If you have ever tried to lose weight on a short-term diet, you know how difficult that can be, especially when the pounds you lose keep creeping back every time you “cheat”.

But that’s because the key to long-term healthy living and fitness isn’t short-term dieting or working out but rather, building healthy life-long habits. Just ask Susan Zartman, a lifestyle coach from Worthington, Ohio, who recently lost over 137 pounds in just 1 year, simply by building healthy habits.


“I am committed to a lifestyle based on incorporating healthy habits into everything I do,” Susan told Popsugar, adding that a habit-building program helped her tremendously. “The program taught me so much about healthy habits and helped me become a much healthier and active person. Having [a coach] walk beside me from the very start and being a part of a community of like-minded people (…) were [also] key components to my success.”

But how did Susan’s long-term approach to building healthy habits naturally lead to her incredible weight loss? Find out below!

For decades, Susan led an inactive, unhealthy lifestyle. Up until October of 2014, she hardly exercised and did not focus on the nutrient content or portion sizes of her foods.

However, Susan had always wanted to lose weight. Throughout her life, Susan tried many fad diets, many of which were effective in the short-term. But the weight she lost always came back.


“I can’t remember everything I tried, but my attempts ran the gamut — diet pills, shakes, cabbage soup, grapefruit, countless diet programs, juicing, working out every day, skipping meals, high-protein/low-carb,” she admitted. “I was good at losing weight, but once I stopped the deprivation, I went back to my old habits and gained it back.”

It wasn’t until February 2014, when she found herself in the doctor’s office for weight-related issues, that Susan began to rethink her relationship with food and weight loss.

“[My doctor] wanted me to consider gastric bypass surgery, but I knew that wasn’t for me,” she recalls. “My sister underwent Roux-en-Y bypass surgery in 2007, and I saw firsthand that if you don’t change your lifestyle and the way you think about food, the weight will come back. I knew I needed to make a change.”

So Susan kept an eye out for a fitness program that will help her lose weight by building healthy, life-long habits for every aspect of her life. In October 2014, Susan was introduced to a health-based, habit-building program called OPTAVIA – and managed to lose her first 25 pounds by the start of 2015.


“One day, my friend invited me to participate in an online health game,” Susan explains. “There, I was part of a healthy community, OPTAVIA, where we were learning healthy habits.”

Over the next year and a half, Susan built up healthy habits, one at a time – and managed to lose over 137 pounds.

Susan now maintains a healthy lifestyle full of positive habits. Every day, she eats 5-6 meals consisting of nutritious, portion-appropriate foods every 2-3 hours, to avoid overeating and getting hungry. She also reviews menus before she goes out to eat, and orders only lean and fresh options. Exercise-wise, she enjoys water aerobics one to two times a week, as well as long-distance walking.

Susan’s biggest tip for building and maintaining healthy habits? Turning difficult habits into a fun game!

“I wear a Fitbit Charge HR [when I walk]. When I first started wearing it, my daily step goal was 3,000… then 7,000, and now I am aiming for at least 10,000,” she explains. “I find it motivates me to do a little more – to park a little farther out, to walk an extra lap around a store. [It] also lets me know when I have been sitting more than I should be.”

All in all, Susan credits her online community and guidance from the habit-building program, OPTIVIA, for holding her accountable and motivated in the fun, game-like race to become healthier than ever before.

“Since beginning my journey, I became an OPTAVIA Coach. I want to help others discover the health and the hope I have found,” says Susan. “If you are like me and have a history of failure when it comes to losing weight and keeping it off, it may feel like you are trying just one more thing, but you are worth it! It is possible.”

Tips for Building Fun, Healthy Habits

lose weight healthy habits group

If Susan’s story teaches us one thing, it’s that losing weight and living healthy building healthy habits can be fun!

So if you’re looking to build life-long habits to get fitter and healthier, check out some fun, motivating ways you can start now:

  • Reward yourself for your progress. Use programs and mobile apps like OPTIVIA, DietBet, or Habitica, which turn your positive habit-building into a motivating game. As for exercise, try using Fitbit to keep track of progress or an augmented-reality running game like Zombies, Run!
  • Bundle the “hard” things with the “good” things. Condition yourself to associate something positive with something you find hard. For instance, pick a fun audiobook and listen to it only while you exercise to increase your chances of sticking to your workout routine every day.
  • Find an accountability partner. Eating better, getting exercise, and losing weight can be easier to stick to (and more fun!) when you’re doing it with supportive others who will hold you accountable to your goals. So find a friend, family member, gym partner, or even an online community to encourage you to become healthier.
  • Challenge yourself to just 21 days. You can form any habit by sticking to it for just 21 days. So try out a lifestyle change by challenging yourself to it for 21 days. You’ll want to keep the habit going, long after the challenge is done.

(Years ago I changed my entire life. Click here to read my story. You can do it and you don’t have to do it alone!)

Getting in shape can be easier said than done. But building fun, healthy habits with the help of accountability partners will make the process easier –  or, at the very least, more enjoyable!

*Article originally appeared at The Hearty Soul.