Let’s Start Back at The Beginning

It’s become apparent that I don’t really have “My Story” documented very well on here.  I have bits and pieces of what I do for a living, where I live and who the important people are in my life but I feel like it’s just a snapshot and not the complete picture.  And in light of recent emails and messages I’ve been getting, I thought it was a good idea to share a little bit about me and how I came to this point in my life. Perhaps it will help inspire you or someone you know. But in case I don’t make this clear, this is MY story.  How you reach YOUR goal might be a completely different route; this is the one I chose to take.

Growing up I was never chubby, not fat, not the least bit overweight.  I was definitely not a bean pole but I never fluctuated in my weight.  In fact I REMEMBER the moment I got on the scale and saw I was 100lbs.  I was actually thrilled!  I felt like I had been always dubbed “small” for so long, that maybe once I hit that 100lb mark, that must mean I’m growing up and people would take me seriously.  Silly thought but I remember that very vividly.

High school was a breeze weight-wise.  Then college hit.  I gained the freshman 15 but it was more like 25-30.  One large reason was that I was on steroid medication for my ulcerative colitis.  And that was a huge reason for the sudden weight gain.  But what’s funny is I actually just fit into my clothes so I never noticed the weight come on until people who hadn’t seen me in awhile commented.  I always bought clothes too big anyways including jeans.  I remember fitting into a size 10 jeans and thinking nothing of it.  But looking back at the few pictures I have of myself at that time, I remember I was not too happy with this sudden change in my physique.  I got the standard side effects that you get when you’re on steroids – puffy face, skin rashes, loss of appetite (which makes the weight gain that much WORSE), loss of hair.  Thank goodnesss I was blessed with the thickest hair ever, that last one was almost a blessing.

 I don’t think it helped that I was eating THESE 

Deliciously Evil.
Deliciously Evil.

for breakfast almost every morning. I can still myself walking down the hall in the dorm to where the microwave was and making them all warm for my “breakfast.”  Lunch was always in on campus at the hall (conveniently I lived in the dorm where the main cafeteria was) so it was always just a walk down the stairs to get a bowl of pineapple chunks (probably a half a pound NO JOKE), and either pizza or chicken parm or veal parm.  No salad…never.  Dinner was in the cafeteria again and more of the same as lunch.  I wasn’t much for variety.  I recall ordering pizza to the dorm very frequently, probably a copule times a month at the very least.  I also remember eating lots of fast food at the Food Court on campus. 

By the end of freshman year I was taken off the steroids and I know by the time I went back to college for my second year, the weight gain was gone.  But my dietary habits stayed the same. 

Then, enter my third year of college.  Summer.  Steroid time AGAIN.  This time was much worse.  Depression set in, I gained a good 15lbs again.  I never stepped on a scale so I have no idea how much I actually weighed but it was probably around 140-145.  At 5 foot 3, this doesn’t go over too well.

I spent some time in our school gym but I stuck to the stair master and walked the track at night.  This was probably the most activity I got all 4 years of college but I DO think this helped me from getting completely depressed about the weight gain.  It was at least something and I don’t think I was doing it to “lose weight.”  I liked to just walk the track just to get away from the dorm room and get outside.  I don’t ever remember thinking “I should workout to lose weight.”  I think I was perhaps in a little bit of denial of exactly how big I had gotten.

In addition to gaining weight again, I was still suffering from bad ulcerative colitis flare ups.  So the meds weren’t even working!  I remember crying and calling my Mom to say I needed to come home for the summer instead of taking classes.  I was just too sick. 

I dropped out of the summer classes, which made me feel like a complete failure and spent the rest of the summer at home.  I stopped taking the steroids without weening myself off of them like I was supposed to and I believe I must have went on a different combo of meds to combat my flare ups.  The weight came off again but leaving behind some stretch marks almost as a way for me to always remember this part of my life.    

The final year of school was the most fun I remember.  I was 21 finally and maybe spent a few nights partying.  I was not the party type at all so on the random occasions I did drink, I was usually passed out after a couple hours.  🙂 Such a lightweight. 

Fast forward a few years later and I decide to move to Chicago to pursue a career in video production.  Enter “Party Like You’re Still in College Atmosphere.”  I found a great roommate and place to live in just blocks from Wrigley Field.  A street lined with bars?  A city lined with bars? It’s pretty much the best place to live out your twenties.  And I definitely had my fair share of fun at that time.  

Shortly after moving there, I joined Bally’s, mainly as just a place for me to go to hang out since I hadn’t quite made a bunch of friends yet.  And again, my thought process was not “I should lose some weight.”  I hadn’t stepped on a scale in years and never thought twice about changing my diet habits at that point. 

After about 4 months of doing the typical Cardio Queen Routine of elliptical, abductor/adductor and ab machines, I was approached by a Personal Trainer named Greg who asked me if I wanted a REAL workout.  I kept “ellipticalling” and ignored him, turning up the KORN I had on my portable CD player (yes it was THAT long ago) and rebuffed his questions.   Finally, because I guess I’m a nice person, I gave him a shot.

