Weight Loss Stories – Charlene Lost 96 Pounds and 20 Sizes

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Name: Charlene
Age: 51
Family Status: Married, three sons
Occupation: Attorney and Fitness Blogger
Hometown: Reading, Massachusetts
Height: 5’3”
Starting Weight: 208 pounds
Lowest Weight: 112 pounds
Current Weight: 117 pounds (I put on muscle mass)
Current Waist Size: 25”

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Charlene’s Weight Loss Interview!

How much did you lose?
From my heaviest point to my goal (208 pounds to 112 pounds) I lost a total of 96 pounds, but since hitting that goal I have put on more lean muscle mass and I’m currently 117 pounds. I went from a size 22 down to a size 2!

When did you become unhappy with your weight?
My weight gain, like many women experience, had been gradual. A few pounds in college, a few more in law school, and then my weight slowly crept up, and I weighed much more than I had dreamt of for my own wedding day. Later, I remember having an event to go to, and nothing fit. I remember tearfully telling my best friend that I couldn’t believe I weighed 170 pounds. Despite trying everything from Atkins to Weight Watchers, the scale continued to climb, and after I had my first son I hit an OMG number of 208 pounds!

Charlene was featured in First for Women magazine!

Charlene was featured in First for Women magazine!

What made you decide to lose weight?
I had treated myself to a day of beauty at the spa before my first son’s Christening, and was mortified when I had to return to the desk and ask the receptionist if they had a larger robe, as the one-size-fits-all robe, was lying. That was my “aha moment”. While I couldn’t ignore the sizes on my clothes getting larger, I felt a balance of denial and excuses. I spent a lot of time feeling sorry for myself, as it seemed like my friends could eat salami sandwiches on white bread with mayonnaise and weigh 108 pounds. I blamed a bad metabolism, my hypoactive thyroid that I had been diagnosed with at age 19, genetics and anything else I could think of. It was a balance of self-pity, self-disgust and just downright disbelief. You have an image in your head of what you look like, and for me it took a day at the spa to face the reality, that I no longer resembled my former self.

What were the most important changes you made to lose weight?
I found weight training like some people find religion. It was that life changing to me in my quest to break up with 96 pounds. Any other time I had tried to exercise, like most women, I focused almost exclusively on cardio. I came to learn the hard way, that you simply can’t outrun the fork. I typically would go for walks or do a group cardio class.

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Charlene’s after photos were taken by Cordele Photography and her makeup designer was Janeen Jones Hair & Makeup

The biggest change I made to my diet was to try my best to eliminate added refined sugar and starchy carbs from my diet. I added in eggs, whole oatmeal, lean proteins and lots of leafy green veggies. I swapped sweet potatoes for white potatoes, riced cauliflower and short grain brown rice for white rice. Gone are the days of piña coladas and fried pizza skins! I had a serious break up with my relationship with breads and pastas, as there are some foods that it’s very difficult for me to have a little of, so it’s easier to have none, plus I really try to pick foods with the most nutritional bang for my calorie buck so to speak.

What was the most challenging thing you had to deal with during your weight loss journey?
By far the hardest part of changing my eating habits is the social aspect. Everything seems to revolve around food: going out for drinks and apps, parties, dinners, and snacks. I gradually learned to check out menus online ahead of time to plan out my meals, so I could know what I was going to order when I go out with friends, and try to choose restaurants like Seasons 52 or Legal Seafood that have an abundance of healthy offerings. I also order like Sally (as in “When Harry Met Sally” and order this without that, and this on side, etc.!) I have also really tried to watch my alcohol intake, as even after all this time, I find “vodka leads to Oreos.”

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I also found that while generally people seemed to be supportive of my healthier lifestyle, saboteurs are everywhere. Did you ever hear that expression, “Show me your friends and I’ll show you your future?” If you’re trying to develop healthier eating habits and a solid fitness routine, you may be surprised by how those closest to you respond. Saboteurs have very tempting catchphrases: Well start tomorrow; Just this once; You’re no fun any more; Don’t deprive yourself, etc. You’re going to need to be the captain of your own fitness ship! As captain, you should also be aware that your crew is not always going to be supportive or encouraging, and that may be for a million reasons, and you’ll drive yourself crazy trying to figure out why. Besides the saboteurs, beware of what I call “funeral friends”. Funeral friends are there for you whenever things are bad in your life or you’re in trouble, but if you won an Academy Award or Nobel Peace Prize, never mind lose a hundred pounds, they wouldn’t so much as click “like” on your Facebook status. I made my workouts and meal choices non-negotiable, and this wasn’t always an easy or popular thing to do. It’s not easy being captain, but don’t put the wheel in somebody else’s hands.

