Get Inspired With 10 Stories of Fitness and Weight Loss
In the quest for health, weight loss or physical transformation, half the battle is getting there. The other half is simply beginning. Here are 10 journeys to fitness by people who became experts in the process and the most important lessons they learned.
• Kristina Folcik: Ultra-runner
• Tami Provost: Healthy Eating Specialist
• E. Christopher Clark: His weight loss journey began with a Nintendo Wii
• Cindy Gilbert: ACE Certified Personal Trainer, Coach, Speaker
• Hope Jordan: Marathon runner
• Lauren Schneider: Patriots Cheerleader
• Laurie Gouley: Health Coach
• Michelle Lienhart: Owner of Just Be Products
• Susanne Larkham: Premier Center Owner/Certified Instructor, Manchester Jazzercise Fitness Center
• Peter Nason: A runner/Brazilian jiu jitsu blue belt/weight lifter
• Plus professional advice on getting healthier from Dr. Jennifer Warren
photo by philbrick photography
When Kristina Folcik was 19 years old, she was not really overweight but she remembers the intimidation she felt around the young female athletes and beauty queens in her crowd. “I could never be like that,” she thought to herself. She worried about the patches of cellulite she saw in the mirror. In fact, she hated how she looked, but felt powerless to change. She says she “tried the gym thing” but just got bored. She explored diets and health fads but they never stuck.
“I hated myself,” she says. “I was sitting on the couch, hiding boxes of Little Debbie snacks. And the way I treated myself was as if I didn’t care if I woke up each day.”
Today she knows it wasn’t so much the way she looked. It was the way she felt about how she looked.
“I’m a victim of rape,” she says. “I had zero self-esteem.”
Then a friend suggested she try mountain biking. “I bought a K-Mart hunk of junk. It was blue, cost $100 on the nose,” she recalls. “The first time I went for a ride I looked ready to go to the mall. I was wearing dress boots and hoop earrings.” But she had fun, and soon she was riding trails, so she went to a bike shop for supplies and a real pair of bike shorts. The people at the shop suggested she try a race. She entered one in June 1997, somehow finishing in second place. Most importantly, she says, “I had the time of my life and made a bunch of new friends.”
photo by philbrick photography
It wasn’t long before the girl on the cheap bike in the hoop earrings was a young woman aspiring to become a professional downhill bike racer. “After all,” she says with a laugh, “to downhill race, you don’t need to be fit, just stupid,” but she felt like she had found a place she belonged, a reason to live and people to urge her on in a positive way, inspiring her to try new sports.
She eventually switched to trail running. “That really changed me,” she says. “I completely changed my diet, but slowly. Went from pigging out most days to just two days a week to just one. Now I don’t even crave that junk. I feel better, healthier and happier.”
Not that calories were a problem anymore. In her new sport, Kristina was running ultra marathons, 100-mile-long races, getting sponsorships from some major companies: She was a professional athlete.
Kristina remembered how she felt about the fit girls and beauty queens and figured she had made her choice to join the ranks of the fit.
Then she met photographer Jay Philbrick. She was looking for some good shots to seek out more sponsors and had been impressed by his work (that appears often in New Hampshire Magazine and in NH Magazine’s Bride).
“He got some killer pictures of me,” she says, but he also encouraged her to look good for the shots, add a little make up, take her hair down. “I’d felt like I had to choose. I was not supposed to be beautiful. Sometimes we get caught in the middle of choosing.” Philbrick showed her another side of herself. When she saw her “glamour” shots, no one was more surprised than she was.
Now she maintains her career as a dental hygienist but in her other life she encourages people to not get stuck in the past or to get caught in the middle of choosing. She calls herself DangerGirl and her dangergirldh.com website is subtitled “An Ordinary Girl Living a Not So Ordinary Life.” On it, she sums up her journey in the following words: “The person I am today is a little bit of each person along the way who has taught me something special. There are so many people I look up to and strive to be like, but in the end, all I want to be is me.”
“My advice is this: Try it all and focus on having fun instead of losing weight. If you focus on losing weight, then any activity you try will feel like a chore, but if you find a hobby that moves you physically and emotionally, you will then be able to make that lifestyle change and without even trying you will become more fit. Remember, you never know where your first step will take you!”
“I wanted to eat what I wanted to eat, when I wanted to eat it and I didn’t want anyone telling me otherwise.”
At the age of 31, I was diagnosed clinically depressed and obese. Every other woman in my family took medication for depression, so it just seemed natural I would follow the same path. Right before filling the prescription, I had an “aha” moment — this medication was not working for the others in my family. I realized my weight is not a generational curse. I can draw a “line in the sand” and be the first healthy person in my family.