After one brutal workout I wasn’t exactly hooked.  Even after the workout was over and he took me in his office, I was fully prepared to keep saying “No, I can’t afford you.” 

So he started with the questions:  What are your goals?

Me:  Maintain.

Him: Maintain? You like where you’re at now?

Me: Yep.  Maintain.

Him:  Okay so as far as your weight is concerned you’re happy with it?

Me: Yeah I mean, I haven’t weighed myself in ages but yeah.

Him:  Oh okay, how much do you think you weigh?

Me: Oh I don’t know, 110-115.

Him: Okay let’s just get you on the scale to see where you’re at.

He gets me on the scale and his little finger moves over and over and keeps moving and finally settles on 143lbs.

I had NEVER ever seen that number in my entire life.  I never weighed myself in college or after that, I didn’t even own a scale.

I was in shock.

I can still see the outfit I was wearing.  I actually still have it.  It was a blue tank top with a built in sports bra and black pants.  I looked down after seeing 143lbs and I remember VIVIDLY seeing my belly starting to sneak out of the bottom of the shirt.

Mortified.  I couldn’t believe I had let myself GO like this.  And that I hadn’t even noticed was a worse feeling. 

Greg didn’t have to do much negotiation after that.  I signed up for sixteen 45 minute sessions. He introduced me to the machines and free weights I needed so badly to transform my physique.  We did barbell squats, lat pulldowns, REAL push ups, planks, all the fun stuff.  Although at the time I doubt I thought of it as fun.

We met two times a week and everytime we met he introduced new weight machines and new moves and got me to STOP the elliptical nonsense. 

The weight training was great but I still needed to do cardio, just different than the repeated cycle I was on.  So he suggested I either swim or run.  I laughed in his face and said “Oh I can’t swim, I never learned.”  So he said “Well you’re gonna run then.”

Again, I laughed and said “Oh I can’t run.” 

Him: Well you’re going to have to do one of them for at least 20 minutes a few times a week. Which is it going to be?

So I reluctantly chose running. 

The first time he got me on the treadmill for my first “run” I went at 4.0mph for 9 minutes.  9 minutes.  That’s all I could do.  I was sweating and felt like I was hyperventilating and begging him “Can I please stop now?”

Him:  “Okay, you went 9 minutes. That’s good for today.  Tomorrow you’ll do 10 minutes.  Just keep adding minutes.”

I got all the way up to about 20 maybe 30 minutes after a few weeks.  I think I got my speed up to around 4.5mph…maybe 5, I don’t recall exactly.

But it didn’t matter because I was hooked.  I loved running.  I had NEVER been able to run as a kid. When we had gym class and it was time to “run around the track” I recall the burning in my lungs as I heaved and almost DIED trying to run a mile.  I’m sure I never made it around the whole track without stopping.  And here I was, running (okay jogging) on a treadmill for 30 minutes at a time.  A huge accomplishment!

Before all this occurred though, I had to get my nutrition in check.  In fact, during my warm-up during our first session, Greg asked me what my typical food intake looked like each day.

I remember being embarrassed at the answer I had for him:

Me:  “Well, for breakfast I usually have toaster pastries or maybe just toast or a granola bar.  For lunch I either get Subway or whatever people at work order but that get’s expensive so I usually have peanut butter and jelly on white bread.  And for dinner I’ll have MrsTs-Pierogies or corndogonastick or maybe pizza” 

Yes, that’s right, I ate processed foods like it was my job.  I’m pretty embarrassed I ever ingested anything with the words “on a stick” in the description that wasn’t sold at a carnival. (Because if it’s at a carnival it’s socially acceptable?)

Then there was the booze.  I wasn’t a beer drinker – I was a hard liquor mixed drinks drinker, which is almost worse.  Greg informed me that drinking 3 nights a week was not helping that bulge in my belly.  I like to blame most of my drinking on  the Cubs.  I mean, had they not made that run for the playoffs I wouldn’t have celebrated so much.  So see?  It was their fault.

YEAAAHHH!!!! Drink when they win!! Drink when they lose!!!!
YEAAAHHH!!!! Drink when they win!! Drink when they lose!!!!


After all the processed food, sugary drinks, and high carb meals, it was no wonder I had crept up in weight!  And doing hours of endless cardio on the elliptical everyday wouldn’t do anything to help the cause.

Greg had me start off with small changes: He gave me a meal plan but I mainly used it for just ideas, not a strict adherence.  I called my Mom and told her I had invested in a PT and that he suggested I start cooking for myself.  She told my grandma who then gave me The Joy of Cooking cookbook.  The first recipe I made was rosemary chicken.  It turned out pretty well from what I recall.

I tried other “fancier” dishes and usually burned them or misjudged the amount of ingredients.  So after a lot of trial and error, I resorted to making my meals as simply as I could – Baked chicken breast, grilled burger patties on my George foreman grill, deli turkey meat on whole wheat bread.  Out went the white bread, the regular peanut butter and the fried food and booze.  In came whole foods, natural pb, grilled chicken, even some, GASP! Veggies!!