How long did it take you to start to see results?
When I was on the way down the scale, I would set mini goals of 5-10 pounds, as 96 pounds just seemed overwhelming. I started to notice my results within a few weeks of serious effort. Every time I would go down a size, I would only buy very limited clothes in the next size down. I’d limit it to one pair of black pants, one pair of tan pants, and a pair of jeans. I’d purposely not spend a lot on them and I’d tell myself that I wasn’t staying at this size long, so I didn’t need to get too attached to them. THEN, when I fit into the smaller size, I’d donate the bigger clothes, to avoid having “fat” pants to make myself not feel uncomfortable if my pants began to get snug. Every four to six weeks, I would aim to fit into the next size down.

How long did it take for you to reach your current weight?
I had lost close to 50 pounds before I decided to have another child. I had continued to make healthier choices and to continue my workouts. Once I had my second child, I jumped right back to lose both the pregnancy weight and the remaining 50 pounds. I averaged about 2-3 pounds a week, so if I had continued straight through, it took me about a year to hit my goal weight.

Did you have any issues with loose skin after losing the weight? If so, how did you deal with it?
After a flurry of “the dark side of weight loss” articles that show folds and folds of loose skin, this has to be one of the top questions I get asked. I think there are a lot of factors for this issue, and it’s a big fear for a lot of people who have a lot of weight to lose. I think your age, how quickly you gained weight in the first place, how long you were heavy, and genetics play a role in how your skin may tighten up after you lose weight. I also think how rapidly you lose weight can affect whether or not your skin’s elasticity can keep up. While we would all love to drop weight quickly, a 2-3 pound loss per week is a good plan for keeping it off and giving your body time to adapt. For myself, I found doing weight training and not just cardio, helped fill in the areas while I was losing fat (think of how tight bodybuilders get when they lean out for a competition). I’m happy to report that after three babies and losing 96 pounds that my tummy is pretty tight. Do I wish my legs were tighter? Sure, but I keep working at it. The Shar Pei-like pictures make for eye-catching magazine photos, but don’t let them discourage you from getting fit, as I promise you won’t miss the fat you lose.

How long have you maintained your weight loss and what are the most important factors for keeping it off?
While it always seems hard to actually lose the weight, keeping it off is no picnic either. I’ve managed to keep close to 100 pounds off for years by not getting comfortable. I always remember that there’s no touchdown dance or finish line, and it’s every day decisions that impact the number on the scale. I give myself a three-pound range for wiggle room and some “worth it” treats when I’m in range.

I managed to wake up one day and weigh 208 pounds. There are lots of “You’re more than a number” sayings, and it’s true, the number doesn’t define any of us. I use my number as one of a series of tools to maintain the goals I worked very hard to achieve. Do I think I’d ever let myself get to 208 pounds again? No, but if you asked me in college if I thought I’d ever hit that number, I’d have said no then too. So rather than be a child who whistles past the graveyard, I just prefer to weigh myself, and to be aware of where the numbers fall and then step off the scale and go about my day. Let me put it this way, if you are struggling to balance your checkbook, would you not use a calculator? Not to down play the importance of the non-scale victories. I remember working out with my trainer, and practically dancing after completing 3 unassisted pull-ups. It was a milestone moment after memories of just hanging helplessly from the chin-up bar in gym class in elementary school. I mean it wasn’t the same as when I was doing deadlifts and noticed light peaking through my thighs, but it was right up there.

“It is a wise man who rules the stars; it’s a fool who’s ruled by them. Over and out.” was a tag line of famed radio personality, Darrell Martinie, also known as the “Cosmic Muffin” who gave a national “weather report style” astrological forecast in the seventies and eighties. The Cosmic Muffin would deliver astrological reports to the nation, warn us whenever Mercury was in retrograde, and he’d always end every broadcast with this same phrase. With some poetic license, I’d suggest it’s a fit person who rules the scales, and a fool who’s ruled by them.

