Transformation Tuesday: Liz’s Story
How did I go from before to after?
Well, here we go. I guess I could start by telling you when I was in about second grade, a group of neighborhood kids and I started ourselves a club.
When we tried to figure out what we’d name the club and what activities we’d do together, I was the only one to suggest it be the “TV Club” because really all I wanted to do was sit on the couch while eating hot pockets and string cheese.
I quit pretty much every sport my parents enrolled me in.
I’d try for about a week (if they were lucky) before I gave up because I felt fat and stupid, moving around in a body that felt foreign to me and over which I had no understanding or control.
Gymnastics? Karate? Ice skating? Nope, nope and double nope! Just let me eat the string cheese, please.
Growing up, we didn’t have many active, healthy role models; our family gatherings mostly centered around sitting and eating. A lot of our family is pretty overweight so that just seemed normal.
We’d go nuts over things like Orange pop (yes I’m from Michigan, we say pop) and Lay’s potato chips dipped in that super thick ranch dip. You know the kind I’m talking about — it’s the one that’s basically just a vat of mayonnaise.
SO SOMEBODY JUST LET ME START THE TV CLUB, OKAY?
Well guess what. I did start it. But the trouble was… I was the only kid in the neighborhood (besides my sisters) who participated (sad but true story).
Literally every single day after school we’d come home, watch TV for a good 2-3 hours while eating Easy Mac & Hostess cakes, then have a frozen dinner later and reluctantly go to sleep, only to get up and repeat the cycle the next day.
Not until middle school did all that change. Peer pressure and the “teenager syndrome” forced me to start caring about my weight. You probably know exactly what I’m talking about…
I joined a couple sports teams because my friends did it so I thought that was cool. At our school, it was also commonplace for girls to skip meals entirely, so I thought that was cool too.
I literally wouldn’t eat until after school, AT ALL. Nothing. If I did, it would be a couple nibbles of a gigantic M&Ms cookie that was twice the size of my head.
Either that or just 2 stale breadsticks from the cafeteria.
At the time, I drew this picture of my “ideal” look for me and my sister.
And all that was considered normal growing up in Michigan.
Whatever weight I lost in middle school by not eating, I gained back ten fold in high school.
I gained on average ten pounds per year, sometimes more. I had some rough times in high school. I mean really rough.
Getting bigger and feeling hopeless about it felt horrible, so I rebelled and took my frustrations out in very unhealthy ways. I skipped class. My grades dropped. I bleached my hair blonde. I lost my orchestra chair because I stopped practicing and started doing drugs instead.
I had mood swings like crazy and it probably wasn’t unrelated to the fact that I treated my body like crap.
I’d eat Burger King, McDonalds, Baskin Robbins, or you name it for lunch… I ate pretty much any junk food I could get my hands on. At the time I felt sad and food seemed to be the only thing that made my life a little better, even if it was just for a second.
Senior year, I started dating a guy who didn’t go to my school. He was awesome, but he was also really depressed. We bonded over that.
The only times he seemed really happy were right after exercising.
Any time he’d have a really bad day he would exercise. He told me how much better it’d make him feel and then he taught me how to bench press. 🙂
Even though I liked it, I never did it on my own, thinking that type of thing “wasn’t for girls” and that I’d get “bulky” if I lifted weights like him.
He was my first exposure to the positive influence exercise can have on a person’s life…
Jason worked at an ice cream shop and a pet store, and I’d meet him after school to go on walks around his neighborhood a few times a week, one of the few times I’d be doing something other than sitting on a couch.
One day we carved our initials into a wooden park bench by his house. He was my prom date, my best friend and the first person I ever really loved.
But shortly after high school ended, he moved, we broke up and I went off to college.
Months later I received an unexpected phone call that changed my entire life.
It was a mutual friend of ours, and I was alone in my dorm room between classes…
“Hey Liz, it’s John. Do you have a second?”
“Yeah, sure, just on my way to class. What’s up?”
“I don’t really know how to say this… but it’s about Jason…” *lonnnnnng pause* “He shot himself.”
“…Wait, what? … (complete silence) … How do you know that? Are you sure?”
“Yeah I’m sure. He went missing after his lunch break at work, so somebody went to his house to check on him. He shot himself. Liz, I’m sure.”
I collapsed on my twin bed, not quite sure how to feel.
I was in shock and horror and sadness and disbelief. And none of it seemed real until I saw him myself…
Jason’s funeral was open casket. I’m not really sure why, but it will stick with me forever. People around me were crying, some more than others, myself included.
