

“If it’s somebody’s birthday, I eat cake,” Esnault said. And, if she gets a craving for her favorite candy, Hot Tamales, “then, it’s on,” she said.

Step it up

Esnault began exercising a couple of years ago by going to a local gym and walking on the outdoor track.

“I’m going to come (to the gym) every day and walk around one time, if it’s all I can do,” she told herself that first time.

Before long, she was lapping the track several times to make a mile.

Today, Esnault works out at at two different gyms. She weight-trains on machines two days a week at one gym, and does cardio work, on the treadmill, elliptical and bike on the other days.

Esnault said her exercise plan has built up and evolved over time.

“I promised myself no excuses” to miss workouts, Esnault said.

“If I had only 20 minutes, if I had 15 minutes (to work out), I went,” she said. “I refuse to let circumstances limit what I can do.”

All in your mind

Esnault said she, “never said in my mind” how much weight she wanted to lose.

“I could not allow myself to think about it,” she said, “even though I knew I needed to lose 150 pounds.”

That would have been overwheming, so, instead, Esnault said she “always set 5- to 10-pound goals for myself.”

For example, she’d plan to lose a few pounds before a vacation trip or by the time an LSU football season kicked off.

“Then you get to enjoy success along the way,” she said. “That was key for me.”