Monday, April 30, 2012

Just Getting Started ... Shannon's 100 Lb Weight Loss!

One of my favorite things to hear are success stories. And by "success," I mean life-changing journeys, regardless of the goal. I want to share one of these success stories with all of you.

Shannon is a friend from college. We've kept in touch in the years since college, and last year, Shannon informed me that she'd begun a new chapter in her life. She was kind enough to do an interview with me about her new lifestyle.

What made you decide to start your weight loss journey?
It was actually something you posted on your Facebook. I wish I could remember the exact link, but it was a blog entry that discussed body fat in terms of what it actually is: stored energy, that carries with it potential for physical activity. I thought about that for awhile, and then one day woke up and decided I would join the gym. And, as we all know, it's mostly diet that affects weight so I began tracking calories as well.

How many months/years has it been since you began your lifestyle change?
I started in June of 2011. Since then, I've lost 107 pounds.

Nearly 100 lb difference! April 2011 to March 2012
Describe a typical day.
I get up and get myself and my son ready for our day. I make breakfast (which I sit and eat at the table! no more leaving the house without eating), get my lunch, pack my gym bag, and we head out. I go to work and every day at noon, instead of sitting in the break room with coworkers, I hit the gym. After work, we get our son fed and into bed, then make dinner. I walk the dog, pack up my food for the next day, then we catch up on TV. I almost always plan my food for the next day by pre-tracking it on MyFitnessPal before I go to bed. My workout routine involves an hour of strength training Monday, Wednesday, and Friday (with a trainer for an hour every other week). On Tuesday, I usually do Tabata and sometimes add Zumba (because it's fun!). Thursday is machine cardio day - sprint intervals and some time on the elliptical. On weekends I usually get in a yoga class, a run, and biking if it's nice.

What is your meal plan like? Do you work with a coach or nutritionist? Do you follow a set plan, use macro guidelines, use caloric guidelines, or follow another method?
Currently I eat around 1,900 calories a day divided into three meals and two snacks (with a treat after dinner most days). One reason I was hesitant to lose weight was that I thought I couldn't eat "real" food and I'd have to give up cooking and trying new recipes, but I've found that this isn't the case at all. I still cook great food, but I plan ahead and work it into my day. I don't really follow macros but have goals I try to hit: protein of at least 130g a day, minimum of 65g fat (primarily monounsaturated), and the remainder is carbs. I don't work with a nutritionist, but I'm really into research so I'm always looking at what experts have to say about ideal diets and macro ratios. My goal was to cut fat while sparing muscle, and my macros are based on that - while keeping it enjoyable for me so it's sustainable. I definitely eat treats.

You use an online program/app to track your food and workouts. How did you make the decision to use that tool? Would you recommend it? Why or why not?
A friend used MyFitnessPal to track his workouts so I signed up. I like it and it's been extremely helpful to me to have the tracking ability and built-in support system (my MFP friends are fantastic!). I think websites like MyFitnessPal and LoseIt (and programs like Weight Watchers) are great for helping people get started losing weight, and it's wonderful to have free tools available. That said, it's not really one-size-fits-all and I think these tools are best used if you customize them to meet your goals. Kari, if you followed MyFitnessPal's default calorie and macro guidelines, you'd never be competition ready. And for me, I'd be eating 1200 calories and 50 grams of protein which wouldn't help me meet my goals either. Straight calorie counting also doesn't encourage people to look at the quality of their food choices. Still, it's awesome to have the iPhone app and always have the ability to look up calorie counts and track on the go.

You have a husband and young son. Do they eat the same foods you do? Was there any conflict when you began to make different food decisions?
We all eat very similar food. My husband was definitely on board with healthier eating, and lost 30 pounds himself last summer. He just eats more than I do - and drinks a lot more beer :) I love that we're setting a good example for our son and teaching him to eat good, mostly unprocessed and homemade, foods.