It was especially difficult hearing his mother and younger brother talk about him as they said their final goodbyes. When it came time to say my last words, I stared at his cold lifeless body in front of me, face mangled by a permanent decision made over what could have only been a temporary problem.
I placed the pink pearl bracelet he gave me for prom in his casket and held his hand one last time, his cold lifeless fingers pressed between mine. I promised him I’d do all the things we had only dreamed about and that no matter what, I would carry him in my heart forever.
At that moment, I had a turning point. I mean a complete 180.
His suicide for me changed absolutely everything. It changed the way I view the world, it changed my perspective of the time we all have here, and it changed the way I treat the family and friends I care about most.
It changed my perspective of self, it changed my priorities in life, and it forced me to make a definite decision to follow my dreams now, not tomorrow or “someday” in the distant future.
He was 19-years-old when he died and I’m sure he’d have no idea at the time, but his death changed me as a person entirely.
Everything in Michigan reminded me of him, so I packed my bags and moved west to California. I needed a new start, I needed to be in a place where nobody knew who I was or where I’d come from.
Knowing the immense pain that comes with losing someone you love pushed me more and more towards living a healthier life, which to me at the time just meant not being overweight and unhappy anymore.
Unfortunately, the only way I knew how to do that was through the method I’d used in middle school — not eating. So that’s exactly what I did.
A brochure at Rite-Aid told me that 1 pound = 3500 calories, so it turned into a numbers game in my head where all I had to do was deprive myself of a certain amount for long enough and eventually I’d be skinny and happy.
I restricted my calories so much that I would not allow myself even 1000 calories a day — that’s less than an infant needs to survive.
On top of that, I ran a minimum of 3-5 miles every day. At that point in my life, losing weight was as simple as a math equation and it became a complete obsession for me to just get “skinny” because I equated that with being happy.
That worked, I guess… I did get skinny. I got extremely skinny.
I got so skinny that I was just “skin and bones.” But here’s the thing. I also got sick.
I wasn’t healthy, and I certainly wasn’t happy. I had no muscle. I ran so much I got knee problems and I was in constant pain, but I wouldn’t stop.
I was anemic but I wouldn’t eat. I blacked out a lot. I’d collapse out of chairs mid-conversation on hot summer days after running like seven miles without food.
When that happened, a friend carried me home so I could lay down. It was embarrassing, but I was obsessed.
In a typical day, I’d allow myself to have a Ziploc baggy of baby carrots and one baked potato. :\
Every once in a while, I’d have a frozen lemon popsicle or a few spoonfuls from a Ben & Jerry’s quart of ice cream.
I’d get crazy headaches all the time and I always felt tired. I couldn’t focus for long periods and certain smells and sights would literally make me feel sick to my stomach. I felt frail and weak and the only thing that made me feel good was knowing that I was in 100% control over the number on the scale.
I knew what was happening to my body wasn’t right, but I didn’t have any real motivation to change until our dad started having serious health problems during my junior year of college (details here).
Watching our dad become paralyzed from the waist down due to him ignoring what his body was telling him was enough to scare me into stopping what I was doing, which I logically knew wasn’t good for my health.
I distracted myself by staying really busy in school and I gave that 100% of my efforts instead.
Being so busy in school, I didn’t have the energy to keep restricting my calories as much. I was still having a lot of knee problems because I kept running though; I liked the endorphins I felt after a good run and I honestly didn’t know how to do anything else.
Runs made me feel like I was still in control despite the fact that I started to notice I was slowly starting to gain all the weight I had lost back. The number on the scale started creeping up on me like a bad horror movie, so I just buried my head deeper in books.
Though my knees hurt all the time (which I would later come to find out was because I had multiple overuse injuries), I didn’t know what to do.
I didn’t know enough about training and nutrition yet to really know the correct steps to take.
A few months later Sara had to get hip surgery because she had followed my footsteps and copied my unhealthy behaviors of calorie restricting and excessively exercising (more on her story here).
I’d feel guilty being able to exercise and move while she was still in rehab, and after a couple weeks of trying to “secretly” go on runs anyway, I eventually got discouraged from having to hide my workouts so I pretty much just quit altogether.
I gained all of the weight back that I had originally lost PLUS SOME, and I can’t tell you how frustrating this was for me.