What keeps you motivated to continue your weight loss success?
As a mom of three active boys, which I say is proof that God has a sense of humor, I frequently will say, “Having boys is like having a big dog, they have to run.” I am thrilled to be an active part of my sons’ lives and being able to keep up with them certainly contributes to my motivation to stay fit!

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I have also found my blog (FBJFit.com) and social media (@FBJFit) persona to be my labor of love, and I try to share advice and inspire others. I find that doing the page keeps me on the straight and narrow as I try to set a good example. There have been several occasions I’ve been at a party, and someone will come up to me and tell me that they follow my page, and ask me questions. One time I was at a season end soccer party for my son, and I jokingly replied “good thing I was having the salad and not the pizza!” Kidding aside, I know my journey has encouraged a lot of people, so I try to live up to it by continuing to make the right choices. I think having been on both sides of the spectrum gives me an appreciation for the struggles of one trying to lose weight, and the work and effort put into a fit person. I feel tremendous joy in coaching others by sharing information and encouragement that I wish I had available to me when I began my own journey.

Why do you think so many people fail at keeping the weight off after being so successful?
You hear all the time about how your mindset needs to be a “lifestyle change” not simply a “diet.” I think so many people who are successful at losing weight, think that they’re “done” when they reach their goal. One of my constant warnings to people who ask my advice is not to get comfortable with some success. There is a tendency to think you “deserve” a treat. Not eating every cookie that crosses your path is not deprivation. I have kept the weight off now for long enough that there are people who never knew I was heavy. If they hear me order in a restaurant, where I am known to order “like Sally” from “When Harry Met Sally” with this on the side, and no this or no that, the conversation will go like this, “Oh my God, Charlene, with all the working out you do, you can eat whatever you want!” My reply is always, “You know how I can eat whatever I want? I don’t eat whatever I want.” I warn that there’s no finish line and no touchdown dance where you spike the ball and just celebrate. That’s not to say there isn’t more wiggle room for when you do hit your goal range, but you need to be honest about tightening the reigns again if things start to go south.

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I did laugh when I saw a sign at a local bakery that said, “Think of all those women on the Titanic that passed on dessert!” Once, I suddenly became very sick with a crazy infection, and ended up in the hospital for weeks. It didn’t look good for me, and one morning I ordered the pancakes for breakfast and said, “Well, if I’m not going to make it, I see no point in ordering the egg white omelet.” Want to laugh? I ordered the sugar-free syrup in case I rallied! Happily, I lived to tell the story, so enjoy the “worth it” treats when they come your way, or you think your ship is sinking, but save the moderation talk for when you’re at your goal range. Maybe it’s as simple as changing how you look at it. Perhaps you’re not depriving yourself if you don’t eat a basket of tortilla chips with a frozen margarita when you have twenty pounds to lose, but really depriving yourself of being fit if you do.

What do you think about the contestants on The Biggest Loser regaining their weight within just a few years after making such a dramatic change?
I got a lot of feedback from my followers after the recent story about how a lot of The Biggest Loser contestants regained their weight, and was very sad to see the effect it had on those struggling with their own weight loss issues. It had a “Why bother?” effect and fed into the nagging doubts people have that “it’s hopeless”. I enjoy watching The Biggest Loser and find it very inspirational, but the expectations of losing such large numbers in such a short time are unrealistic. I aimed for 2-3 pounds per week during my journey. If you’ve worked really hard to lose two pounds in a week, and then have that salty, starchy dinner on the weekend, and BAM four pounds show up on the scale, it’s no wonder people get discouraged and give up. I think when the constant support, attention and supervision of being on the show is suddenly gone, it must be very hard for former contestants. I think your body doesn’t do well with extremes, and it makes sense that such a rapid weight loss could wreak havoc on a person’s metabolism. I think the story was a bit skewed, as clearly other contestants did manage to keep the bulk of their weight off.

