Reader Marian Ferry wasn't always a personal trainer, fitness bikini competitor, and lover of weight lifting. After countless trips to the emergency room and always feeling tired and out of shape, she decided at 19 that she needed to change her habits. "Every doctor that I visited told me the only thing I could do to stop the vomiting, bloating, nausea, and GI distress was to change my diet and limit my stress level," she told us. "How does a college student limit stress and completely revamp a diet that consisted of campus foods and beer?"
But she did, gradually eliminating dairy, wheat and gluten, and processed foods and committing to a workout routine. Once the pounds started melting off, she added strength training, as well. "After about six months, I branched out and got over my fear of lifting weights. The next 20 pounds fell off before I even knew it," she says. Read Marian's entire inspiring before-and-after story below!
POPSUGAR: What made you decide to start?
Marian: When I first began my weight-loss journey, I was a sophomore in college with no knowledge of how to lose weight. I didn't even know how to successfully lose and keep off a pound. So 40 pounds was something that seemed nothing short of impossible. But I didn't have much of a choice. I could either continue to have a very negative and unhealthy relationship with food, or I could get a grip on my eating habits while I was still young so that I could set myself up for success in the long run.
The year before I began my weight-loss journey, I was in and out of doctors' offices and emergency rooms. I was becoming a regular and hated every second of it. That's mainly because I heard the same thing over and over again and was becoming frustrated that there wasn't an easier solution to my problems. I was told more times than not that I had to lower my stress level and stop eating wheat, gluten, and dairy, because we discovered I have significant intolerance to those foods. I was a college student that lived off Taco Bell, beer, and campus food. But it explained why for my entire life I felt like I woke up with the flu every single day.
But when I really thought about why I wanted to commit to a healthier lifestyle besides my allergies, I realized I just wanted to feel comfortable in my own skin. I was tired of feeling sick, self-conscious, and uncomfortable in my own skin and, yes, uncomfortable in my clothes.
PS: What's your favorite way to work out?
MF: I like to do a combination of strength training and cardio. I've tried it all in the past. I've tried long distance running, kick boxing, CrossFit, dance classes, etc. I was a cardio queen and wouldn't step foot near weights in the beginning of my journey. And while yes, I lost weight, I really only became a smaller version of myself. I had none of the beautiful curves from toned muscle that I have now because I refused to pick up a weight. So over time I've found that my body and my mind respond best to cardio to keep my heart and my mind happy, and weights to keep my muscles and joints happy.
PS: What's your weekly exercise schedule?
MF: My current exercise schedule contains a decent amount of cardio as well as five days a week of strength training, because in seven weeks, I'll be competing in an NPC Bikini Competition. When I'm not in competition prep, I like to do three to four cardio sessions a week and five days of strength training. I split my strength training up by major muscle groups, training one to two major muscle groups a session. For my cardio, I like to do weekly HIIT workouts to burn the maximum amount of calories in the shortest amount of time and include some steady state cardio in as well. An example of my current schedule:
- Sunday: Leg day, HIIT
- Monday: Rest day
- Tuesday: Chest and arms, HIIT
- Wednesday: Lower-body plyometrics
- Thursday: Rest day
- Friday: Glutes, HIIT
- Saturday: Upper body and abs, steady-state cardio
PS: How do you keep workouts exciting?
MF: As many people know, sometimes weight training can lack a lot of excitement that classes like kickboxing or Zumba regularly have. But since my body responds best to weight training, I regularly have to change up my routines to keep things exciting. I love change. So changing my routine every four to six weeks keeps me in check. For those four weeks, every workout I give myself a goal. Things like decreasing my rest time, trying to increase weight, or trying to beat the amount of reps I did in one minute during my plyo workout the week before gives me something to work toward. I'm a very goal-oriented person, so setting goals for myself and working to accomplish them is exciting to me.
PS: How much weight have you lost?
MF: I started my weight-loss journey at 162 pounds. I'm only 5'6''. So for me personally, that was very uncomfortable. I have short(ish) legs and a long torso, so when I gain weight, I carry it mostly in my legs. I'm not one to obsess about the "thigh gap," but my legs had gotten to the point where when I ran or walked, it was borderline painful from them rubbing together.
Before I started training for my competition, I weighed 119 pounds. So I lost over 40 pounds total. I'm currently at 127 pounds with significantly more muscle, but physically I look similar to when I weighed 119. That's where "muscle weighs more than fat" [myth] really comes into play.
PS: What was the first big difference, other than the number on the scale, that really made you feel proud and excited?
MF: I didn't grow up incredibly athletic. While yes, I played sports growing up, I never fell in love with anything until I began weight training and incorporating plyometric workouts. But in the beginning, it was hard. I couldn't do a standard military-style push-up. Nor could I do a box jump during a plyo workout. In high school, we had to do box jumps in one of our gym classes. I still remember the day like it was yesterday. My strength was so low that I couldn't successfully jump up onto the box that every one of my peers could do easily. It ended in me falling on my face on the box. I'm lucky I didn't knock a tooth out. The day I could do 20 regular push-ups and an entire minute of box jumps and not fall on my face was the day I really became inspired and proud of what I accomplished.