At 198 lbs., I decided to get healthy through diet and exercise. I joined Weight Watchers and the gym simultaneously and began the painstaking ordeal of trying to lose 50 lbs. Now, at a very comfortable 145 lbs., I now have the energy to travel around the country, teaching kids in schools five practical tips on staying healthy and happy. — Tami Provost, Healthy Eating Specialist, fitonthefly.net
“The hardest part is persistence. I’d been thinner and in good health before the change, but I’d never been consistent about it.”
I was obese, at least as far as online definitions of my BMI led me to believe. As of Christmas 2009 I was about 211 pounds. We bought a Nintendo Wii console that year. By making weight loss a game with the Wii Fit program and by paying more attention to portions when eating I was able to lose the weight.
I also wrote a bit about my current routine, which I began once I needed more of a challenge than the Wii was providing. For me, it’s all about finding ways to keep a consistent routine. By the end of 2010 I was at 167. By August 2011 I was at 162. I’ve gained a bit back during holidays, but maintained a healthy weight since that moment I decided to make a change. —E. Christopher Clark, Merrimack
“I had to allow myself to first be changed internally. As much as I wanted to change, I had to address the wounds that were causing the behavior.”
I had to find myself worthy of the process and forgive those who wounded me. I learned that every obese body has a story and wounds that need healing. Prior to my weight loss, I was 325 pounds at 5 feet, 2 inches. I couldn’t buy clothes from a store and was too self-conscious to go out with friends and definitely to date.
My transformation happened slowly. I changed one bad habit at a time and took on one good habit. With self-confidence, I’m no longer taunted with self-sabotaging behaviors. I don’t need to act or look perfect to be beautiful and be loved. This has given me the freedom to find who I really am.
— Cindy Gilbert, ACE Certified Personal Trainer, Coach, Speaker
“Running my first marathon at age 49 taught me if I just believed in what other people told me I could do, that faith could eventually become my own.”
I’d tried track in high school but choked during meets, putting racing out of my mind for nearly 20 years. Then, when I was 35, a woman in my office mentioned running a 5K. She looked at me and said, “If I can do it, you can do it.” I took her at her word and surprised myself, running six more 5Ks over the next 10 years. When a student trainer told me I could run longer, I signed up for a half marathon. His belief sustained me despite the challenges.
During the rainy run I ditched my wet socks; the blisters didn’t heal until long after and on race day they bled through my shoes. Before my first 5K, I was a moderate smoker who rarely exercised. I wasn’t overweight, but neither was I fit. Now cigarettes are a distant memory. I work out four to five times a week and I’ve run in more than two dozen races, including three half marathons. —Hope Jordan, Canterbury
“I wanted to look my best in hopes of becoming a Patriots cheerleader. Though I have always been fit, I needed to look fit. I found that abs are made in the kitchen.”
Once I applied myself and got rid of the junk in my diet, I noticed that my hard work at the gym really showed in a much leaner body composition. I did research and learned some key tricks to eating clean and training hard: Get smart about sugar and white flour; have a treat, not a cheat. Lift heavy weights! Women think they will bulk up, but this is not the case.
Change takes time. I started my super clean diet and intense training on January 1 and felt the effects immediately, but slowly saw results. One day towards the end of March I saw defined abs for the first time in my life and was so proud I achieved my goals. The icing on the cake was earning my spot as a 2014 Patriots cheerleader. —Lauren Schneider, Patriots Cheerleader
“I had a choice to make: be sick or be healthy. I was becoming a slave to pharmaceutical medications, two of them for anxiety and depression. I was run down and tired.”
I now weigh 114 (down from 158). I am medication-free and never felt better in my life! Getting healthy changed my life so much that I went back to school and became a certified personal trainer and health coach. Health coaching is the way to go; it teaches you the whole package.
A combination of things gets you to optimal health — strength training, flexibility, cardio, supplements, meal planning, mind/body connection and body composition. You have to practice all seven of these components. It’s amazing what you can get done in a day when you feel good and have the energy to do so. — Laurie Gouley, Health Coach, Manchester
“I started researching how food affects every aspect of our body. Come to find out, all my issues stemmed from the awful processed food I had been eating my entire life.”
I was overweight by 30 lbs. and had a variety of health issues. The doctor put me on Zoloft, along with heartburn and anti-inflammatory meds for my arm pain. But I wanted to get to the root of my problem. I started eating a Paleo diet in 2013 and was able to come off all my meds in about two months. Then all the GI issues came back along with severe environmental allergies. I got a diagnosis of leaky gut. The damage of 40+ years of garbage food had already taken its toll.
I started an even stricter Paleo diet and slowly started healing myself from the inside out. In the two years I’ve been on this journey, I’ve dropped eight pant sizes! I also have a great (weight lifting) trainer. I never thought I would dead lift 168 pounds. — Michelle Lienhart, Just Be Products, Concord
“I was significantly overweight, had constant knee pain, was unhappy and just couldn’t seem to get out of my own way.”
