Updated: November 06, 2017

April's challenge Growing up, April was always heavy, though she kept her weight down by staying active. But after a death in her family while she was away at college, she turned to food for comfort, started smoking, stopped working out-and gained 40 pounds, reaching 160.

The first steps April realized her lifestyle was damaging her health during a weekend hiking trip. "I was 21, the youngest in the group, and I couldn't make it to the top of the mountain," she says. That very week, she quit smoking and began working out-begrudgingly. "My heart wasn't into exercising," she says. "I also struggled with eating right. Though I cut calories at mealtimes, I snacked on foods like doughnut holes and fries." As a result, her weight fluctuated over the next six years. It wasn't until she gave birth to a daughter and then a son in her late 20s that she felt motivated to make a commitment to her well-being. "I knew that I had to treat my body better, if for no other reason than to set a healthy example for my kids," she says.

A new strategy Rather than fixate on a number on the scale, April decided to train for a mini triathlon that was a year away. She started gradually, walking a mile on the treadmill every few days. Soon the walking turned into jogging. When she was up to three miles, she took her workouts outdoors, and the pounds really started to come off; within two months, she had dropped 16 pounds. At this point, she knew she needed a fresh approach to eating. "I began looking at food as fuel rather than as a treat," she says. She consistently ate five servings of fruits and vegetables every day, along with lean protein and whole grains, like brown rice. To round out her triathlon skills, April also started biking a 12-mile loop around her neighborhood and swimming laps at the local Y.

Reaching the finish line A year after kicking off her training regimen, April hit 130 pounds. More importantly, she completed the triathlon she'd set her sights on. Over the next year, she continued to compete in short-distance triathlons and reached her current weight of 120. Now she's eyeing her first Ironman: a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride, and a 26.2- mile run. "Before, I was trying to fit a mold of how I should look, rather than working out to take care of myself," she says. "But these days, the exercise itself is the reward. I can't believe I ever considered being active a chore!"

3 stick-with-it secrets

Find the right gym for you "Mine has great child care. If it didn't, I'd never be able to keep up with my training."

Stock up on fresh produce "When I got bored eating the usual fruits and vegetables, I joined a local farmer's co-op."

Know your limit "If I go 3 pounds over my optimal weight of 120, I start cutting back on snacks."

Weekly workout schedule Running 45 minutes/4 days a week

Swimming 60 minutes/2 days a week

To submit your own success story, go to shape.com/model.

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