Valerie Okleshen's weight-loss journey started like so many other women.
Growing up in Flossmoor, she had been an "average, normal weight," although she didn't consider herself very athletic. In high school and college, she was about a size 8/10. But, after college, she started working a full-time desk job. The Palatine resident was in a happy relationship and she and her then-boyfriend (now husband) often ate out at favorite restaurants.
"It's what happens to so many women. You hit 24, you get a typical desk job, you find a man and going out to eat is one of your favorite things to do," she said. "And I just started packing on the weight."
Before she knew it, she was carrying just over 200 pounds on her 5'7" frame.
When she was 28, she and her husband, Brian Matokar, who also had gained weight, decided to make some healthy changes.
The story of her journey, which resulted in a 70-pound weight loss, is captured in her self-published book, "Two Hundred to Grapes." Okleshen will be speaking about her story at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 21, at Midtown Athletic Club, 1760 N. Hicks Road in Palatine.
The first step, she says, was eating at home.
"At first, it didn't matter what it was, as long as we ate it at home. Then it grew from there. We started firing up the grill. Then, let's try fish," she says. "Then the same thing for lunch at work. I used to pick up fast food every day. Now I bring all my food."
The book is about the progression of changing habits in a way that made it permanent, she says.
Her best tips for those starting out: think slow and steady; set reasonable expectations; forgive yourself and keep trying.
"I had bad days. For me, it was one meal at a time. If you have a bad meal, get over it. Don't let it stop you from trying again the next meal," she said.
The book is also about fears.
"There's so much stuff I was so afraid of, like coming to the gym," she says. "But I eventually came and realized that no one is watching me; that none of this is as hard as I thought. The machines aren't that scary. Literally, you get on and there's a green button you hit to start it."
Okleshen, now 34, has maintained her weight-loss for three years. But, she says, the journey continues. She still struggles with snacking.
"The snacking at night kills me," she confesses. "It's always a struggle."
After her weight loss, Okleshen says she was constantly being asked how she did it. From co-workers, to acquaintances on the train, everyone seemed to want to know her "secret." So, she decided to write a book, and she hopes her story will inspire others to start their own journey to a healthier lifestyle.
"When people who are dealing with struggles or problems hear the stories from people who have done it, it helps them. And maybe if I'm open and honest and vulnerable, it might help them," she says.
"I'd like it (the book) to help women. I had one woman already email telling me it had inspired her. That was such a happy day for me. Being of service to others is the most important thing I can do."
Okleshen's presentation at Midtown is free and open to the public, but registration is required by calling (847) 991-4646.
A free preview of "Two Hundred to Grapes" is available at Amazon.com/Kindle store. It is also available on http://www.lulu.com/ for iPads, Nooks, iPhones, etc. The book costs $3.97.