Sara and I both felt pretty bad at this point but she couldn’t run and I didn’t want to make her feel bad so I didn’t either. It really scared me that at such a young age she had to get hip surgery over an obsession she had with running and restricting, an obsession that I had planted the seed for.
That was when we decided to do an at-home strength training program together instead.
It was the beginning of a complete health and fitness transformation for us both.
We slowly started seeing strength gains and energy improvements. I started feeling better, physically and mentally. I started naturally losing fat without really trying.
My muscles started to develop, but not in a manly way. In a toned, healthy female way.
My goal shifted from being “skinny” to actually being healthy. I let go of thoughts like being undeserving of food, or thinking that I couldn’t have certain foods at all, ever.
I stopped hiding what I ate from others and no longer felt the need to sneak “cheats” here and there. Instead I focused on incorporating healthier foods more often and doing my best to workout daily because that’s what made me feel good.
Sara and I were recognizing the benefits of strength training and proper nutrition together, and we were hungry for more. Though Sara continued to struggle at the time of my transition towards wanting to be in good health versus wanting to be a certain weight, I was determined to be a healthier role model for her.
I felt very guilty that my bad decisions had caused her to make similar bad decisions. As an older sibling, I felt a serious responsibility to fix that and become a more positive influence on my baby sister and best friend.
We both registered for UCLA’s Fitness Leadership Program, a year-long intensive practical and theoretical program which taught us everything we needed to know in order to become effective, safe and knowledgeable trainers.
UCLA is huge on emphasizing that fitness should not be about looking a certain way, getting a certain body shape or hitting a certain number on the scale. I met some of my best friends in that program and what I learned there only solidified my personal experiences and decisions to be healthy over trying to be a certain weight even more.
Over time, I started craving completely different types of foods — foods that would fuel my workouts and make me feel good throughout the day instead of the old types of foods I’d eat growing up that I came to learn actually made me feel sick, tired and bloated and by no means helped me get through any workout. I no longer felt sad or tired all the time.
Now people ask me how I always have so much energy, and it’s definitely 100% from exercise and eating clean.
By improving small lifestyle habits one step at a time and building on them little by little each day, I eventually built myself a solid foundation upon which a legitimately healthy lifestyle now stands.
At this point, my passion for health and fitness is ready to shoot through the roof. As far as I am concerned, exercise and eating clean is the greatest thing on earth!
Getting healthy the right way fixed me, physically and mentally. My life is so much better because of it.
I now feel confident there’s nothing I can’t handle in life as long as I am still in good health. I never thought I’d be where I am today.
I am happier than I’ve ever been because I have been able to turn my experiences into an instrument of education for others who struggle with similar challenges. We teach people on a daily basis about all the information I’ve gathered over the last several years.
If you are feeling lost when it comes to fitness and nutrition, take a lesson from my story.
I started at zero and I am living proof that there IS another way, and it can be learned. It is your sole responsibility to learn to take care of yourself and learn how to do it the right way.
You owe it to the family and friends who care about you to learn how to be legitimately happy and healthy so you may enjoy more of your life with them. Train your mind to focus on feeling good and making positive healthy choices instead of obsessing over weight or the number on the scale, because trust me, that’s what matters in the end.
Let go of negativity in exchange for a healthier, happier lifestyle because you only have one life to live, and this is it.
Do what you can today. Stop saying “tomorrow.”
Even if all you do is walk around the block, SO WHAT? Just do what you can do.
Keep doing it, and little by little you’ll get better. You’ll get stronger. You’ll walk farther over time and before you know it, you’ll be ready to add something more challenging.
If you don’t know what to do or feel uncomfortable in a gym, let us help you.
Or get yourself a home workout program like we did. Hire a personal trainer. Whatever you do, just DO SOMETHING. 🙂
Along those lines, every day that you make better decisions about the food you’re putting into your body, you’re taking better care of your body. You only have one, and life is short.
Over time, if you repeat these habits day in and day out, your body will change on its own. You don’t need to worry about that part. Stop putting it off.
Stop counting calories and stop restricting yourself. Just start making better choices. 🙂 Start focusing on the way you feel and listen to what your body is telling you.
If you want a sweet, have a sweet — just make a healthier version of it. If you want a burrito, make a burrito — just load it with so many veggies there’s not room left for much else. And so on, and so forth, until you find your healthy balance.
Above all, replace, don’t restrict.
The more you replace the bad stuff with the good stuff, the better you will feel; this positive cycle will continue to reinforce itself if you just keep persisting with small steps each day.
