The tweet from @Sweetsoaps was simple:
“Used to be size 18, now 8. Watched my mom die slowly from diabetes at 59. Changed my life.”
Intrigued, I had to find out more about Ellen Cagnassola’s weight loss journey. I knew Ellen casually from a few tweets on Twitter, but this was the first time we connected and shared stories. Ellen is the owner of Sweet Soaps, maker of the famous “Santa Coal” that was a #2 hit on Amazon in 2010. I learned that Ellen had never shared her weight loss journey in a public way. She chose instead, to focus on her business.
“It’s hard to share this story, it’s so personal,” said Ellen. “All these years, I’ve focused on my business and what I’ve accomplished, but after seeing your story and Carrie Wilkerson’s story (The Barefoot Executive), I realize, I’m human– and I achieved great success with my business and weight loss. I see that’s a big part of me and I want to share it. My story might inspire someone else, the same way I’ve been inspired by other weight loss stories.”
Ellen’s weight first began to pile on after her first baby was born. Her mother was diagnosed with diabetes, a condition that both grandfathers also had. Six years later, her second child was born. “I focused on taking care of my mom, bringing her to different specialists,” said Ellen. She went to dialysis three days a week. It was hard, because my mom relied on me. I knew she was very sick and she would never get better. So I became depressed and filled that with emotional eating.”
Ellen’s “wake up call” and her “aha moment” came after she lost her mom to diabetes. “My kids were robbed of their grandmother,” she said. She began to realize if she didn’t take care of herself, she would be putting her children in the same situation having to care for her should her health decline. She wasn’t feeling good; she was tired all the time and she dreaded having to go out in public for her business. She avoided having her picture taken whenever she could. When that “aha moment” hit, Ellen was determined to make changes. She went off to the library and gathered twelve books on fitness, nutrition and weight loss. Pop and fast food were the first things to go. She also stopped herself from eating after seven p.m.– a habit that was tough to break– as she often filled herself up emotionally after a stressful day.
Ellen was too embarrassed to go to a gym, so she purchased a treadmill and began working out in twenty-minute increments three times a week. With the lifestyle changes, the pounds began to melt off. “When you start eating healthy, your body actually begins to crave veggies instead of candy,” said Ellen. “Going to Whole Foods became a religious experience–they have that island with all kinds of food–I was shocked at how delicious it was!” Ellen still digs into the occasional piece of candy, chocolate or cookies, but she makes sure to balance it all with healthy food throughout the day.
Last summer, Ellen found herself deep into a business negotiation and the stress began to pile up. Instead of turning to food, Ellen began to walk five miles a day around a nearby track, five days out of the week. Not only did she drop three more sizes, she found that it was a great time of reflection. “I would listen to my music and think about my day–I would envision what I would do during the day and it was very empowering,” Ellen explained. “I thought how would I handle this or that, and it became a good mental workout.”
As she went from a size 18 to a size 8, people began to notice and compliment her on the changes. “I stopped weighing myself,” said Ellen. “I’m wearing jeans that wouldn’t fit me in high school. I don’t give a crap what the number is on the scale. When people recognize how good you look the number doesn’t matter.”
Looking back, Ellen remembers sitting with her mom for six days as the last days of her life dwindled. She listened to her rhythmic snoring– and like her mom, Ellen snored heavily too. At her heaviest weight, she would wake in the middle of the night after a bout with sleep apnea, and find herself choking. Acid reflux was a daily battle and she took medicine twice a day to combat the reflux. Today, she no longer takes medicine and she can chug a glass of orange juice without thinking twice about it. The lifestyle changes she incorporated gave her overall health a turn around.
“I kind of think because society tells you as women and mothers, your focus should be on one place– on your children. I did that for a long time, then I realized that’s not what’s best– you have to take time to work on yourself,” said Ellen. “You have to be a little bit selfish about what makes you happy and what makes you feel good. It’s important to take care of yourself– take a painting class, something that interests you and makes you feel happy. The foundation of youth is happiness. When you’re happy, you look younger and you smile more.
“When you feel good about how you feel and look physically, it oozes out of you,” Ellen continued. “I think other people are attracted to your positive energy– then that happiness gives you confidence.”
- Ellen and her husband celebrate 21 years