Amber Aarts has always struggled with her weight. At 21, she weighed 450 pounds. She is still trying to lose weight, but is no longer doing it alone. Eating healthily and staying active have become a family affair for the 42-year-old nursing student from Vancouver, her husband Jamie, a systems analyst, and their four kids Kelsey, 15, Keira, 12, Kassidy, 8, and Kourtney, 7.
After seizing the opportunity to lose weight together, thanks to an invitation last year to appear on X-Weighted, a reality show on the Slice network, the Aarts family have lost nearly 150 pounds collectively - and kept it off.
The diet: "I had gastric bypass surgery about 18 years ago and managed to lose 200 pounds. But I didn't really change anything after that. I've been yo-yo dieting for years. I'd lose 100 pounds, gain 100. But I always did it by myself. I've tried everything: Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers, surgery. I've never put any of my kids on a diet. I've tried to watch what Keira ate, but never put her on a diet per se. I had been looking into things because my 12-year-old struggles with her weight like I always have, and I wanted to change that for her. I didn't want her to live what I have lived."
The biggest challenge so far: "It's probably been the hardest thing we've ever done. People don't realize this, but food is what you do for fun. It's what you do to make yourself feel better. It's what I did to show my kids that I love them. Getting rid of that thinking was really hard. Portion control is still hard. I used to give my kids big portions without really realizing it. But it came up in my nursing program what a portion size should be. I look back on the pancakes I would give the girls and they're literally the size of a big dinner plate. At the moment it didn't seem big, but now it's like, 'Holy crap!"
The current plan: "We've tried to focus more on being healthy than on losing weight. I wanted to change how we ate so that we could be healthy and live longer. If you have a healthy weight and a healthy lifestyle, it encompasses so much, like your self-esteem and everything. My husband and I grocery shop together. We make sure there's no junk food in our house. We're just trying to choose healthier foods and be more active. We all go for walks together. Sometimes we'll go to the pool. With two older kids and two little ones, it's hard to find something everybody likes to do."
The goal: "We don't have a specific goal. We don't think of ourselves as being on a diet. It's not a diet, it's a lifestyle. Diets are temporary. This is my life, and this is the way it's going to be for the rest of my life. We just try to eat healthy and stay active. If we do that for long enough the weight will fall off. It's working. I've lost 30 pounds. My husband lost 30 pounds. My oldest daughter has lost 40 pounds. Keira lost 8 pounds and the little two lost 17 to 20 pounds each."
How it's going: "It's a struggle still, but it's good. We're not so divided. We all have the same goal; we're all watching what we're eating. This morning, Kassidy went to get a bowl of cereal and actually took a measuring cup out. I've never taught her to do that. I've pointed out what a serving size is just so that they would realize that. Everybody's on the same wavelength. You can see the effect it's having on the kids. They're definitely more outgoing, especially the older ones. And the little ones' teachers have said that they're more active and they run around more at school."
This interview has been condensed and edited.