Before and After weight loss chef success story Virginia Willis

Staying Motivated: Real Life Self-Care and Weight Loss

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Skinny Chocolate Dipping Sauce

Self Care and Weight Loss are at the top of the trends in January. It’s a new year and lots of folks are looking for a “new you.” February comes around and it can be a bit harder to stay motivated. Chocolate starts looking more tempting.

I’ve been there! Who wants to feel deprived or eat sad food? Who wants to give up chocolate? Nobody. Read on to find out all about my day-to-day philosophy surrounding Real Life Self-Care and Weight Loss and why I call the system my “Life Guardrails.” Plus, how to make this seemingly decadent Chocolate Dipping Sauce that I know you are going to love.

Virginia Willis Before and After using Self Care Tips for Weight Loss

How to Lose Weight?

The new year is a great time to get started, but do you know what is really the best time to get started? The day you start! Who cares if you made a resolution and have faltered? Nobody.

I’ve lost 65# and kept it off for over 2 1/2 years. My attitude is that some days are better than others, but I figure that if I am on the right side of things more than not, then I am doing OK.

Self-care and weight loss are tricky. I’ve reframed it as:

health gain > weight loss.

Happiness is not found in a number between your toes. Wellness is not just about weight.

Virginia Willis Self-Care with Life Guardrails

What are Life Guardrails?

I’ve developed a series of Life Guardrails for Real Life Self-Care and Weight Loss. Guardrails are built along the highway at especially dangerous places to keep you out of the ditch and on the road. 

My life guardrails are eating healthy, exercising, and mindful behavior. 

Well, hell, Virginia. That’s not ding dang rocket science. 

Thoughts →Actions + Tools + Measure= Results

We have to dig a little deeper to transform the thought of a life guardrail into an action. Then, we have to discover or create the tools that will help you complete the action. Lastly, we have to assess and measure

  • I ASK myself, “Who Do I Want to Be?”
  • I determine the ACTIONS and TOOLS that will help me be that person. What Do I Need to Do? What Do I Need to Do It?
  • I ASSESS each day and MEASURE success in my journal. “Which Actions were Productive? Where do I Need Improvement?”  Writing it down makes it real to me.

Virginia Willis and Self Care Techniques for Weight Loss

Who Do I Want to Be?

I was unhappy and overwhelmed by the amount of weight I needed to lose. SIXTY-FIVE POUNDS? Are you kidding me? Instead of tackling that scary number, I decided to head in the direction of “healthy and strong.”

#1: Who Do I Want to Be? I Want to Be a Healthy and Strong Person.

Being healthy and strong is not a number, it is not a destination. It is a way of life.

→ The Life Guardrail Actions are to eat healthily and exercise.

Tools that help me accomplish my goals include the WW app  , better-for-you recipes like this Skinny Chocolate Dipping Sauce, and exercise dates with friends that increase my accountability. (I won’t blow off a walking date like I might blow off going solo.) 

Virginia Willis tips for Self Care and Weight Loss

#2 Who Do I Want to Be? I Want to Be a Clear and Focused Person

Like many, I can be guilty of numbing. Clear and focused is the opposite of numbing. Numbing is anything that “takes the edge off.” That means food, wine, shopping,  instagram… you get the picture.

Brene Brown says: “We cannot selectively numb emotion. If we numb the dark, we numb the light. If we take the edge off pain and discomfort, we are, by default, taking the edge off joy, love, belonging, and the other emotions that give meaning to our lives.”

If I want to eat a cupcake, I want to come at it from joy, not shove it down my throat because I am sad. If I want a glass of wine, I want to come to that from happiness, not numb my feelings with alcohol. I don’t want to start my day distracted by emails that can wait or mindlessly lose hours on Facebook.

→ The Life Guardrail Actions are to avoid numbing behaviors (+ plan on failure!), practice guided meditation, and educate myself regarding behavior modification and healthy habits. 

Tools that help me accomplish my goals include the Insight Timer app and time management management tools including Focus on my iphone or  the Pomodoro Technique.

Virginia Willis tips for Self Care and Weight Loss

#3 Who Do I Want to Be? I Want to Be a Calm and Graceful Person.

Your brain only has so much bandwidth. Creating a plan contributes to a sense of calm. Graceful is not only to describe someone like a ballet dancer or yogi. The term graceful means” full of grace.” The manifestation of grace is kindness in my eyes, one of my core values.

→ The Life Guardrail Actions are to follow a schedule and be kind

Tools that help me accomplish my goals include a general schedule taped to my cabinet to keep me “in line and on time.” I also have reminder alarms set throughout the day. 

Another tool that’s become indispensable is my Gratitude Journal. When I assess at the end of the day, I single out a kind action. Kindness has been shown to increase self-esteem, empathy and compassion, and improve mood. Science says so


How to Make Lasting Change?

The process is very logical – it doesn’t make it easy, but it is easy to make sense of. You are what you do. Little things add up. Instead of reaching for the full-fat ultra decadent ganache, make a swap for this Skinny Chocolate Dipping Sauce and fruit.