Shannon and Sullivan, Summer 2010
Have you encountered any challenges or setbacks thus far? How dd you deal with them or overcome them? 
First, sometimes motivation wanes. You go on vacation, enjoy the "free" week and then come back and the gym is the last place you want to go. That's why I'm glad I have a trainer. I schedule a session for the Monday after a vacation or rough weekend, and it gets me in the gym and usually gets me motivated again. I also have friends at the gym and it's nice to have that support system...they will catch me if I'm slipping. Second: injury. Nothing more frustrating than being motivated and goal-oriented and being sidelined by an injury. I've learned though that built-in rest days are good for preventing injury, and rest is REQUIRED after an injury. If I can force myself to stay out of the gym, I can get back in the game earlier and more effectively than if I push myself.

What keeps you motivated?
Results! A smaller number on the scale, smaller clothes, the ability to lift heavier weights and run faster and farther. I'm driven by pushing myself and seeing what I can do.

What is your long-term goal? (Weight/bodyfat percentage/clothing size/athletic accomplishment)
Bodyfat of 23-24%. That matters more to me than scale weight! I also have some goal clothes waiting for me in the closet.

Did you set short-term goals along the way? If so, how did you celebrate achieving those milestones?
Lots! And seriously, I didn't really need an external celebration. Just hitting each goal made me giddy :)

What will you do when you reach your long-term goal?
Besides feeling like a superhero, I will get up the next day and continue with the plan. That's the thing about this...I'm not even sure I have an end-goal because that seems to signify to me that I'll stop something, and I have no plans to stop. I expect maintaining to be a bigger challenge than losing, so I'll keep adding goals. I want to be able to do a pull-up, I want to run a 10k, etc.

How do you manage social situations? Do you bring your own food to functions and gatherings? Do you eat a small portion of the food available at gatherings?
The only place I'll bring my own food is movie theaters and coffee shops (but I still buy the coffee...). Generally, I plan ahead for social situations. My diet plan is flexible enough that "treat meals" can be fit in. For instance, a couple weeks ago I had a fondue party. I ate a proper breakfast and a light lunch, got in a run and long bike ride, and then ate consciously and sanely at the event. I didn't feel deprived, and I didn't delay my goals.

Have you received any negative criticism or questions along your journey? How did you deal with it?
Mostly positive, thankfully, but the worst is when people say I'm "obsessed" or "live at the gym". I spend 6-8 hours a week at the gym...are we really so out of touch with health that that amount is considered obsessive? I just remind myself that lazy people will criticize what they aren't willing to achieve.

What have you learned about yourself in the past year?
That I can do what I set out to do. I've learned that I can plan ahead and set huge goals and achieve them. I've learned that free weights and squat rack aren't just for men. I have so much self-confidence now, and I get incredible satisfaction out of lifting more than I could last week and seeing fat on my body replaced with muscle. It's pretty damn amazing.

Shannon and Sullivan, March 2012
Do you have any advice for people who want to make a lifestyle change?
Your body is an experiment, and what works for me might not work for you; you need patience, but play around with macros, calories, and workouts to see what best helps you accomplish your goals. Change doesn't happen overnight. Just start, and once you've started don't stop.


Thanks so much, Shannon! Congratulations on your weight loss so far and best of luck as you continue your fitness journey!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Zero Patience

It happens every year. People joke about it and laugh it off, but it's true. People get crabby during contest prep. I've officially entered the Annoyed-at-Everything-Zero-Patience phase.

I'm an optimistic, happy person by nature. I was a cheerleader in high school AND college, for pete's sake! But during a short time period when I'm getting ready for a show, I find myself easily annoyed, frustrated, and peeved. My (already low) patience level dips to near non-existent, and I have to consciously stop myself from immediately responding to comments and online posts until I take a deep breath and get my first impulse responses under control.

I like helping people, sharing knowledge, and watching people succeed. I get annoyed when I offer suggestions and helpful information that is either ignored or disregarded. If you don't want help, don't ask for it.

I belong to several online forums and groups. While some of the interactions are just mildly annoying to me, I got offended the other day when someone questioned my qualifications for writing health and fitness articles. No, I don't have any formal education; I've learned everything on my own through trial and error, listening to experts, and hours upon hours of research. I have nothing against education; in fact, I'm a huge proponent of college degrees. But I don't think they're a necessity in all situations. I've found that the most knowledgeable people are the ones who have put in the time to research and test theories, regardless of whether they're in a formal classroom setting, at their job, or do it in their spare time.

