Comedian George Carlin once said, “Some people see the glass half full. Others see it half empty. I see a glass that's twice as big as it needs to be.” That is to say, the only thing more important than reality is our interpretation of it. Perspective is everything.
And, so much about success depends on our perspective. Take Jen Wagner, for example. She’d tried and failed for seven years to lose weight and live a healthier lifestyle until she saw things from a different angle. Even in the smallest moment, she saw everything she needed to be successful on her journey—all it took was a sleeve of Oreos and a new way of thinking.
That moment set off a journey that would eventually lead to Jen losing 100 pounds, amassing a huge following on Instagram, and now helping people start their own journey towards health. And, speaking of perspective, Jen has plenty of it now, which is why we thought it’d be a great time to talk about her story and what she’s learned from it.
In our conversation, we cover the myth of quick fixes, why weight doesn’t matter, and the fact that sometimes the hard way is actually the easiest way. Here’s Jen Wagner.
Iron Flask: Could you briefly walk us through your weight-loss journey?
Jen Wagner: Sure! In 2018, I was 28 and one hundred pounds overweight. I went to a doctor appointment, the doctor told me I was morbidly obese. I was an athlete my whole life and I had never struggled with weight at all. I was so active. I could eat whatever until I got married. Then, from the age of 21 to 28, I gained a hundred pounds and just felt trapped. It wasn't me. I had tried for seven years to lose weight, trying all the quick fixes, all the easy stuff. Of course, none of them worked.
And then, there was one night I was with my daughter and she was watching me eat a sleeve of Oreos one after the other. I was watching her watch me. I remember thinking, “She's going to think it's okay to eat like this and she's going to eat like that. She's going to be overweight. It's going to be my fault.” I couldn't handle the thought of that, and it was the fire I needed to get my ass in gear and stop trying to do it the “easy way.”
So I started trying to lose weight the healthy way — changing my diet and moving a little bit more. I started documenting it on Instagram, just for myself. It was private. I hit 30 pounds and told my husband that I had been doing it on Instagram. He said, "That's a big deal. You should make it public.” So I did, and in the following year, I amassed the following that I have now just by sharing my weight loss journey. It got picked up by some big names — Women's Health Magazine, The Today Show — so it was just a big snowball.
I ended up losing one hundred pounds in a year, documented the whole thing, and have pretty much been maintaining a healthy lifestyle since then. I'm a certified personal trainer (CPT) now, and do one-on-one nutrition coaching to help other people do the same.
Why do you think those original “quick fixes” weren’t working?
All of those schemes, all of the quick things, they don't teach you anything. You follow their program, and most of them just drastically cut your calories, which yes, gets you results fast. The first round of weight you'll lose will be water weight, and anything beyond that just depends on putting you in this huge calorie deficit that’s not maintainable. When you stop eating that way, everything comes right back because you were just starving yourself before. There is no quick fix. It’s a lifelong change.
Was there a moment when you knew this attempt was different?
I had hit the 30-pound mark, which is a pretty big number, and I wasn't miserable. I was enjoying what I was doing, so I had no desire to stop. The first two weeks are always the hardest. It freaking sucks. But, I just kept going past those two weeks. I lost 30 pounds in about a month and a half, maybe two months. I just knew this time was different. I had no desire to stop. It was easy. I was enjoying it. It was just totally different this time.
It seems almost paradoxical that the “hard way” is easier than the “easy way.”
For sure. Honestly, that's how I maintain my weight now. The thought of ever going back, it won't happen. The hard work that it took to get there not only taught me so much, but it felt so good. And that's what works. So seeing my own results, knowing that you actually did it, I wasn't using any program or gimmick. I changed my diet and I was moving more and it was all me. Knowing that I was making this happen was super empowering. It makes you want to keep going.
You weren’t doing a program, but there had to be some sort of strategy, right?
I started with my doctor, which was something new for me. Most people don't want to start with their doctor on a weight loss journey. Granted, a lot of them do write you off. They're like, "Eat less, move more." And that's really all they give you. But, I have PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) and insulin resistance, which are usually one of the same. So, I knew that carbs were bad news for me. My doctor told me to cut the carbs and sugar because my body cannot process them the way other people can. So, that’s what I did.
I went extreme. I did 50 net carbs or less a day, and that's all I tracked. The thought of calorie tracking back then very much overwhelmed me, but having one macro to track, staying under 50 grams of net carbs, was manageable to me. I did that for eight months, and that's how I lost the bulk of my weight. But, I wanted to learn how to incorporate carbs back into my diet because I knew I wasn't going to eat that way forever. I switched to regular calorie tracking where I did allow myself more carbs and let my body adjust to having carbs again, and that's how I lost the last 20 pounds.
What were the hardest moments for you during that time?
