She opens up about the importance of putting your long-term health first.

By Faith Brar
Updated: November 29, 2017

Starting college means figuring out how to balance school, work, a social life, and living on your own all at the same time. So it's no surprise that health and fitness often fall to the end of the list for a lot of students-something Janelle Vircks understands well.

"I was so active in high school, but once college hit, taking care of myself just fell by the wayside," Janelle tells Shape. "I found myself making excuses-that I didn't have time to work out or that other things were more important."

After gaining 40 pounds, Janelle started taking diet pills, restricting her eating, and doing things like colon cleanses in an effort to lose weight. "Nothing really worked," she says. "I always ended up feeling defeated because I didn't realize that you couldn't do all of those things for the rest of your life since they're not sustainable."

Soon, her physical changes started to manifest emotionally, and her body image and self-esteem took a big hit. "I felt fine in clothes, but I never wanted to look in the mirror, and I dreaded ever having a moment where I had to be in a swimsuit," she says. (Related: Why This Woman "Forgot Her Bikini" On a Date to the Beach)

The Turning Point

That moment came two years ago on a ski trip. Janelle says her friends decided to go in the hot tub. "I didn't even realize how embarrassed I was of my body until then," she says. "I didn't want anyone to see me, so I put a towel on and waited till no one was watching before slipping into the water. I kept most of my body under water, which was a really low point for me."

"I realized that my confidence was broken," she says. "I also felt really tired, and deep down I knew I had to start taking care of myself if I wanted to give more of myself to my family, my friends, my schoolwork, and my career."

In an effort to change her perspective, Janelle began following people who motivated her on Instagram, which included fitness influencer Liz Love. "I really loved her feed and decided to reach out to her for help and ended up joining her virtual challenge group on Facebook," she says. "She taught me a totally different way to view nutrition, which I needed help with desperately."

Changing Her Food Views

With Liz's support, Janelle was able to shift away from the "clean-cut, cheating is bad" idea about food and move on to something much more practical. "Now, I'm all about how the food makes me feel," says Janelle. "I've learned so much about portion control and what it means to eat a balanced diet, which was something I had no clue about before. I constantly try to educate myself, and I don't restrict anything too much." (Related: Do Cheat Days Really Work?)

"I realize that not every day is going to be perfect and that it's not the end of the world if I slip up as long as I'm being intentional with what I'm eating and listening to what my body needs."

Making a Commitment to Fitness

Janelle also started Liz's free at-home workout program called Love To Be Fit. She admits that she wasn't comfortable walking into the gym at that point "so finding something that allowed me to work out from the comfort of my home was a major motivator."

But the road was anything but easy. "I hated my first workout," says Janelle. "It's just hard to start something and stick with it, but I realized that once you get through the hard and the ugly, it's totally worth it because if you want something in your life to change, you need to put work into it."

The Results

Janelle lost 14 pounds within the first month of her journey. "From there on out, the weight loss was slow, but I ended up losing a total of 35 pounds over about six months," she says. "Seeing those changes physically was obviously motivating but it most certainly turned into a much bigger transformation in terms of my relationship with my body."

Being a part of a community is something Janelle credits for helping her make it happen. "Liz and the rest of the online fitness community have helped me keep things together and have been my rock throughout my entire journey," says Janelle. "I think it's so important to surround yourself with people who support you and keep you motivated and that's exactly what they've done for me."

She admits that the road to self-acceptance isn't an easy one, and the process to get there is daunting. "Everything these days is about loving yourself first, but I still don't think people understand how difficult and challenging that can be," she says. "It took me a really long time to get to a good place, and it only happened after I stopped focusing on the physical and started to think about how my new lifestyle was making me feel." (Related: This Woman Realized You Have to Put Mental Health Before Weight Loss)

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