How trading chronic cardio for weight lifting and a clean diet helped one woman reach her weight loss goals
Say the word "fit" and most of us immediately picture a tall, tan, slim woman running effortlessly through a field of flowers. But when Ami Paulsen, a 33-year-old mother of two from Denver, decided to get healthy herself she quickly discovered two things wrong with that picture: First, jogging isn't the best weight-loss solution for everyone, and secondly weight loss is anything but effortless. (Trying to lose weight? Start with our 30-Day Weight Loss Challenge)
"I've been chubby pretty much my whole life," she says. "I was 'fat' by 4th grade, I basically went from a size 5 toddler straight to a size 14 and stayed there." And it wasn't because she was mainlining chips and channel surfing. Throughout high school, she swam five to six days a week and in college, she added running five miles a day.
But while she did endless cardio and stuck to a strict low-fat diet plan, her body stayed the same. "I remember watching my roommates bingeing on Oreos while I ate one slice of light bread with a squirt of spray butter (just one point on Weight Watchers!)," she says. "It felt so unfair; I could run circles around all of them, but they were a size two and I was a size 14."
Still, she kept trying the best she knew how. As she graduated from college, got married and had two kids, she cycled through every diet she could find while keeping up her long daily runs and workouts. Yet nothing changed her weight or body shape. Finally, during a yoga class with a thin friend, she snapped.
"I've done Atkins, Weight Watchers, and low-fat diets; I run five miles a day, every day; I do intermittent fasting and never eat after seven p.m. and nothing works," she vented.
"I can help you with that," her friend said simply. And with that Ami discovered that everything she thought she knew about being healthy was completely wrong.
"The first thing I learned is that fat isn't the enemy, sugar is—and sugar is in everything," she says. (Is Fructose the Reason You're Not Losing Weight?)
Giving up sugar was tough, but it made sense to her. The real blow came when her friend told her she needed to stop running. Instead, she focused on lifting weights and doing short bursts of high-intensity interval cardio. "I was scared to give up running," she says. "Dropping from working out for hours a day to just 20 minutes was terrifying. What if I got even bigger?"
She didn't though. In just three weeks she lost 15 pounds and at her annual Thanksgiving family dinner, her relatives couldn't stop telling her how great she looked. The positive feedback from her loved ones and the on-going fitness challenges from her friend were just the motivation she needed to keep going.
"I'd seen other people lose weight but I thought they were different somehow, I'd never seen an ordinary person like me do it," she says. "But then there I was, doing it."
As Ami continued to make her little changes into a whole healthy lifestyle, eventually settling on eating a Paleo diet and doing five short-but-intense workouts a week, she soon began to see other benefits. "Yes, I was losing weight but even better, my eczema, anxiety, restless leg syndrome, and insomnia completely disappeared," she explains. "I realized that being skinny wasn't enough motivation to do this my whole life. I thought that's what I wanted, but I began to see it's really about how I feel. I didn't realize how much food affected me, and now I'm addicted to feeling healthy."
About a year into it, her weight loss plateaued and she panicked. "I kept thinking 'Nobody will like me anymore if I'm not thin, and I'll be a failure," she says. So she tried exercising more and eating less, but she says all that lead to was crushing fatigue, joint pain, and "destroyed adrenals." Eventually, after her husband told her with alarm that her constant exercising wasn't healthy, she decided to scale it back and work on acceptance instead of weight loss.
"Part of this process has been discovering that there are so many different healthy body types and I'm in my body's comfort zone now. I'm never going to be a size two, and that's fine," she says. "I need to balance fitness with my other priorities. I want to be a wife and mother and that comes first."
And that is what she says she wishes more people realized about her weight-loss journey: "People will try and tell you that you can have everything—but that's a lie, you can't," she says. "You have to make choices and sacrifice things you love and that is really, really hard. But it's worth it."
These days Ami sticks to her HIIT-style workouts and strict paleo diet but every once in a while she still heads out for a run, not because she's trying to lose weight but simply because she loves the endorphins and the feeling of peace and freedom it gives her.
To read more about Ami's journey check out her blog C is For Coconut.