Real women share the simple but little-known lessons that were essential to their success
Exercise is a Gift, Not a Punishment
1 of 15All photos
Krysten Bishop, Toronto, Ontario
The goal: To overcome breast cancer and regain her health.
The game changer: Before her breast cancer diagnosis, Krysten viewed working out as a penalty for not being good enough. "I had spent a lot of time exercising to achieve a number on the scale or to wear a certain dress size. It wasn't about health," she says.
Facing a life-threatening disease, she realized that she had to decide what was truly important—a bangin' body or a healthy body—and something changed. "I chose health. All of a sudden I started to respect my body for its strength and its ability. And I learned how to love myself," she says. After recovering from a double mastectomy, exercising and racing became an extension of who she was and a way to love that person.
The aftermath: Krysten is now cancer-free, healthy, and happy. And she no longer worries about numbers. "I stopped seeing a girl who wasn't good enough, and started seeing a girl who was worth it!"
Don't Eat Less, Just Eat Less Processed Food
2 of 15All photos
Adina Zilberman, New York, New York
Goal accomplished: Finished her first fitness competition.
Game changer: Like many people, Adina originally started working out to lose weight. But that all changed when a simple cold took her out of commission for a week. "All I wanted to do was work out! Sitting on my rear made me miserable! It was then I realized that this 'fitness-thing' wasn't just a short-term goal but a complete lifestyle overhaul," she says.
The experience inspired Adina to clean up her diet as well. "All my life, my dieting approach was simply to cut my calories and fat. During prep [for her fitness competition], I learned that it isn't quantity but quality of foods that matters most. When I cut out processed foods, I not only looked better, I felt a lot better too. I was eating more and losing weight," she says.
The aftermath: Adina is a National Physique Committee (NPC) bikini bodybuilding competitor and says she loves her new life—not just for the body transformation but for the spiritual one as well. "I learned that fitness is a long and tedious transition that happens slowly over time, but once it happens, it is both rewarding and magical!"
Photo: Krasey Beauty
You Can't Take Care of Others Unless You Take Care of Yourself First
3 of 15All photos
Sarah Briggs, Victor, New York
Goal accomplished: Ran her first marathon.
Game changer: At 213 pounds and dealing with a failing marriage, Sarah was in a dark place five years ago. "One morning I woke up and nothing felt right about where I was in life. I realized I didn't like who I had become. In fact, I didn't even know myself anymore." The mom of one says that in caring for everyone else, she'd lost herself. "I started running that very day," she says. "I just wanted to do something for myself!"
The aftermath: Putting herself first by staying consistent with her running has not only helped her lose weight and improved her relationships, but now she's training for her second marathon!
No Goal is Impossible When You Break It into Small, Simple Steps
4 of 15All photos
Christine Yu, Brooklyn, New York
Goal accomplished: Mastered a handstand in yoga.
Game changer: Despite 10 years of yoga experience under her spandex belt, Christine still harbored a secret fear… of inversions (upside-down poses). Even worse, she felt like her fear was dominating her practice and holding her back from finding her zen. Finally, she attended a handstand workshop where the teacher explained each individual movement and muscle engagement. "She broke it down into simple and manageable steps so that the idea of getting into handstand didn't seem so overwhelming or scary. When I knew what steps I needed to take, I wasn't as overwhelmed by my fear and knew I could do it!" Christine says.
The aftermath: Christine's success inspired her to become a yoga instructor herself, so now she helps others conquer their fears every day!
RELATED: Step-by-Step Breakdown: Handstand
Focus on What You Can Eat, Not What You Can't
5 of 15All photos
Amanda C. Brooks, Orlando, Florida
The goal: "I wanted to look like the athlete I felt like inside!"
The game changer: Dieting can be so restricting and yet to lose weight you need to find a way to reduce calories somehow. For Amanda, it was all about finding the right mindset that would help her stick to her goals and not feel too deprived. "I started to focus on eating seven to nine servings of fruits and vegetables every day, instead of spending all my time thinking about what not to eat," she says. "It shifted my whole perspective on food and made me focus on doing good things for my body!"
The aftermath: Now when Amanda looks in the mirror, she sees the athlete she always felt like on the inside. "This helped me realize I don't want to spend my life thinking about my weight. I want to be happy and focus on feeling good. Focusing on what to include, rather than exclude, changed everything!"
Focus on How You Feel, Not How Much You Weigh
6 of 15All photos
Tamara Grand, Port Moody, British Columbia
The goal: T help her personal training client break through a weight-loss plateau.
The game changer: After an initial 20-pound weight loss, Tamara's client hit a frustrating plateau that stalled her "progress" for months. Not knowing what to tell her, Tamara shifted her focus to listening instead, and she end up learning a valuable lesson. Her client explained that she didn't care whether or not she lost the last 20 pounds anymore because the "non-scale victories" such as increased confidence and energy levels were so much more fulfilling.