I bought frozen veggies and microwaved them like Broccoli and Cheese or Brussel Sprouts in Garlic Butter Sauce, etc.  I was on a budget and purchasing fresh veggies didn’t seem to be something I could afford at the time.  Plus I was just lazy.

I just made these small changes and noticed a BIG difference, especially in how my clothes fit.

About six months after I had started training I was down to about 118lbs.  I had kept going to the gym long after my 16 sessions were over with Greg.  I took what he did with me and kept it up as best as I could.  

I also got into running.  Long distance running to be exact.  A year after I signed up with Greg I decided to sign up for my first race – a HALF MARATHON.  Not the smartest decision I made but I had a goal and wanted to reach it.  Looking back it was pretty careless of me, but I did finish it in 2 hours and 14 minutes.  (No one forgets their first race time). 🙂

I got hooked on long distance running and signed up for the Chicago Marathon.  This was 2007.  This was also the first time in history a marathon was canceled in the middle of the race due to heat.  

It was just a TAD hot.
It was just a TAD hot.

 Notice the people WALKING and this was only mile 7 I believe.  So around mile 16, I was told to stop running.  One man died as a result of the heat and race coordinators ran out of water rather quickly.  In hindsight, it was the right decision.  But I couldn’t help but feel like it was the most disappointing day in my life up until that point.  Training for 6 months only to be told you couldn’t finish a race is not a feeling I would wish upon anyone.

Luckily though, I redeemed myself and ran one more half and a complete full marathon in Cleveland a few years later. 

Team in Training, holla!!
Team in Training, holla!!

Fast forward, well actually REWIND, to this past year.

With my running days behind me, I was again asked the question by one of my current managers at one of my jobs:  “What are your goals?” 

My answer was the same: Maintain.

But after much more prodding, I began to ask myself – wait a minute, why don’t I have any goals?  My first thought was “Well, I can’t run anymore due to too many stress fractures and

A blow dryer cord was the culprit.  No seriously it was.
A blow dryer cord was the culprit. No seriously it was.

THIS one big break.  Not only that, I kind of lost the desire to run anymore.  So racing is out.”

Well, what’s the next step?  Changing my physique?  Eh, I guess.  I had become quite complacent where I was at the moment.  Guess what my weight was?  140lbs.  Again. 

Granted it wasn’t the same 140lbs that it was 10 years prior but I recognized that I could definitely improve.  I had been on crutches due to my broken foot and became a little depressed that I couldn’t do anything crazy for fear of injuring my foot again so I wasn’t working out very often.

After a few days, maybe a week at the most, of doing some research into bodybuilding, I decided competing was the next logical goal for myself.  I had some friends who had done it and I was always intrigued by it not to mention completely motivated by their progress, that I was hopeful  maybe I could do that too.  Why not? 

Another reason I wanted to train for a competition was that I was tired of looking the same.  I had been about the same weight and had the same problem areas for a couple years now.  I was average.  And there’s nothing wrong with being average.

But when you’re average looking you tend to feel average in your mind too.  Where’s the excitement? Where’s the desire to transform?  I had that desire in me, it just took some prodding to get it out.

And that’s where I am today.  Still reaching, still shooting for that goal of getting on stage and presenting my best physique.  I will not be the best that day.  But that’s okay! I’m doing this for myself and no one else.

I think that should be everyone’s thought process:  Are you trying so desperately to lose weight for you? Or are you doing it for someone else?  Are you comfortable where you’re at right now physically?  If the answer is yes, by all means, don’t try and do something extreme because “society” states you need to look a certain way.  I was comfortable at 130-135lbs for a very long time.  And that’s okay. And I might get back up to that weight someday.  And that’s okay too.

Everyone has a story.  I wanted to share mine today so my readers could get a sense of how I came to this part of my life.  I’m almost 35, I’ve been a Personal Trainer for 6 years now (due in large part to Greg helping me out) and I’m still learning about nutrition and exercise and metabolic damage and all there is to know about how people lose weight.  One thing I DO know is that everyone’s story is different.  What worked for me may not work for you.  But maybe you take a few of the things I mentioned here and apply it to your own life and maybe you see some changes.  If you do, please let me know! 

I love knowing that I inspired even the smallest change in someone who reads this blog.

It keeps ME going.

4 thoughts on “Let’s Start Back at The Beginning

  1. That was a great story Michelle. Sometimes simply putting words to paper, or in this case computer keys, can be as cathartic as the transformation itself.

    All the best in your quest.

  2. Michelle: Have the honor of sharing some of your story before you wrote about in in this blog, I believe you have struck a cord with many people. Taking one’s past (whatever it was) and putting it on paper (or like Marcus said to computer keys) brings reality to many. I understand the internal pain from dealing with health conditions that linger and cause one grief. Mental recovery is sometimes harder than physical recovery. That being said, you writing is solid and easy to relate to. I don’t want this sound like I am playing Roger Ebbert (like that Chi-Town link!) but your work, both physically and mentally should be hailed as a V-I-C-T-O-R-Y and I want to be one to yell it out to you! Keep it going and remember, I need a seat for the fall!! JN

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