Negativity had to go! One positive idea actualized will change a life. Nineteen years later, I’m strong, fit and unafraid of the scale. I wake up eager to tie on my sneaks and get out there to encourage others to make happier, healthier decisions.
First, I adopted a mindset that I alone was accountable for my actions. I went through Weight Watchers, lost 25 percent of my body weight, then joined Jazzercise to improve my fitness. The unexpected benefit of Jazzercise was the supportive atmosphere of students and instructors, which nurtured my emotional well-being to the point of thriving rather than merely surviving. In 1997 I certified as an instructor. —Susanne Larkham, Premier Center Owner/Certified Instructor, Manchester Jazzercise
“A friend invited me to join him at a small group training class. Five minutes into the warm-up, I was in the parking lot puking.”
I decided that night that I wasn’t going to let that class beat me. I cleaned up my diet, went to class two nights a week and began losing weight. I began running regularly. Before I knew it, I was a runner. At the same time, a co-worker needed practice teaching yoga, so I offered to be a student and began doing yoga. I decided to explore the grappling side of MMA and began training Brazilian jiu jitsu. I ended up earning my blue belt. I decided to give weight lifting a try. I competed in the Granite State Open and a second competition in Massachusetts and ended up placing in my divisions in both contests.
I realized that success is contagious. If you can lose 10 lbs., you can lose 50. If you can run five miles, you can run a marathon. —Peter Nason, Dover
Jennifer Warren, MD
–By Amy Kane
Obesity can lead to disease and disability. Losing excess weight can help people become healthier.
“It’s the ultimate preventative medicine,” says Jennifer Warren, MD.
Dr. Warren, founder of Physicians Healthy Weight Clinic in North Hampton and Dover, has been helping patients lose weight and keep it off for 10 years.
Warren switched from family medicine to obesity medicine when she decided to treat the root cause rather than the symptoms of so many preventable diseases. Excess body fat can result in high blood pressure, heart disease, type II diabetes, osteoarthritis, depression, stroke and certain cancers.
She struggled with her own weight after her pregnancies, trying over-the-counter supplements and popular diets. Weight management was hardly taught when she attended Tufts University School of Medicine in the 1990s. “Their advice was: Don’t eat fat if you don’t want to be fat,” she says. (This is no longer good advice.)
Her research led her to a low glycemic index, anti-inflammatory diet that includes protein with every meal and snack. In a year and a half, she dropped from 200 to 120 pounds. (She is 5'2".)
In her practice, she recommends variations of this diet to suit individual patients and develops specific strategies for sustainable lifestyle changes.
Warren cautions that there is no “magic bullet” or single solution for long-term weight loss.
“Excess weight is the result of complex interactions between nature and nurture. Any successful approach will involve dietary changes, exercise and activity changes, plus behavioral tactics,” she says.
The typical American environment is “obesogenic,” she says. Easy access to super tasty food can make it hard to eat right. In susceptible people, it can result in an addictive response.
Warren says many people have “unmet needs,” whether social, emotional, physical or spiritual and try to make up for what’s missing with food or other unhealthy strategies.
“To succeed at an individual level, we need to know our selves, our needs and tendencies, then set up our environment so that it becomes easier to make the healthy choices,” she says.
Despite the headlines, there is more consensus than controversy about what works: “We have observational evidence from long-term studies. There is now national consensus that obesity is a medical condition, with recommendations for treatment not just prevention.”
The American Society of Bariatric Physicians offers training and guidelines. The American Board of Obesity Medicine offers certification. (Dr. Warren is a diplomate of the ABOM and lectures family physicians locally and nationally on weight management.)
Treatment options may include medical nutrition therapy, intensive behavioral therapy and adjunctive medication. Warren says, “Weight management is no longer a jump from Weight Watchers to surgery.”
Professional Advice From Dr. Warren
Take charge. Have a specific plan, with ongoing support and feedback.
Set up your environment to make healthy choices. People who are stressed or suffering decision fatigue may be too tired at the end of the day to make good choices. Put the blueberries at eye level in the refrigerator; hide the potato chips or other “trigger” foods that cause you to overeat or don’t buy them at all.
Exercise is more important for maintenance than initial loss. In the National Weight Control Registry, 94 percent of people who maintain weight loss over time exercise every day.
Focus on critical changes to get the best results for the least effort. Too little change with no results, people give up. Too much change can overwhelm, or be too hard to sustain.
Change should meet needs for flavor, fun and convenience. Focus on abundance not deprivation. There are ways to make healthy food fun and abundant.
Don’t stress about perfect numbers, such as BMI, weight or body fat percentage. Get to your best weight, the healthy weight you can achieve while still enjoying life. You can’t wait for your life to be perfect. Ask yourself, “What can I do this moment to become healthier?”