"She made me realize that oftentimes, the goals that we set for ourselves aren't necessarily the goals that we really need to achieve," Tamara says. "Paying attention to how we feel when we make healthy choices is so much more important than using an external metric to measure our progress."
The aftermath: This experience completely transformed the way Tamara works with clients and inspired her to write her first fitness book, Ultimate Booty Workouts.
Know When to Ask for Professional Help (and Do It)
7 of 15All photos
Kasandra Raux, Babylon, New York
Goal accomplished: Lost 87 pounds.
Game changer: At 25 years old and 240 pounds, Kasandra felt deeply ashamed about her weight, so much so that she cut all the tags out of her clothing and cropped all photos to only show her head and shoulders. Rude comments from friends were tough to bear, but Kasandra's real wakeup call came while reading through medical records at her job at a law firm. "I saw people having heart attacks at young ages because of their weight and it terrified me!" she says.
Shortly after, a new gym opened next to Kasandra's office. She signed up and hired a trainer and a nutritionist to help educate her about how to "do things the right way." She later added a therapist to help deal with emotional issues with food. "I thought once I lost the weight, everything would just be ‘right' and while things were better, I still had to deal with other issues," she says.
The aftermath: She ran a marathon! "I never thought I could run a marathon, especially when I was heavier. But I did, and it was the second best feeling after getting married!"
What Works for Someone Else Won't Necessarily Work for You
8 of 15All photos
Christy Dean, Wayne, New Jersey
The goal: To lose 40 pounds.
The game changer: A lifelong veteran of the diet wars, Christy found herself completely fed up with all the conflicting advice out there. "For a while I was following strict diets from countless weight-loss books and magazines, but to no avail. I felt angry, misguided, and hopeless," she says. Eventually she realized that every body is different, and she needed to take the time to figure out what worked for her.
One of her biggest discoveries was the importance of the waking hours. "I discovered eating breakfast every day and exercising in the early mornings really made a huge difference in my weight, energy, and overall health," she says.
The aftermath: Christy is now a holistic health coach who helps other people take responsibility for their own health.
The Best Diets Are the Ones Without Rules
9 of 15All photos
Annabel Adams, Long Beach, California
The goal: To finally give up dieting for good.
The game changer: Fed up with diets and their lists of rules, Annabel sat down one day to re-assess her approach. "I asked myself: ‘How do you want to spend the rest of your life? Do you want to spend your valuable time and energy obsessing over your weight, calculating and weighing your food instead of savoring it and truly living? Do you want your future kids to think that hating their bodies is a necessary rite of passage?' The answer was always a resounding no!" she says.
Shortly after, Anabel started following the "mindful eating" approach—simply listening to the body about what it wants and needs for nourishment. "I learned that if I give myself permission to eat everything I want, I won't actually spend all day binging on desserts!" she says. "One of the falsities most people believe about mindful eating is that if they give themselves permission to eat what they want, they'll lose control. In reality mindful eating is about regaining the connection with your body and its hunger and satiation cues that you lose when you diet."
The aftermath: Not only is Annabel now at a happy weight, she also feels an amazing freedom. "For the first time in my life, I can say that I eat in a way that is truly satisfying," she says.
Make Your Workout Non-Negotiable
10 of 15All photos
Danielle Diamond, Montclair, New Jersey
The goal: To finish a triathlon.
The game changer: Danielle was always a strong swimmer, but one fateful summer day, she and her son were caught in a riptide and nearly drowned. Thankfully they both made it out alive, but the traumatic experience left Danielle terrified of the water—which easily could've wrecked her goal of completing a triathlon. But she wouldn't let it! When race day came, Danielle stood at the starting line and felt her fear creeping in.
"I made being scared non-negotiable, telling myself that I just had to swim again no matter what had happened in the past," she says. And then she dove in. "Looking at the huge waves in the water, I realized that if I could get to the other side, then there was no mental or physical challenge I couldn't overcome."
The aftermath: Danielle now applies the same principle to all her workouts, even her daily meditation. "It's not even a thought whether I'm going to do it or not!" she says. She's also since founded Xen Strength Yoga to help others build strength, mentally and physically.
It's Never Too Late to Finish What You've Started
11 of 15All photos
Shannon Hagen, Burnsville, Minnesota
The goal: To finish the fitness competition she started 13 years earlier.
The game changer: After only a few sessions with a well-known bodybuilding coach, an eager, young Sharon found out she was pregnant with her first child. While she was delighted to become a mom, it meant putting her weight-lifting goals on hold. Thirteen years later, when a friend at the gym asked Shannon to do a fitness competition with her, she finally felt the time was right. She hired a coach, started tracking her nutrition, and end up winning second place in her show.