When my story first appeared in Good Housekeeping, someone told a friend of mine that she couldn’t believe I’d let them put such an ugly picture in a national magazine. I laughed, as clearly, I walked around the world, and people saw me when I was heavy, and more importantly, I use my story to help others who are struggling. I tried everything to lose weight from Atkins to Weight Watchers and everything in between, and I use my story to show that you can take a hundred first steps and still find success and what works for you. I would love to be able to go back in time and give my younger self some much-needed advice about her relationship to fitness and food, but since I can’t do that, I try to inspire and encourage others. I felt very sorry for the contestants who felt a certain shame in regaining their weight. There are so many factors that go into why someone overeats. People love to commend me on my strong “willpower” but I tell them I know certain things about myself, and that I’m a “one’s too many” and “three’s not enough” kind of person when it comes to certain foods. So for me, it’s easier to have none than to try to have a little. It’s this kind of self-awareness that I think contributes to my success in keeping the weight off. I also think it’s easy to have a sort of body dysmorphia. I think everyone has an image in their head as to what they look like and sometimes that doesn’t match up with what’s in the mirror. I knew I had to lose weight, but it wasn’t until the one-size-fits-all robe didn’t fit that it really hit me how many pounds had truly snuck on, and despite keeping the weight off for years and getting fit, there are times I don’t see myself that way. When I was taking some of my “after” pictures, the photographer had asked me to send a few images of what I had in mind, so I went on Pinterest and sent him a few photos. He wrote back to me and said, “Well, are you buff like those girls?” I remember feeling a bit deflated, and thinking, well, I’m fifty and most of the girls in the pictures are twenty, but when we took the pictures that day and I looked in the mirror, I truly felt like “one of those girls”.

What’s the biggest difference between someone like you who is successful at keeping the weight off and the others who regain the weight shortly after losing it?
I think the thing that keeps me successful at keeping the weight off is my mindset on the matter. On the one hand, I’ve truly come to love the healthy food choices I eat, and love how working out makes me feel, but I’m always cognizant of the fact that I’m a few bad choices away from disaster. I know that I don’t HAVE to workout every day, but I’m mindful that tomorrow can turn into never. I also really have taken my own advice and made my workouts like brushing my teeth. I just don’t question it. Now, not every day is a crazy intense workout. Somedays most of it could be a walk with a friend, or watching TV on the exercise bike, but physical movement is part of my day, every single day. I do have a Fitbit, and use my goal of ten thousand steps as an “in addition” to my workouts to just keep mindful of moving. The food piece is always harder. You simply can’t outrun the fork. Turning fifty, having hypothyroid disease since I was nineteen, and feeling like I can gain five pounds walking past an Italian restaurant, are just my circumstances and feeling sorry for myself or feeling envious of those around me that don’t seem to have to try so hard, doesn’t change anything.

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How has your life changed now that you have lost weight?
There isn’t one part of my life that’s the same. I do almost everything differently from food shopping, to cooking, to what I do with my spare time, to the magazines I read. After losing the weight, I was lucky enough to be featured as a success story in Good Housekeeping and Oxygen Magazines, as well as some other publications as well, and this led to the birth of my FBJ Fit Facebook persona and my FBJFit.com blog. Becoming a fitness blogger has been the greatest change to my life. After being featured in Good Housekeeping, a few high school girl friends messaged me on Facebook asking me how I had lost weight, and I began giving them advice on what worked for me. I began commenting if they’d check in at restaurants about what they were ordering. They’d text me from restaurants, asking me what to order, and I earned the nickname “Facebook Jillian” as a joke (FBJ for short), as I was always trying to encourage them to bust any excuses why they couldn’t workout. As they began losing weight, several of their friends started messaging me as well, and I created a Facebook page dedicated to giving diet and fitness tips, sharing healthy recipes and overall fitness inspiration. The FBJ nickname stuck and I sometimes say it stands for “Fitness Brings Joy”. The page has grown to having thousands of followers, and I have heard from people around the world who tell me they follow my page and that it helps inspire them. It’s a very humbling experience to know that something you said touched someone else who is struggling.

