During college, I taught dance classes to stay active, but I hadn’t made the connection between food and body. Even though I had a lifestyle full of exercise (and walking all over campus to classes), I paired it with unhealthy eats. Over time, I could feel myself gaining weight, but wasn’t sure what to do about it. In the sweltering Tucson summers, I wanted to wear cute tank tops, but when I looked in the mirror and saw my arms, I was self- conscious about showing them off. My weight eventually climbed to 40 pounds over a healthy range for my height. With lackluster skin and low energy, I knew something had to change, so I made the commitment to embark on a total lifestyle transformation.

The problem was that I knew I wanted to make some healthy changes, but I had no idea where to start. So I worked my way through the latest fad diets in succession. I’d start a new one when the current one would inevitably fail, thus beginning a long foray into yo-yo dieting. The first one was with the meal shakes. They were inexpensive (perfect for this then-college-girl’s budget) and simple. I’d drink a shake instead of eating. I remember counting down the time until I could have my next shake, and I’d drink the powdery substance knowing that I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life on a liquid (and HANGRY, which is hungry + angry) diet. Needless to say, it didn’t last for very long.

Next, I was onto the low-carb (or no carb?!) thing. At first it worked fairly well, but since I’d lost mostly water weight, I gained some of it back when I tried to go back to eating normal foods. Just like the shakes, I knew it wouldn’t be sustainable for the long term.

Eventually, I learned the beauty of Mediterranean eating, and for the first time I was making healthier choices, experimenting with new-to-me foods, and lost the extra weight while maintaining my energy. It was much easier for me to stick to, and through following this plan I learned how lean proteins, healthy fats, and smart carbs, could work together in harmony to aid my fat loss goals. It took about a year, and from that point, I’ve been able to maintain the 40 pounds I lost (except for that one time I gained it back to grow and birth a human).

At my new weight, I felt confident; clothes fit me the way nature intended instead of gathering, pinching, and sagging, and I had plenty of energy to make it through the day. My transformation changed me physically, but also mentally: my journey sparked a passion for health and fitness. I was determined to learn as much as possible about healthy living.

From then on, I was inspired to study fitness in conjunction with my undergraduate schoolwork. It became my hobby, and I was always interested to learn about new diet strategies or workout techniques. After I’d finish my homework for the evening, learning about fitness was my “dessert.” During my last couple of years at college, I spent a lot of time at local coffee houses studying with friends. I guess fate was looking my way, because a certain coffee house was where I met my husband (whom I’ll call the Pilot).

After that fateful night, I slowly watched my life entirely transform from what I’d been planning and imagined. Following graduation, and after making it through the Pilot’s first deployment overseas, I packed up my belongings and moved with him to North Carolina. I quickly learned how difficult it is for a military spouse to become employed when you’re moving so often. Since I had a finance degree, my first step was to try and use my degree in my profession. I applied to finance-related jobs, and I felt like the second a potential employer found out we were military, it was an invisible red “X” through my resume. Instead, I found a job in retail management, knowing it had nothing to do with my future goals.

I was unhappy with my job, living in a new place, away from family, and hadn’t made friends yet. Fitness was the one thing I looked forward to each day. I woke up at 5:30 a.m. to get in a quick workout, and even though it was early (for me), I enjoyed getting in a sweat session before heading off to work. When I realized it was time for me to change paths and find a flexible job I enjoyed, fitness was the first thing to come to mind.

This realization was like a squat-jumping light bulb in my brain. Thinking about teaching fitness invigorated me, and when I drove down to Jacksonville to take my first certification exam, I knew I’d made the right choice. Becoming a fitness instructor would allow me to create an enjoyable path with my knowledge, and it was something I could continue to do with our constant moving and reassignments. Since then, the only use for my finance degree has been for our family budget and investments.