How Karla Pankow found fitness and finally changed her lifestyle for the healthier.
As a kid, I was always the tallest and biggest girl in school, but I was never fat. I was active and played sports, but once I went to college, that all came to an end. During my first year, I gained what they call the "freshman fifteen" and that's where my struggle with weight really began.
Anyone else keep their “fat clothes” around after losing a good chunk of weight? Aside from a handful of t-shirts, a couple of sweatshirts, and a jacket or two that I keep around for farm work— I threw out or donated most everything. It’s a nice check-in every now and again to see how far you’ve come - especially on those days when you’re not so convinced.
By the time I reached my early 20s, I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism which had a huge impact on my metabolism and how well I could burn calories, as well as connective tissue disease and fatty liver. After that, I just kept making excuses and blamed the fact that I was big-boned and had health problems for my weight gain. (Related: Could Kale Cause Hypothyroidism?)
I never really had an 'aha moment' or wake-up call that forced me to make a change. In some ways, I had those moments every day for years. As a young girl, I grew up in an environment where someone was always on a diet and no one had a very healthy understanding of food. That's something I inadvertently inherited but always saw as problematic.
After college, I worked in the pharmaceutical industry in the cardiovascular division and was astounded at how easily doctors prescribed pills to patients. I always felt that a lot of their health problems could have been treated, if not resolved, with the help of proper diet and exercise, but that wasn't something doctors prescribed. Since I took a slew of medications myself because of my illnesses, not once had a doctor spoken to me about losing weight as a potential form of treatment so I had always wondered if there were more natural ways to go about feeling better.
By the time I reached my 30s, I weighed 300 pounds, had high blood pressure, high cholesterol and was pre-diabetic. Walking up a simple flight of stairs had me out of breath and bending over to tie my shoes was a nightmare. During this time, I started to develop some joint pain and was told to go to physical therapy. That's when I had had enough.
Kicking off this weekend with a mixed training — some work on calves, thighs, biceps, triceps, forearms, chest, and delts - ending with a 2,000 meter row. Nutrition continues to be on point here in this 4th week — I’ll be closing out the day with my macro goals in range. Monday morning reveal of what progress has been made in this first month as I work towards slow and steady fat loss, while sparing as much muscle as possible. Have a great weekend, folks!
In January 2016, I had my last physical therapy appointment and the very next day I walked down the street to the Anytime Fitness in my neighborhood. The first thing I did was ask for a personal trainer and within minutes they introduced me to someone who I thought was my worst nightmare—a skinny, blonde, bubbly woman named Heather Clark who didn't seem to have a single flaw.
My gut instinct was to roll my eyes, turn around and walk right back home, but I quickly realized how judgemental I was being. I couldn't count the number of times I'd joined gyms and just never carried through. So I told myself that to have a different outcome, I would need to do something different this time. (Related: Blogger Unknowingly Body Shames Herself and Shares the Comical Photo to Prove it)
I worked with Heather twice a week for a year. She would focus on high-intensity training during our sessions while I did some weight training and cardio two-three days on my own. When I first started, I could barely do a single push-up, but Heather had a way of testing my boundaries without making me feel discouraged. She also did all the workouts with me rather than just telling me what to do. On the days I wouldn't show up, she would check in with me and make sure I remembered my personal goals. It was an incredible experience and now, even though she isn't my trainer anymore, we've become friends, still go to the gym together and even have a few 5Ks under out belt.
Holy crap, I just completed my first triathlon! To know me, is to know that this is a massive accomplishment. Just a little over a year ago, I was carrying 100 extra pounds, my connective tissue disease was at its worst, and I could barely walk a 5k, let alone swim, then bike, then run back-to-back. I'm not strong at any of these three sports - in fact, the past few months, kicked off my first time swimming since my high school years. I had simple goals for today: 1. Don't drown. 2. No, seriously - don't drown. 3. Don't stop. Not even to walk. Just keep going. 4. Slow and steady. Find my rhythm. 5. Zen-like breathing. Enjoy the process. 6. Finish under 2:45. Not gonna lie .... as I turned that corner for those final 200 meters, crowds cheering, I got choked up a little. This new and amazing life of health and endurance. What a gift I've given myself. More pictures to come, but wow - what an incredible and empowering event! Big thanks to the YWCA Minneapolis Women's Triathlon - I am so grateful! #ywca #ywcawomenstri @ywcausa @ywcampls #grrlarmy
It was through my training with Heather that I also began to change my nutritional habits. While she couldn't give me advice on what to eat considering she wasn't a nutritional coach, she did share how much of an impact clean eating can have on weight loss.
It was around that time that a friend of mine introduced me to the Nutritional Therapy Association, where he'd taken a yearlong program to become a nutritional practitioner. He encouraged me to give the program a try, especially given the fact that I was trying to lose weight.(Related: This Fitness Blogger is Proving That Abs Really Are All About What You Eat)
Considering I didn't know much about food at all, I decided to enroll in the course and became a certified nutritional therapy practitioner. That's when I really began getting the in-depth knowledge I needed to change my entire approach to food. Since then, I've adopted a whole foods approach where I try to eat foods that are as close to their natural form as possible. I've also never counted calories or weighed my food, but just made better, more conscious choices overall.
Fast forward to today and I've lost more than 100 lbs. Along with being a Certified Nutritional Therapy Practitioner, I'm also a Certified Personal Trainer working on my Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) certification. I'm also a firefighter—the only female in our department—something I would have never dreamt of becoming a few years ago. The fact that I can actually be a part of the community, help people and do things I was never able to do before, is truly life-changing.
Being a firefighter, especially on the rescue side of things, is very physically demanding. The gear alone is 75 pounds, so it brings its own challenges. But just the fact that I can physically do it all is still mind-blowing to me.
Incredible day! Nine hours of carrying an additional 75 pounds in tight quarters, with limited to zero visibility, in temperatures that reached 600 degrees and higher. Can't think of a better way to spend a Saturday! (Although leg day may be a close second ) Grateful for health and strength to pursue these passions!
Looking forward, as I go into my second year of losing weight, I would like to drop another 40 pounds and try powerlifting. That's just something I've always been fascinated by. I'd also like to continue my public service work and look forward to being an EMT full-time once I get my certification in February.
Other than that, I'd like to be an example and help those who've had very similar paths to mine. If nothing else, I hope my story can help people understand how important it is to take that first step. You can't get results if you do the same thing over and over again. You've got step out of your comfort zone, educate yourself and fight for the healthy life you've been craving. Doing that has allowed me to do things I never thought I could—and that sense of accomplishment is unparalleled.