Before I responded to the question, I assessed my feelings.

  • Was I over-reacting?
  • Just because I read the question as offensive, was she really trying to offend me?
  • Was she simply curious about my background? (That information can be found after a 2 minute search on Facebook and my blog, btw.)
  • Was she implying that her formal education is superior to my personal experience?
  • Was she implying that I'm not qualified to write health and fitness articles?
  • Was I letting my crabby mood influence my perception of the question?
Since I don't know the girl personally, I gave her the benefit of the doubt. I responded in a polite manner and encouraged her to let me know if she had any other topic suggestions for me to write about. I'm a professional writer, so with enough time to do research, I can write about most any topic that's not too complex.

I realize that by writing in public forms, I'm opening myself up to criticism. I don't expect everyone to agree with me all the time; in fact, I appreciate it when people offer additional information or alternative ways of thinking. It's important to always be learning and open to new ideas and approaches.

Just because I choose to compete doesn't mean I need to make everyone around me miserable. I'm conscious of my attitude and my hair trigger temper, and I'm trying to just let things roll off my shoulders instead of focusing on the negative or on the things other people say or do. I need to keep my eye on the prize and stay focused on my goal. I'm pasting a smile on my face right now!

Do you get crabby, easily annoyed, or impatient during prep? How do you handle it? What are your thoughts on qualifications for writing articles?

Monday, April 23, 2012

Sweat to Street Sunday

My blogger friend, Tenecia, is part of a cool blog theme: Sweat to Street Sundays!

The premise is this:
Sweat to Street has been created as a place to link up your favorite outfits of the week as a new Sunday blog feature. The idea is to have some fun and change it up! Each week we encourage you to post one workout outfit and one outfit you wore that isn’t fitness related.
Within the past three years, I've slowly been upgrading my workout wear. My gym outfits now almost always sort of match! Victory!

This picture was taken last Tuesday.

Tank top: Bebe Sport
Sports bra: Under Armour
Capris: Under Armour
Shoes: Saucony
Accessories: Boots to Glutes wristband, Tiffany & Co. necklace, iPod with stupidest arm band holder in the world.

This was the outfit I wore to work on Tuesday. My current favorite dress!

Dress: Cameleon
Boots: Kenneth Cole
Accessories: Boots to Glutes wristband, Tiffany & Co. necklace

What does YOUR sweat to street style look like?

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Living the Fitness Lifestyle

While I think my lifestyle is perfectly normal, I'm often reminded that I'm different than others. I've been getting a lot of questions lately about the food I eat and how often I go to the gym. I know that most of you reading this also live the fitness lifestyle, so you understand why I drink a gallon of water a day and choose a gym workout over playing in a softball league. I was telling J about all the questions I've been answering lately, so he decided to create a video about living fitness 24/7.

Does any of this sound familiar to you? Do you cook huge batches of food once a week? Do you have more supplements than boxes of food in your house? What did you identify with and in what ways is your lifestyle different?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

A New Look

This past weekend, when I was in Minnesota (realizing how different I am), I had a photoshoot with one of my friends from college, Dan Norman. He and I have been talking about doing a shoot for awhile, but last time I was in Minnesota, I wasn't in shape. By "in shape," I mean I wasn't anywhere near contest shape. This time, however, since I'm in prep, I decided it'd be a good time to do a shoot.

I met Dan at his studio right after I landed in MN. I'm a little bummed that I actually did end up holding a bit of water under my skin from the plane ride (despite my best efforts), so I look a bit softer in the first couple series of photos. I can really see a difference in the last series; all the posing and moving around tightened me up.

I wanted a couple different looks; I needed some updated commercial/magazine photos, and I wanted a few grittier/hardcore/badass shots too.
Commercial/Fitness Model
Delts and V-Taper!
Back Double-Bi
Badass pose. This Iron Asylum tank top is my favorite tank!
Abs!! First time in my life I have visible abs. So unbelievably excited about this!
Tryin' to look tough.
Mission accomplished!