Do you have any advice for others who are trying to lose weight?
My advice to others would be to make a decision that becoming fit is the most important thing to you. That it’s not selfish to put yourself first by carving out the time to workout and make healthy choices. I hear a lot of people say how busy they are. We’re all busy. I have two businesses, plus a fitness and inspiration blog and social media channels to encourage others, three children, care(d) for my parents, and still make the time to workout. My response is always, “You’re no busier than a fit person.” In fact, I find that working out gives me the strength and energy to tackle all the rest of life. Eating clean, healthy and nutritious foods is also not “depriving myself”. I’m not deprived of not feeling sluggish and bloated by passing up some processed, sugar and fat filled foods. I have come to love the healthy foods I eat. I would never have imagined myself as loving sushi, kale, Luna bars, and all kinds of other foods. Like a child who drinks orange soda would never envision drinking coffee, let yourself acquire new tastes and new experiences. Don’t get stuck in your mental images of who you are or what kinds of things you do or don’t do. Be open to change.

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People love to say “everything in moderation”, but I firmly believe moderation is for maintenance. I did have to have a few tough conversations to be clear that this wasn’t a fad for me. I realized to be successful I needed to be single-minded in my quest to get in shape. I didn’t give in to feeling guilty or sad for how the time and decisions I made for myself made others feel. Eventually the day came when everyone just accepted the new normal. People knew I was never going to order the “Blooming Onion” and my children know that unless the house is burning down or someone is bleeding, mom’s workout time is non-negotiable. In my range now, I’ll certainly have what I call a worth it treat, when I plan for it. While I laughed once at seeing a sign at a bakery that said, “Think of all those women on the Titanic that passed on dessert.” I don’t think it’s about never having a cupcake, it’s about not always having a cupcake, and while trying to give the scale a nudge downward, skipping the cupcake is recommended.

How did ShapeFit help you reach your weight loss goals?
I really found great inspiration in the success stories on ShapeFit. As I like to say I took a hundred steps before I found what worked for me, and after my spa robe debacle, I made it a personal mission to learn as much as I could about fitness and nutrition in my quest to never feel like that again. I wanted to be a fit person, so I did all the things I could think of that a fit person would do. If you’ve ever listened to a Tony Robbins motivational speech, a common piece of advice is: “If you want to be successful, find someone who has achieved the results you want and copy what they do and you’ll achieve the same results.” Reading ShapeFit’s success stories of other people who had faced the same struggles was very encouraging, against a lot of doubts where it seemed like a necessary evil of getting older. I found the information and articles on ShapeFit.com, together with the success stories, as very informative and motivating, and hope that sharing my story encourages someone else who is struggling and just starting out.

Charlene’s Weight Loss Tips!

Weight Loss Tip #1:
charlene-weight-loss-story-11Remind yourself, “You’re no busier than a fit person”. We’re all busy.

Weight Loss Tip #2:
Make your workouts like “brushing your teeth”, something you just do without question.

Weight Loss Tip #3:
Think of food as a choice, and not as a reward or a punishment. You don’t “deserve” a decadent dessert, nor are you “depriving” yourself if you don’t have it.

Weight Loss Tip #4:
Eat foods in their lowest common denominator. Think orange, not orange juice, and shop the outside aisles of the supermarket; it’s where the least processed foods are.

Weight Loss Tip #5:
Don’t limit your activity to just your dedicated workout time. I have a sort of contract with myself that I won’t watch TV unless I’m on a piece of cardio equipment. I DVR my favorite shows and when I want to watch them I hop on the bike. I make very rare exceptions for family movies and major sporting events. I also refuse to take an elevator unless it’s more than twenty flights. I also use a Fitbit to aim for 10,000 steps per day in addition to my regular workouts so that I’m mindful about keeping active.

Charlene’s Weight Loss Eating Plan!

What do you normally eat for breakfast?
I have had a Luna Bar every day for breakfast for almost as long as I can remember. They were a huge part of my success losing weight as having one with my coffee each morning kept me sane amidst the chaos of family life with three boys and the temptation to either skip breakfast or hit the drive thru for a muffin or bagel. Other breakfast choices for me on days where I don’t have a Luna Bar, are an egg white omelet or scrambled eggs with some wilted spinach. I’m also a huge fan or Stack’d Protein Pancakes, and even the boys love them!