Your happiness should be your priority, so if what you’re doing now doesn’t make you happy, then change it now before it’s too late. If you still feel utterly clueless about where to start, check out the Bikini Bootcamp Programs or our plant-based Meal Guide.
These plans contain all the general advice we give to our clients that has allowed them to effortlessly see changes in body fat. You can read other people’s success stories here. Until next time, BE WELL!
I love this, Liz. The past three years have included gaining over 60 pounds for me–which is scary as hell. My starting weight was 90 lbs at 5 ft 4 in. I was so unhealthy, unhappy, and suicidal. Now I am 5 ft 7 in. and 150lbs. That number still scares me. But every day I am leaning to love my body for it’s crazy flexibility, resilience, and strength. I am learning to love me for me.
I need help with the gaining weight part. Ive recently lost over 50lbs. I’m not 5ft 7in, weighing 126. My original goal weight was 138. When I reached it I was super happy, but I was working out and under eating so much that I kept losing it. I lift weights regularly, but honestly, “gaining weight” scares the heck out of me. I don’t want to undo what Ive done. I’m liking my body more and more.. But I want to reach a goal of 132 for now. Personally, I think I look too skinny and my body fat is way too low. About 11%… according to one of those Electronic measurement tools. Do you have any advice? I’m trying to get abs too, but that doesnt really work while I’m gaining… haha Please HELP!
I want to let you know that you truly make broke me into tears, made me laugh, and cry again. I recently have started a new lifestyle (in the middle of month four). I have started eating clean (and yes i have cheat days, which are slowly becoming “better cheats”) and working out 5 days a week, lifting and cardio. Your story is so touching, inspiring, and wonderful. I can’t help to already feel connected to you and your sister after being on your site for only a few hours. Its a wonderful lifestyle this whole rollercoaster, my happiness has never been greater. I constantly feel judged for being “obessed” because I eat cucumbers instead of chips, and I pick up weights instead of shot glasses. Thank you so much for sharing your story. My heart goes out to you for what you’ve been through, and I’m so happy for you that you’ve made such a postive outcome from it all. This is just the story I needed today. Beautiful.
It sounds like you’ve been dealt quite a hand. I’d recommend asking one of your doctors for a referral to a physical therapy clinic where they can work with you in person to provide suitable exercises that won’t exacerbate any of the current conditions you’ve been diagnosed with. It’s great that you are doing what you can, but it’s also super important to be smart and safe about exercise when you have been diagnosed with physical limitations such as a bulged disc. Nothing you should do should cause pain, and you should only be exercising in a pain-free range of motion. It’s so great that you no longer fry foods! What diets have you read about? We don’t like the term or idea of “diet” because it implies restriction which for us doesn’t work mentally, but if you’ve found something that works for you then great! If you’re curious about what we eat, it’s all outlined in our Clean Eating Guidebook. However, we are not nutritionists and cannot provide a meal plan for you individually. Hopefully some of that info helps, and good luck! Our best advice is to take things one day at a time and seek the help and guidance of professionals in your area. 🙂
read your story and I applaude you , im 55 yrs old female , I have super weight issues , had gallbladder tooken out and keep gaining weight , have gasto issues to ,I don’t mind walking cos I love the out doors, I have bulging disk in back that keep me from exersizeing ,as you do , ihave thyroid problems with nodules that drs are watching, have masses over my adrinule glands they are watching , don’t know what the masses are and im mad about they don’t find out if they are cancerouse , I have stopped for over 2 yrsfrying food , I do baked,broiled,i just don’t know what or how to eat ,I read a lot about diets but I don’t think so , just need help what to eat , suppose to be doing high fiber diet , a lot of the food is gross , I eat veggies ,chicken ,tuna, fish,but im 5’3 , 155 lbs, im good at 130 ., could you help , iuse 5 lb, weights , they hurt my back but I still try . thank you so much ….
Thanks for the full story, Liz! Its beautiful to read and honesty is so nice to come by. I had a fantastic time with you over the 12 weeks, and just loved your enthusiasm for health. Sometimes I needed it! ;D
Wow, thanks for sharing your full story! It’s really inspirational to see where you’ve come from and how you got to your new healthy lifestyle. I also remember the days of middle and high school in which the thin girls just didn’t eat lunch. My “lunch” would consist of a cafeteria roll or bag of chips at snack bar…so glad my older sis and I realized how dumb that was and started eating regularly again!