  • Who Do I Want to Be? I want to be healthy and strong; clear and focused; and calm and graceful.
  • What Do I Need to Do? What Do I Need to Do It? I need to act like the person I want to be and find the tools to help me do it.
  • How Did I Do? I assess and measure at the end of each day.

Virginia Willis tips for Self Care and Weight Loss

You Don’t Have to Bend Over Backwards

You don’t have to do everything all at once. My Life Guardrails evolved over time and are still growing. My journal at day’s end will often look something like this:

H&S: →(I kinda sorta ate healthy; I exercised)

C&F: ↓  (I avoided numbing; I did not mediate)

C&G: ↓ (Late for bed/schedule; yes I was kind)

As long as I have more in the “yes” column than the “no” column, then I am doing okay!  Do I sometimes mess up, hit the guardrails, and scrape the proverbial paint? Of course, I do. I’m human. Do I try to think about what I need to do better the next day? I certainly do and you can, too.

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Thanks so much for reading! Here’s the recipe for Skinny Chocolate Dipping Sauce that is silky, rich, decadent — and only 3 WW points for 8 luscious tablespoons.

I hope my “Life Guardrails” approach can help and inspire you. 

Bon Appétit Y’all!

Virginia Willis


Skinny Chocolate Dipping Sauce

Skinny Chocolate Dipping Sauce

Chocolate Dipping Sauce that is silky, rich, decadent -- and only 3 WW points for 8 luscious tablespoons? This dip was a revelation. It’s nearly point-free and yet it feels very indulgent. It is bold and deliciously bitter combination. Add confectioner's honey to sweeten, as desired, but give it a go on sweet apples like Honeycrisp and you may not need it.
One batch lasts about 4 days. Great for dipping fruit and as a fudge topping for Halo Ice Cream! I have used fancy cocoa powder, but I generally use Hershey’s Special Dark.
Prep Time5 minutes
Course: Dessert, Snack
Cuisine: American
Keyword: chocolate, chocolate dipping sauce, weight watcher recipe


  • 3 tablespoons dark chocolate cocoa powder
  • 3 tablespoons peanut powder
  • 9 tablespoons water
  • Apples or bananas ice cream if it’s serious, for serving


  • Combine cocoa, peanut powder, and water. Stir to combine. Serve with apples or bananas. Store in a sealable container in the refrigerator, up to 3 days.

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Virginia Willis

Georgia-born French-trained Chef Virginia Willis’ biography includes making chocolate chip cookies with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, foraging for berries in the Alaskan wilderness, harvesting capers in the shadow of a smoldering volcano in Sicily, and hunting for truffles in France. She is talent and chef-instructor for the digital streaming platform Food Network Kitchen. Her segments feature authentic and innovative Southern cooking. She was the celebrity chef at the Mansion at Churchill Downs for the 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby. Virginia has spoken at SXSW, cooked for the James Beard Foundation, and beguiled celebrities such as Bill Clinton, Morgan Freeman, and Jane Fonda with her cooking — but it all started in her grandmother’s country kitchen. Recently, her work has been inspired by her weight loss success story, Virginia has lost 65# and kept it off for over 2 1/2 years! “If a French-trained, Southern chef can do it, you can, too.” She is the author of Fresh Start; Secrets of the Southern Table; Lighten Up, Y’all; Bon Appétit, Y’all; Basic to Brilliant, Y’all; Okra; and Grits. Lighten Up, Y’all won a James Beard Foundation Award of Excellence in the Focus on Health Category. Lighten Up, Y’all as well as her first cookbook, Bon Appétit, Y’all, were finalists in the Best American Cookbook for the International Association of Cookbook Awards and were also named by the Georgia Center of the Book as “Books Georgians Should Read.” She is the former TV kitchen director for Martha Stewart Living, Bobby Flay, and Nathalie Dupree; has worked in Michelin-starred restaurants; and traveled the world producing food stories – from making cheese in California to escargot farming in France. She has appeared on Food Network’s Chopped, CBS This Morning, Fox Family and Friends, Martha Stewart Living, and as a judge on Throwdown with Bobby Flay. She’s been featured in the New York Times, the Washington Post, People Magazine, Eater, and Food52 and has contributed to Eating Well, GRLSQUASH, Culture, Garden & Gun, and Bon Appétit, and more. The Chicago Tribune praised her as one of “Seven Food Writers You Need to Know.” Her legion of fans loves her down-to-earth attitude, approachable spirit, and traveling exploits. Her culinary consulting company, Virginia Willis Culinary Enterprises, Inc specializes in content creation, recipe development, culinary editorial and production services, cookbook writing, media training, spokesperson and brand representation, and public speaking. Virginia is on the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Blue Ribbon Task Force, the Atlanta Community Food Bank Advisory Board, as well as the Community Farmers Market Advisory Board. She is a food and hunger advocate for No Kid Hungry and a premier member of the No Kid Hungry Atlanta Society. She a member of The James Beard Foundation, Chef’s Collaborative, Georgia Organics, and Southern Foodways Alliance.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Kathy OC

    Thanks Virginia. Really needed to hear this today. Met you at Rancho La Puerta years ago with my 2 daughters and we thoroughly enjoyed your cooking class!

    1. Tysm for reading!! Rancho La Puerta has really had a tremendous influence on me and my health journey!

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