What do you normally eat for lunch?
charlene-weight-loss-story-10For lunch, I love to make a “ginormous” salad and throw in six ounces of grilled chicken and avocado with a very light drizzle of Trader Joe’s Light Champagne Vinaigrette salad dressing or balsamic vinegar and some olive oil. I also enjoying doing a half cup of whole oatmeal with protein powder with berries and nuts for lunch. Soups are also a favorite, and I have some great healthy recipes for a vegetable soup with ground turkey unfortunately named “Fat Flush Soup” and a delicious cashew butter Thai chicken stew that tastes so rich and creamy but is broth based and uses diced granny smith apples instead of potatoes! If I really want a sandwich, I will use a healthy and lower calorie wrap (I use Joseph’s Oatbran and Flaxseed wraps) and stuff them with sliced turkey, veggies and mustard (I broke up with mayonnaise many years ago).

What do you normally eat for dinner?
Dinner is usually a lean protein (skinless chicken breast, salmon, turkey, buffalo, very lean grass-fed beef, shrimp), and usually grilled or broiled and not dripping in sauce. I will often make a nice salad for dinner too, and will have a small baked or mashed sweet potato or a half cup of brown rice, with a variety of steamed, grilled or roasted vegetables, but mainly asparagus, broccoli, kale and green beans. I also have a lot of fun making “zoodles” (zucchini noodles) by using a vegetable spiralizer and sprinkle it with some hard grated parmesan cheese to avoid pastas. I also enjoy making a light version of enchilada casserole that is a real crowd pleaser.

What do you normally eat for snacks?
For in between meals, I will usually chose a Muscle Milk organic ready-to-drink shake, a banana and small handful of raw almonds, all kinds of berries, a skim coat of peanut butter on a brown rice cake, and I ALWAYS have a Luna bar in my pocketbook for emergencies so I’m never caught hungry without a decent choice in sight. I also make some healthy oatmeal “cookies” that use whole oats, cinnamon, blueberries, mashed bananas and egg whites. I will also sometimes make some guacamole or hummus for a dip with veggies or my favorite Riceworks Brown Rice Crisps. Throughout the day, I try to drink lots of infused waters and use strawberries and cucumbers to flavor some water to help get in all the water that’s recommended.

What type of nutritional supplements do you take?
I love Organic Muscle Milk for an on-the-go protein shake. I’m a huge Luna Bar fan, and laughed as if you Google my name, and click on images, pictures of Luna Bars come up! I also really love Total Tea, as it helps keep bloat down, and having one at night helps me feel fuller and avoid late night snacking temptations! I also use Adora Dark Chocolate Calcium discs to supplement my calcium intake, and the dark chocolate after a meal helps satisfy that “something sweet” craving!

Charlene’s Weight Loss Workouts!

What do you do for weight training?
charlene-weight-loss-story-9I start each morning out with what I call the “insurance workout” so I can get in some fitness before the world tries to steal my day. I call it my “coffee before my coffee” as it helps me wake up and feel energized to take on the day. My typical morning routine is a 10 minute yoga DVD followed by a ten minute ab and core workout, which is commonly a workout from Cathe Friedrich. Typically I train with my personal trainer one day a week and have a tendency to make that “leg day”. I alternate days of working two muscle groups with weights each day to avoid overtraining (chest and triceps, back and biceps, shoulders and legs). I try to mix up the weights to work my muscles differently, so I will do pyramid workouts, HIIT workouts, slow and heavy, and endurance training. I think women tend to avoid weight workouts thinking that they will bulk up, but heavy weights do great things for your body. Even when I see some women working out with weights, I want to tell them to put down the weenie weights and bump up the weights for some great results! While I don’t do intense training every day, I aim for some sort of workout every day, as I’m always mindful to watch out that “tomorrow” doesn’t turn into never.

What do you do for cardio training?
I multitask much of my cardio into my life. There is a gym next to where my boys take karate, so I will use the elliptical while they are in class next door. I have also been known to run stadium steps at the high school while my middle son has soccer practice. I also stick to my rule of no television unless I am on a piece of cardio equipment, so I DVR my favorite shows (which tend to be fitness based like American Grit, Strong, and Dancing with the Stars), and hop on my Life Fitness Cycle when I want to watch them. I really enjoy Zumba, Gilad’s Bodies in Motion DVD home workouts, Latin and ballroom dance lessons and going for bike rides. I also really enjoy going for walks with friends.

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1 Comment

  1. Wonderfully motivating. I related so much to your story especially the hypothyroidism. Congratulations on your success!

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