"The transformation didn't happen over night, but it did happen," she says, adding that with the right tools and hard work, it is possible to get that pre-baby body back.
The aftermath: "I've learned that some set backs can't be looked on as disappointments," she says. Shannon now has four more competitions under her belt and works as a personal trainer and group fitness instructor in hopes of empowering other women to reach their health and fitness goals.
Sign Up for a Diet or Fitness Challenge to Bust Out of a Rut
12 of 15All photos
Katrina Plyler, Tuscaloosa, Alabama
Goal accomplished: To lose 40 pounds.
The game changer: As an avid runner and CrossFitter, Katrina was agitated to see her times slowing down and her WODs (CrossFit lingo for "workout of the day") suffering as she gained weight. The extra pounds bothered her but not nearly as much as being unable to compete in the sports she loved at the level she was used to. So when her CrossFit gym started a Whole30 challenge (a strict diet that eliminates all grains, dairy, legumes, sugar, and processed foods), she signed up—though her first day was also almost her last.
Feeling tired and stressed after a rough day at work, all Katrina wanted was a cold Coca Cola, rationalizing that she needed, no, deserved one. But before she could push the button on the vending machine, a quote by Jordan Belfort popped into her mind: "The only thing standing between you and your goal is the bull*&#! story you keep telling yourself as to why you can't achieve it."
"I got angry with myself, but I made it through the day without a soda," she says.
The aftermath: Katrina successfully completed the challenge and felt motivated to maintain her healthy habits. She went on to lose 43 pounds in four months and has kept it off for almost a year.
Do What You Can, Not What You Think You Should (It's OK to Walk!)
13 of 15All photos
Alexandra Williams, Santa Barbara, California
The goal: To run a half-marathon.
The game changer: After 30 years as a fitness instructor, a foot injury that required surgery had Alexandra re-evaluating her relationship with fitness. "I was feeling sorry for myself when I realized that it was just my foot that was out of commission for two months, not the rest of me," she says. She returned to training as soon as she could, this time only doing things that wouldn't risk slowing her healing process, like rowing and strength training.
When the day of the half marathon arrived, Alexandra knew that running 13.1 miles was a huge injury risk and decided to walk it instead. By the time she crossed the finish line she was crying-not tears of pain but tears of joy! " I learned that being realistic about my goals (I walked, not ran) made me successful. And I surprised myself with the discovery that my mind is my strongest asset—it led me to the finish line," she says.
The aftermath: Today Alexandra is back in the fitness studio teaching classes but now she makes sure to let her students know there is no shame in walking!
Make One Simple Change (No More Soda for Me!)
14 of 15All photos
Kenlie Tiggeman, New Orleans, Louisiana
The goal: To lose half her body weight.
The game changer: Although painful and slightly embarrassing, a simple fall shouldn't be a big deal. But when Kenlie, weighing more than 400 pounds at the time, fell during a trip to Washington D.C., she fractured her foot. To make matters worse, it took four men to carry her back up the escalator to get help. In the pain and humiliation of that moment, she knew she needed to make a change and lose weight (200 pounds to be exact).
Down 100 pounds so far, Kenlie credits a lot of her success to breaking her soda addiction. "Maintaining my 100-pound loss (so far) makes me feel good, but I can't express how empowering it was to break the addiction to soft drinks," she says. "I haven't had one since 2009, and life is exponentially better as a result!"
The aftermath: No more staircase embarrassments! Kenlie recently moved to a high-rise apartment complex and when the elevators went out, she had to take the stairs up several flights. "Before I started exercising regularly, taking the stairs up that many flights would have been impossible," she says. "Now it's no big deal."
Stop Doubting Yourself and Just Try!
15 of 15All photos
Lynda Benson, Sonoma, California
Goal accomplished: Completed her first Warrior Dash.
Game changer: When Lynda hit her 40s, she began to wonder if staying inside her comfort zone meant letting life pass her by, so she pushed self-doubt aside and signed up for the Warrior Dash. Everything was going well… until the monkey bars obstacle. "I just stood on the highest step and remember reaching out for the bars and just froze. I actually said out loud ‘no I can't, I can't do this, I can't get across!"
After more than a few tears and some tough love from her friend, Lynda says she conquered her doubts, let out a rebel yell, and powered across. "Now I know I don't have to grow old and slow down. I can be as amazing as I want and continue to age while being in the best shape possible, inside and out," she says.
The aftermath: Lynda's bravery has rubbed off on her children. "They are incorporating good and healthy habits into their own daily lifestyles, whether it be excited about P.E. in school or even what we're eating. I'm the role model they look up to, and that's awesome!"