The pictures say it all don't they? Wow! She doesn't even look like the same person!
Leah Nichols, a 25-year-old speech pathologist from Indianapolis, lost 115 pounds through... guess what? That's right! Diet and exercise.
Growing up, Leah was never overweight. From childhood all through her high school years, Leah was active in sports, dancing, and cheerleading.
Her weight problems didn't begin until she moved to Michigan to attend college. She no longer exercised and instead, adopted the college lifestyle of late nights filled with fast food and alcohol. She quickly gained 'The Freshman 15' and each year thereafter, she continued to gain weight until she finally topped out at 260 pounds.
“All my sorority sisters were thin and my siblings were very fit as well,” Leah said. “I could never share clothes with friends and I hated the way I looked when we would go out.”
Once an attractive outgoing girl, Leah had lost her self-confidence and her true personality. "I remember feeling like the fat friend who could never share clothing with friends and was labeled as 'the funny one'. I would laugh off all the rude comments and uncomfortable situations to avoid being upset."
Once while attending a football game, a man passed by and exclaimed, "God, look out for fatty!" Leah’s friends were readily willing to defend her, but Leah preferred to slink away from confrontation – she hated drawing attention to her size.
Leah didn't want to meet new people for fear of rejection so she spent most nights at home. “It was very hard to constantly see my friends dating and being single. I thought ‘Who would want me?’ I did not feel worthy of a serious committed relationship with a good person.”
“All I could see was someone who had a lot going for herself: good career to come, good family, good friends, but I wasn’t happy,” she said. “When I began thinking about why I was unhappy it all came back to my weight. I wasn’t myself anymore because of the weight gain; I was single because I was uncomfortable with myself; I was unhealthy because of my weight.”
"I realized if I ever wanted to reach the hopes and aspirations I'd envisioned for my future, I had to make a change."
For the first time in years, Leah stepped on a scale – and cried when she saw the number: 260 pounds. She knew a difficult challenge lay ahead of her, but for once, she felt motivated to drastically change her lifestyle.
With a strong support system of friends and family members, Leah joined a gym and concentrated on regaining her health. “I felt so lost and so far behind that it was sometimes painful to go to the gym,” she said of the first few months. “It was hard not to compare myself to others but I tried as hard as I could and eventually began focusing on myself and not others... I finally put myself first no matter how hard it was going to be.”
Leah began by chronicling her daily caloric intake on sparkpeople.com, a free food diary website, and attempted to stay within a range of 1,500-1,700 calories and 30 fat grams per day. She also started doing a 30-minute cardio workout three times a week - focusing on the elliptical machine, treadmill or stair stepper. Leah later added light weight training to her workout.
“I always told myself that this wasn’t going to be easy and it was going to take a long time to lose and keep the weight off,” Leah said of her weight-loss philosophy, which left room for mistakes and the occasional slip-up.
“If there were days that I tripped up or didn’t work out I knew I just had to turn it around the next day and keep going, this was a complete lifestyle change, not a diet.”
After losing approximately 50 pounds, Leah opted for a personal trainer two to three times a week to develop new ideas to tone her body. She increased her cardio workouts to 45-60 minutes four times a week, and then joined fitness classes like yoga, Pilates and cycling.
If she hit a plateau, she would make small adjustments in her diet, like lowering the caloric intake (but never less than 1,200 calories) and increasing the amount of protein she consumed. “It was frustrating to hit those plateaus, but I knew that it would eventually break so I couldn’t let myself get distracted or discouraged.”
Now, after losing 110 pounds, Leah competes in sprint triathlons which consist of 500 meter swims in open water, 10 mile bike races and 5k runs. “I just kept working out and pushed through and this paid off. Looking at old photos and recalling past experiences while being overweight helped motivate me through the rough times.”
Today, at 145 pounds, Leah’s complete outlook has changed. While she still enjoys meals, they no longer consume her thoughts. In fact, whenever Leah does feel like eating, it’s in a healthy way.
As a new nutrition junkie, she has taken up the hobby of finding healthy, clever alternatives for unhealthy recipes. “I now know how many calories are in many foods and have become good at estimating calories in a meal,” she said of her new abilities. “I carry nutritional information concerning food items at chain restaurants in my purse so I am prepared to make smart choices.”
By accomplishing her weight-loss goals, Leah has regained self-respect, self-worth and her personality. “I have gained a confidence in myself I don’t think I've ever had,” she said. “Not only confidence in my appearance but confidence in my beliefs, motivations in life and hopes and aspirations for my future that were hidden because of fear of rejection or judgment.
I feel lucky to have been able to lose the weight and hope that I can help inspire others to do the same. It is possible to do this on your own, without spending tons of money, without hiring a personal trainer, without using a special diet, all of it is possible on your own.”
Check out Leah's reveal on the Today Show here:
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© 2008 Thanks for taking the time to read A Junk-Foodaholic's Journey to a Healthy Lifestyle. Please feel free to peruse my blog for more great content.