I'm so pleased with how these photos turned out! This was the first time in a few years that I've done a shoot without J being there to help direct me with poses. I learned a lot about posing and about what does and doesn't work for my body shape, as well as the importance of good lighting.

I changed my hair color the week before the shoot. I'd been planning on changing the color right before the show, but decided I wanted a different look for the photos, so J and I embarked on a home hair dye experiment one evening. It was ... an experience.

I'm excited about these photos and even more motivated for the next 11 weeks!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


This past weekend, I flew back to Minnesota to spend the Easter weekend with my family. On the flight there, I realized something: I'm not like everybody else. As I pondered that thought while snuggled up under a blanket in the very back row of the plane, I wrote this:

My show is in 12 weeks. I'm on a plane, heading to spend a long weekend with my family. I have a photoshoot immediately after I arrive in Minneapolis. My food for the weekend is in my trusty pink cooler, and my water bottle is in my backpack. I moved to the very back of the plane so I could stretch my legs across two seats, in hopes of eliminating any water retention from the flight.

I look around at the other passengers. No one else brought food for their whole trip with them. No one else is concerned about water retention and looking tight, yet full, for a photoshoot. I don't fit in. I didn't order anything to drink from the flight attendant. I refused her offer of peanuts, pretzels, or cookies. None of those foods are on my diet.

The smell of peanuts, and earlier, McDonald's Sausage McMuffin, wafts through the plane. My stomach growls in response. I listen to the other passengers ordering juice and wonder to myself if they know how much sugar and carbs are in juice. I decide they don't know or care. I wish I could have juice. I could have a Diet Coke, but 8am just seems too early for soda.

Sometimes I miss the days when I didn't read nutrition labels or think twice about beginning my day with a Bacon, Egg & Cheese Biscuit with hash browns and orange juice from McDonald's. Those days are long gone. I'm healthier now. But sometimes it's nice to indulge. Now is not the time for indulging. I have a goal, a purpose, a desire to win - to be the best. And that takes discipline, will power, and consistency. My eye is on the prize.

In an hour, I'll eat my 2nd meal of the day, and hope it digests quickly so my stomach doesn't look bloated at the shoot. I'll attempt to glue on my fake eyelashes in the plane restroom. It will be an adventure. Until then, I'll keep my feet up and try not to mess up my hair. Wouldn't want any bloating or bad hair to ruin the photos.

The photoshoot went well and I'm so excited to see all the pictures! Here's a sneak peak of one of them.

Tank top: Iron Asylum; Photographer: Dan Norman
I had a wonderful visit with my family and friends and got to enjoy a delicious Easter brunch too. I'm still coming to terms with feeling so different than the general public. Most of the time, I don't even realize it. Sometimes, though, it hits me over the head and makes me stop and think.

Do you ever feel different from everyone else?

Sunday, April 1, 2012


As of yesterday, March 31, I'm 13 weeks out from my show. I've "officially" been in prep for 7 weeks, and in that time, I've sloooooowly been getting smaller. Impatient by nature, I've been almost frustrated by how slowly I've been dropping weight. I didn't realize how much progress I had made until the other day. I tried on my "skinny jeans" ... and they fit!!

After celebrating by doing the Happy Dance around the room, I tried on another pair of "skinny jeans" ... and they fit too! Then I tried on a dress I bought last year when I was lean (and haven't been able to fit into for a year) ... and that fit too!

I'm finally shrinking! Hooray for progress!! 

For the past several months, I've been used to taking up a certain amount of room. In the past few weeks, I've slowly been noticing that I'm taking up less room. Some pairs of pants are really baggy now, some t-shirts aren't as tight as they used to be, and I'm able to wear tank tops I haven't fit into in months.

I'm still a few weeks shy of being stage ready, but it's exciting and reassuring to actually SEE my progress now! It's also a good reminder that the scale isn't the only indicator of progress; how clothes fit is a better indicator of body transformation.

Here's to the next 13 weeks!