Before: 152 pounds
After: 119 pounds
When I left home for college, I went from a stick-thin schoolgirl to being more than 20 pounds overweight. To try to get back to my high school size, I tried cleanses, becoming a vegan, eating more meat than you could ever imagine—and even taking weight-loss pills a trainer at my gym pushed on me. (Fun fact: Those pills are now banned.)
I also started a crazy-intense exercise routine. While eating 1,200 calories a day (and sometimes less), I endured six days a week of Muay Thai and CrossFit workouts—and I still wasn’t losing weight. Plus, I couldn’t sleep at night. I was burnt out, stressed, and hating myself for not being able to lose weight despite my insane eating and exercise habits. But even after all of that, I continued to gain weight.
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About a year after finishing college, I weighed 152 pounds and had a body fat percentage of 33 percent, which classified me as obese—despite my just-above-normal BMI.
I was so sick of all of the bad advice I'd been taking, so I set out to learn how my body really worked by becoming a personal trainer. Unfortunately, my personal training coursework hammered home the same old-school beliefs: Carbs make you fat, sugar should be totally eliminated from your diet, and protein should be eaten every two to four hours. Those strategies had brought me to the point I was at, but I decided to give them a shot anyway. Not surprisingly, abstaining from sugar and carbs and consuming protein like clockwork didn't result in any real changes.
About a year and a half after becoming certified as a personal trainer, I read about the importance of eating a balanced diet that doesn't eliminate sugary foods or carbohydrates. After everything I'd tried, I figured it was worth a shot.
I finally started eating carbs again and started following a 2,000-calories-a-day plan. On top of that, I tracked everything I ate by using MyFitnessPal and made an effort to eat some kind of fruit or vegetable at every meal. Before, depending on the diet I was trying, my meals would range from green smoothies with coconut oil to glasses of lemon juice water, maple syrup, and cayenne pepper. Now, I was eating oatmeal and veggie-packed omelets for breakfast; sweet potatoes, chicken, and veggies for lunch; and tacos for dinner. And for the first time since college, I didn’t deprive myself of ice cream, which I absolutely adore. I actually treated myself to a small cup on most days and still started losing weight. I kept up with my CrossFit routine and Muay Thai classes six days a week, but the dietary changes alone made the weight come off slowly but surely.
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The more I learned about flexible dieting, the more I wanted to find a trainer who shared my outlook on healthy eating to help me find an equally realistic workout routine. On Instagram, I discovered a fitness coach who lived near me and focused his training on flexible dieting and lifting heavy weights. I signed up for a few personal training sessions with him to test the waters. During my first workout, I couldn't do one pullup or one tricep dip—and I could barely overhead press 40 pounds, despite my devotion to high-intensity interval training six days a week.
I started lifting heavy weights four days a week and giving my body extra time to recover. And when I wasn't strength training with my coach, I did cardio I actually enjoyed, like hiking or walking my dog.
I also started tracking every workout I did and changed up my routine every six weeks. By keeping my exercises more consistent, rather than trying to “surprise my muscles” every day, I was able to get stronger and build more muscle to burn more calories.
About two years after I started changing my eating and exercise habits, I've lost 33 pounds and can do six pullups, deadlift 264 pounds, and squat 200! It feels so good to accomplish things I never thought I could. Today, I weigh 119 pounds and have brought my body fat down to 20 percent.
Now, I look forward to working out now because it gives me energy, instead of burning me out like it used to. I’m much happier because of it.
Learning the right way to get in shape has also helped my career as a personal trainer. Most of the people I work with are women between 20 and 40 who are trying to lose weight but feel stuck—just like I used to. I tell them that you don't need to put your life on hold by trying crazy cleanses or working out like a maniac to lose fat and look amazing. I really enjoy helping my clients prove to themsleves that they're stronger than they ever thought they could be.
Lift heavy. Some of my clients worry that lifting will make them bulky. But it's the fat on top of the muscle that makes you look that way. If you get lean through your diet and lift heavy, you'll look and feel stronger, not bigger. I used to shy away from lifting really heavy weights for that reason, but once my trainer got me lifting more weight than I ever thought I could, I ended up getting leaner than I had ever been.
Don't change everything at once. For years, I tried to makeover my body through elimination diets and all-consuming workout routines. But I learned those aren't sustainable or healthy. So instead of taking an all-or-nothing approach, I focus on making today five percent better than yesterday. For me, the means lifting just a couple more pounds, cooking one more meal in place of grabbing takeout, or going to bed 30 minutes earlier.
Don't be afraid of carbs. Once I started eating oats, quinoa, whole-grain bread, and even the occasional sugary treat, I found that I had so much more energy to burn at the gym. My workouts didn’t feel so grueling, and I was able to get a lot more out of them. Plus, I had more energy for everyday activities like walking my dog and taking the stairs.