PS: How do you track your weight loss?
MF: I used to be a lover of the scale. I couldn't get enough of the feeling of accomplishment as I watched the number slowly decrease. But after a while, I had to sit back and admit I had become obsessed with the number — so obsessed that I even brought my scale with me on family vacations. I would gladly sacrifice a pair of shoes if that meant I could pack my scale and not be over the weight limit.
Today I have a much healthier relationship with tracking progress. It took a lot of work to be able to get up in the morning and not jump on the scale. It was a mental battle. But I realized, for my mental health, I needed to find other ways to track things like muscle gain and weight loss.
I regularly take pictures and compare simply because the number on the scale can be deceiving. I also pay attention to how my clothes fit. I think doing things like that instead of relying on something that could be skewed simply if you haven't gone to the bathroom that day properly is much more accurate.
PS: What's a typical day of meals and snacks?
MF: I LOVE food! I eat a lot of it. Clean and nutritious foods rich in macro and micronutrients make up 90 percent of my diet. The other 10 percent is left for sweets throughout the week, because I have a fierce sweet tooth. On a normal day, my meals are as follows:
- Breakfast: Complex carbs and protein make up my first meal of the day. My favorite is oatmeal with blueberries and three to four egg whites.
- Midmorning snack: Again, I'll have complex carbs to keep my energy up as well as another serving of protein to hold me over until lunch. Carbs like yams or brown rice topped with some seasoned chicken breast is so easy to make and carry with me during a busy day.
- Lunch: I love to have quinoa for lunch. It's so versatile and so easy to make. Normally I add a lean fish or lean ground turkey to the quinoa, as well as any and all vegetables I can find. My favorite is bell peppers, broccoli, onions, spinach, and a little Mrs. Dash seasoning to taste.
- Midafternoon snack: The afternoon is where I like to get in my serving of healthy fats. I live for peanut butter, hence part of the name of my blog (Peanut Butter Plank). An apple with peanut butter or almonds is my favorite afternoon snack.
- Dinner: I save most of my complex carbs for the morning and early afternoon. So dinner is where I get some more protein and as many servings of vegetables as I can eat! Currently I'm eating lean ground turkey, green beans, sautéed mushrooms and onions, with some white bean hummus on the side. Supereasy and works well with my busy schedule.
- If I get hungry before bed, I like to have some plain nonfat greek yogurt with chocolate flavored protein powder mixed into it. It makes me feel like I'm eating chocolate pudding but without the guilt!
PS: What's the range of calories you eat per day?
MF: I eat between 1,600 and 1,800 calories every day. On days I'm in the gym, it will be more toward 1,800 or even a little above.
PS: What are the healthy staples that are always in your fridge?
MF: If you were to open my fridge on any given day, I always have the following items: egg whites, spinach, peppers, apples, lean protein like chicken breast and ground turkey, coconut milk, hummus, lemons, and whatever green veggie I'm craving that week. Oh, and onions. I really love sautéed onions.
PS: How do you strategize for meals out?
MF: Eating out for my fiancée and me is a big treat. We don't eat out much anymore. It's especially hard for me to eat out because of my food intolerances. So when I'm looking over a menu I look for key items like chicken breast, veggies, and gluten-free items. If there's a creamy sauce or something is cooked in butter, I ask for my meal without those things. And I regularly substitute items like fries and mashed potatoes for a side of grilled veggies or a salad. I go into the restaurant knowing what to look for, so I stay on track.
If I'm not prepping for competition or I've been right on track with my clean eating, sometimes I'll indulge in those added flavors and foods, simply because it keeps my mind happy! Being overly restrictive for really long, extended periods of time has a tendency to make me more likely to binge-eat even after a meal out simply because I've felt deprived. So we indulge in really amazing cheat meals about two to three times per month.
PS: What advice do you have for anyone starting out on a weight-loss journey?
MF: Here's my advice: patience is going to be your best friend. We live in a society that wants results overnight without putting in the work. But that takes away the accomplishment and feeling of victory once you've achieved your goal. And you're more likely to go right back into the old habits that put you in the position you're in right now or when you started. Set yourself up for success and the ability to keep the weight off long term by embracing the saying, "Slow and steady wins the race." I tell my clients or anyone that will listen to give themselves about four weeks to start seeing even minor results, eight weeks for people who see you regularly to see a change, and 12 weeks total for every one else to notice a change if you're staying consistent. I find that helps put things into perspective a little more.
Also, educate yourself. Weight loss is a big deal. And sometimes if not done right, it can be very dangerous. Don't follow a fad diet or crazy workout routine blindly just because it promises you results. Everyone is different. Every body should not be treated the same. No one has walked in your shoes, just like no one has walked in mine. Educate yourself on proper nutrition and exercise so that you know how to listen to your body and respond to its signals appropriately.