The first few weeks are always the hardest to keep going because they suck. But, I was so sick of my own excuses at that point, after seven years, and I knew I had gotten to that point because I just didn't keep freaking going after two weeks. That's what helped in the beginning when it was hard
Also, the times where you go out with your friends and they all order anything they want to order is hard. I just reminded myself that the goal that I'm currently working towards doesn't match what these people are doing. Why would I copy what they're doing when we're not working towards the same thing? During those harder times, I gave myself one cheat meal every single week. Not a cheat day, but just one meal where I allowed myself to go over those carbs. I always reserved that for time out with friends. But, ultimately, the hardest part was reminding myself that what I'm working on doesn't match everybody around me. It's going to be different for me and that's okay.
Where would you say you are currently on your journey? Have you “arrived” or do you feel like there are new challenges ahead?
When I got to my goal weight, I didn't know that BMI was so outdated, and I was sickly. I'm an athlete. I've never been tiny. I'm not meant to be petite, but that goal weight, that's what the doctor said I was supposed to be at. So when I got there, it was unmaintainable for me. I looked sick. I was so weak. I just didn't feel good at all. I maintained that BMI for a couple months before I realized this is not the place for my body. Just because I was skinny didn’t mean I was healthy.
So, I went up to 150 pounds gradually and that’s where I stayed for two years. That was easy to maintain because of everything I had learned — tracking calories, eating the way that I ate, and knowing what made me feel good. I always say, “discipline now equals freedom later,” and that's exactly what happened to me being so strict and disciplined during that first year.
Then, in 2020, I got diagnosed with a brain tumor and had to have surgery to remove it, which flipped everything upside down. I gained about 10 pounds and realized I wanted to build some muscle. I was still lean, but I didn't really have any strength. I worked on building muscle and stayed at my new happy weight, which was usually 155 to 160 pounds for another year. And then, a few months ago, I hurt my foot and became sedentary for the first time since I started this journey. I was couch bound for four months and I gained 20 pounds.
So, right now is the most I've ever gained post weight loss, and I'm in the weight loss journey again. It's totally different this time, but it’s still hard work. It's really good for me to be experiencing this, to remember this for my clients that I have now. It sucks when you only lose a half a pound a week, but it's the healthy way. It's maintainable, and I know that.
Now that you’re working to lose weight again, what’s one piece of advice you’d give to someone who hasn’t been there before?
My first piece of advice is to drink more water. When I wake up in the morning, I always have an Iron Flask on my nightstand filled up from the night before. I wake up in the morning and drink as much water as I can. I wake up thirsty. My mouth feels gross, and I just want to drink something. So many people will go until lunchtime before they realize they haven’t had any water today. That’s a lot of catching up to do. It sounds so simple, but I feel like it’s what people need to hear.
Particularly for women in our culture, there seems to be so much pressure attached to a certain weight. How do you keep things in perspective?
The weight stigma is so hard. I’m 33 and I was brought up that the number on the scale is the only thing that matters. I've been 170 pounds where I still had fat on me, and I've been 170 pounds where I didn't have much fat and I was muscular. I actually have a side-by-side photo of 170 pounds during weight loss and 170 pounds post weight loss with muscle, and you would think I was lying if I told you they were the same weight.
Seeing how vastly different I can look at the same weight really changed my mindset about the scale. It's a tool, yes. It's a tool that can be useful. But, it's not the only thing that matters. The overall goal is to feel better. If you feel better, who gives a shit if the scale says you're up five pounds? If you're happy and you're able to eat well and you're enjoying your life and you're staying there, who cares?
It's so ingrained in us to be at a certain number. Finally, we’re starting to change where the world seems to not be making such a big deal out of you being at a certain weight. There should be a weight range. I do believe in weight ranges, but a specific weight, that's stupid.
From 2018 to now, how have you seen yourself change as a person?
Literally, everything about my entire life changed. I was miserable. I was grumpy. I was snappy with people. I was very judgy. That's the biggest thing that's changed. I don't judge people anymore. I'm not bitter when I see somebody healthy. I'm like, “Dang, they worked for that.” Back in 2018, I always said something like, “It must be nice to be naturally skinny.” Once I had to put in the hard work to make myself look like them, I realized that nobody just looks like that. Nobody is just healthy. They work on it. They put in the time.
Obviously, being happier is great, but having the drive to make sure my daughter stays healthy is even more important. I want to learn all of this stuff so I can teach her how to be healthy. No matter how you swing it, when you're a certain amount overweight, it's unhealthy. I believe in body positivity and accepting all sizes, but having hundreds of pounds of excess fat is unhealthy no matter how you dress it up.
I've always been an optimistic person, but I became even more so optimistic when I decided I wanted to help other people who feel like I did. I know what it’s like. It seems like nothing you do works. But I want to let them know it can. It does.